“Chennai (in South India) is considered the Health Capital of India. Home to some of India’s best health care institutions … Chennai is a preferred destination for medical tourists from across the globe.

“The technology is the very latest, including robotic surgery. The nursing staff is reputedly very well trained, and are real good caretakers.”

These statements from websites should boost the confidence of all sick people, even hypochondriacs dreading the day the grass will start to grow from their decaying nostrils.

These “Health” stories always talk about some new-fangled treatment in a state-of-the-art hospital run by a beaming god’s-gift-to-medicine doctor. You can get your heart, choked with rancid fat, cleaned and stitched to bloom for a few more sunrises before you pack it in for the “Sad Demise” of newspaper obituaries. Is there ever a happy demise, in contrast?

These Chennai hospitals are so bloody good that you could jump off your terrace, break every bone, and still rise, festooned with pins, nuts and bolts, and a fancy stick to wave at people as you ambulate on the road to recovery.

The newspapers never tire of the cheapness of these “best health care institutions”. But for people who have made Chennai their home, it’s not only expensive, it can wreck you mentally and financially. I’d rather let myself go in pain after a massive heart attack or be eaten away by some cancer that starts in my toenail and climbs nearly six feet to reach my head.

It might be worse if I were hospitalised for weeks in some building with “impeccable healthcare infrastructure”, tube up my nose, to be told hours before my Great Getaway from Earthly Bonds that I am in the terminal stages of leptospirosis after being put through tests and treatments worth “just” Rs. 5.5 lakhs (around US$8,450) for everything from typhoid to rheumatism.

I don’t want to be wheeled into an operating theatre where they leave some cotton as a souvenir in my viscera; and be wheeled back for an action replay to remove the souvenir, by then soaked with pus oozing from an infection.

I do not want to be told after spending Rs. 27 lakhs (US$41,538) on tests and treatment for wrong diagnoses that I have cancer and that my time is up.

I have not made up these stories. I got two of them from a friend in the college where I teach journalism. There are many more. You just have to ask around.

(V K Ragunathan is a former journalist who teaches at the Asian College of Journalism.)

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