I landed at Birmingham, second biggest city of United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, in the last week of September’ 2008. I had gone there for my Government of India sponsored study of MBA in Public Services from University of Birmingham. It was my first trip abroad (if you discount Nepal as a foreign destination for an Indian). After completing my formalities of registration with the University of Birmingham, I was advised by my seniors to register myself with one of the G P ( G P or General Practitioners run under National Health System of U.K. are for outdoor patients and their minor medical problems). This was needed to get the public funded and free medical care in the U.K., unless you are a millionaire and could afford state of the art private medical care in U.K..
One fine afternoon, I reached a G P at Pritchatts Road, Edgbaston, close to my rented accommodation in Birmingham. The staff at GP was polite and courteous. It was a pleasing experience, to see a government run hospital being so clean and staff so helpful. I really felt elated and lucky to be exposed to such high standards of services and that too without spending a penny. The nurse there, took my weight and fed my basic data into her computer system and told me politely that I will soon receive a formal registration number, through post, which I could then use to get medical services in whole of U.K. Impressed by quick and neat turnout at my first experience of medical services in Britain, I started pondering that why do people back home warned you to amass a whole lot of medicine to accompany you while going to Britain. On the contrary, I had found the NHS services well equipped and responsive.
The registration letter arrived, soon in form of a postcard on which my NHS number was written. I neatly folded that letter postcard and kept in my wallet for reference. I now decided to focus on my studies. The general environment in Birmingham in month of October is very soothing as winter starts to set in and autumn was just passing by. The yellowish and soft layers of leaves of Oak tree, create such a beautiful scene out there, that you can not be left any thing, but mesmerized. Its beautiful like heaven.
So, amidst this most beautiful and pollution free environment, the last thing I was expecting was an infection. But, it happened and that too in my nose!. This was just inside my right nostril where the roots of a hair caught some infection and it started to swell and pain. The first remedy I tried was to clean my nose and apply some Vicco turmeric cream followed by what else but boroplus. These two were part of my shaving kit and had been useful on most occasions, but not this time. In next 2 days, area around my right nostril had swollen and there was pain too. I had some antibiotic too in my medical kit brought from India (I can bet that every Indian does that! ) and did not think twice before consuming them three times a day like a prescription from a medical professional. But that did not help either.
The infection caught me completely and I had a mild fever too to accompany my infection. Meanwhile, there was a day tour organised by University, to the city of Cardiff, capital of Wales. It was an opportunity, I did not want to miss because of company of many university students and because of my tourist instinct. My safety oriented room mate advised me against that, but I went ahead with the trip despite a badly swollen upper lip. The trip was enjoyable for sure, but it increased my agony a bit more.
More than three days had passed by now and despite self medication, there was no respite in pain or swelling. I decided to call my G P and quoting my registration number, sought an appointment. It was fixed for the next day. I reached my GP on appointed time and at the appointed time got to see a senior nurse, who asked me many questions about my medical condition, in most polite manner. I was in pain and exhausted by her many queries, I requested her to let me meet a doctor.
The doctor at G P was a polite Englishman. He inquired about my general health and symptoms and after noting down my blood pressure and weight etc, examined my lip. He diagnosed me with Folliculitis, but was not sure about prescribing me any antibiotic. He asked a nurse to get my blood sample and prescribed a painkiller and some crocin instead. He asked me to come after two days!. I requested him for a strong antibiotic too, but he politely asked me to wait for that . I later came to know that antibiotics were a big no in Britain, unless you were almost on death bed. The side effects of antibiotics on humans plus subsequent legal remunerative consequences were a big consideration in the minds of the doctors there and, therefore, unless they were dead sure, they would not prescribe that.
In next 24 hours, I had fever and body ache also and was having just ordinary painkillers available over the counter. I tried Homeopathy drugs too, as they are available in supermarkets in Britain. It did not work. My Indian body like many other fellow countrymen was so accustomed to antibiotics, available at any drugstore in India, without even a prescription, that without them our bodies refuse to respond to any English-Medicine (Allopathic) treatment. I started wondering whether I was at a wrong place and whether a polite and courteous staff working neatly was enough! I had started to panic and with no clues called my doctor sitting 7200 km away in my native city of Lucknow.
He was surprised to get my call from a +44 number. I narrated him the entire sequence of events. He did not take much time to understand my situation and advised me to get a strong antibiotic which I still remember, Augmentin 625. He told me, since infection was inside nose and in near facial area, I should not wait and should get the medicine immediately to prevent the further spread of infection. But, the catch was that, medicine could be procured in the UK only on a prescription of a doctor. There was no ‘other way’. No deal, under or over the counter! I panicked even more and started even thinking of flying back to India to get that medicine, cure myself and be back!. It was a very expensive and outrageous way to do that, but what else I could do sitting in anti-antibiotic country! It was interesting to learn later that Sir Alexander Fleming inventor of Penicillin-the most important antibiotic, was from England.
I was at the dead end. Suddenly my Indian instinct reminded me of son of soil theory. I had seen in my last few visits to G P that a lot many doctors there had typical Indian Surnames. These persons were most likely to be of Indian origin or were likely to be exposed to the realities of drug scene of India. As a patient I had a choice to select a doctor from a panel of doctors available for OPD visits. I decided to give it a try. I went back to my G P next day and requested the polite lady at the reception to be seen by a specific Doctor who had a common Indian Surname. I did not tell her the reason though, and waited for my turn.
I walked into the chamber of chosen doctor and said hello to him. He was a young man of thirty to thirty five years and from his pronunciations, I could safely guess, that he was from India. Without wasting much time, I narrated to him the entire story and my agony and pain for last one week. He listened to me patiently and smiled. I got more confident. He examined my lips and infection area and said that it was Folliculitis, he could think of giving some antibiotic. I was waiting for this moment. I said to him in most polite manner, that I would be really obliged to him, if he could please prescribe to me, Augmentin 625. He was bemused to hear that I was prescribing him, a medicine to be prescribed back to me! He said, it was a very strong antibiotic and told me that these drugs were hardly prescribed to OPD patients in the UK. So, did he want me to be admitted in a hospital for that medicine? I requested him once again and reminded that antibiotic loaded Indian bodies like that of me, needed a strong antibiotic only and that if he did not do that, I would prefer to fly back to India, than to die untreated of an infection in the UK. The doctor paused for few seconds and checked from his system if whether or not Augmentin 625 was available in UK market. To my luck, it was actually available. He looked at me and said, that he understood my situation and finally with some hesitation, prescribed me, the strongest ever antibiotic he had prescribed ever, to an OPD patient in U K. I heaved a big sigh of relief and rushed out victorious with two copies of computer generated prescription which could now, let me buy the drug from a store.
I rushed to the local market and presented that prescription to the man at the counter. He looked at me and after cross checking my prescription from his computers and after making many more entries into his records, gave me the medicines. I was really happy and in my life perhaps had never obtained medicine with greater relief and pleasure. I felt as if my pain had already come down a bit, with just medicines in my hand. I bought some water from a store nearby and popped in the medicine. I came back to my room with a smile and took five doses of that, more. As expected, I recovered fully in next 3 days. The pain and swelling was gone completely and there was left, just a little mark on one side of my upper lip. I was really happy. My son of the soil theory had saved me from a very precarious situation and got me well soon, thanks nevertheless to a joint Indo-British Medical collaboration. To this day, I am thankful to my doctor in India, Dr Omkar Singh and my beloved Indian origin NHS doctor in UK, sitting 7200 km away from each other, for saving my nose and my life!
The experience enriched me a lot and left many questions in my mind about the efficacy, efficiency and approaches of Indian and British medical systems.