Thursday, August 13, 2009

Love Of The Common People 2: The reality of Swine Flu testing in Bangalore

Ever heard a doctor tell you how Swine Flu is actually good for you?

If you read my last post on my 'near-death experience' at Hyderabad, then you have the background information for this post. This post starts off the next morning (that is, this morning), when I arrived at Bangalore's Yeshwanthpur Railway Station.

After the usual fight with the auto drivers (as usual, meters are unheard of at railway stations, and the only benefit of arriving at 10.30 AM at a station is that you pay 30 rupees for a 2 kilometer ride instead of 80 rupees if you arrived at 7.30 AM), I got home at about 11. Of course, I was still quite weak from my ordeal of the previous night, and to make matters worse, wifey and the kids were also at varying stages of recovery from different illnesses. And so (with a healthy dose of advice from wifey) I decided to get myself tested for Swine Flu - or AH1N1, as every Tom/Dick/Harry and his uncle and his pet will tell you in Bangalore nowadays.

So after a cuppa at home, I dutifully checked the newspapers for the places where testing is being done in Bangalore. Today's update was that 16 hospitals in the city, including the M S Ramaiah Hospital, Mallya Hospital, Manipal Hospital and others were empaneled to conduct tests. Furthermore, some of them were said to be conducting the tests from today.

And so off I went to the MS Ramaiah Hospital. The ladies at the reception were very gracious, though I couldn't see their smile because of the surgical mask that they, like every other staff member of the hospital, were wearing. They told me in all grace, that Swine Flu testing was being done in only two places in Bangalore City - the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases (oppposite Nimhans Hospital) and Victoria Hospital (near City Market). What about the news report, I asked them. "All false news, saar" was what they could offer.

As Superstar Rajni would say, I said to myself, "Kanna, what to do? Aah? Hmm." 

So off I went to my parents' place at Cox Town, to refill my inbuilt coffee keg and draft one of my poor parents into the task of chaperoning me safely to the Swine Flu testing centre and back.

At home, my dad, being the eternal optimist, decided that the newspaper required another chance, and so he called TV 9 (the news channel). The response from them was the same - "only two places in all of Bangalore, Saar." The TV 9 man then went on to add (rather comically): "What to do, saar? This is how seriously our Government is taking Swine Flu." Dad's calls to Lakeside Hospital ("no testing, all isolation ward beds full"), Mallya Hospital (ditto) and Manipal Hospital (no response on the phone) proved equally fruitless. 

By now we decided to give up the phone hunt and decided to have lunch. And so it was 3.30 PM by the time we left home in the direction of RGICD.

For the uninitiated, the RGICD is a vast complex opposite Nimhans. You need to approach Nimhans from the direction of Dairy Circle, and swing a left at the next traffic signal. Keep on going straight-o-straight till you hit the dead end (I mean the Indian dead end) and right there in front of you is a large gate with a sign board that advertises RGICD. Drive in. Go some more straight-o-straight. when you can go no more, take a right and park by the side. Then ask people where Swine Flu testing is going on (in case you need the Kannada translation of Swine Flu, my maid tells me it is 'Handi Jwara'.) They will point you to the SARS Isolation Ward. Ironically the Swine Flu testing is taking place at the same place where Bird Flu patients are kept in isolation.

We finally reached this place after a lot of trials and tribulations, at about 4.30 PM. Imagine our shock, when the security people there grandiosely announced: "Yella Aaghoithu!" (translation: testing is finished for the day." They then pointed to a small computer printout stuck on one of the fence posts of a garden there. The notice announced the following: 


Swine Flu testing will be done from 9.00 AM to 5.00 PM only.

Registration closes at 4.00 PM.

Inconvenience is regretted.

Please cooperate.


Now I wasn't going to get tested, because I didn't have an Out Patient Department Card (OPD Card). Of course it didn't matter that I had nearly fainted in a public place the previous day, or that I had two young children at home who were at great risk if turned out AH1N1 positive.

And so the drama began. Over the next half-an-hour, I played the part of the very sick patient while my mom played herself. Some hussling and many tears later, we located the duty doctor who gave my mother and me a rather motivating talk about how we shouldn't take H1N1 so seriously, because we are all developing resistance to it (to transliterate his Kannada words into English, "Some some country's ghost we are putting colour on".) 

That he managed to get the point across and calmed mother down, speaks tomes about his experience. 

He then asked us to go back to the testing centre and wait for him. If anyone asked, he said, "Tell them I only want to test for the symptoms, and if necessary I will come back for a throat swab tomorrow." So we went back to the testing centre, and to a barrage of "no OPD Card, no treatment", "How many times to tell you", "Whether you listen to us or not, is your choice" and similar assorted comments from attendants and security who were well-intentioned but totally out of touch with reality.

My mother finally pushed her way through to a doctor, and I limped in, coughing and playing the sick patient. When I sat down I told this young Mallu doctor the whole story. He patiently listened to me, checked my breathing with the stethescope and finally told me I did not have the necessary symptoms of swine flu. It looked to him that I had a viral fever. No throat swab needed. Simple prescription of antibiotics and dolo-650 in case the fever returns, and we were out of there.

So to summarise, for those of you who plan to get yourself tested for Swine Flu:

  • As of today, only RGICD and Victoria Hospital are taking Throat Swabs for Swine Flu. I understand that the other hospitals only doing these tests on critical patients who take a turn for the worse.
  • If you need to get yourself tested at either of these places, please make sure you go there between 9 am and 4 pm and get registered. Then sit in the queue.
  • Make sure you carry your own handkerchief or mask. The N95 mask has all but become extinct in Bangalore pharmacies, and even the common surgical mask has become an endangered species. They will not provide masks at the testing centres.
  • Not everyone who goes to the testing centre gets a swab. Swine Flu testing kits are expensive (about Rs. 3,800/- per kit according to a newspaper report today) and the test will only be administered to you if a doctor at the testing centre feels you need to undergo the test.
  • Go to your local doctor and get their opinion before going to a testing centre. The doctor at the testing centre seems to take you more seriously if you have been recommended by another doctor. In fact I overheard a doctor giving this advice to a patient there.
  • Your throat swab will be sent to Pune for analysis, according to the support staff at the venue. i.e. the results will take 24 - 72 hours, or longer.
  • And if you have symptoms of a cold, first get yourself a mask. Even a kerchief is better than nothing.

Hope this post helps many others who like me are struggling with a potential Swine Flu infection.

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