Christmas at the Breach Candy

by gahan3612

Christmas at the Breach Candy

 

By Anthony Parmiter

 

For those who want something slightly different on holiday when they visit Bombay, and certainly a change from the Slumdog/Shantaram approach to tourism.

 

A Christmas break with a difference

 

The trip to India had been on the cards for ages, and finally we were going. Lizzie had

planned our trip meticulously well in advance. We were flying out in mid-December.

She had done all the planning in July and August and the itinerary was mouth-watering. A few days in Bombay to visit old friends and spend a day at the second Test Match at the Brabourne club, then an overnight train journey to Ranthambore for tiger spotting, then the Temple Express to Delhi to stay with another old friend, the Australian High Commissioner, not the one, I don’t think, that features in Q&As, (the book on which Slumdog Millionaire is based).

We were to stay in Delhi over Christmas at the Australian High Commission, with trips around old and new Delhi and especially to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and also Fathepur Sikri. Then it was to be Rajasthan – Jaipur and Udaipur – staying in old palaces, then back to Delhi for an overnight stay with Aussie HC, and then fly to Cochin for a couple of days, and then wind our way down to Kerala, past Trivandrum and Kovvalam finally to come to rest in a resort on Mulloor beach by the village of Vizniyam.

We were now, in mid-December, off to Bombay with Etihad via terminal 3 (ugh) at Heathrow with a stopover in Abu Dhabi.

My nephew, who flits between London and Bombay, had assured us of his closest attention in Bombay. He was so very eager to show us his home city.

One of the problems Lizzie had encountered was booking a hotel in Bombay. December is the season of parties and weddings, but the nephew had managed to get us booked into the Sea Green hotel on Marine Drive. It didn’t seem too expensive, and apparently it was clean and comfortable.

Terminal 3 at Heathrow is no treat. Our middle daughter had dropped us off there in return for hanging on to my car for the month we were going to be away. I repeat Terminal 3 is no treat, and I had to keep reminding Lizzie that the holiday would not start until we reached the hotel in Bombay.

The first problem we encountered was at Abu   Dhabi. The stopover stretched to 8 hours, and there is not much going on in Abu Dhabi so we ensconced ourselves in the premier lounge and enjoyed the fare in between trying to have the odd nap.

We finally arrived at Bombay airport at about 10.00pm local tine. I looked out for the nephew but couldn’t see him. As we went through customs and immigration my mobile rang and it was him. “Welcome to Bombay!” was the exuberant greeting. “Where are you neph?” I asked, still scanning the crowd ahead. “At the Willingdon Club” and now it was clear that his voice was not only exuberant but also the subject of a certain amount of slurring.

“So you won’t be coming to the airport?” I asked, but it was more a statement than a question. “Just go to the taxi desk and get a pre-paid taxi. I’ll see you at the Sea Green,” he replied joyously.

We struggled through the crowd looking for a sign for taxis pushing our trolley. We finally saw it and around the desk was chaos. There were crowds of overexcited people shouting and gesticulating trying to book taxis. Lizzie became one of them and eventually triumphantly emerged with a ticket. We were then directed to the appropriate exit and handed over to 2 eager helpers who pushed our trolley into the darkness.

Another 2 appeared by the taxi rank and pushed one of our bags into the boot and threw the other onto the roof rack. The taxi was an ancient fake Fiat, which had lost its springs sometime in the ‘60s.

There were now 6 smiling faces looking at me and mildly wiggling their heads. As you cannot get Rupees outside India I gave them a pound each. The heads wiggled more vigorously as we climbed into the taxi and we bounced along into Bombay.

An hour later we were grinding down Marine   Drive, looking for the Sea Green. The taxi driver stopped at the Intercontinental and motioned with his hand towards it. “No good” I said and we continued on. Not much further we saw the Sea Green sign, and it didn’t do a thing to lift our spirits.

We got out and the driver said “500 Rupees”. “But we have already paid!” I told him in irritation. The driver looked threatening but the nephew appeared from the shadows and saw him off with a torrent of Maharatti.

We all embraced and went into the hotel. The lighting was low and the place looked like it needed a pretty fundamental refurbishment if not complete rebuilding. Booking in took forever, and the irritation that had started with the delay in Abu Dhabi and had been building ever since rose another notch or two.

“I need a drink,” I said when the formalities were finally done. “There is no bar or restaurant here, “they said, “but we will send out for anything you want.”

“Forget it” I said. “We’ve got Scotch in the suitcase. Let’s go up to the room and have a drink there.” We made our way to the ancient lift, replete with cage doors and a lift attendant. We went up first and the bags followed. We made our way to the room past a man sleeping in the corridor. I looked quizzically at the nephew, who said: “probably one of the boys. (It would seem that all male servants are called boys regardless of their age). We got to the room plus 3 boys. The nephew dispensed Rupees, and nodded a few times as they were explaining something to him. “They will be in the corridor if you want anything,” he said. “That’s where they sleep.”

Lizzie was looking decidedly glum and grim. “Well, it’s nice big room,” I said as cheerily as my irritation would allow. “It’s not very clean,” she replied lips pursed.

I opened the bottle of Scotch and poured us all a drink. The nephew was in great spirits, and was clearly ready for a decent session. Lizzie was looking grimmer by the minute and finally announced: “I am extremely tired, and would like to go to bed”.

“Time to go neph,” I told him. He protested at first, but with his usual good humour departed with a smile. “See you tomorrow” he said.

I poured myself another whisky. Lizzie refused and went to have a shower. Suddenly a great weariness overtook me. I just wanted a shower to rid me of the grime of travel and then to bed.

I undressed and as Lizzie came out of the bathroom she said: “Be careful, the floor’s wet and slippery.”

I went grumpily into the bathroom with my glass of whisky. Immediately my right leg shot forward on the slippery surface and my left leg buckled and tucked itself underneath my bottom. With my spare hand I grabbed the basin which was not properly attached to the wall and came away in my grasp. I shot across the room, snowboarding, as it were, on my left ankle. The whisky glass did not survive and there was glass everywhere and blood (and whisky) all over my right leg. The pain was excruciating, and as I extracted the left foot from underneath me I noticed that the ankle was at an angle I had never seen before, and I hoped I would never see again.

Lizzie rushed into the bathroom, and looked in horror at the scene. Her first words were: “I told you it was wet and slippery.” Then: “Can you wiggle your toes?” I wiggled. The excruciating pain was subsiding into numbness. “Let’s see if you can stand and walk. She helped me up and back into the bedroom. I could stand and walk, albeit with great difficulty. “It won’t be broken then.” She declared positively.

I nodded in agreement. She called out to the corridor and two boys appeared and swept up the glass in the bathroom. I got into bed with my foot up. Lizzie cleaned the blood on my right knee which turned out to be only from superficial cuts. Then I went to sleep.

The next morning the ankle was very stiff, numb and swollen. “Do you think you ought to see a doctor?” asked Lizzie anxiously “It’s only a sprain,” I said. “It’ll be alright in a day or two. I wasn’t very mobile so Lizzie rang the nephew and asked him to get a stick, some tubigrip and flip-flops, as I couldn’t get a shoe onto my left foot.

We lunched very well at the Willingdon club and, after a siesta, went out with some friends of the nephew in the evening to a nightclub and on to a restaurant. I was secretly beginning to have doubts about my ability to cope with train rides and climbing monuments, but I was sticking to the “It’s only a sprain” script. The nephew’s friends consisted mostly of lawyers and medics, and none of them liked the look of my ankle and urged me to see a doctor. One of them, a dentist, said he had a good friend who was the leading orthopaedic surgeon in Bombay. And he could arrange an appointment. “It’s only a sprain,” I repeated with less conviction.

When I woke the next morning I realised the game was up. The ankle had swollen and was extremely tender. Travelling was going to be awkward and painful.

The nephew made the arrangements and I went for an X-ray at 11.00 in the morning and then to see the eminent orthopaedic surgeon, Doctor K, at three in the afternoon. There was time for lunch (an extremely good one) at the Brabourne club, where we would have been anyway had the test match not been moved from Bombay.

At 3.00 we were ushered into Dr K’s study (it was Saturday). I immediately took to him. He had a good humoured charm and been trained in England. We handed him the X-rays. He took them out and clipped them onto the light box on the wall behind his desk. I stared at them. Surely the foot should be more closely aligned to the leg? But I was no expert. Dr K was and he was rubbing his chin.

“I don’t like that ankle,” he said. “It needs to be operated on as soon as possible. I’ll see if I can get you into the BreachCandyHospital without delay?” He looked at me expectantly. I had complete confidence in him and I nodded dazedly. Hospital. Operation. I hadn’t been in hospital since I had had my tonsils out when I was 16. And that had been a desperate affair.

He was on the phone trying to get me a private bed. There seemed to be a bit of a problem. Finally he turned to me and said: “They can get you into a private room on Sunday evening and I will operate first thing on Monday. But I want you in now, so that they don’t move anyone else in. They’ll put you up in the day ward until then”.

The nephew took us to the Breach Candy through the chaotic traffic. Every driver’s finger was on the horn, cars veered from one lane to another, but miraculously no accidents and no road rage. The sides of the roads were teeming with people, but only the occasional cow. Most of the buildings were in a state of dilapidation, and innumerable bin bag shelters that were home to many millions. People criss crossed the road on foot, on bicycles, pushing carts, and we even saw one man with a burning stove carried on his head on a piece of wood. Motor scooters carried whole families and weaved perilously in and out of the traffic.

We finally turned into BreachCandyHospital. Attached to the walls were flimsy pieces of bamboo scaffolding upon which was a hive of activity. Men, mostly thin, were painting the walls. No hard hats, no safety harness, just bare feet and amazing agility.

I hobbled into the reception and two boys (again grown men) appeared with a wheelchair. I thankfully sat down while Lizzie dealt with the formalities. I was then wheeled to the lift and taken to the ward on the fourth floor. I was met by Matron, a reassuring sight, who spoke excellent English.

I was taken to a bed in the day ward. There were about eight beds, and I took one near the door (just in case).

I was asked to undress and put on the most ludicrous pair of pyjamas I had ever seen. It was explained to me that they only had one size (the economy of scale), and they had to make sure they fitted even the largest patient. I wrapped the cord around me about fifteen times.

Lizzie and the nephew were still with me and we chatted desultorily. Lizzie had brought books, including Ken Follett’s colossus about building a cathedral in the 12th century.

The nephew had to go, and I urged Lizzie to go with him, as she was in a bit of a state, and I didn’t want her alone in the streets of Bombay.

When they had left, deflation and boredom set in. I looked around the room. I had thought I was alone but one of the beds had the curtains almost closed around it, and I could just make out a pair of feet sticking out at the end. There was no movement, and I was in no position to go over and say hello.

I opened Ken Follett and got stuck into mediaeval superstition, torture, jealousy, brutality, carnal lust, vengeance, betrayal, disease, war and all things red and bloodthirsty.

A nurse came in to take my blood pressure and told me that the next day they would take a series of tests. We chatted. She told me she came from Kerala like most of the nurses, and that she was a Christian.

A dietician came to see about feeding me. The choices were Indian – vegetarian and non-vegetarian – or Continental – vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I decided that Continental vegetarian was the safest, as being pretty well immobile I didn’t want to add Delhi belly to my woes.

When my dinner came it was on a splendid tray with shiny metal dome covers over the plate. The boys who brought the tray whipped off the covers simultaneously as they do in some of the more pretentious restaurants. And there, behold, was a hamburger, cooked to a cinder –  served up in a Bombay hospital!

There was also some soup of indeterminate parentage and some bread. I warily tasted the soup, it wasn’t too bad, and I finished it and the bread.

More Ken Follett and I was brought a cup of cocoa and then the lights went out. The feet in the far bed had not moved an inch, and I had the uncomfortable thought that this ward might also operate as an overspill morgue.

I slept quite well, but was woken at 5.00am, but had to wait until after seven for my breakfast which was brought with a smile and a wiggle of the head which I was getting used to. I took it to be a sign of sympathy or friendliness.

The feet were still there behind the curtain.

Soon after breakfast a man arrived in the ward with a suitcase and went behind the curtain which he pulled right across obscuring my vision. I hoped he wasn’t going to perform an autopsy on the spot.

Shortly afterwards the curtain was thrown back and the man appeared followed by a woman (and I recognised the feet) carrying the suitcase.

After her departure there was a bit of a lull before all hell let loose.

First I asked for my washbag. “I want to do my teeth.” “No tea now, Mr Anthony. Later.”

My mouth didn’t feel too good, so I had some water. Then one of the nurses and a couple of boys came in with a bowl and my washbag. “The brushings,” she announced, and I gratefully brushed my teeth.

Then I had my blood pressure (BeePee they trilled) taken, then an ECG. Then a chap appeared with 2 assistants, and produced the largest hypodermic syringe I had ever seen or imagined. “Blood test, suh,” he said unnecessarily. “God’s sake,” says I. “What is that?” It was a rhetorical question but he answered obligingly. “Blood test, suh.”

It seemed to take an age, and one of the two boys with him held a test tube as he filled each one up with my blood. I idly wondered how much would end up on the streets of Bombay.

The day went on with endless tests. I was taken down to X-ray for my leg. Then I was brought back up again. More blood pressure tests, then I was taken down to X-ray again for my chest. Then back up again. More BeePee, then ECG.

I was visited by the chief physician Dr G, short for God I gathered. He was a tall, elegant distinguished man who spoke precise impeccable English, according to the Peter Sellers School of Diction. He arrived like royalty with an entourage which included three nurses, a cardiologist, another physician and a battery of boys, one of whom was proudly carrying his stethoscope.

Later on I was visited by a chap with a cut throat razor. He smiled a little wildly and pointed to my leg. He looked disconcertingly like Saddam Hussein.

Having carefully shaved my leg, he waved the razor at me and said: “private parts.” I drew the sheets up to my neck in horror and said: “get off. It’s just my leg.” I didn’t want any mistakes while I was under the anaesthetic. His eyes enlarged and he waved the razor in a menacing manner and his voice went up an octave or two and he loudly repeated: “private parts!” “Bugger off you pervert,” I replied.

His eyes now were quite wide and burning. His moustache twitched. He waved the razor closer to my face and screamed fanatically: “private parts! private parts!” I rang the bell in panic and one of the sisters came in and an animated conversation took place between them in what I assumed to be Hindi. She then turned to me and said: “Doctors’ orders. Mr Anthony,” and she wagged a finger at me. Saddam was inching closer, his eyes gleaming and the razor held at the ready. I decided it was time to pull rank. “Get him out of here.” I cried. “I’m paying good money and I won’t tolerate this!” She saw I was determined and escorted the deranged razor man from my presence. I was breathless and tense.

The sister came back and took my blood pressure. She looked at me anxiously. “What’s the matter Mr Anthony? Your BeePee has gone right up.” “Just keep Saddam away from me and I’ll be alright” I said, and let out a long sigh.

Dr K came and looked at my ankle. He smiled reassuringly and told me he would operate at nine the next (Monday) morning.

I was finally moved to my private room which was large and had a TV and a balcony with a view of the sea and a couch and other furniture. It was 7,000 Rupees per night.

I immediately noticed I got more attention. I was visited by 3 nurses (all Keralan) who took my blood pressure yet again and fussed around me in a manner I hadn’t noticed before.

Sunny introduced himself. He was going to be the main boy looking after me. He also waved a hand at the smaller boy behind him. “He not speak English,” he said dismissively. The little chap grinned hugely.

The television was a bit of a magnet, and soon we were all watching the test match on my magnificent TV, most of the boys finding a reason to visit my room. We all communicated as best we could.

The nephew and Liz were joined by some old friends from Bombay, and I suggested that they all went out to dinner. When you are lying in bed immobile, there is a limit to the amount of time you actually want the visitors to stay. They all left laughing. Liz and the nephew said they would come in at 7.00am in the morning, but the last thing I wanted was a lot of fussing about before I went down to the operating theatre.

Dinner came and went virtually untouched.

One of the nurses came in to take my blood pressure and said: “Where is your wife?” “She’s gone out to dinner with friends,” I replied. “You are going to be alone tonight?” she asked incredulously. “I sincerely hope so,” I said jovially. “I’m paying 7,000 rupees a night. I hope you are not going to sneak anyone else in.” She rolled her eyes. “Aacha!” She was clearly horrified.

I had a cup of cocoa at 10 pm and lights went out. I slept reasonably well.

Another early call but no tea. I read some more Ken Follett. Dr K came to visit. He was in good spirits and twiddled my big toe, and held up his hand. “Steady as a rock,” he declared, and told me that the anaesthetist would be along in a moment.

I changed from my voluminous pyjamas into a white backless night shirt so beloved of hospitals. Then I was visited by the anaesthetist. She told me she was going to give me an epidural because of my asthma. That didn’t sound too good to me. I’m squeamish at the best of times, and the thought of being awake while my bone and soft tissue were subject to the sort of treatment that Ken Follett would have relished to include in one of his gorier stories filled me with apprehension.

Not long afterwards four boys, supervised by Sunny heaved me out of the bed onto to a trolley and as I was being trundled down to the operating theatre the three sisters and all the boys called out “good luck!” and “we are praying for you”.

I was plonked onto the operating table. I was glad to see that Dr K was still in good spirits. The anaesthetist was there, and so were an awful lot of other people.

The anaesthetist asked me to sit up and she jabbed the needle into my back. It hurt, and she muttered under her breath, and jabbed me again, and then again, all in different places. “I can’t get the needle in” she said crossly. “Your back is a mess.” “Yes,” I said. “I have had one or two back problems.” Why didn’t you tell me?” and without waiting for an answer she jabbed the needle in again. I looked at Dr K and he nodded and said to the anaesthetist. “For God’s sake, just knock him out and let’s get on with it.”

A needle was stuck in my arm and I began to feel woozy.

The next thing I remember as I came round was seeing a bright light and a beautiful golden face smiling down at me. Maybe I have died, I thought, and I have gone to heaven. The next second the smiling face produced a huge hypodermic needle and plunged it into my stomach. I gasped and became aware of a severe pain in my left leg, and also that there were all sorts of things sticking into me and stuck all over me. Maybe I have gone to hell after all, and this was the beginning of eternal tortures and the weeping and gnashings of teeth.

It soon became apparent that I had not died. I was in intensive care. The anaesthetist came to see me and told me that my blood pressure had fluctuated violently whilst I was under, and that they were just taking precautions.

They seemed to be taking my blood pressure every fifteen minutes as well as ECGs. My leg hurt like hell but they just smiled when I told them. “It hurts like buggery” I squawked out on several occasions. “Aacha,” came the reply with a smile.

Lizzie soon popped in. She was all over with worry. She looked at me and said: “What’s the matter? You look dreadful.” I was too zonked to think of some witty reply about broken legs and operations. I smiled wanly. “Are you in pain?” She said. “Yes,” I said. “It hurts like hell, but they don’t seem to take any notice.” She rang the bell and a nurse was there in an instant. “He’s in pain,” said Lizzie. Can’t you give him a painkiller?” “Paining!” cried out the nurse. “Mr Anthony, why you no say?” I gave another wan smile.

She returned with a syringe and deposited the painkiller into me. “You must say if paining,” she admonished. I was running out of even wan smiles by this stage, but by and by the pain subsided and I felt a lovely warm wooziness come over me. Just as I thought I might nod off, another sister came in and took my blood pressure. “Just relax and rest,” she said. I tried, but not long afterwards it was BeePee time again, and then ECG time and every so often, just to vary things, one of the nurses would stick a hypodermic needle into me. The stomach seemed a favourite spot. This pattern was repeated throughout the day until I was close to exhaustion.

Towards the end of the day some authority must have decided that I was to live as I was wheeled back upstairs to the sanctuary of my private room.

There was great joy amongst Sunny and the boys as well as the three nurses. They seemed so genuinely pleased that I had survived. One of the boys, a Sikh, came up to me and said almost with tears: “I have been to the temple today to pray for you. My mother is praying for you. My sisters are praying for you. My aunties are praying for you. My grannies are praying for you.” I was so touched I did not know what to say. I just thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

The next morning I was allowed breakfast. I had tea and toast with marmalade, and nothing had ever tasted so good. It was the first food I had had for over 24 hours.

Then the trouble started. Liz arrived cheerily with god knows how many bottles of water (you don’t drink out of the taps in India). “They say you have got to drink plenty of water,” she said. “Yes,” I said, but she looked at me knowing full well that water barely ever passed my lips unless accompanied by something to kill the taste. I had a small swig to appease her, and said I would get stuck into it a bit later on. She looked at me meaningfully but she was going shopping with friends so she had to rely on my word.

I settled back with Follett.

But it was not long before one of the three nurses appeared. “You must urinate, Mr Anthony,” she said. “Give me a chance,” I said. “ I’ve had nothing to drink yesterday, and only had a cup of tea and some water today.” She picked up the bottle of water and commanded me to drink. I had another couple of swigs, but she would have none of it. I had some more, and I began to get an unpleasant bloated feeling. She made me drink the whole bottle, a litre.  She then left me and I sat back feeling unwell.

I settled back and waited, but it was not long before they were back mob-handed. All three nurses were now at my bedside, plus Sunny and another boy holding a bottle. “The urinations bottle,” explained Sunny helpfully.

“You are not urinating, Mr Anthony” the three nurses called out in unison. One of them handed me another bottle of water. “No, no” I cried out in protest, but I was forced to take on some more water.

“You are not urinating, Mr Anthony” they kept calling out in their high-pitched voices. Their heads were going from side to side in unison. It was like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan. And there is something especially unnerving about three women acting in concert, from the three fates of classical Rome, and the three sisters of Norse mythology to the three witches of Macbeth.

Sunny was smiling encouragingly and the urinations bottle wallah waved his bottle at me in exhortation. Both their heads were going like mad.

“Look,” I said. “It doesn’t quite work like this. There is always a time lag. Why don’t you just leave the bottle with me and everything will sort itself out. No need for you to stay.” One of the sisters disappeared and returned swiftly with the ubiquitous syringe which she sank into my stomach. “Now you will urinate,” she declared triumphantly.

The next moment I was in total agreement and I waved to the bottle wallah who leaped triumphantly forward. I grabbed the bottle shouting; “You’ll need more than one of those” He was overjoyed, and a beatific smile spread over his face as he raced to the door for reinforcements.

Dr K paid me a visit and said everything was OK with the leg. He showed me the X-ray with the steel plate he had inserted in my leg. I had only been in India a few days and I was already part Indian with Mr Tata’s best surgical steel in my leg, kept in place with 6 pristine screws.

I waited eagerly for lunch, but I could barely touch it so unappetising did it look. I sipped the soup and ate the bread. The rest of the day passed without incident. I was getting used to the routine of BeePee, the odd ECG and of course the needles.

The nurses came and went and we talked from time to time. They said that the majority of nurses came from Kerala and were Syrian Christian. They asked why Lizzie wasn’t with me all the time. I told them that we had been married over 30 years and that there was little point in her just spending all day at the hospital. They asked about my family and wondered why they were not visiting. Most of my answers were met with an uncomprehending “Aacha”. I asked them about their life and families. They all missed Kerala, but said they had to come to Bombay for work. The Breach Candy only took the best so they were proud to be there. But I gathered that their lives were hard. Some of them had to travel a long way, and they had no immediate family around them.

They asked me why I was reading such a long book. I said I enjoyed reading. “Aacha.” They asked me what it was about. I said it was about building a cathedral in the twelfth century. “Aacha”. And so on.

The next couple of days passed in much the same manner – visits from Liz, the nephew and friends in Bombay, Ken Follett, Indian TV, which must be one of the more irritating in the world. Why do all the women presenters speak in such high-pitched shrill voices? Why do they all break into song and dance whatever the programme? These were some of the imponderables that occupied my mind. I also had visits from a physiotherapist who gave me exercises to do.

The next big event was going to be the crutches, something I was eagerly looking forward to as it would give me some control over my own movements.

A chap arrived from Cisco’s with the crutches. He measured me up and adjusted the length to suit – 950 rupees. They were of the armpit variety. There were two physiotherapists to guide me and help. Crutches are funny things. You see people (particularly in Bombay) hopping about at speed on crutches apparently without any problem at all. I found the whole experience completely unnerving. Besides the two physiotherapists Sunny and his sidekick were there, Sunny walking in front of me, his sidekick behind me and the two physios on either side. I made painful (literally) progress. I felt totally insecure, and after progressing across the room and back I felt completely exhausted and deflated.

I persevered with the crutches as much as I could, and I got a bit better at hopping around. I was able to do more exercises and I didn’t ache so much or feel quite so exhausted.

The crutches were kept away from me across the other side of the room, so that if I wanted to use them I had to ring for Sunny or one of the other boys. I suggested that they be left by the bed, but this wasn’t received well. I was also trying to find out when they were going to let me leave but I received rather ambivalent answers.

The next day I was visited by Dr G and his entourage. He went through my medical notes with the nurses, explaining them to me too in his lilting, poetic English. (You really need to go to India to appreciate the beauty of the English language).

He stepped away from the nurses and announced to no one in particular: “I am now going to listen to the chest.” A hush came over the room. I looked at the faces of the entourage clustered at the end of the bed. They were still and serious. One of the nurses came forward and bared my chest, as if for sacrifice. Dr K moved towards me and laconically raised an elegant hand. The stethoscope wallah leaped forward and placed it gently around Dr G’s neck.

Contrary to my expectation he himself actually placed the bits in his ears and held the other end to my chest. He listened and listened and then stepped back, took the stethoscope from his ears and announced: “the chest is clear.” I thought a cheer was going to go up. Smiles wreathed the faces of the crowd at the end of the bed and all heads wiggled vigorously. Their happiness seemed unsurpassed.

Having made his momentous announcement Dr G withdrew with half the entourage. One of the nurses took my blood pressure whilst the cardiologist looked on and then he too withdrew. The physios then stepped forward and I had to tense and contract the muscles on my leg. The physios then left.

I was now confronted by what I understood was a registrar and the remnants of the entourage. He was a big burly man and he came towards me with a very serious look on his face. He wagged a forefinger at me. “Mr Anthony, you are not passing the motions,” he said sternly. “Well, no, not really,” I replied in embarrassment. “Ah,” he said. “You are just making the flatulations?” I cringed and smiled my weakest smile.

He looked hard at me. “I will tell you what is going to happen,” he continued. “If you are not passing the motions tomorrow morning I myself will come personally and deal with the problem manually.” The weak smile froze on my lips and my body started to seize up. I tried to say something, but I couldn’t. He turned on his heel and without another word he was gone followed by the others and I was alone.

I unfroze my mind and started thinking. God knows what this chap had in mind, but I had no intention of finding out. I rang the bell and when the nurse came I told her I wanted to change the diet. She then called Sunny. “Look, Sunny I want Indian tonight.”  “Very good suh. I will send a boy for the dietician”

The hierarchy was fascinating. You would have thought that the nurse could have picked up the phone to the dietician, but that would have meant cutting out Sunny and his sidekick. In India you don’t let technology put someone out of a job.

The dietician eventually arrived, accompanied by Sunny and his sidekick. I explained to the dietician that I wanted to change to Indian food.” She looked uncertain. The change might upset your stomach, Mr Anthony” she said. I brightened up. “I’ll take that chance. How about Madras prawns followed by chicken Vindaloo?” I suggested excitedly. She laughed. “ No prawns, but chicken yes. A mild curry, Mr Anthony, no more.” I didn’t hide my disappointment but she laughed again, wiggled her head and was gone.

The chicken curry was a huge disappointment, and my stomach remained as steady as rock.

I had an uneasy night. In the morning I asked for coffee instead of my usual tea. This caused the supply chain to go into action again, with the dietician finally signing off my order for coffee.

I drank the coffee, but nothing happened. I began to sweat. What time was the registrar going to come? What horrors lay in wait for me? By eleven o’clock I was beginning to have palpitations. Then I had an idea. I rang the bell and asked the nurse to send in Sunny. “Yes suh?” he enquired.” Get me my crutches,” I said decisively. “I am going to the loo.” If I were sitting on the loo, I had argued to myself, I would be safe.

Sunny called in his sidekick who brought over my crutches and gave them to Sunny who handed them to me. We processed to my loo. I sat down with Sunny’s help. He stood in front of me and smiled. “You can go now, Sunny,” I said. He just smiled and wagged his head. “Please, Sunny, go” I implored, making dismissive gestures towards the door. He looked at me quizzically and then nodded. He disappeared but was back in a trice with his sidekick. I now had both of them staring at me, wiggling their heads and smiling encouragingly. I began to get shirty. “Look,” I said. “It’s nothing personal but could you two just please bugger off?” They smiled but didn’t move. “For God’s sake,” I said. “Let’s just say I’m shy, but go.” They finally got the message, more from my tone than from my words. They shuffled out looking a bit upset.

Barely a minute had passed and one of the nurses poked her head around the loo door. “What is the matter, Mr Anthony. Are you alright?” she enquired sympathetically. “I will be if I’m left alone,” I said in exasperation. “Look, I may be old fashioned and all that, but I prefer to be alone in the loo.” She looked a bit miffed but withdrew.

Although I was now technically alone, the door was slightly ajar and I could hear the three of them whispering just outside.

I looked at my watch. Time was moving on and panic started to overcome my feeling of exasperation. I needed to relax. “Sunny,” I called out. “Could you please get me a coffee?” The coffee arrived in surprisingly quick time, and I felt better after the first sip. I needed something to occupy my mind. I hadn’t read the paper yet. That would do. The Times of India, with its belligerent anti-Pakistan reporting would be a good diversion.

I called out to Sunny. “Sunny, could you get me the paper, please.” “Yes suh,” he
cried joyfully bouncing into the loo. He picked up the loo roll and handed it to me. “No, no” I said, exasperation returning. “The newspaper, the paper!”  I mimed opening a paper. Quick as a flash Sunny unrolled some loo paper and handed it to me. “The Times of India” I cried. “– the cricket scores……” I tailed off, as I saw the light of understanding in his eyes. He returned with the newspaper, and I calmed down again.

Fortunately all ended well. If the registrar was disappointed he didn’t show it and told me how pleased he was with my progress. I reflected that it cannot be that many Europeans who come to India and suffer from constipation.

Lizzie came to visit shortly afterwards. “Do you realise it is Christmas Eve?” She said. I was vaguely aware because the nurses had been putting up decorations and playing carols, but now the realisation hit me that I was going to spend Christmas day in hospital.

I had already enquired about bringing food into the hospital, but they weren’t keen except for biscuits and the like. They weren’t keen at all on outsiders bringing in food, so Lizzie said she would see what she could sneak in for Christmas lunch.

Next morning I was visited by a priest, dressed from head to foot in a white cassock. He wanted to give me communion. I wasn’t sure that I was in the right state of mind or grace, as he had taken me a bit by surprise. So we said the Confiteor together. Or rather he said it and I mumbled along and then I received communion.

I had breakfast and felt fairly contented. I was soon to be leaving and I started getting calls on my mobile from my girls and friends. And then Lizzie arrived, and I wondered what she had for me. We had decided not to sneak in any alcohol as I had had so many drugs poured into me that we both thought it would be unwise and unsafe.

From the depths of her basket she produced a Marmite and cheese sandwich. I looked at her and it in awe, and then I demolished it. It was one of the best meals I can ever remember.

And so the time came for me to leave the Breach Candy. I left the day after Boxing Day. Sunny pushed the wheelchair and his sidekick carried my crutches. The nurses and the other boys lined up as I left the ward, looking both happy and sad for me. They all said they would pray for me and I promised to pray for them in return.

As I awkwardly got into the car I looked back at the not particularly beautiful building that is the Breach Candy hospital and felt a slightly melancholic nostalgia, a feeling I often get when I leave somewhere of significance. The other feelings I had were a deep gratitude and great warmth towards the staff; these exceptional people who had looked after me so brilliantly with such skill, care and joy.

Anthony Parmiter

Ó A de C Parmiter 2009

Church Bank House

Church Bank

Binton

Stratford on Avon

Warwickshire CV37 9TJ

Tel: 01789 750770

Mobile: 07885 417273

Email: apt@aparmiter.com

Christmas at the Breach CandyC

 

By Anthony Parmiter

 

 

For those who want something slightly different on holiday when they visit Bombay, and certainly a change from the Slumdog/Shantaram approach to tourism.

 

A Christmas break with a difference

 

The trip to India had been on the cards for ages, and finally we were going. Lizzie had

planned our trip meticulously well in advance. We were flying out in mid-December.

She had done all the planning in July and August and the itinerary was mouth-watering. A few days in Bombay to visit old friends and spend a day at the second Test Match at the Brabourne club, then an overnight train journey to Ranthambore for tiger spotting, then the Temple Express to Delhi to stay with another old friend, the Australian High Commissioner, not the one, I don’t think, that features in Q&As, (the book on which Slumdog Millionaire is based).

We were to stay in Delhi over Christmas at the Australian High Commission, with trips around old and new Delhi and especially to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and also Fathepur Sikri. Then it was to be Rajasthan – Jaipur and Udaipur – staying in old palaces, then back to Delhi for an overnight stay with Aussie HC, and then fly to Cochin for a couple of days, and then wind our way down to Kerala, past Trivandrum and Kovvalam finally to come to rest in a resort on Mulloor beach by the village of Vizniyam.

We were now, in mid-December, off to Bombay with Etihad via terminal 3 (ugh) at Heathrow with a stopover in Abu Dhabi.

My nephew, who flits between London and Bombay, had assured us of his closest attention in Bombay. He was so very eager to show us his home city.

One of the problems Lizzie had encountered was booking a hotel in Bombay. December is the season of parties and weddings, but the nephew had managed to get us booked into the Sea Green hotel on Marine Drive. It didn’t seem too expensive, and apparently it was clean and comfortable.

Terminal 3 at Heathrow is no treat. Our middle daughter had dropped us off there in return for hanging on to my car for the month we were going to be away. I repeat Terminal 3 is no treat, and I had to keep reminding Lizzie that the holiday would not start until we reached the hotel in Bombay.

The first problem we encountered was at Abu   Dhabi. The stopover stretched to 8 hours, and there is not much going on in Abu Dhabi so we ensconced ourselves in the premier lounge and enjoyed the fare in between trying to have the odd nap.

We finally arrived at Bombay airport at about 10.00pm local tine. I looked out for the nephew but couldn’t see him. As we went through customs and immigration my mobile rang and it was him. “Welcome to Bombay!” was the exuberant greeting. “Where are you neph?” I asked, still scanning the crowd ahead. “At the Willingdon Club” and now it was clear that his voice was not only exuberant but also the subject of a certain amount of slurring.

“So you won’t be coming to the airport?” I asked, but it was more a statement than a question. “Just go to the taxi desk and get a pre-paid taxi. I’ll see you at the Sea Green,” he replied joyously.

We struggled through the crowd looking for a sign for taxis pushing our trolley. We finally saw it and around the desk was chaos. There were crowds of overexcited people shouting and gesticulating trying to book taxis. Lizzie became one of them and eventually triumphantly emerged with a ticket. We were then directed to the appropriate exit and handed over to 2 eager helpers who pushed our trolley into the darkness.

Another 2 appeared by the taxi rank and pushed one of our bags into the boot and threw the other onto the roof rack. The taxi was an ancient fake Fiat, which had lost its springs sometime in the ‘60s.

There were now 6 smiling faces looking at me and mildly wiggling their heads. As you cannot get Rupees outside India I gave them a pound each. The heads wiggled more vigorously as we climbed into the taxi and we bounced along into Bombay.

An hour later we were grinding down Marine   Drive, looking for the Sea Green. The taxi driver stopped at the Intercontinental and motioned with his hand towards it. “No good” I said and we continued on. Not much further we saw the Sea Green sign, and it didn’t do a thing to lift our spirits.

We got out and the driver said “500 Rupees”. “But we have already paid!” I told him in irritation. The driver looked threatening but the nephew appeared from the shadows and saw him off with a torrent of Maharatti.

We all embraced and went into the hotel. The lighting was low and the place looked like it needed a pretty fundamental refurbishment if not complete rebuilding. Booking in took forever, and the irritation that had started with the delay in Abu Dhabi and had been building ever since rose another notch or two.

“I need a drink,” I said when the formalities were finally done. “There is no bar or restaurant here, “they said, “but we will send out for anything you want.”

“Forget it” I said. “We’ve got Scotch in the suitcase. Let’s go up to the room and have a drink there.” We made our way to the ancient lift, replete with cage doors and a lift attendant. We went up first and the bags followed. We made our way to the room past a man sleeping in the corridor. I looked quizzically at the nephew, who said: “probably one of the boys. (It would seem that all male servants are called boys regardless of their age). We got to the room plus 3 boys. The nephew dispensed Rupees, and nodded a few times as they were explaining something to him. “They will be in the corridor if you want anything,” he said. “That’s where they sleep.”

Lizzie was looking decidedly glum and grim. “Well, it’s nice big room,” I said as cheerily as my irritation would allow. “It’s not very clean,” she replied lips pursed.

I opened the bottle of Scotch and poured us all a drink. The nephew was in great spirits, and was clearly ready for a decent session. Lizzie was looking grimmer by the minute and finally announced: “I am extremely tired, and would like to go to bed”.

“Time to go neph,” I told him. He protested at first, but with his usual good humour departed with a smile. “See you tomorrow” he said.

I poured myself another whisky. Lizzie refused and went to have a shower. Suddenly a great weariness overtook me. I just wanted a shower to rid me of the grime of travel and then to bed.

I undressed and as Lizzie came out of the bathroom she said: “Be careful, the floor’s wet and slippery.”

I went grumpily into the bathroom with my glass of whisky. Immediately my right leg shot forward on the slippery surface and my left leg buckled and tucked itself underneath my bottom. With my spare hand I grabbed the basin which was not properly attached to the wall and came away in my grasp. I shot across the room, snowboarding, as it were, on my left ankle. The whisky glass did not survive and there was glass everywhere and blood (and whisky) all over my right leg. The pain was excruciating, and as I extracted the left foot from underneath me I noticed that the ankle was at an angle I had never seen before, and I hoped I would never see again.

Lizzie rushed into the bathroom, and looked in horror at the scene. Her first words were: “I told you it was wet and slippery.” Then: “Can you wiggle your toes?” I wiggled. The excruciating pain was subsiding into numbness. “Let’s see if you can stand and walk. She helped me up and back into the bedroom. I could stand and walk, albeit with great difficulty. “It won’t be broken then.” She declared positively.

I nodded in agreement. She called out to the corridor and two boys appeared and swept up the glass in the bathroom. I got into bed with my foot up. Lizzie cleaned the blood on my right knee which turned out to be only from superficial cuts. Then I went to sleep.

The next morning the ankle was very stiff, numb and swollen. “Do you think you ought to see a doctor?” asked Lizzie anxiously “It’s only a sprain,” I said. “It’ll be alright in a day or two. I wasn’t very mobile so Lizzie rang the nephew and asked him to get a stick, some tubigrip and flip-flops, as I couldn’t get a shoe onto my left foot.

We lunched very well at the Willingdon club and, after a siesta, went out with some friends of the nephew in the evening to a nightclub and on to a restaurant. I was secretly beginning to have doubts about my ability to cope with train rides and climbing monuments, but I was sticking to the “It’s only a sprain” script. The nephew’s friends consisted mostly of lawyers and medics, and none of them liked the look of my ankle and urged me to see a doctor. One of them, a dentist, said he had a good friend who was the leading orthopaedic surgeon in Bombay. And he could arrange an appointment. “It’s only a sprain,” I repeated with less conviction.

When I woke the next morning I realised the game was up. The ankle had swollen and was extremely tender. Travelling was going to be awkward and painful.

The nephew made the arrangements and I went for an X-ray at 11.00 in the morning and then to see the eminent orthopaedic surgeon, Doctor K, at three in the afternoon. There was time for lunch (an extremely good one) at the Brabourne club, where we would have been anyway had the test match not been moved from Bombay.

At 3.00 we were ushered into Dr K’s study (it was Saturday). I immediately took to him. He had a good humoured charm and been trained in England. We handed him the X-rays. He took them out and clipped them onto the light box on the wall behind his desk. I stared at them. Surely the foot should be more closely aligned to the leg? But I was no expert. Dr K was and he was rubbing his chin.

“I don’t like that ankle,” he said. “It needs to be operated on as soon as possible. I’ll see if I can get you into the BreachCandyHospital without delay?” He looked at me expectantly. I had complete confidence in him and I nodded dazedly. Hospital. Operation. I hadn’t been in hospital since I had had my tonsils out when I was 16. And that had been a desperate affair.

He was on the phone trying to get me a private bed. There seemed to be a bit of a problem. Finally he turned to me and said: “They can get you into a private room on Sunday evening and I will operate first thing on Monday. But I want you in now, so that they don’t move anyone else in. They’ll put you up in the day ward until then”.

The nephew took us to the Breach Candy through the chaotic traffic. Every driver’s finger was on the horn, cars veered from one lane to another, but miraculously no accidents and no road rage. The sides of the roads were teeming with people, but only the occasional cow. Most of the buildings were in a state of dilapidation, and innumerable bin bag shelters that were home to many millions. People criss crossed the road on foot, on bicycles, pushing carts, and we even saw one man with a burning stove carried on his head on a piece of wood. Motor scooters carried whole families and weaved perilously in and out of the traffic.

We finally turned into BreachCandyHospital. Attached to the walls were flimsy pieces of bamboo scaffolding upon which was a hive of activity. Men, mostly thin, were painting the walls. No hard hats, no safety harness, just bare feet and amazing agility.

I hobbled into the reception and two boys (again grown men) appeared with a wheelchair. I thankfully sat down while Lizzie dealt with the formalities. I was then wheeled to the lift and taken to the ward on the fourth floor. I was met by Matron, a reassuring sight, who spoke excellent English.

I was taken to a bed in the day ward. There were about eight beds, and I took one near the door (just in case).

I was asked to undress and put on the most ludicrous pair of pyjamas I had ever seen. It was explained to me that they only had one size (the economy of scale), and they had to make sure they fitted even the largest patient. I wrapped the cord around me about fifteen times.

Lizzie and the nephew were still with me and we chatted desultorily. Lizzie had brought books, including Ken Follett’s colossus about building a cathedral in the 12th century.

The nephew had to go, and I urged Lizzie to go with him, as she was in a bit of a state, and I didn’t want her alone in the streets of Bombay.

When they had left, deflation and boredom set in. I looked around the room. I had thought I was alone but one of the beds had the curtains almost closed around it, and I could just make out a pair of feet sticking out at the end. There was no movement, and I was in no position to go over and say hello.

I opened Ken Follett and got stuck into mediaeval superstition, torture, jealousy, brutality, carnal lust, vengeance, betrayal, disease, war and all things red and bloodthirsty.

A nurse came in to take my blood pressure and told me that the next day they would take a series of tests. We chatted. She told me she came from Kerala like most of the nurses, and that she was a Christian.

A dietician came to see about feeding me. The choices were Indian – vegetarian and non-vegetarian – or Continental – vegetarian and non-vegetarian. I decided that Continental vegetarian was the safest, as being pretty well immobile I didn’t want to add Delhi belly to my woes.

When my dinner came it was on a splendid tray with shiny metal dome covers over the plate. The boys who brought the tray whipped off the covers simultaneously as they do in some of the more pretentious restaurants. And there, behold, was a hamburger, cooked to a cinder –  served up in a Bombay hospital!

There was also some soup of indeterminate parentage and some bread. I warily tasted the soup, it wasn’t too bad, and I finished it and the bread.

More Ken Follett and I was brought a cup of cocoa and then the lights went out. The feet in the far bed had not moved an inch, and I had the uncomfortable thought that this ward might also operate as an overspill morgue.

I slept quite well, but was woken at 5.00am, but had to wait until after seven for my breakfast which was brought with a smile and a wiggle of the head which I was getting used to. I took it to be a sign of sympathy or friendliness.

The feet were still there behind the curtain.

Soon after breakfast a man arrived in the ward with a suitcase and went behind the curtain which he pulled right across obscuring my vision. I hoped he wasn’t going to perform an autopsy on the spot.

Shortly afterwards the curtain was thrown back and the man appeared followed by a woman (and I recognised the feet) carrying the suitcase.

After her departure there was a bit of a lull before all hell let loose.

First I asked for my washbag. “I want to do my teeth.” “No tea now, Mr Anthony. Later.”

My mouth didn’t feel too good, so I had some water. Then one of the nurses and a couple of boys came in with a bowl and my washbag. “The brushings,” she announced, and I gratefully brushed my teeth.

Then I had my blood pressure (BeePee they trilled) taken, then an ECG. Then a chap appeared with 2 assistants, and produced the largest hypodermic syringe I had ever seen or imagined. “Blood test, suh,” he said unnecessarily. “God’s sake,” says I. “What is that?” It was a rhetorical question but he answered obligingly. “Blood test, suh.”

It seemed to take an age, and one of the two boys with him held a test tube as he filled each one up with my blood. I idly wondered how much would end up on the streets of Bombay.

The day went on with endless tests. I was taken down to X-ray for my leg. Then I was brought back up again. More blood pressure tests, then I was taken down to X-ray again for my chest. Then back up again. More BeePee, then ECG.

I was visited by the chief physician Dr G, short for God I gathered. He was a tall, elegant distinguished man who spoke precise impeccable English, according to the Peter Sellers School of Diction. He arrived like royalty with an entourage which included three nurses, a cardiologist, another physician and a battery of boys, one of whom was proudly carrying his stethoscope.

Later on I was visited by a chap with a cut throat razor. He smiled a little wildly and pointed to my leg. He looked disconcertingly like Saddam Hussein.

Having carefully shaved my leg, he waved the razor at me and said: “private parts.” I drew the sheets up to my neck in horror and said: “get off. It’s just my leg.” I didn’t want any mistakes while I was under the anaesthetic. His eyes enlarged and he waved the razor in a menacing manner and his voice went up an octave or two and he loudly repeated: “private parts!” “Bugger off you pervert,” I replied.

His eyes now were quite wide and burning. His moustache twitched. He waved the razor closer to my face and screamed fanatically: “private parts! private parts!” I rang the bell in panic and one of the sisters came in and an animated conversation took place between them in what I assumed to be Hindi. She then turned to me and said: “Doctors’ orders. Mr Anthony,” and she wagged a finger at me. Saddam was inching closer, his eyes gleaming and the razor held at the ready. I decided it was time to pull rank. “Get him out of here.” I cried. “I’m paying good money and I won’t tolerate this!” She saw I was determined and escorted the deranged razor man from my presence. I was breathless and tense.

The sister came back and took my blood pressure. She looked at me anxiously. “What’s the matter Mr Anthony? Your BeePee has gone right up.” “Just keep Saddam away from me and I’ll be alright” I said, and let out a long sigh.

Dr K came and looked at my ankle. He smiled reassuringly and told me he would operate at nine the next (Monday) morning.

I was finally moved to my private room which was large and had a TV and a balcony with a view of the sea and a couch and other furniture. It was 7,000 Rupees per night.

I immediately noticed I got more attention. I was visited by 3 nurses (all Keralan) who took my blood pressure yet again and fussed around me in a manner I hadn’t noticed before.

Sunny introduced himself. He was going to be the main boy looking after me. He also waved a hand at the smaller boy behind him. “He not speak English,” he said dismissively. The little chap grinned hugely.

The television was a bit of a magnet, and soon we were all watching the test match on my magnificent TV, most of the boys finding a reason to visit my room. We all communicated as best we could.

The nephew and Liz were joined by some old friends from Bombay, and I suggested that they all went out to dinner. When you are lying in bed immobile, there is a limit to the amount of time you actually want the visitors to stay. They all left laughing. Liz and the nephew said they would come in at 7.00am in the morning, but the last thing I wanted was a lot of fussing about before I went down to the operating theatre.

Dinner came and went virtually untouched.

One of the nurses came in to take my blood pressure and said: “Where is your wife?” “She’s gone out to dinner with friends,” I replied. “You are going to be alone tonight?” she asked incredulously. “I sincerely hope so,” I said jovially. “I’m paying 7,000 rupees a night. I hope you are not going to sneak anyone else in.” She rolled her eyes. “Aacha!” She was clearly horrified.

I had a cup of cocoa at 10 pm and lights went out. I slept reasonably well.

Another early call but no tea. I read some more Ken Follett. Dr K came to visit. He was in good spirits and twiddled my big toe, and held up his hand. “Steady as a rock,” he declared, and told me that the anaesthetist would be along in a moment.

I changed from my voluminous pyjamas into a white backless night shirt so beloved of hospitals. Then I was visited by the anaesthetist. She told me she was going to give me an epidural because of my asthma. That didn’t sound too good to me. I’m squeamish at the best of times, and the thought of being awake while my bone and soft tissue were subject to the sort of treatment that Ken Follett would have relished to include in one of his gorier stories filled me with apprehension.

Not long afterwards four boys, supervised by Sunny heaved me out of the bed onto to a trolley and as I was being trundled down to the operating theatre the three sisters and all the boys called out “good luck!” and “we are praying for you”.

I was plonked onto the operating table. I was glad to see that Dr K was still in good spirits. The anaesthetist was there, and so were an awful lot of other people.

The anaesthetist asked me to sit up and she jabbed the needle into my back. It hurt, and she muttered under her breath, and jabbed me again, and then again, all in different places. “I can’t get the needle in” she said crossly. “Your back is a mess.” “Yes,” I said. “I have had one or two back problems.” Why didn’t you tell me?” and without waiting for an answer she jabbed the needle in again. I looked at Dr K and he nodded and said to the anaesthetist. “For God’s sake, just knock him out and let’s get on with it.”

A needle was stuck in my arm and I began to feel woozy.

The next thing I remember as I came round was seeing a bright light and a beautiful golden face smiling down at me. Maybe I have died, I thought, and I have gone to heaven. The next second the smiling face produced a huge hypodermic needle and plunged it into my stomach. I gasped and became aware of a severe pain in my left leg, and also that there were all sorts of things sticking into me and stuck all over me. Maybe I have gone to hell after all, and this was the beginning of eternal tortures and the weeping and gnashings of teeth.

It soon became apparent that I had not died. I was in intensive care. The anaesthetist came to see me and told me that my blood pressure had fluctuated violently whilst I was under, and that they were just taking precautions.

They seemed to be taking my blood pressure every fifteen minutes as well as ECGs. My leg hurt like hell but they just smiled when I told them. “It hurts like buggery” I squawked out on several occasions. “Aacha,” came the reply with a smile.

Lizzie soon popped in. She was all over with worry. She looked at me and said: “What’s the matter? You look dreadful.” I was too zonked to think of some witty reply about broken legs and operations. I smiled wanly. “Are you in pain?” She said. “Yes,” I said. “It hurts like hell, but they don’t seem to take any notice.” She rang the bell and a nurse was there in an instant. “He’s in pain,” said Lizzie. Can’t you give him a painkiller?” “Paining!” cried out the nurse. “Mr Anthony, why you no say?” I gave another wan smile.

She returned with a syringe and deposited the painkiller into me. “You must say if paining,” she admonished. I was running out of even wan smiles by this stage, but by and by the pain subsided and I felt a lovely warm wooziness come over me. Just as I thought I might nod off, another sister came in and took my blood pressure. “Just relax and rest,” she said. I tried, but not long afterwards it was BeePee time again, and then ECG time and every so often, just to vary things, one of the nurses would stick a hypodermic needle into me. The stomach seemed a favourite spot. This pattern was repeated throughout the day until I was close to exhaustion.

Towards the end of the day some authority must have decided that I was to live as I was wheeled back upstairs to the sanctuary of my private room.

There was great joy amongst Sunny and the boys as well as the three nurses. They seemed so genuinely pleased that I had survived. One of the boys, a Sikh, came up to me and said almost with tears: “I have been to the temple today to pray for you. My mother is praying for you. My sisters are praying for you. My aunties are praying for you. My grannies are praying for you.” I was so touched I did not know what to say. I just thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

The next morning I was allowed breakfast. I had tea and toast with marmalade, and nothing had ever tasted so good. It was the first food I had had for over 24 hours.

Then the trouble started. Liz arrived cheerily with god knows how many bottles of water (you don’t drink out of the taps in India). “They say you have got to drink plenty of water,” she said. “Yes,” I said, but she looked at me knowing full well that water barely ever passed my lips unless accompanied by something to kill the taste. I had a small swig to appease her, and said I would get stuck into it a bit later on. She looked at me meaningfully but she was going shopping with friends so she had to rely on my word.

I settled back with Follett.

But it was not long before one of the three nurses appeared. “You must urinate, Mr Anthony,” she said. “Give me a chance,” I said. “ I’ve had nothing to drink yesterday, and only had a cup of tea and some water today.” She picked up the bottle of water and commanded me to drink. I had another couple of swigs, but she would have none of it. I had some more, and I began to get an unpleasant bloated feeling. She made me drink the whole bottle, a litre.  She then left me and I sat back feeling unwell.

I settled back and waited, but it was not long before they were back mob-handed. All three nurses were now at my bedside, plus Sunny and another boy holding a bottle. “The urinations bottle,” explained Sunny helpfully.

“You are not urinating, Mr Anthony” the three nurses called out in unison. One of them handed me another bottle of water. “No, no” I cried out in protest, but I was forced to take on some more water.

“You are not urinating, Mr Anthony” they kept calling out in their high-pitched voices. Their heads were going from side to side in unison. It was like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan. And there is something especially unnerving about three women acting in concert, from the three fates of classical Rome, and the three sisters of Norse mythology to the three witches of Macbeth.

Sunny was smiling encouragingly and the urinations bottle wallah waved his bottle at me in exhortation. Both their heads were going like mad.

“Look,” I said. “It doesn’t quite work like this. There is always a time lag. Why don’t you just leave the bottle with me and everything will sort itself out. No need for you to stay.” One of the sisters disappeared and returned swiftly with the ubiquitous syringe which she sank into my stomach. “Now you will urinate,” she declared triumphantly.

The next moment I was in total agreement and I waved to the bottle wallah who leaped triumphantly forward. I grabbed the bottle shouting; “You’ll need more than one of those” He was overjoyed, and a beatific smile spread over his face as he raced to the door for reinforcements.

Dr K paid me a visit and said everything was OK with the leg. He showed me the X-ray with the steel plate he had inserted in my leg. I had only been in India a few days and I was already part Indian with Mr Tata’s best surgical steel in my leg, kept in place with 6 pristine screws.

I waited eagerly for lunch, but I could barely touch it so unappetising did it look. I sipped the soup and ate the bread. The rest of the day passed without incident. I was getting used to the routine of BeePee, the odd ECG and of course the needles.

The nurses came and went and we talked from time to time. They said that the majority of nurses came from Kerala and were Syrian Christian. They asked why Lizzie wasn’t with me all the time. I told them that we had been married over 30 years and that there was little point in her just spending all day at the hospital. They asked about my family and wondered why they were not visiting. Most of my answers were met with an uncomprehending “Aacha”. I asked them about their life and families. They all missed Kerala, but said they had to come to Bombay for work. The Breach Candy only took the best so they were proud to be there. But I gathered that their lives were hard. Some of them had to travel a long way, and they had no immediate family around them.

They asked me why I was reading such a long book. I said I enjoyed reading. “Aacha.” They asked me what it was about. I said it was about building a cathedral in the twelfth century. “Aacha”. And so on.

The next couple of days passed in much the same manner – visits from Liz, the nephew and friends in Bombay, Ken Follett, Indian TV, which must be one of the more irritating in the world. Why do all the women presenters speak in such high-pitched shrill voices? Why do they all break into song and dance whatever the programme? These were some of the imponderables that occupied my mind. I also had visits from a physiotherapist who gave me exercises to do.

The next big event was going to be the crutches, something I was eagerly looking forward to as it would give me some control over my own movements.

A chap arrived from Cisco’s with the crutches. He measured me up and adjusted the length to suit – 950 rupees. They were of the armpit variety. There were two physiotherapists to guide me and help. Crutches are funny things. You see people (particularly in Bombay) hopping about at speed on crutches apparently without any problem at all. I found the whole experience completely unnerving. Besides the two physiotherapists Sunny and his sidekick were there, Sunny walking in front of me, his sidekick behind me and the two physios on either side. I made painful (literally) progress. I felt totally insecure, and after progressing across the room and back I felt completely exhausted and deflated.

I persevered with the crutches as much as I could, and I got a bit better at hopping around. I was able to do more exercises and I didn’t ache so much or feel quite so exhausted.

The crutches were kept away from me across the other side of the room, so that if I wanted to use them I had to ring for Sunny or one of the other boys. I suggested that they be left by the bed, but this wasn’t received well. I was also trying to find out when they were going to let me leave but I received rather ambivalent answers.

The next day I was visited by Dr G and his entourage. He went through my medical notes with the nurses, explaining them to me too in his lilting, poetic English. (You really need to go to India to appreciate the beauty of the English language).

He stepped away from the nurses and announced to no one in particular: “I am now going to listen to the chest.” A hush came over the room. I looked at the faces of the entourage clustered at the end of the bed. They were still and serious. One of the nurses came forward and bared my chest, as if for sacrifice. Dr K moved towards me and laconically raised an elegant hand. The stethoscope wallah leaped forward and placed it gently around Dr G’s neck.

Contrary to my expectation he himself actually placed the bits in his ears and held the other end to my chest. He listened and listened and then stepped back, took the stethoscope from his ears and announced: “the chest is clear.” I thought a cheer was going to go up. Smiles wreathed the faces of the crowd at the end of the bed and all heads wiggled vigorously. Their happiness seemed unsurpassed.

Having made his momentous announcement Dr G withdrew with half the entourage. One of the nurses took my blood pressure whilst the cardiologist looked on and then he too withdrew. The physios then stepped forward and I had to tense and contract the muscles on my leg. The physios then left.

I was now confronted by what I understood was a registrar and the remnants of the entourage. He was a big burly man and he came towards me with a very serious look on his face. He wagged a forefinger at me. “Mr Anthony, you are not passing the motions,” he said sternly. “Well, no, not really,” I replied in embarrassment. “Ah,” he said. “You are just making the flatulations?” I cringed and smiled my weakest smile.

He looked hard at me. “I will tell you what is going to happen,” he continued. “If you are not passing the motions tomorrow morning I myself will come personally and deal with the problem manually.” The weak smile froze on my lips and my body started to seize up. I tried to say something, but I couldn’t. He turned on his heel and without another word he was gone followed by the others and I was alone.

I unfroze my mind and started thinking. God knows what this chap had in mind, but I had no intention of finding out. I rang the bell and when the nurse came I told her I wanted to change the diet. She then called Sunny. “Look, Sunny I want Indian tonight.”  “Very good suh. I will send a boy for the dietician”

The hierarchy was fascinating. You would have thought that the nurse could have picked up the phone to the dietician, but that would have meant cutting out Sunny and his sidekick. In India you don’t let technology put someone out of a job.

The dietician eventually arrived, accompanied by Sunny and his sidekick. I explained to the dietician that I wanted to change to Indian food.” She looked uncertain. The change might upset your stomach, Mr Anthony” she said. I brightened up. “I’ll take that chance. How about Madras prawns followed by chicken Vindaloo?” I suggested excitedly. She laughed. “ No prawns, but chicken yes. A mild curry, Mr Anthony, no more.” I didn’t hide my disappointment but she laughed again, wiggled her head and was gone.

The chicken curry was a huge disappointment, and my stomach remained as steady as rock.

I had an uneasy night. In the morning I asked for coffee instead of my usual tea. This caused the supply chain to go into action again, with the dietician finally signing off my order for coffee.

I drank the coffee, but nothing happened. I began to sweat. What time was the registrar going to come? What horrors lay in wait for me? By eleven o’clock I was beginning to have palpitations. Then I had an idea. I rang the bell and asked the nurse to send in Sunny. “Yes suh?” he enquired.” Get me my crutches,” I said decisively. “I am going to the loo.” If I were sitting on the loo, I had argued to myself, I would be safe.

Sunny called in his sidekick who brought over my crutches and gave them to Sunny who handed them to me. We processed to my loo. I sat down with Sunny’s help. He stood in front of me and smiled. “You can go now, Sunny,” I said. He just smiled and wagged his head. “Please, Sunny, go” I implored, making dismissive gestures towards the door. He looked at me quizzically and then nodded. He disappeared but was back in a trice with his sidekick. I now had both of them staring at me, wiggling their heads and smiling encouragingly. I began to get shirty. “Look,” I said. “It’s nothing personal but could you two just please bugger off?” They smiled but didn’t move. “For God’s sake,” I said. “Let’s just say I’m shy, but go.” They finally got the message, more from my tone than from my words. They shuffled out looking a bit upset.

Barely a minute had passed and one of the nurses poked her head around the loo door. “What is the matter, Mr Anthony. Are you alright?” she enquired sympathetically. “I will be if I’m left alone,” I said in exasperation. “Look, I may be old fashioned and all that, but I prefer to be alone in the loo.” She looked a bit miffed but withdrew.

Although I was now technically alone, the door was slightly ajar and I could hear the three of them whispering just outside.

I looked at my watch. Time was moving on and panic started to overcome my feeling of exasperation. I needed to relax. “Sunny,” I called out. “Could you please get me a coffee?” The coffee arrived in surprisingly quick time, and I felt better after the first sip. I needed something to occupy my mind. I hadn’t read the paper yet. That would do. The Times of India, with its belligerent anti-Pakistan reporting would be a good diversion.

I called out to Sunny. “Sunny, could you get me the paper, please.” “Yes suh,” he
cried joyfully bouncing into the loo. He picked up the loo roll and handed it to me. “No, no” I said, exasperation returning. “The newspaper, the paper!”  I mimed opening a paper. Quick as a flash Sunny unrolled some loo paper and handed it to me. “The Times of India” I cried. “– the cricket scores……” I tailed off, as I saw the light of understanding in his eyes. He returned with the newspaper, and I calmed down again.

Fortunately all ended well. If the registrar was disappointed he didn’t show it and told me how pleased he was with my progress. I reflected that it cannot be that many Europeans who come to India and suffer from constipation.

Lizzie came to visit shortly afterwards. “Do you realise it is Christmas Eve?” She said. I was vaguely aware because the nurses had been putting up decorations and playing carols, but now the realisation hit me that I was going to spend Christmas day in hospital.

I had already enquired about bringing food into the hospital, but they weren’t keen except for biscuits and the like. They weren’t keen at all on outsiders bringing in food, so Lizzie said she would see what she could sneak in for Christmas lunch.

Next morning I was visited by a priest, dressed from head to foot in a white cassock. He wanted to give me communion. I wasn’t sure that I was in the right state of mind or grace, as he had taken me a bit by surprise. So we said the Confiteor together. Or rather he said it and I mumbled along and then I received communion.

I had breakfast and felt fairly contented. I was soon to be leaving and I started getting calls on my mobile from my girls and friends. And then Lizzie arrived, and I wondered what she had for me. We had decided not to sneak in any alcohol as I had had so many drugs poured into me that we both thought it would be unwise and unsafe.

From the depths of her basket she produced a Marmite and cheese sandwich. I looked at her and it in awe, and then I demolished it. It was one of the best meals I can ever remember.

And so the time came for me to leave the Breach Candy. I left the day after Boxing Day. Sunny pushed the wheelchair and his sidekick carried my crutches. The nurses and the other boys lined up as I left the ward, looking both happy and sad for me. They all said they would pray for me and I promised to pray for them in return.

As I awkwardly got into the car I looked back at the not particularly beautiful building that is the Breach Candy hospital and felt a slightly melancholic nostalgia, a feeling I often get when I leave somewhere of significance. The other feelings I had were a deep gratitude and great warmth towards the staff; these exceptional people who had looked after me so brilliantly with such skill, care and joy.

Anthony Parmiter