Today was a day. Our second day in India and, recovering from jet lag, I woke up at 3:15 a.m. I did a lovely, amazing, and much needed hour long asana practice, served my 7 year old some fancy chocolate cereal (a special treat from his patti {grandma}), and started making hot cereal for the adults. Around 5:30 my mother in law woke up and joined us in the kitchen. I chatted with her a bit, then I happily started cutting a melon with her big knife. Not even halfway done with the melon, I cut deeply into the pad of my left thumb.

Luckily she was awake already and rushed over to help. It was the worst cut I’d ever sustained in the kitchen, and I immediately knew I needed stitches. It hurt, but not too bad, but it was pouring blood, and I think I was in a bit of shock.

In less than a minute, she went to wake my father in law, who is an ophthamologist, a medical eye doctor. He examined the injury and calmly began to administer first aid. Somewhere in there I called to my 7 year old and asked him to wake his dad.

MIL gathered supplies, FIL cleaned and dressed the cut. Husband came downstairs, momentarily confused as to why everyone was awake at 5:30 in the morning. In the moment, with everyone trying to help, they spoke in their primary language, Tamil. I had no idea what they were saying and it was making me nervous and starting to stress me out.

After what seemed like an eternity, Husband started translating for me, and after a few minutes I learned that 1) there’s no such thing as an urgent care clinic in Courtallam, and 2) you don’t go the the ER for this sort of thing.

Adrenaline rushing, ready to go and get stitches, I realized I had to wait. For four and a half hours. Until doctors offices opened.

FIL instructed me to create a tourniquet by wrapping my right index finger and thumb around the middle of my left thumb. I held that for several minutes, trading off with Husband when my own hand got tired.

After about 10 minutes I realized the bleeding had stopped. No blood was seeping through the bandages. I just had to sit, wait, and be patient (no pun intended) until 10:00 a.m.

FIL talked to me about the injury and what to expect. He said that the stitches the doctors would administer in this small city would be rough stitches, not fine stitches like a plastic surgeon would do. He said the stitches themselves would be prone to infection and I’d probably be left with an obvious scar.

He advised that it would probably be best to bandage the thumb well and let it heal on its own, without stitches, but he wanted a second opinion.

My adrenaline wore off and my bravery faded. I was no longer ready and eager for stitches. I was nervous about the unknown.

Ten finally rolled around and FIL was luckily able to connect with his doctor friend who said I could come right over.

And here’s where it gets really interesting. We arrived at the clinic and it was absolutely not what I expected. Healthcare in the US and healthcare in a small city in India are two very different things. I kind of wish I’d taken pictures.

The clinic is a little tiny storefront on a busy, littered, two-lane street. The neighbors are vendors of all different types: fruits and vegetables, street food, housewares, eggs, you name it.

I walked up a small ramp from the street into the dim lobby to find bare cement floors and everyone staring. I’d worn a salwar to blend in a bit better, but somehow they still knew I’m a foreigner.

Since my FIL called his doctor friend ahead of time, we jumped the line and went straight in. We didn’t even fill out any paperwork. (Whole new understanding of Privilege.)

We were ushered into this doctor’s tiny dim office, where I smiled and said hello to him and his two assistants and awkwardly offered to shake hands (I’d forgotten handshaking isn’t a thing here). From there we all walked to the back where four or five ladies were already waiting to be seen. We walked right past them too, and into the treatment room.

This tiny dim treatment room was about 4.5 feet wide and 9 feet deep. I sat on an actual table, which was un-level and leaned forward. The long wall was to my back. The doctor was in front of me, Husband and FIL on his left, and one male assistant to their left. A small tray of bottles sat on the table beside me. Three female assistants crowded the doorway, peering in.

Again, everything in Tamil. Me, hyper-cautious. The doctor started to undo my bandage, but I abruptly stopped him after a few layers because he was going too fast and I was afraid he’d reopen the wound when he got to the end.

I asked for him to hydrate the bandage so it would come off more easily. Still, it hurt. It bled more. The clear fluid he used to hydrate the bandage (who knows what it was) splashed down onto the cement floor. It was all so foreign, so strange to me.

He took a quick gander at the injury, asked the male assistant for one of the bottles, and went to start pouring it on my thumb. Husband stopped him to find out what it was. Antiseptic. That too splashed onto the floor. (Was there a drain? Who knows.)

It stung some, but not terribly. He re-wrapped the wound, starting with a layer of some kind of non-stick material. His bandage was less elegant than the one my FIL created hours earlier in the kitchen at home. Threads stuck out everywhere. FIL asked him to wrap it in tape, which he did.

He recommended antibiotics and when I showed him the prophylactic prescription I brought from home (thank you Dell Children’s Travel Clinic, and also for the tetanus shot two weeks ago), he said those would be fine.

We left the shop just as we had come in, past everyone and straight out the door. People were still staring, possibly wondering who we are. Still, most everything in Tamil so I just followed along, but I felt like how I imagine it feels to be a Hollywood celeb, cutting lines and getting special treatment.

It was such a strange experience for me, this kind of Privilege. On the one hand, I was worried about inconveniencing people, waking my FIL so early, causing him to be late for the patients at his eye clinic, making other sick patients wait while I cut the line. On the other hand, apparently that’s how it works here. They have different expectations about time and waiting. And for some people, me included, life becomes so much easier.

But it makes me wonder about how this Privilege affects India. I see the disparity of the poor, middle, and upper classes. I see the pristine and beautiful tourist areas, then I see the narrow city streets littered with trash, stray dogs, and wild monkeys.

I wonder if there’s anything I can do to help. I half-jokingly mentioned today that I want to move to India and become the Minister of Clean Up, the Minister of Beautification, the Minister of Pride of One’s Surroundings. But I recognize that I don’t understand how this society works. I’m a foreigner. I come with an American view of how things could be. I come with my own paradigm of Privilege because I’ve lived my whole life in the relatively clean, organized, and politically correct US.

So I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to help, or if anyone would even want my help. India’s been around for thousands of years, so they must have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing. I’ll just keep observing, keep learning, keep trying to understand how the world works. Maybe one day I’ll be able to help in some small way.

Right now, I’m grateful for my mother- and father in law. For my FIL’s medical training and both of their guidance and caring. For their patience with me as I continue to learn about India and myself. So many lessons, so little time.

My thumb feels fine. It’s covered in a big white bandage. I can move it, it’s not bleeding, and it doesn’t hurt. I’m supposed to go back to that little clinic in 2 days to see how it’s healing. The doctor will give me a new dressing. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be just fine.