Hippocrates Shrugged

“I can give you a rabies shot too,” she said, in a manner both concerned and cavalier. “But that’ll cost you about 400 clams.” Mmm, I turned this around in my head, my arms aching and heavy from the five other vaccinations she just administered. I wasn’t sure if I could reasonably justify it on my office expense report. “And really, it wouldn’t do you much good. You need three doses over 28 days. That’s not enough time.”

I was thinking about this, two weeks later, as I was milling about the lawn of the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, uncomfortable with the ominous rumbling working its way through my digestive system. It could easily have been an innocuous toot, but how could I be sure? I bet that doctor had never been to India. And I bet she derived great pleasure terrifying people before they travel; conniving them, that any given moment, they could spontaneously erupt inside their underpants, causing untold havoc and a desperate stampede to clear the immediate vicinity. “Watch out for ice cubes,” she said grimly. Bring extra toothbrushes in case you accidentally rinse one under the sink. Gobble down your malaria pills. Forget about how sick they make you feel. Ever have malaria? She had me so worked up. I was determined to be meticulous, abiding by every rule, forbidding myself a drop of water for however long it took. But twenty minutes in, someone offered me an espresso. And it smelled so good. And I was so jetlagged.

I had been suppressing this potential catastrophe for what felt like three hours. Cranky. It would be hours more before I made it back to the sanctuary of my hotel room. As I stood by the fence, waiting for my assorted bosses to finish their tournament, I was overjoyed to see a dog trotting along through the open gates. I love dogs. I just feel this deep connection to them. Strong is the impulse to bend down and kiss their faces. This dog, with his boxy head and pointy ears, reminded me of my own. As he approached, I squatted down to greet him, cooing for his affection. Then I ealized, not far behind him, was another five, no wait ten, no wait fifteen more dogs.

“If something bites you, you go straight to the airport! Do you hear me? You go straight to the airport and catch the next flight to London or Singapore. Whichever one arrives first. They don’t have treatment for rabies in India. You’ll have 72 hours to live.” It was a line worthy of a film trailer.

“Check,” I said diligently clinging to my travel advisory list.

There was no emotional resonance in these dogs. Their eyes were blank and shark-like. They had hard-scrabble scars where the fur no longer grew. I stood perfectly still as their numbers increased, slowly grasping that these were not someone’s pets, but a pack of wild jackals seeping around me like flooding water.

“Don’t worry,” Usha called to me as the herd trotted past our legs. “They live here on the golf course. They stay well fed.” And that’s when I realized, it had been just gas after all.

Usha and I walked into the main quarters where men in crisp white uniforms were preparing our long table for lunch. She was so elegant in her flowing sari of purple and gold. She was a young woman, married to Raja, the stately executive who was hosting us. Usha was a kind soul, with a charming, friendly smile. I felt so calm in her presence. She seemed to like me well enough, or perhaps she was being gracious since I was the only female amongst the visitors. I was still un-showered after the flight, wearing a skirt and stockings and a stiff gray jacket in the hot sun of the equator line. My long sleeves were never an issue in most of my travels, rushing from one air-conditioned cave to the next. Sure, the men there were wearing polo shirts and comfortable, comfortable trousers. But they were important. Established. I was a chief-of staff. An organizer. A varsity-level minion who had majored in film, not business. I had tattoos to hide. And legs so deathly pale from lack of exposure, they could knock a satellite out of the sky. We went inside for tea, but she handed me instead, a most perfect gin and tonic. Cheers.

Today I am embarrassed by my initial ignorance. I understand why people write so lovingly about India. It is unlike any world I have experienced in my gradually increasing time on this earth.

 

Laura Jean Carney is a former short filmmaker and cartoonist. She has also worked as a global operations coordinator in the consulting industry. She is currently working on a collection of essays.