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I’ve been thinking more about my insight regarding beggars and realize that I don’t know how it will translate to the situation back home in Vancouver. Will I remain as openhearted? That’s to be discovered. I hope so. I also realize that my new found sense of comfort when confronted with beggars, and my willingness to give them money, may very well not be feasible at all in a big city like Mumbai. I understand there are many many beggars there, and that if you give money to one you will very quickly be surrounded by a crowd of them demanding money. So it’s also to be discovered how I’ll deal with them when/if I ever go to Mumbai, or somewhere like it. All I know is I’ve discovered a solution that works for me for this time and this place. They are starting to recognize me now. Many of them smile when they see me coming, and we each put our hands together in Namaste and bow, or touch a hand to the heart, and I give them some money and there are big smiles all round; very sweet, very real human contact. How much more fun and enriching that is than just walking by and trying to pretend they are not there.

Some of my favourite photos not yet posted:

Because my symptoms of nausea and headaches continued unabated for about three weeks the doctor in Tiru urged me to go to the international hospital in Chennai to see a gastroenterologist. As I said in the last blog post it was an overwhelming experience.

We got a taxi to Chennai leaving early morning, and arrived at the hospital four and a half hours later. First I had to register. Even with “International Patient” preferential treatment it took about an hour. Next get weighed and measured and blood pressure taken, then pay for the doctor’s visit, then wait to see the doctor in a crowded hallway. After seeing the doctor find a cash counter to pay for blood tests and ultrasound. Then blood tests, then back to see the doctor, then to the pharmacy to get a prescription filled. By this time we knew we had to stay overnight as I needed to be fasting for the ultrasound and CT scan. We found a hotel. First thing next morning get the ultrasound, then go to get an endoscopy, but the doctor says it’s better to get the CT scan first. Go to another hospital to pay for and get a CT scan. Taken to change into a gown for the CT scan and then waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually it became clear the scanner had broken down just before I was to go in. It’s well after lunchtime by now and I’m starving and nauseous at the same time, and fading fast, but still can’t eat as I have to be fasting for the endoscopy. Go and pay for endoscopy, then go get endoscopy. Horrific! A tube down your throat with no anesthetic. I’m sure they thought I was a complete wuss. The Indians don’t have anesthetic for this procedure. I decided to tough it out. My gag reflex is really strong! Then to hospital restaurant but it was closed. Then back to the doctor who now had results of blood work, ultrasound and endoscopy. Got another prescription. Went to the pharmacy to get it filled. By this time it’s after 4 and I haven’t eaten all day and Don not since breakfast. We’re both completely drained, nevertheless we head to the hotel, check out, and get our taxi driver to drive us back to Tiru. We’re both exhausted and just want to go home. I eat some cookies in the car. I have an enlarged liver. The doctor doesn’t know why.

Every single place we went to in the hospital was packed with people. The sheer crush of humanity was completely overwhelming. Every step of the way, everywhere we went there was a “line-up”, except Indians don’t really line up, they just crowd in. Pretty soon we were doing that too. The organization was incredible, and the staff too. Everywhere we went people were helpful, but the crowds and energy level was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. By the end of the second day we felt like we’d been pummeled.

A week later we went back to Chennai just for the day and I had the CT scan, and some more blood work, saw the doctor again, and got another prescription. Another long day but at least we got to eat lunch this time. The good news is the liver function test showed improvement over the test a week earlier. And two days after that I got an email from the doctor saying she’d done some more research and that it probably was the Artemisia I’d been taking for malaria, and that it would heal itself. And so it is. I’m feeling much better.

Where else in the world could you make a phone call at noon on a Saturday, speak directly to the secretary, and get an appointment with a world-class specialist for Monday morning. Only in India. And another thing only in India – all that expert treatment, the doctor’s fees, endoscopy, ultrasound, CT scan, two lots of blood work, and the medications, all came to less than $500. In Canada the CT scan alone would have been over $1000.

More favourite photos:

There are cows everywhere we walk. They are docile creatures with big appealing brown eyes. We mostly take no notice of them except to occasionally say hello as we walk by. One day we could see a little way off in front of us a couple of dogs chasing a couple of cows out of the dogs’ territory. By the time we got up to the cows the dogs had backed off and the cows had slowed down to their usual amble. So I walked directly in front of one of them. Next thing I know the cow gives me this ruddy great head butt and I go sprawling onto the ground. Big adrenalin rush as I don’t know what’s coming next. Fortunately that was it from the cow, I was in no more danger, and not hurt beyond a scrape or two, so I picked myself up, dusted myself off and carried on walking. All day whenever I thought about I would laugh. Head-butted by a holy cow!

My sister Suzanne came for a week then took off to the beach at Varkala for two weeks then came back for another week. It was great to see her again, and hang out together. Lots of fun. Here’s our last supper together – at Sathya Café on pizza night:

Next blog – funeral processions and singing at the ashram.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.