This one is dedicated to Lakshmi, for her bunks and back-massages. And to Raj, for his coffee and dishwashing. And to both for the postponed Paris trip due to the following incident..
“I was on my way to the campus on my bike. I saw some cars a little distance behind me. So, I reckoned I better get on the pavement at the next turn. But I misjudged the height of the pavement and couldn’t get my bike on it. The tyre scraped against the side of the pavement and the bike fell, throwing me off it. I guess I skid for some distance and stopped when my head hit a pole. A lady and a gentleman came to me and helped me up on my feet. But then I had a blackout and I sat on the road to avoid falling down again. Then they asked me if I needed a doctor. My mouth was filling with blood so I nodded as I thought I might have broken a tooth and needed to see a dentist. Then they called for an ambulance and your medics got me here.”
I recited the same tale (for the nth time) to the nurse nodding as she noted it all down on a clipboard for the Doc’s benefit. Before this it had been the medics and then Lakshmi (who had oh-so-thankfully answered my call for help immediately as the medics tortured me with form-filling and interrogation, apparently oblivious to the blood-stained tissue on my lips). And then there was the other medic. And then the secretary. And then the insurance guy… The recital, of course, was to go on for the next couple of days till the hobbling and limping persisted. And of course, I had to bunk the Cross-Cultural Communication class I was heading for, thanks to the whole episode. But what followed that day was more of a lesson in Cross-cultural communication than any class could possibly have taught me!
As the pain diminished during the wait in the hospital room after the nurse left, I felt a little embarrassed by the tad overreaction. Hell, I was being wheeled around in a wheelchair for falling off my ruddy bicycle! And the nurse just told me that I may have to be kept ‘under observation’ for two days in the hospital! I mean, if it had been India, I would probably had got up 5 minutes after the whole thing and hobbled in the dentist’s myself! (Oh, in case the reader didn’t know, this true story is based in a little village in Germany by the name Rüdersheim, which is where the hospital was-which is some distance from smaller village called Oestrich-Winkel, which is where I live. And where I study. And where I fall off bikes.)
After an hour long excruciating wait, with Lakshmi making valiant attempts at cracking Scrubs jokes to keep me from passing out again, the Doc finally made an appearance. It seemed she was most concerned about my head-banging (so to say) and repeated the nurse’s dire warnings about getting admitted. I realized right then that I was grossly hospitalophobic (whatever they call it in their Greek-Latin-mangled terminology). Indeed, I would rather have taken the accident again than 2 days in the hospi.
So as the Doc, poked my head and shook my face in all possible places and asked if it hurt, I winced as she knocked her knuckles right where I had hit the pole, but replied in the negative for most part of it. Finally, after some more cross-questioning, she said she would send me for an X-Ray of my head to look for fractures or possible internal bleeding. Horrified by the proportion to which the whole thing was blowing, I asked if it was very necessary. “Ja, Ja”, she replied, “We must check! It ees because you had this turn-around.”
“This turn-around you had. After you fall down.”
As the blankness of my look persisted, Lakshmi helpfully interjected, “I think she means the fact that you felt dizzy after the accident.”
“Ooooh.. I see.”, in my attempts to suppress a smile (both because of its inappropriateness and the fact that smiling made me feel like all my teeth would drop out of my mouth) I forgot all about protesting against the X-Ray. My Doc apparently wasn’t quite as adept at English as her nurse. As Lakshmi later noted, English knowledge seemed to bear no correlation with academic qualifications in Germany.
“We want to check if you have umm.. err… .”
“If you have that.. err… what do you say…” She then made some wild animated gestures on her head.
“Concussion?”, I guessed, my Dumb-C skills kicking in.
“Umm… I don’t know the Eenglish of eet.”, she shrugged.
“Con-cu-shun?”, I tried again.
“Ja, ja. Kan-koo-syon.”
“Okay. Kankoosyon.”, I resigned. The relief at getting it right superseded the fear I should probably have felt at the prospect of having had a concussion. She further asked if I had lost consciousness after the accident.
“No, I could not see or hear for a couple of seconds. But I was conscious.”, I insisted.
“But you said earlier that you were unconscious.”, the nurse interjected.
“I’m sorry for the misunderstanding. But I said I blacked out. Not that I was unconscious.”
“So you were biconscious?”
“You were not unconscious.”
“So you were biconscious.”
“What does that mean?” (Damn Freud for adulterating the English language!)
“What is the opposite of unconscious?”
“Then what is biconscious?”
“I don’t know. I have never heard the word.”
The nurse then turned to the Doc and said something in German. Loosely translated by my pathetic German, she reckoned biconscious was probably not a word after all. I congratulated myself for her trust in my English knowledge.
“Ooooh!”, it was now the Doc’s turn to jump into the etymological exercise, “How do you spell conscious?”
We tried a couple of times to spell it out for her, but the German alphabet is a bit different from the English version. So Lakshmi had to finally write it down for her as I sat back in my wheelchair, wondering how many people were bleeding through their teeth outside, waiting for the Doc to take this opportunity to enhance her vocabulary.
“Excuse me.”, I decided to interrupt the Doctor’s the moment of glee, “When can I see the dentist? My tooth hurts.”
“Oh we have no dentist ‘ere.”
“No dentist? In the entire hospital?” (For reference, it was a 6-storeyed building.)
“Nein. You will have to go to the next village-Geisenheim-for that.”
“So can I go there now?” (Please don’t remember the X-Ray. Please. Please!)
“After we see your X-Ray and monitor your BP some time. Eet was very low when you came.”
“Please feel this form.”
And so we embarked the grievous task of filling yet another form, this one, most unhelpfully, entirely in German.
“What does this mean?”, I said, pointing at one of the many questions written in the gibberish that German is to me.
“It means do you have any breaknessy?”, my Doc intelligently explained.
“Oh! Won’t the X-Ray tell if there are any broken bones sort of a thing?”, I asked, smiling inwardly at the silly question.
“Nein, nein. It means if you have breaknessy. Breaknenssy!” This time though, she made a gesture which means the same thing in all languages.
“NO!”, I replied as I realized the question wasn’t that silly after all and that ‘breaknessy’ was in fact ‘pregnancy’ (Bless the German society).
“Are you sure?”
“YES!!” (If there’s ONE thing I’m sure of!)
As the four of us wasted another 5 minutes of the next patient’s time laughing at the vehemence of my response, I wondered why they never asked such questions before taking X-Rays back in India. Probably, a kid sitting in a hospital for having fallen off her bike on her way to school was assumed to not be pregnant in India. German medicine, however, was apparently not as presumptuous as its Indian counterpart.
After a minute of invasive X-Rays passing through my face at all angles and two hours of waiting for them to do so, we were back with the Doc seeking her blessing with me fervently praying for a farewell to go with it.
“Hmm.. “, she said, studying the arbit symbols drawn by the X-Ray guy on a piece of paper (while making small talk to us about how he had spent 2 months in Soo-rat and how much he liked India). “Your head is OK.” (Well I’d be damned.) “There is no fracture.” (I’m guessing I would have known if my skull had cracked open. But thanks anyway for the info.) “But, just to be sure, we will have to keep you under observation for 6 hours.” (Triple crap.)
Another attempt at escape- “But we have already been here 4 hours. They are included, right?”
“Oh, but the nurse does not spik Engleesh. Do you spik Deutsche?”, she asked me as she introduced us to nurse no. ∞.
“Ich sprechen kein Deutcsche.”, I recited the most useful sentence I learnt in my waste-of-a-German-class a month ago.
“I will get Indian nurse. She spik Indish. You spik Indish?”, the obviously non-English speaking nurse asked me.
“Umm.. ja.”, I could only manage, wondering which of the scores of ‘Indishes’ nurse no (∞+1) spoke.
Miraculously though, ‘Indish’ turned out to be a Malyali (as is Lakshmi). The nurse was overjoyed at meeting her and both happily chatted rapidly in a language that I understood, if possible, even worse than German. But at least someone in the room could translate well! And apart from me having had to point out my about to burst forearm as she, engrossed in the Mallu reunion, pumped endless air into the BP thingie wrapped around it, all went reasonably well from there and I soon fell asleep to the background score of Mallu Rap playing in the room.
After what felt like a wink to me but was 2 hours to the world around me, Lakshmi woke me saying we had to rush as Raj was here with a cab to take to the dentist and the driver (of Pakistani origins, the only culture left so far-my own!) said he can’t wait long. I fumbled with my shoe laces even as the Mallu sister was back to check my BP one last time. Strangely enough, despite having had my BP checked 4 times in the day in all, I never got to know what the machine said after that first time. Anyway, shrugging away that thought, I hobbled behind Lakshmi to the cab after getting the permission to leave from my Doc who seemed finally convinced my head wasn’t about to burst open (though she did tell me to come again the next day. “Yeah, over my dead body”. I checked myself for that thankless impulse thought.)
And so, seven hours after the accident, I was finally on my way to see the doctor I had asked for in the first place!
More notably, I was on my way to the dentist’s seven years after my last encounter with one. (Oh, how I despise that species of docs!). I still vividly remember the last time I had been to one for getting a cavity filling. She had told me to come back after a month by when the filling would probably come out, for a Root Canal Treatment. And then visit a dentist every 6 months thereafter. “Yeah, over my dead body” has been my impulse thought to that sort of suggestions for a long time now. Yet, it seemed my face-forward skidding body on a German road had done the trick. (Oh, and whether because of some medical miracle or the force of my will or sheer luck, the filling is still very much in place. And I still very much fear the day it will come off its socket and i will have to head for the gallows, ahem, dentist drill again.)
What transpired at this dentist’s is another tale for another day (My sole English-speaking nurse during the day asked me not to look at screens for the next couple of days. I don’t think typing 5 word pages was what she exactly had in mind for me.). By the end of it though, I did end up fleeing yet again after finding out that invasive electromagnetic rays were not done with me for the day yet as they scanned my jaw this time. Another hour (and several hard-earned Euros) down the drain and the dentist gave me the good news that no jaw bones/teeth were broken. For the pain he gave me the no-brainer choice of either getting a denture made for my teeth to help me eat or living on a liquid diet for 3 weeks. I was out of there in no time after that.
As I lay in my bed at home that night, I reflected on how eventful the presumably normal day had turned out to be. I thought of how it had left me knowing all these new people I had met, how I had improved my dumb-C skills (if not my German-speaking skills). How poor Lakshmi had had to bunk all those classes and bear all those hours of endless waiting for me. How Raj had to run around shopping for my renewed limitations on diet (as if my vegetarianism wasn’t problem enough!). Anyway though, I told myself, a day that ends up with a tub of ice-cream with your name on it, couldn’t have been all bad either!
PS: Almost forgot to eulogize the subject of the title! As me and Lakshmi tried to measure up the possible costs of all the expensive treatment I was undergoing- the X-Rays, the room in the Hospi, the Doc’s time and everything, and found our imaginations incapable of the task; we cautiously asked the Doc about it.
“You were going to school?”
“Yes. I mean, ja.”
“Was there rain on the road?”
“Was there any other car?”
“Nein. It was entirely my fault.” (All that remains now is for me to get down on my wounded knee and beg forgiveness.)
“Seence you fell on your way to school and not when you were going for your privaat work, and there was no one else involved in the accident, German laws say that the school’s insurance will pay. We weel send them the bill.”
Bless those Germans!! Bless their laws. And their Strawberry ice-creams.