Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Size Matters

It has taken me two years+ to realize that I'm a 110 percenter living in an 80 percent country.  My cravings for symmetry, accuracy, timeliness, and thoroughness are never going to be met here, so as my husband would say, 'get over it!'  I am trying.  Recently my craving for 110 percent actually got me more than I bargained for with a - with hindsight - hilarious view of the Indian perspective.  I ordered, from my lovely man at Perfect Computers (in name only, as he once told me...), a pack of A3 Epson Matte Archival Photo Paper.  It took a few weeks, but eventually it came, and I handed over my $75 and was on my way.  It was only when I got home that I realized that the paper was 'Super' A3, not just A3, which is a whole lot bigger than I had bargained for.  I called the store, they suggested I speak to Epson.  The conversation went something like this:

Epson:  "I hear you have some doubts about the paper."
Me:  "Yes, it's the wrong size."
Epson:  "What are your doubts?"
Me:  "I doubt it will fit in my A3 size printer."
Epson:  "Most people in India accept this size."
Me:  "Most people in India must have an A3+ printer then."
Epson:  "So, what are your doubts?"

This went on for a while, and included email exchanges where I sent him the definitions and sizes of A3 and Super A3/A+, until he concluded that he couldn't get the right size here, would refund the store, and I could get my money back.

Fast forward two weeks post-op and my call to Perfect Computers who agreed to refund my money, even offering to come to my apartment and collect the paper there.  As I was passing by there, I decided to do it in person.  Of course, I am looking for 110 percent, or in this case, just 100 percent of my money.  But, in typical Indian style, EVERYTHING is a negotiation, and EVERYTHING should only be done at 80%, so here goes:

Me:  "Here's the paper, I'd like my 2,995 Rupees back please as we discussed."
PC:  "Let me show you some other paper, I will give you a sample to try."  (Shows me some crappy stuff).
Me:  "It's not matte and it's not archival, so no thanks, just give me the 2,995 Rupees please."
PC:  "Is there something else you'd like in the store?"
Me:  "No thanks, I just spent 8,000 Rupees on ink from you so don't need anything for a while, just the 2,995 Rupees please."
PC:  "Well, as you bought this last month, I have closed the books and sent off the bills, so it's a problem."
Me:  "Not my problem, in fact, I never got a bill/receipt for this, so you can just give me the 2,995 Rupees please."
(Repeat this discussion twice...)
PC:  "Ok, I'll give you the cash, I just need to take off 4% tax." (fiddles with calculator)
Me:  "Er, no.  You normally ADD tax to the amount I pay, so if anything you give me more back.  Please just give me the 2,995 Rupees."
(Repeat this discussion again...)
Me:  "Here is 5 Rupees, please give me 3,000."
PC:  "Here you go.... 3,000 Rupees."

I'm not sure if there's a moral to this story other than - everything is a negotiation and you should expect that.  And stick your ground.  Size DOES matter, whether it's the size of paper, the amount of your refund, or the amount of time it takes to reach a satisfactory conclusion.  While we may only be arguing about a few dollars, to me, it's the principle of the matter and the fact that as a 'foreigner' here you never know whether the 'opposition' is trying it on because you're white OR simply because they have a livelihood to maintain.  Either way, if you have the time or the inclination to negotiate, you can have some moments that on reflection are 100% funny!

Monday, February 18, 2008


So, while laying in my hospital bed, some unscrupulous internet travel company from Italy that I have never used nor heard of stole around $700 from my checking account!  That's just what you need to come home to.  And the process of getting it back is as painful as surgery.  It all started when I looked at our online statement on Friday and realized that there was a chunk of money missing, but the itemized posting hadn't appeared yet so I called up the bank.  They told me the amount and company, even giving me a phone number, but said they couldn't do anything about it until it had 'posted' onto the account - why didn't I call them?  We actually tried the number - doesn't exist - but I didn't feel it my job to call them, given I hadn't even heard of them!  And how weird not to be able to do anything - basically, let them take the money first, without stopping them, then get it back.  Cart before horse?  They then went onto tell me that the card number used was one that isn't even in our possession.  Nor have we ever met.  So they closed the card.  The weekend passed and on Tuesday, I called again.  Did it post?  No.  Could I stop it posting?  No.  After 45 minutes on the phone, we figured out that the guy we're talking to is literally 10 minutes down the road from us here in India.  I asked if he could just pop around and give me the money.  He declined.  He did recommend that once I was reimbursed, I should take all the money out of the account, close it, and reopen another.  I told him that after three rounds of fraud in two years, I was ready to take all the money out and just close it.  Finally, on Wednesday, five days after me first spotting it, the fraudsters took all my money - and more - and it posted on the account.  I called again.  I was told many contrary things - the card was just issued to me, no it wasn't, yes it was, oh no, in 2001, then in 2005.  Who knows why.  Then I was told I should have been sent straight to fraud on the Friday, and I wasn't.  Who knows why.  I shouldn't have been told to call the merchant, but I was.  Who knows why.  So, as we sit here, I am waiting to be credited for nearly $700 so I can go and take it all out of the bank for good.  I'm sure they won't miss me but the fraudsters who have plagued us probably will!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A is for Appendix...

So, today I had my stitches removed. All seven of them spread across three tiny cuts. Very neat. So as the physical pain subsides, the mental pain of our healthcare claim begins. For those NOT familiar with the US system, you have a kind of healthcare insurance that you pay monthly but there are so many rules: you have to visit a doctor within their network, or pay a lot more to go 'out of network,' which obviously we do as we are VERY out of network; you have to get 'precertified' before you can have a procedure, which means getting an approval code from them, even if it's an emergency, and that can be tricky in another time zone; and there are code numbers for EVERYTHING which, without, it becomes tricky to claim. So, last night, we bit the bullet and called up to get our post-op pre-approval and while the customer service people were lovely, if their questions are anything to go by, we could be in for a loooong claim process:

Them: "What was wrong with you?"
Me: "I had acute appendicitis."
Them: "How do you spell that. I'm not a medical person."
Me: " A P P E N D I C I T I S."
Them: "What happened?"
Me: "I had it removed."
Them: "What's that called? Wait a minute while I consult a nurse...."
Me: "Appendectomy."
Them: "How do you spell that? I'm not a medical person...."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Service Overload

Anyone who's ever been to India will know that the service levels here vary wildly - there's over attentive in any store you walk in, to the point that the assistant is a hair's breadth behind you and it becomes a game to swing round quickly and stare them right in the face, asking them 'what do they want.'  And then there's the service you really need, like when something's broken at home, needs replacing or refilling, then usually, there's no-one to be seen for hours.  Days.  Weeks.  Hospital in-patient service here is like the former, although they can't actually get into bed with you, the staff spends as much time as possible in your room, through waking and sleeping hours.  Now, this is probably a good thing, I hear you say, given that the health service in supposed fully-developed countries is crumbling and people are dying versus receiving life-saving operations.  I agree wholeheartedly.  The healthcare here has been second to none.  From the ER to admission to OR and discharge, everything went smoothly and quickly - both words not characteristically associated with India.  However, the line has to be drawn somewhere.  And I draw it at the 5:15am bucket bath.  As I lay helplessly hooked up to the IV the first day post-op, the over-zealous nurse arrived around 5:15am to change the drip and inquired, "would you like your bath now?"  NOW?  It's not even dawn!  Why would I want to bathe pre-dawn?  With a stranger?  Don't answer that.  I said no, later.  "6am?"  WHY??  My negotiating instinct kicked in - yes, even at that time.  I would bathe at 6am in exchange for a cup of tea.  "No, not until doctor has done his rounds."  What time is that?  "9am."  Well, I figure I'll bathe at 9am then too.  That didn't go down well.  I think we settled at a time around 6:30am.  And no tea was forthcoming for another 24 hours.  The next day was different.  Nurse arrived at 6am and I feigned sleep.  A deep sleep.  Complete with eye mask and a little snoring.  The nurses were very similar to the stewardesses on planes who will wake you out of a near coma to offer you some tasteless snacks and a cup of tea.  Or, as I experienced on a BA flight to Heathrow, the first-time flyer next to you who wakes you to tell you they are bringing tea around.  Or some headphones.  Or a menu.  Or a snack.  Or a visa form.  It might be a treat for you, lady, but the last thing I need is waking up every time a stewardess comes around on an 11 hour flight!  Anyway, as I say, I got away with the early bath on day two.  And bathed myself, with a little help from hubby, at a more reasonable hour of 8am.  Aside from the enforced early baths, the service was second to none and I doubt that I would have received better care anywhere else in the world.  And all for the bargain price of $4,000.  You wouldn't even get the bath for that in the US!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lose an Organ, Lose Weight

It's now over a week since I got sick prior to the appendicitis and I weigh around 4kg (8.8lb) less!  If you add that to the 6kg (13.2lb) that I lost since November, you have a whole Olsen twin!  Granted, my weight loss since November was a combination of a) lots of exercise b) low-carb eating and c) a couple of colon cleansings in New York; a more preferential way to lose it than that of the last seven days!  My friend the breeder is currently undergoing her own method of post-partum weight loss, involving eating a dodgy chicken stroganoff in India... ouch.  Despite the fact that I weigh a considerable 65kg (143lb), it amused me that in the hospital the nurses wouldn't give me intra-muscular injections in my arm because they said it was 'too thin,' opting for my 'fatter' thigh instead.  My complaint that I was thin because they didn't feed me for two days went unheard.  Let's recap:  my diet for the first day after surgery comprised of two capfuls of water, and the next day wasn't much better.  My pleas for a cup of tea went unheard as their version of the 'liquid diet' didn't include my favourite morning beverage, but did include foaming pineapple juice and something resembling dish water labelled 'soup.'  So I got rather excited when I saw barley water on the menu; it took me straight back to the days of summer and picnics when I was a kid, sipping Robinsons Barley Water during Wimbledon.... Of course, in India things are not quite as they seem.  Or maybe they are EXACTLY what they seem.  I waited a half hour until the barley water arrived.  In a flask.  Lukewarm.  Beige foam on top.  And looking, smelling - and tasting - like flour and water glue paste.  It was indeed barley water.  But not Robinsons.  And definitely not for me!  Please Britvic, don't buy and bottle this one! 

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Worm's Eye View

If you ever wondered what went on during an appendectomy, here it is, with helpful commentary:

I left my appendix in Bengaloooooo-ru...

... not quite as catchy as Tony's Bennett's Heart/San Francisco version, but more factually accurate.  What began as a Thursday post-dinner, "ooh, I have a case of Delhi-belly," to a Friday night of, "ooh, I think I'm in labour but am not pregnant," to a Saturday, "not hungry, not sure why, not sick, but something's wrong..." ended up with me being admitted, feverish and rashy, on Sunday to The Manipal Hospital, suspected of everything from malaria to dengue fever to cholera (that will teach me to mention it on this blog!)

After extensive blood tests, x-rays, urine tests, ultrasounds, and a CT scan - and reluctantly being admitted to the luxurious 11th floor - it was quickly determined that I had an inflamed appendix - appendicitis - and it needed to come out.  (Image NOT to scale - and NOT mine!)

Redundant body parts:  I have a history of getting traditionally childhood diseases later in life - tonsils out at 21 and chickenpox around 25 - and of getting rid of unnecessary body parts - tonsils, being one, and I was born without wisdom teeth (you don't need them, we've progressed genetically since then) and even an incisor (when was the last time you needed it to chew up a carcass?)  So, getting rid of this useless 'appendage' was a no-brainer.  Except for the fact that I've never had a 'real' operation, nor have I ever had stitches (a fact I was quite proud of just a week ago... again, that will teach me to talk about these things!), and that it would severely curtail my extensive travel plans over the next few weeks!!!  Oh, and the minor issue that in the whole time in India I haven't even dared go to the dentist for fear of some hideous infection, let alone have someone slice me open, poke around inside, and stitch me back up again.

All roads lead to Yorkshire:  My surgeon, however, was pretty convincing.  A lovely man, who trained in the UK and of course, worked at Bradford Royal Infirmary in his time.  For those of you not familiar, Bradford is the curry capital of England and whenever I go home to Yorkshire, I head there for a curry and feel I have been transported back to Bangalore, although it has a greater Muslim than Hindu population.

Through the Keyhole:  In a speed not generally associated with India, I was whisked from, "ok, let's do it," to the operating theatre - via the cash payment desk and the 'nipple to mid-thigh shave' - in around an hour.  I was to be operated on laparscopically, which to you and I means, 'keyhole surgery,' not to be confused with the hit tv show, and would still be able to model for the Sports Illustrated calendar.  Should I ever be asked.

Luxury - at a price:  So, off I went, carted off from the luxury of the 11th floor - the categories of rooms at the hospital range from 'General' at $25 per night and shared with 99 of your closest friends to 'Super-Duper Executive Luxury Suite Type' at $300 per night.  We plumped for one at the higher end of the range, large enough to sleep hubby in the spare bed, but small enough that I didn't get exhausted walking around it.

Pecking order:  The surgery was 'uneventful' but, I'm told, absolutely necessary.  It was nasty inside there.  Words like 'puss' were used a lot.  Oh, and my colon had started to wrap itself around the nasty unnecessary organ.  Enough said.  And I felt quite perky afterwards, aside from laying in the recovery room for 2.5 hours alongside a woman who clearly didn't sound like she was recovering.  In fact, I thought a holy cow had wandered in there, the noises that were emanating from her.  And I had three requests.  In this order:  1.  I want to see the surgeon.  2.  I want to see the detached appendix.  3.  I want to see my husband.  I put this thoughtlessness down to the after effects of the anaesthetic.  But we'll never know.

Suffice to say that the 'third on the list' had heard of the successful surgery and run straight across the road to the luxury mall to buy me a fresh pair of my favourite PJs and some magazines.  Neither 1. nor 2. would have done that.  Without a doubt.

As I returned to my room, I felt comfortable, relaxed, and happy that I'd made the right decision.  And desperate for a cup of tea.  But that was not to be...

To be continued...