October 27, 2010
Trivandrum, Kerala State, India
In life, you can either be an Elvis person or a Beatles person. I’m an Elvis man myself. Fortunately, so was Ashok, the brakeman on train #6302.
I serendipitously ended up meeting Ashok by mistake– I boarded his train as it was literally pulling away from the station thinking it was the one that I was supposed to be on. It wasn’t.
As my companion and I chased down the train, Ashok was poking his head from the second-to-last car, and he helped us aboard after I hurtled our luggage onto the carriage. Only once on board did I realize that a) we were on the wrong train, and b) we weren’t even in a passenger car… we were in the brake room.
Lucky for me, Ashok seemed more transfixed by my beautiful friend’s flowing blonde hair rather than the fact that two strangers were illegally aboard his car.
It ended up being a wonderful experience, we talked for hours. It turns out that he has a keen interest in American politics and kept asking me about the issue of Obama’s religion and birthplace. Apparently infotainment is still a pretty big US export.
I was more curious to pick his brain about India; the question I ask everyone is– how can such a diverse country of 1.2 billion people who speak over 600 different languages and come from dozens of segmented religious and cultural backgrounds possibly co-exist under a single flag?
“I cannot explain it,” he said. “Only God knows.” That’s a typical answer here.
By the end of our trip, Ashok and I had become fast friends, swapping stories and taking silly photos. Then he pulled out his mobile device– something that looks a lot like a Blackberry but is incredibly more advanced– and requested something rather bizarre of me: he asked me to sing a song into the microphone.
“uh…. I don’t really…. dooooo that….” but the look of disappointment on his face was too much to bear. And so, in appreciation of his kindness and generosity (he had even offered to share his meager lunch with us), I broke into “My Way” in the style of Elvis Presley.
It may have been the strangest incident of my trip so far, standing in the brake room of a speeding train in the middle of rural India with a total stranger singing karaoke without the music. But it seemed to repay my debt to Ashok for the knowledge and kindness that he had extended.
Aside from the fact that Ashok really loves Elvis, I also learned that he has a son studying medicine in Australia. After finishing his schooling, Ashok’s son will have an abbreviated residence and then return to India to take up medical practice at an international private hospital.
In India, it’s typical for many private hospitals to have western-trained physicians; rather than staying in the west, many choose to return home because they feel like the cost-adjusted opportunities are stronger in India, and they get to spend more time practicing their craft rather than filling out insurance paperwork.
At India’s private hospitals, many of which thrive on the business of foreign patients, there is relatively little government or insurance bureaucracy to deal with. Patients pay cash, and the costs are so low that the hospitals can profit handsomely while providing world-class treatment.
Here in Kerala, there are a number of hospitals that specialize in foreign medical tourism. The CRAFT hospital, for instance, is renowned for its infertility treatment center, and the Ahalia Eye Hospital is a JCI accredited facility with numerous success stories of treating ailments where western hospitals had failed.
One of the more famous hospitals in India is the Apollo chain which also has a number of JCI accredited facilities for a variety of afflictions including cancer and heart disease.
According to the physicians and administrators that I’ve spoken to here, procedures are a fraction of what they cost in the west; hip replacement surgery runs about $6,800 and coronary angioplasty about $2,700, inclusive of accommodation, medicine, surgical fees, etc.
From my own experience, though, I’ve found that the best part of medical treatment overseas is being able to see the doctor right away– waiting time is practically zero. In many countries doctors will still even make house calls and invite you to ring them on their mobile phones if you have any problems.
This is in stark contrast to the norm in many western countries where you waste away in the lobby waiting for some nurse to triage you… and in some instances ultimately get treated by a physician’s assistant rather than a medical doctor.
Given the value for price and the English proficiency in the country, India is one of the places where you may consider planting a ‘medical flag’; these are countries with top quality medical care at a fraction of the price that you would pay in the west.
Rather than stressing about rising insurance premiums or the bungling incompetence of government-run hospitals, foreign medical care is a viable and cost effective solution for the issue that should be everyone’s #1 priority– our health, and the health of our families.