Traveling Adventures With Needles

Post my little hospital visit in Nepal, I developed a secondary infection. One that would see my time in India being very uncomfortable for the first couple of weeks. I thought that the medication that I was on for it would do the trick. Unfortunately for me the infection didn’t go and what was left made me sicker and sicker and eventually I left Pushkar in a taxi bound for a doctor in Jaipur.

When I arrived I had high fever again and they made me go through different tests to identify the type of bacteria causing my infection and what antibiotics it was resistant to. While I waited for these tests to come back for two days they put me on a series of medications to manage my symptoms and I spent two days in bed watching Bollywood sitcoms and drama shows in Hindi that I didn’t understand.

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Hospital gowns… my most prominent Asian attire.

The day I went back to the doctor I sat in wait for the results. As he hands me the sheet of paper with the results, I nearly cried. Of the fifteen different antibiotics that they had run this bacteria against, only three of them worked. My infection was resistant to twelve different classes of antibiotics. As someone who has studied science, microbiology and chemistry, I understood the severity of this.

Of the three different types of antibiotics that they gave me, the one that showed the most efficacy was amikacin…. an injection to be taken every 12 hours for five days. The doctor says to me “so how long are you going to be around for? You will need to be injected by a nurse”. Me being me and stubborn as hell, I said to him “I leave tomorrow. I will give them to myself. Teach me.”

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The giant pile of drugs and injections they sent me home with.

Both the doctor and the nurse stood there dumbfounded because they weren’t sure whether I could do it or not. They demonstrated where I had to inject myself into the buttocks and I dug the needle in and pressed down on the plunger. Too easy. “OK, they said, you seem to know what you are doing, here is your bunch of needles and all of the other pills you will need to take for the next week or so. Good luck!”

I left the doctors office, got into a cab and went back to the hotel where I was met by my tour leader in the lobby. I started to cry for all of the thirty seconds that I allowed myself before telling myself I need to pull my shit together and get about it. There is nothing else I can do about it other than just suck it up and deal with it.

That night I didn’t sleep well. Nor did I sleep well any other night for the whole five nights that this went on. I dreamt of needles. I had anxiety about not doing it properly and my ever growing bruises on my arse. The first time I gave myself an injection unsupervised by medical practitioners I was freaking out. But I did it. I got up and I got on the bus and I went to Bharatpur.

On the third day of having needles I still wasn’ feeling too bad. My symptoms had started to disappear and I was feeling better. It was my day to go to the Taj Mahal. So slowly but surely, I went. I got dressed up in a sari, I did my hair and make up and I went to the Taj Mahal. It was a great experience and I am so happy and lucky that I got to go. Everybody keeps telling me I look so happy and healthy in the pictures. Pictures for the most part lie. I felt happy, but also very weak and very sore. My time at the Taj was cut short by my needle schedule and I had to depart to go back to the hotel to take my fifth needle.

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Looking apparently healthy at the Taj Mahal.

The following day after needle six, I was suffering big time. I could barely walk without pain. I had giant bruising on either side of my butt and it became almost impossible to manage. From here we had to leave however and go to Varanasi on the train. This was one of the worst times that I had with needles.

Because of my soreness, they put me in a side berth on the bottom bunk overnight. Many of the Indian locals however found it quite OK to use my hips as bag holders at 2 am when they were getting off the train or to lean over me and put their hands on my hips or knock me as the night went on. The amount of times I cried out in pain and started yelling at people I couldn’t count. And of course they had no idea what was going on and I couldn’t explain as I didn’t speak Hindi.

The morning bought with it a new challenge. Trying to give myself a needle on the train. As the train slowed to a stop, my friend climbed down off the top berth and helped me alcohol wipe down my skin and hands and take the medication into the barrel of the syringe. Whilst she grabbed a chunk of my flesh, I plunged the needle in and started to inject as the train started moving and we had to finish the injection while taking off. We were half concealed by a makeshift curtain sheet that I tied up that didn’t really cover very much and the men on the train sat staring as my butt hung half way out of my pants, but when it is your life and your health on the line, you kind of stop caring. We survived the train needle, needle number eight and we were on our way to the finish line.

My next needle was on the floor of a silk shop in Varanasi. We were visiting there to learn about how to identify real silk from fake ones. Three girls held up a cashmere blanket curtain and I injected myself again with help in style from behind the blanket. The whole thing had become oddly funny. Instead of scheduling my activities around my needles, my needles had just become a part of my activities.

My last needle was the following morning. Never before had I been so happy to not have to deal with anything anymore in my life. I was happy that I could finally rest without having to inject on to bruise after bruise after bruise.

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My left buttocks by day 3.

Upon arrival back in Delhi three days later I went to the hospital to get a check up. After x-rays, ultrasounds, blood work, urine samples and the entire works, I left the hospital and went to the hotel to await the results. Two days later they arrived. For the first time in over a month and I half I was infection free. My body had been put through absolute hell and I was tired. I didn’t care too much about being in India even. I wanted somewhere to sleep and rest. I wanted to eat a giant steak to get some protein back into my body to heal my bruised and weary muscles. I wanted so much to not be on the road. But despite all of this, I was incredibly thankful for the amazing doctors in India for figuring it out and dealing with it so thoroughly. And I was incredibly happy to be alive. There is nothing like a near death experience in Nepal followed by severe antibiotic resistant secondary infections to scare the shit out of you. From here on in, I look after myself every day the best I can and am thankful for my health being so good ordinarily.

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