What a sad hospital

What a sad hospital, where flowers are not allowed.

What a sad hospital, where flowers are not allowed.

But other than that, the Appollo Hospital in South Delhi is pretty impressive. Staircases are spot clean, the receptionist knew what she was doing, and I didn’t have to wait for a minute. The central hall feels like a mixture of shopping mall and the waiting area in front of gates at an airport.

Except for the huge pharmacy, of course, which had a perfectly organised system, where one gives the prescription at one of five counters, gets a token, and can collect the medicine some minutes later when the number is announced electronically at the cash counter.

When a man on the counter next to me didn’t stand in the two-people-long line, but walked up front and made some space for himself at the window next to the first one in line (as most people would do anywhere else in Delhi), the guy who’s turn it was told him to stand in queue! And the bold one apologised!!

Fighting against the air pollution

Delhi’s air is among the worst in the world. As I’m already living here for a year and a half, it is about time to act and protect my health.

If I don’t, I might end up having a reduced lung capacity and die years earlier than I otherwise would, as several studies, inter alia by the World Health Organisation (WHO), show. My most favorite headline about the issue was in today’s India Today: “Children in Delhi have lungs of chain-smokers!”

bad airIn my office in Chanakyapuri, one of the greenest areas in Delhi and just next to the ridge, the huge forest that runs through the western part of the city, the measurement wasn’t encouraging at all.

Regarding the particulate matter PM2,5  (particles with an aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2,5µm), the device showed a  176,2  µg/m³. The WHO recommends an annual mean of  10 µg/m³.

As for PM10 we measured 275,7 µg/m³, here the WHO recommends an annual mean of 20 µg/m³.  And the organisation explains: “Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer.”

me and the air purifierAs I don’t want that to happen, if it can be prevented, I bought an air purifier. The neat machine is now running in my bedroom when I sleep and in the living room when I’m around. I can already feel the difference when I enter the room.

Hopefully the air purifiers for my office arrive soon. Then I should breathe good air for two thirds of the day – and therefore can compensate my additional breathing when I go for a run in the morning and cycle around the city.

Is Delhi the most polluted city in the world?

air quality boardEvery morning, I ride my bicycle along the digital display in front of Mausam Bhawan, the Meteorological Department at Lodhi Road. In the winter month, I very often only see one colour there: red. Which means that the air quality is very, very bad, unhealthy, and, in fact, beyond measurement.

So far, not many people are concerned about that in Delhi. In fact, the choking hazyness is mostly referred to as “fog” instead of “smog”, which it actually is.

After the Hindustan Times ran a front-page report , which said Delhi is now the most polluted city in the world, and had actually surpassed Bejing, that previously was regarded to hold this doubious honour, the Indian media finally woke up.

But: Only the media. I haven’t heard of anybody buying a mask now or purchasing an air purifier (well, I might buy one pretty soon for me as well as the office). And the official reaction was – instead of banning cars from the road or slashing out fines on polluting industries or trying to step up electricity supply, so that the poor don’t have to burn waste in the streets to warm themselves and the rich don’t use their diesel generators – so instead of thinking of any logic measure, politics is in a status of denial.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences issued a statement, saying that “unusual meteorological conditions are playing a pivotal role in increased frequency of extreme pollution events dominated by fine particulates”. So, basically, “cooler temperatures” and “calm winds” are to blame.

Then the ministry goes on talking about the “fact” that levels of the very dangerous pollutants with less than 2.5 microns in diameter — scientifically called PM 2.5 — are much lower in Delhi than in Beijing. (These tiny beasts are able to get into the blood and are therefore considered being especially harmful and causing cancer.)

But are the levels really lower?

When I looked up the measurements of the US embassy in Beijing and compared them to the ones from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee at Punjabi Bagh, I found there were more days with a PM2.5 level above 301 (“hazardous”, according to the US embassy) in the Indian capital than in the Chinese city.

By the way, the embassy’s advise at this level is: “Everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion.” Well, I ride my bicycle…

For that I got scolded by researcher and activist Kamal Meattle, who grows his own fresh air. Really. After being told by his doctors that Delhi’s air will kill him some 20 years ago, he started experimenting. And found out that a combination of three common plants in a house or office building lead to measurably cleaner indoor air.

Nowadays, at his Paharpur Business Centre, all air is sucked in at the top, then water filtered, enriched by the plants, further cleaned, and then pumped into the different levels of the building – which is under permanent overpressure, so that no bad Delhi air is coming in through small gaps.

He claims, and I believe him after inhaling the good air in the building, that people inside have less eye irritations, breathing problems, headachse and in fact actually work more efficiently. (Here is his TED video.)

But back to the pollution levels outside.

Smog over Ring Road

In a study by Yale university India lands on rank 174 of 178 countries in terms of air quality. Looking more into detail, in the category “Air Pollution – Average Exposure to PM2.5”, India slips to rank 177. Guess who is 178? Right: China.

The new government under the “common man party” doesn’t seem to be looking into the problem. And so there might be more denial to come. Last year’s infamous words of the then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit still ring in my ears, when she told “The Hindu” the real reason for the smog: “And we discovered that much of the smoke which is hanging over Delhi is actually due to burning of rice stalks in the paddy fields in neighbouring Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. It is as if it is deliberately being done to choke Delhi.’’

Call a friend and not an ambulance

ambulanceIn case of an accident, an injury or any other serious health condition, I would always call a friend instead of an ambulance. Chances are high he or she is easier to reach, less occupied, faster at the spot and more reliable.

Proof for this theory I saw this morning at a red light. An old, spluttering ambulance crawled up from behind, the siren not working (or not switched on), the emergency light shining faintly. The driver honked, but no one gave way. Only when the co-driver jumped out of the car and chased the other cars away, had the ambulance the space to get through.


My housemaid came to me, crying. The health of her sister deteriorated further. She was repeatedly waking up at night, sweating profusely, the body convulsing, her eyes staring like she was posessed, my maid explained, visibly horrified.

Pagan believes are widespread in India, and often the local, traditional believes are fused with Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or any other religion. My maid’s family – all Christians – decided the doctor’s in Delhi can’t cure the disease of her sister. She was in hospital for weeks weeks, but her condition didn’t stabilise.

Instead the girl was sent back home to Mapaokeilthelmanpi in Manipur. To be treated by a local whitchcraft doctor.

Hospital stories

As I’m still lying around in the hospital, people try to… well… cheer me up with hospital stories. Unfortunately most of them don’t help.

When I, for example, asked the attending physician about the last time he treated someone with an amoebic liver abscess, he said: five to six years ago. And then he remembered the fate of the wife of the doctor of the German Embassy. She once had the same disease, but was only given different pills. These she took for some days, but then she stopped doing so and flew to Goa for some holidays. There the abscess ruptured – and soon thereafter she died.

A couchsurfer who stayed with me some weeks ago, met an Israeli and told me his story. The guy is a medical student in Israel, but far from finishing his studies soon, and he never even assisted at an operation. During his internship in a hospital in Mumbai, he was responsible for operations on people’s organs.

My colleague furthermore told me the story of her father in law. He walked upright into the Max Hospital in Delhi, but soon he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and died. When they got the bill, they saw that all kind of fluids and medications were pumped into his body – and most of them didn’t seem to make sense.

More stories from the Hospital

hospital front view

behind the windows on the left is my room

As I have to stay here for a week or so now, I better get accustomed to the place. For example, a friend bought earplugs for me against all that honking: a small, but very busy street is not more than 15 meters away from my windows (which don’t close properly). My flatmate on the other hand brought me my sleep mask from home.

vein missed

vein missed

But this didn’t safe me from the nurses bolting into my room just after I had fallen asleep at 9pm yesterday. I had told the afternoon nurse I’m hitting the pillow, assured with her that the needle stays overnight in my vein and even made her switch off the lights – but the nurses on night shift apparently didn’t know anything about my sleeping plan and stormed into my room to check my temperature.

After being awaken so sharply, I watched the german movie “Feuchtgebiete” – and every time the nurses came into the room to measure the temperature, I was watching a scene with either naked flesh on my screen or a lot of moaning. Poor girls must have thought I watch a porno, and this in prudish India.

At 2am I finally slept, so it wasn’t nice when the nurses woke me up again at 6.30am, but fine, they had to give me some medicine. But when I just had just passed out again, they came at 7am to measure my temperature. And again at 7.30am.

allergy test

allergy test

At least the doctor had a nice surprise today. With him he brought some nice young guys, which didn’t introduce themselfes, but they looked like young doctors . So when I complained that the promised Croissant didn’t arrive the day before, and neither did the fruits, the chief made the place run. Five Minutes after the group left, two of the young ones were back and battled to take my order. The brought me a sandwich, muffins and even a cappuccino from a nearby bakery. And the nurses finally managed to get some other fruits than apples and bananas.

Suffering in the Hospital

hospital bedSince nine days I have fever, headache, chest pain. But I never felt as bad as today, when I stepped into the hospital. Maybe it’s true what I heard in my childhood: Clinics make you feel ill.

The doctor who sent me to the East West Medical Centre is on the list of trusted doctors of the German Embassy, so I didn’t question his decision. Maybe I should have. The place is run down, with neon light and close-drawn curtains and an x-ray machine that looks like being from the 70s (if not older – I might have gotten enough rays for the rest of my life).

wristbandThe first thing I got after entering the hospital was a wristband like a newborn – hey, I can still say my name, I’m not dead yet! Then I had to put on a stupid gown that – despite uncountable ribbons and ties – nowhere closed properly. I felt naked and like I was in a funny farm.

Next followed a never ending stream of doctors and nurses and staff and other random people walking into my room. One wanted to know what I eat for lunch, the next one brought me some slippers, the third explained the bell, the fourth brought water, the fifth wanted a urine sample, the sixth showed me the way to the x-ray, the seventh wanted to give me insulin, the eight cleaned the room, the nineth wanted to have blood samples. And so on, and so forth.

Somehow I could cope with all this, until both the insulin girl and the blood sample girl missed my veins and poked around in the crooks of my arm respectively in the top side of my lower arm. Then I exploded.

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