It started out innocently enough. Amruta said we should broaden our horizons – you know, explore a new five-star hotel chain. So we threw caution to the wind, said goodbye to our dear, perfect Taj in Kovalem and booked a night at the Hotel Zuri in Kumarakom, a few hours up the Keralan coast.
I’m pretty adverse to using the word “rude” – I think it stems back to an overzealous girl scout leader who led our manners class in the first grade; I quit shortly thereafter – but there’s not really any other way to describe the Zuri hotel staff. They refused to accept that the package we had booked came with two king beds…until we showed them the description on their own Web site. Then they insisted that they didn’t actually have any rooms with two king beds (interesting.) After some prodding, they offered to give us a cot for free.
We endured a pretty creepy dinner in the hotel’s deserted fish restaurant – which everyone from the concierge to the guy who drove us to our room on a golf cart cautioned would be impossible to get a reservation at – and then headed back to the room for a relaxing night in with a bootleg version of Up In The Air.
Amruta and Sarah were watching the first few minutes on the (one) king sized bed when I got up to grab …something? Lip gloss, hairbrush, who knows? This much is certain: I was definitely standing up when the power went off, as it’s apt to do at least once a day in India. It’s not really a big deal if you’re in a hotel or nicer apartment building- the back-up generators kick in really fast. But for the moment, we were shrouded in black, and as I went to regain my spot on the (one) king sized bed, I hit my leg against the cot (we weren’t even supposed to have.)
I could tell that I had probably nicked my shin, but it really didn’t hurt that much and besides, I’m a mature, graceful 24-year old. (OK, actually, nothing in that previous sentence is presently true, considering my klutzy nature and that awful birthday, but still. I’m an adult! And I hadn’t inflicted a scar-inducing cut on my leg since the first time I tried to shave my legs at summer camp.)
When the lights came on, though, I could tell things weren’t right.
Note: This is where it starts to get just a tad graphic.
There wasn’t that much blood, but there was this clear liquid oozing down my leg. And the laceration wasn’t that big, but it was deep, probably the deepest cut I’d ever seen. And it was…strange.
“What is that?” Sarah asked, pointing at some white blob now visible beneath the torn skin. Amruta and I – children of doctors/general know-it-alls – both kind of looked at each other like, um? this can’t be good.
I was kind of starting to hyperventilate when Sarah came up with the brilliant idea to email a photo of the wound from her blackberry.
“Hello Medical friends and family,” she wrote in an email to Dave, my Dad and Tracey – our missing quarter who also happens to be a third-year med student. Here’s the message verbatim, complete with Sarah’s … unique brand of spelling.
“rachel hit her leg on the side of a cot in our hotel room. It seems to be a rather deep cut so we wanted long distance medicaladvice.
In the attached picture you see her calf with a picture of the cut. It is about an inch at its longest, and seems to have a white part in the middle. “It looks like fat, ew” (that was Rachel’s reaction.) We washed it with soap and water and are applying pressure, then a band aide.
Is there anything else we should do? Should we be concerned about the white “fat” deposit? Thanks for any advice.
In lieu of the attached photo, which I’m confident you probably don’t want to see, I’ll show you the cute little piece of metal that inflicted such pain on yours truly.
Tracey was the first to respond to the email – I think suggesting stitches, but I can’t remember. Dave’s more memorable reply simply said “You could get a bone infection.” Thanks, babe. Appreciated that one. Meanwhile, my Dad was spending a good 10 minutes examining the photo under the lights of a Southern Vermont gas station on the way home from a weekend of skiing (of course), attempting to do his best telemedicine.
I called him the next morning from Amruta’s phone and asked him to call me back on her number. “Is this long-distance?” he asked, to which I responded with the extreme dramatics I’m known for. “THERE IS A CHUNK OF MY LEG MISSING, IN RURAL INDIA, AND YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT PHONE RATES?” Needless to say, he called back.
At that point, my plan was just to try to keep the wound clean until I got back to the States – which was (supposed) to be in about 48 hours. But my dad said I had only 24 hours to get it sutured if that’s what it needed. At which point the conversation started to go like this.
“But I don’t want to get stitches in rural India!”
“So don’t get stitches.”
“But I know I need stitches!”
“So get stitches.”
“But I don’t want to get stitches!”
And so on and so forth. By the time I got off the phone with him, I had decided that I probably had to see a doctor.
As it turned out, I didn’t really have much choice in the matter. When we went down to the lobby for breakfast, the hotel manager was waiting for us.
He had heard about the episode, no doubt, from the two hotel staff members who had brought us a first aid kit the night before in response to Sarah’s call to the front desk. The staffers had looked petrified, tentatively peering in from behind the door to get a good look at the screaming white girl. And now, clearly, this manager was scared we were going to sue.
The upside? We finally got the customer service we deserved. The manager ordered us breakfast (made to order omelettes and hash browns that were apparently only available for VIPs) on his walkie talkie as he escorted us to the hotel doctor.
My dad had said that the hotel would probably have a doctor on call, so I was feeling OK about the whole thing. And the little exam room they took me into was nice, although the doctor himself seemed a little…discombobulated? Lacking confidence?
He tentatively pulled back my bandage and took a look at the cut.
“It’s very deep,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “Do you think I need stitches?”
“Oh yes, it might need stitches.”
“Right, so do you think it needs stitches?”
“Oh,” he said. “I don’t know. You’d have to see a medical doctor for that.”
A medical doctor? So who exactly ARE YOU THEN? I gave the manager a quizzical look.
“He’s just the spa doctor,” he said.
And that’s when I realized I was basically being examined by the Indian version of Dr. Spaceman. And promptly jerked my injured leg away from his spa-certified hands.
All visions of having my leg fixed poolside had instantly vanished. We were going to have to go to a legit hospital. In Kumarakom, India. It was the one time I actually wished I was still in Delhi, a big city with big hospitals and doctors who knew more about sterilizing instruments and setting bones than giving deep tissue massages.
The manager, still fearing a lawsuit – I think by that point I had casually mentioned that my mother was a lawyer and my father was a doctor – set us up with a chaffeaured car to take me to the ER. Better still, he was enlisting someone from the HR department to go with us, since none of us spoke the local language. (Amruta is fluent in Maranti and can get by in Hindi, but in Kerala they speak Malayalam, which I believe she described as “a crazy-assed langauge.”)
So, with the driver and the HR guy (nicknamed Toby by us, obviously) sitting in the front seat, and Amruta, Sarah and me crammed in the back, we set off toward the closest hospital. I’m pretty sure I cried all the way there, with Sarah holding my hand and stroking my hair and telling me it was going to be OK.
We finally pulled up to the ER, except it wasn’t identified as such. The sign outside, in huge letters, declared: CASUALTY.
Yes, CASUALTY. I crossed my fingers that something had been lost in translation. And then gleefully posed for a picture, because somehow it seemed like the only logical thing to do.
That’s Toby on the right, holding my Longchamp bag. And there’s me, sporting my sexy leg wound.
The ER itself was quite…well, I think Amruta used the word “rustic.” Toby told her that the main hospital was actually nicer and more technologically advanced, but the good part about the ER was that I only had to wait a few minutes to be led back to the “OR” – aka a small room with a bench in the middle. There, surrounded by nuns (Oh, did I not mention that it was a missionary hospital? And thus swarming with clergy and decorated with pictures of JC?) I laid down on the bench. A guy who appeared to be a doctor – after the “spa doctor” incident, I wasn’t asking questions – coated my shin with iodine and administered a shot. Then, he put in two stitches and basically called me a pussy for being nervous.
Here’s me, post-surgery, waiting for Toby to collect all my drugs from the hospital pharmacy.
Note: You, too, would look like that if you had to get stitches in an Indian ER. Also, check out JC watching over me. (Photo by Sarah.)
After a while, Toby returned with my meds: two types of pills for pain and a hefty dose of antibiotics. It was the first – and, fingers crossed, last – time I would be given meds with directions in Hindi.
Oh, and for all you curious, sciency-types: it turned out that the “white blob” we had trouble identifying the night before was actually fascia, the tissue that that surrounds muscle, much like a “sausage casing” (thanks Google.) Vom.
Grossness aside, I actually was pretty lucky. Yes, the cut was deep, but it didn’t go into the muscle. And the location of the cut ensured there wasn’t much blood – not a lot of vessels there – or a ton of pain – not a lot of nerves.
Of course, the stitches themselves didn’t feel great, and I did still have to be concerned about the risk of infection. When we got back to the hotel, the manager cautioned us against leaving that day. We had originally planned to spend the night on a house boat – a traditional Keralan way to see the backwaters. Instead, the manager offered to arrange an afternoon house boat trip for us for free and upgrade our accommodations for that evening.
We took him up on it.
We stopped at a “restaurant” – aka a table placed outside a little green shack right by the water – and enjoyed a traditional Keralan lunch: rice, grilled fish, cabbage, pickle and coconut milk – all served on a banana leaf.
Sarah even managed to get some work done.
And Amruta and I managed to relax.
The boat ride wrapped up just in time to catch the sunset…from our new private pool.
There were truffles, too.
And perhaps most importantly…Hotel Zuri outfits.
Which called for a bit of a photo shoot, obviously.
After the free food, the free houseboat, the comped medical care, the private pool, and the upgraded suite (still with only one king bed), Amruta and Sarah seemed pretty pleased with our adventure. Me? I’m not sure – but I’m thinking maybe it was worth it just for the story.
The recap, part 1
The recap, part 2
The recap, part 3
The recap, part 4