Being Sick in India

being sick while studying abroadBeing sick anywhere can put a feel damper on your day-to-day life. While in India I was sick many times with a wide variety of symptoms and I found that navigating healthcare, food, medicines, and more was actually more different than the U.S. than I thought. As such, I have compiled a few helpful tips and considerations just in case you might fall ill in India as well.

What to Consume

If you have stomach issues, It can be really difficult to decide what to and what not to eat in India even when you’re not not sick. So many dishes are heavily spiced or accented with spicy peppers that bring up the heat and can do real damage on your stomach. When I was sick and having trouble keeping things down, I found eating plain rice and dhal was my savior. Dhal is a liquid made from lentils usually served with rice and is very easy to digest and high in protein. Rice and dhal was served with most meals at my homestay so it was very easy to ask for less of other things and more of it. Also, avoid dairy! Dairy is never the best option when sick because of how difficult it can be to digest for some people. Different forms of dairy like yogurt and buttermilk are often served by host families so be sure to communicate any issues to your host family if you are having stomach issues.
One of the most common recommendations by locals during my time being sick was to simply eat less. Many Indian foods like paneer and thick curries can be harder to digest and cutting down on the quantity of food I ate certainly saved me a lot of discomfort. People will always tell you to drink more water if you’re not feeling well. However, drinking water with dissolvable electrolyte powder was really helpful in calming my stomach down. For anyone in my group that started to feel any kind of illness, the first question was always “have you had any electrolytes?”

Going to the Doctor

In India there are a lot of different kinds of medicine available. The 3 most common that you might come across are homeopathy, ayurveda, and allopathy. Allopathy is what is usually referred to as “western medicine.” Homeopathy and ayurveda are two forms of alternative medicine that are massively popular in India. From being sick I had to understand a few things about Indian healthcare. Knowing and accepting these things helped me greatly.

  • Overpopulation in India puts major strain on doctors. Wait times to see a doctor are fairly long however you are usually able to still see doctors same-day if needed. The duration of appointments with doctors themselves are very short as a result of time pressures. My appointment alone was only about 4 minutes long and I felt like the doctor wasn’t as receptive as doctors I’ve seen in the past. You’ll also find that waiting rooms are very crowded with people waiting to see the doctor.
  • You need to be kind of assertive and advocate for your treatment. I observed that because of time restraints, many doctors serve as prescribers of symptom-relief medications. Be ready to walk into the doctor’s office with a list of specific symptoms and an idea of what the issue might be.
  • The logistics of seeing the doctor in India are fairly straight-forward. You can either make an appointment or walk in and sign yourself onto the waitlist. My visit was only 250 rupees which at the time was a little above $3. Getting prescriptions filled is also fairly simple. You just take the sheet the doctor gives you to a local chemist, which is what pharmacys are called, and hand it to them. If they have the drugs to fill it, they do. If they don’t have the drugs, they’ll tell you they can’t and you simply have to try another chemist.

Tell people—They Can Help

The best thing to remember if you get sick in India is that there are support systems in place for you. Because I wasn’t afraid to tell people I wasn’t feeling well and ask for help, I never had to go to the doctor alone and got to spend time resting when needed. Staff in the program can be very helpful when it comes to making doctors appointments, fulfilling prescriptions, and any other aspect of healthcare. It can also be very beneficial to communicate with your host family about what you’d like to eat in order to make sure you’re not eating things that could make you feel worse.
Noah Cordoba is a psychology major at North Central College and studied abroad with IFSA at the Contemporary India program in Pune, India in fall 2018. He served as an International Correspondent as a First Generation College Student.