My First Medical Tourism Experience
Ever since I started wearing contacts in College, I desperately wanted Lasik surgery. I hated that my eyes were so dry and that they made my eyes feel so tired after a long day at work. I have never liked glasses either, because I cant stand having them on my face. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to pay 4000+ dollars to have LASIK done at home, and my insurance wouldn’t cover any of it. This is where I had to become creative and figure out how bad I wanted to get laser surgery done.
I spent a good amount of time on the internet researching where in the world it is best to have surgery done. I have heard great things about dentistry in Eastern Europe, and was still bitter when I spent 5k on dental surgery in the states this past year, that I decided this would be a good place to look. Alas, it was still going to cost a couple thousand dollars. Tag on the cost of being in Europe, and I decided to comprehensively search the web, and was able to find that India had some of the best prices in the world. After consulting with friends that lived in the area and begged me to not do it, I decided that India it was! I could take a month off in March and see parts of North India that I missed last time and at the same time, get surgery.
One day, I was talking to one of my good friends Paul, of Paul Bellinger Photography, and his wife Nisha, who is from India. I have talked about their adventures to India, and how I have always wanted to go back. She told me that her father was a surgeon and that he would probably know some good people to talk to. She sent him some emails, and a few days later, she gave me multiple choices of places to go from Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata. Mumbai and Delhi are more modern cities though, she said, and these costs were going to be quite a bit higher. Some as much as 2000 dollars. That was definitely not what I wanted to do or what I could afford, so she told me to reach out to a man named Dr. Partha Biswas. He runs the BB Eye Foundation in Kolkata. I reached out to him and after a couple quick emails, I was informed that there were two packages. One for Rs 28,000 and one for Rs 38,000. Roughly 400 dollars and 600 dollars, depending on the package. I never did find out what the differences were. I always just figured that I would be paying the 38,000, which was fine with me! For less than half the cost of getting surgery back home, I was able to purchase a plane ticket and get my eyesight back! Who could say no to that? He told me to not wear contacts for the month before I was to come, which worked out well. I would just wear my glasses while traveling.
ARE YOU INSANE???
People always asked everywhere I went, and could not believe that I would do this. I was alone in quite possibly the most chaotic country, without traveler insurance, or any real idea on what was going to happen. I just told them that this is a surgery that has been performed millions of times without almost any issues. Plus, if I felt odd about it when I got there, I could always just back out. To me, there was no question. Was it the most responsible thing to do? No, but that is what made it interesting. It is so unreasonable to think about doing this, that I just had to do it!
After a long couple of days in Kolkata helping a Chilean friend with some travel problems, I concluded that I was going to get out of my cockroach infested bedrooms, and upgrade for 2 nights to a 5 star hotel. After talking with a delegate of the Chilean consulate, I was told that there was a nice hotel just down the street from the hospital. I decided to just walk in and get a room. They must have been shocked to see the giant dirty American, but how sweet it was to get out of the heat of Kolkata and into the plush rooms of the Hotel Hindusthan. I would normally never stay at place like this, but I figured that with eye surgery, it would probably be worth it. Despite the 20 dollar Gin & tonic (always ask prices before buying) it was a nice change of pace from the outside world.
I was originally asked by the people at the hospital if I could come a day later as they were really busy, but I decided that since I was already there, it was worth just asking if they could squeeze me in. It took a while to find my way to the LASIK center. There were a couple floors, and this was unlike any hospital I have ever been to. It definitely is not up to US standards. There were hundreds of people that were in and out trying to get their procedures done. it seemed like complete and utter chaos, but the foundation had a system, and somehow ran through them all. It took hours to get me in, but once they did, they finally started to do some tests. At first, I was unsure, as they didnt seem to have the most up to date equipment. Instead of the big apparatus that they use to test your eye sight, they had small spectacles that had inserts for the hundreds of lenses in a box to the side of me. this didnt faze me though, as it all seemed routine, and they came up with the same power that i had with my glasses!
The next machine they had looked quite impressive, and I felt assured that this was going to be ok. They had to test the thickness of my cornea, and after they ran these tests, they concluded that everything was good, and that I qualified for the top package of Rs 38,ooo as I suspected I would! They could fit me in at the end of the next day!
After a relaxing day in bed the next day, it was time to get the surgery done. Fortunately, there were 2 other people before me, and after seeing them finish with smiles on their face, I knew that i would be fine. I was not nervous at all until the doctors lead me back to the room to have the surgery done. As he turned around to me with a big grin and asks “Are you nervous yet?” Who the hell says that? you cant do that to me! I was perfectly fine, and now Im slightly worried! haha
The whole procedure took less than 15 minutes! Of course, I couldn’t see anything, but they instructed me to hire a car to from my hotel to take me back, and go straight to bed. I was scheduled for a followup the next morning at 9am!
After a long night, I was able to SEE!!! I couldn’t believe it. What a blessing, but so weird. It was a bit blurry, but after speaking with them at my appointment, they assured me that all was well, and that I would be able to leave at any time! So what did I do? I went and bought a train ticket, and after a day long train, and the scariest jeep ride of my life, and 30 hours later, I was in Nepal with new eyes!
I wholeheartedly can not thank Dr. Biswas and the BB eye foundation more. With the little contact that I had with them, they made me welcome and did all they could to make me comfortable. What I now know is that any surgery that I need, I will always consider traveling to do so.