by Sue Willis © 2000
Sue Willis and her daughter
Joanna journeyed from
Sydney, Australia to
India to experience the wonders of Ayurvedic
medicine. Their trip was not without a few surprises.
On the 29th May
1998, one week before her 18th birthday, my daughter Joanna fell from a
fourth floor balcony and became a quadriplegic. Last November, somebody
mentioned to me that there was a place in India where they treat people with
paralysis and other illnesses using Ayurvedic medicine--oil massages and
herbal medicine. According to all the information I received from Australia,
Singapore, Thailand and India, this place was the best in the world for this
kind of treatment.
Our trip was
the first time we travelled with Joanna in her wheelchair.
We flew with
Singapore Airlines from Sydney to Singapore. The airline knew in advance
that we were travelling with a wheelchair with 12 pieces of luggage, 150
Kg., which was not easy. I took medical supplies for four months, but you
can get everything in India. The only thing you do have to take with you is
a commode (if you need it for showers and toileting). All the rest can be
bought there (catheters, etc.).
We were seven
people travelling together, so I had plenty of help. We transferred Joanna
from her chair to the airline wheelchair, which was small enough to fit in
the aisle. The flight attendants helped to lift Joanna to the small chair
and then to the airplane chair where she sat on her Roho air cushion.
The trip took
eight hours on the plane, plus three hours at the airport and two hours in
the taxis. The Singapore taxi driver lifted Joanna into the large van we
used because of the luggage. We stayed in Singapore at my friend's house for
a few days so Joanna could rest.
After a good
rest, my daughters Fiona, 21, and Joanna, 20, and I flew from Singapore to
Trivandrum (in Southern India) with Silk Air, which used a smaller airplane.
important tip: Joanna always traveled on the center row next to the aisle
and I sat next to her but separated by the aisle, on the window row.
This allowed me to use the aisle to check and empty her bag, prepare her
meals, etc. Also, people sitting next to her could move in and out of their
seats using the other aisle and without disturbing her. Joanna took her
special cutlery and cup (she cannot move her fingers but can use special
forks and spoons.).
hours, we arrived in India and it was scary. Joanna was carried on her chair
by four flight attendants down the steps from the plane (there were no
gangways from the plane.). At the airport, Fiona pushed Joanna and carried
her large backpack. I carried the passports, money and bags and looked after
the 12 pieces of luggage. There were Indians everywhere, each taking pieces
of luggage, passports, all talking at the same time, not a word of English,
and I was not sure if they were helping or robbing us.
Trivandrum Airport, there was a taxi-van (booked from Australia), with an
English-speaking driver who took us to the hotel. We were at the best *****
hotel, pre-booked for three people and with "access." Well,
we had to lift the chair about 20 steps. The room had only two beds; they
added an extra bed, so we couldn't fit the wheelchair between the beds. The
bathroom was inaccessible. The only good thing was the food. We stayed there
for two nights, as I wanted Joanna to rest between every lap of the trip.
Then, we got up
at 2:00 a.m. to get a taxi at 5:00 a.m. to the station, and then by train to
Calicut. I still don't understand how an Indian travel agent in Australia
recommended us to go from Trivandrum to Calicut by train. It took 10 hours.
I had to ask people at the station to carry Joanna into the train and help
us to carry 12 Bags over the rails about 200 meters. But we did it! And
all I can say to others is: DON'T DO IT. There we were, Joanna on a hard
seat, the luggage all over the carriage, and we couldn't get out at the
station closer to the hospital because the train only stops for two minutes,
while in Calicut it stops for five minutes. I desperately asked anybody on
the train to help us. I was so afraid somebody would walk out with our
luggage (most of the stuff was necessary for Joanna). I was also afraid the
train would start, and I wouldn't have time to go down. Also, I had to find
somebody strong enough and willing to carry Joanna down in his arms.
We finally got to Calicut, and a pre-booked taxi was waiting for us.
traveled for one hour by taxi though small roads, where everybody drove as
they liked, without any rules. It was really frightening. And there were
houses, people, dirt and more people everywhere. And so poor! I started to think
that I had made a big mistake bringing Joanna to that place.
But then we arrived
at Arya Vaydia Sala Hospital, Kottakkal, Kerala. There we had a
whole unit: bedroom, living, dining room, kitchen, shower room, toilet and
treatment room. The place was clean and the people nice and warm, but it
took us two weeks to be able to get used to living without a fridge, no
European food, the heat, dirt and the poor conditions of the
The hospital is
the most beautiful thing you ever saw. Itís very primitive. They have their
own farm, and the water comes from wells. They dry the rice on the ground,
and everything is done by hand. The people there are very high caste,
educated and spiritual. They dress so beautifully, too. The only drawback is
that they stare at white people. When we took Joanna out, they walked in
front of us, walking backwards to stare.
They don't use
wheelchairs in India, except in the hospitals. Itís hard and dangerous to
go out and walk on the road because the drivers don't care about
pedestrians. It took us two weeks to get used to the heat, the rats, the
dirt and pollution. By then, Fiona went back to Australia, and we stayed on
our own. To transfer Joanna from bed to commode to chair eight times a day,
I had to ask everybody (patients, cleaners, visitors, etc.) to help me. And
I had to ask by signs, as they don't speak English.
Joanna got very sick with diarrhea and vomiting, but there is Ayurvedic
medicine for everything and she got better. The food was bad. We could not
eat the canteen food, so we started to cook our own. Iím not a good cook.
But there we were living on potatoes, noodles, rice, tomatoes and onions. No
fridge, but we had a kitchen. Indians are very warm and compassionate
people, and they share the little they have. The lady from the next room
started cooking for us, and it was nice. Then, one of the German patients
told us that for less than $2.00U.S. a lady would cook, shop and do the
laundry every day. We only had her the last day and it was great.
getting sick, you have to boil the tap water for 10 minutes. There is a
market that sells vegetables, but you have to remember that in India you
must boil it, peel it or forget it. You can eat bananas, but not grapes;
cooked beans, but not raw salads; boiled water, but not the bottled water
from the shops. We did that and we were OK. We then started to we started to
see the real value of Indian lifestyle and appreciate everything we saw--the
people we met and the way of life, and we loved it
Kerala is the best-educated place in India. Most of the people speak English, and the hospital is in a farming area, away from everything, and the least populated place in India.
In the hospital, you get in close contact with the Indian people. You are safe, with the best accommodations, and, on top of that, you get good treatment. I think that intensive massage can only do you good. Joanna, did not get any movement back, but she can feel a lot more. She feels stronger and healthier, and for both of us it was the best experience we ever had.
I have lived in
Argentina, the U.S. and Australia and travelled to Europe and
Singapore, but never have I had an experience like the one we had in
India. At the end of six weeks, Joanna surprised me when she said,
"Mum, I don't want to go back to Australia." She has lots of
friends in Sydney, and I always thought that she would prefer to be
with them rather than travelling with me, but she said, "Here people
don't have anything and everybody is content and kind while in Australia
everybody whines about nothing." It's true that people in India
are very spiritual and they look content and peaceful. Christians, Hindus
and Muslims all live in peace together. Nobody is cranky or in a hurry.
hospital, 60 percent of the patients are from overseas: Germany, Scotland,
England, Canada, the U.S., Arabic countries, etc. They are very interesting
people, and we made a few close friends there. All the hospital staff is
Indian. The accommodation is for the person to be treated and his family.
The treatment is four weeks of intense massage. I saw people that were
perfectly healthy now but only three years ago could hardly move because of
arthritis. We are going again next year. Some people keep on going year
after year for rejuvenation treatments.
The hospital is
located in the middle of the best part of India. There are cultural shows at
the temple where you can enjoy real Indian shows, music and lifestyle. You
can live a simple life, without the comforts you are used to, and you will
learn that you don't really need them.
We came back
from Kottakkal to Calicut in two taxis. They are very small and look like
old Morris cars. The taxi seats are high, so there is no way you can
transfer. They had to pick Joanna up, and it was hard to seat her in the
car. But itís better to book the taxi there than from Australia, as it
costs a lot less. The hospital will book the taxi, and they also have a
travel agent for the airfares.
We changed the
air tickets. Instead of traveling from
Kottakall-Calicut-Trivandrum-Singapore-Sydney, we went
Kottakkal-Calicut-MumBai-Singapore-Sydney. In Calicut, they lifted Joanna in
her chair between four people and up the stairs into the plane. They didn't
have a small wheelchair, so from the door of the plane they carried Joanna
in arms to her seat, and they gave us business class because it was closer
to the door.
It took one
hour to MumBai ( i.e. Bombay). Then, we caught a taxi from the domestic to
the international airport. Again, we had to find somebody to lift Joanna to
the taxi (it was a pre-paid van that can be booked at the airport.).
Everybody wanted to help for a tip. I was giving 50 Rupees (US$ 1.50), which
is too much (remember that at every stop there are over 10 tips to pay.), so
20 Rupees is enough. About 3:00 p.m., we arrived at the airport, and we had
to wait until 1:00 a.m. I was scared; if Joanna went disreflexic, I don't
know what I would I have done. We waited in the transit area, where it's
safe. There were no beggars, and it was not so hot.
There we were, Joanna and me sitting in front of two trolleys full of luggage, and I was thinking what would happen when I had to check in.
was a Indian lady travelling with four children who came to ask us to come
with her to the "child room." I thought it was a place to change
babe's nappies. It was a room with four beds and a toilet. The lady gave us
one bed and helped me to put Joanna on it. I was so relieved! After
travelling all day, we had to wait until 1:00 a.m. and then the four hours
to Singapore and another hour in the taxi. Being able to lie down was just
great. I was so afraid of disreflexia and pressure sores, and that bed was
all we needed.
wanted to charge me for 110 Kg excess luggage weight. I asked to speak with
the manager, but they just didn't want to know. "You must pay,"
they said. I ended up saying, ďOK, all those Bags contain stuff that
Joanna needs. I don't have the money to pay for the excess, so the only
solution is for you to keep the stuff, and we try our luck and travel
let me go. You cannot say in India that a disabled person needs extra
stuff. It doesn't matter. Access doesn't matter either. Quadriplegic
people are just sent home to vegetate. But, if you make sure that the
airline is notified in advance of the extra luggage itís OK. My travel
agent notified Singapore Airlines for the trip to Singapore and India, but
not for the return trip. You have to ring Singapore Airlines in India and
let them know.
Also, make sure that you confirm your flight in advance. I nearly went to MumBai the day the travel agent booked me in, but there were not seats from MumBai to Singapore. In India, you have to check everything yourself.
Then, we flew
to Singapore, and it was a shock to see everything so tidy, so clean, the
traffic so orderly and silent. We saw all that, and still, after all
the difficulties, we missed India. It Doesn't matter how clean, tidy and
organized Singapore and Australia are, there is something in India that makes
you want to go back.
Travel Singapore Airlines (I think that any airline will give you all the help you need. ).
Take your own commode (it is a toilet seat and shower chair.).
somebody to help you.
Tell the Airline about the excess luggage.
Don't take many
clothes (two pants, three tops and sandals easy to slip off to go into the
shops). Ladies cannot wear shorts or show shoulders and legs. Don't take
warm clothes. In the airplane, they'll give you a blanket.
anything raw. Peel or cook everything. Boil the water. Hire a cook and tell
her what you like.
You can buy catheters and other medical supplies there (I took stuff for four months.).
soft to lie on. The beds are very, very hard. Joanna was disreflexic all the
time, I think because of the hard bed, even though I took a thin inflatable
If you like
music, take your Walkman and some tapes.
And my best
advice is: don't go anywhere else in India except Arya Vaydia Sala Hospital.
You'll be safe; the hospital is like a hotel, and the massage will do you
good and make you stronger. It is very affordable; they have the prices on
the Internet. The hospital is in the prettiest part of India, and it is not
a tourist place. You'll be in close contact with the real Indian life. If
after that you want to see India, which I doubt, you can always go after the
treatment, which will take four weeks.
Not only the
massage is important but also the herbal medicine they provide for
everything else. Joanna had
an ear infection, which usually takes a long time to cure with antibiotics,
but in India she got cured in two days with a special oil. UTIs
got cured with herbal medicinal water. Also fever, upset stomach, sore
throat, diarrhea and nausea. Even a mark that looked like a bed sore, got
better in one day with a special cream. Joanna never had a bed sore before,
and when I found that red spot, I was really scared. How would she travel
Back to Australia? But with an Ayurvedic cream, she was perfect the next
day. She came home looking so
healthy. Her skin was perfect; she even put on a bit of weight.
We loved it so
much that next January we'll be there but this time with less luggage, and
my husband and Fiona to help me.
about Arya Vaydia Sala Hospital at their website: www.aryavaidyasala.com
Their e-mail address is: email@example.com
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