Sunday, February 06, 2005

Healers and quacks - the alternative medicine puzzle

Feb 2nd - 3rd, 2005:

My grandmother is 74 years old and suffers from one of the problems of old age – osteoarthritis in her knees. She has been suffering from pain in her left leg for a while; now her right leg has started hurting as well. She does not want toundergo knee replacement surgery and avoids painkillers as much as possible – so alternative medicine is the only option. A distant relative whose advice she respects and a few others recommended a ‘vaid’ (local healer) named Gangayya in Yentaganahalli, a village near Bangalore. Since I was there, she decided to take a chance and visit him.

In preparation for her trip, Appaji (Dwiji’s dad) and I went to Yentaganahalli. It was an hour-and-a-half drive, no less because of the traffic. We first encountered the Asha Kiran branch clinic. This is being run by ‘Gangayya maga’ – the son of Gangayya. Then, we entered the village of Yentaganahalli and found a clinic there. On further enquiry, we found out that it was operated by Gangayya’s brother! Finally, we came to the real deal – Asha Kiran Ayurvedic hospital, the biggest building for miles around and featuring ‘Vaidya Gangayya’. The hospital even had its own bus stop. At least 50 people were waiting in line, some lying on stretchers. We had been advised to get a number for priority treatment the next day and did so.

I tried to tell Appaji that we’d get a taxi the next day, but he refused, suggesting we pay him instead! So off we set, with ammamma (my grandma) and my uncle in tow. At the hospital, ammamma wanted to go to the bathroom, but the toilets there were beyond atrocious. A hundred years after Gandhiji started writing about the abysmal sanitary conditions of even the well-off, the situation is not fully addressed, even at a so-called hospital!

We were shown in within 10 minutes as promised, and ammamma and I were told to wait on a mat in an inside room. In came an assistant who asked ammamma to bare her knees, put 2 small oil bottles upside down on her knees and told her to hold it there. Then in came an old man in ragged clothes. He took the bottles away, gently rubbed some oil in and asked for 2 old one rupee coins (no newfangled ones – we were warned to bring these earlier). On receiving the rupee coins, he placed them on her knees and wrapped some paper bandages around each knee. Off he went without acknowledging anything ammamma was saying about her condition. Finally, in walked an assistant who told her to keep the bandages on till they came off, to not wet them till then and to apply the oil (for which he made us buy a bottle) on the knees afterwards.

And that was the end of the show. We left, after paying Rs. 300, hearing which ammamma lost what little faith she had in the process!!

Later that day, I insisted on taking her to a regular ayurvedic doctor, who prescribed 6 medicines to clean her GI tract (ammamma suffers from an acute gas problem) on the premise that the gas problem is exacerbating the knee problems. She also made dietary recommendations and suggested she not use anti-inflammatory medication, as that worsens gas. Let’s see if any of this works – if nothing else, ammamma has contributed to the alternative medicine industry!

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