I was tear gassed in Colombo, but finding a cure made me cry even more

Dove: Needing a doctor is the worst thing that can happen in Sri Lanka right now. You don’t just have to treat a disease. You have to deal with the stress of finding transportation to get to the doctor, wondering if there will be a doctor around to treat you, and how much this whole harassment situation is going to cost you.

On top of that there is a growing shortage of medicines, so how good is a medical prescription?

It seems I had caught a bug somewhere between coming to Colombo from Delhi and visiting the very crowded official premises of the President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka – open to the public after the palatial buildings were stormed on 9 July by protesters, asking Gotabaya (and Ranil) to go home.

I was trying to self-medicate and thought it would cure him. But on July 13, my eyes took another hit when I felt more than a puff of tear gas that was fired to dissipate the crowds gathering outside the prime minister’s office.

That night was almost sleepless – waiting for President Gotabaya’s letter of resignation, which never came.

The next day, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with raw, red, cloudy eyes that were only getting worse.

Regina Mihindukulasuriya, shortly after being sprayed with tear gas | Regina Mihindukulasuriya | The footprint

Colombo is not like Delhi where a Google search gives you 20 eye doctors with WhatsApp numbers that you can message directly. No, in Colombo you only get a handful of doctors and none of their contact details appear on Google. They are only accessible through a hospital.

I did not know what to do. Should I wait for pharmacies to open and get over-the-counter eye drops? Should I go to the hospital? After an agonizing wait until 9am, I decided to go to the OPD of the nearest hospital, because the eye drops I had already purchased in Colombo for 1,500 LKR (Rs 330) n hadn’t worked.

Read also : Carrom at Prime Minister’s House, swimming in President’s Residence – Calm after storm in Sri Lanka

A stroke of luck, but not for long

Planning any kind of trip is a mini drama. There are hardly any automobiles, and those on the road are charging a bomb, either because they paid the black market price for fuel (petrol is LKR 470, or Rs 104, for a litre, but the black market price is closer to LKR 2,500 – around Rs 555) or have spent days in a fuel line.

The only saving grace was that I had stayed overnight with a friend in Colombo and only took two minutes to reach Asiri Medical Hospital on Kirula Road.

These days people here think a lot about God because everything seems out of your control. I thought of God and also thanked him for putting me near a hospital because my eyes weren’t getting any better.

Less than 10 minutes later I managed to see a doctor in the OPD unit.

“We are so helpless…”

My relief only lasted a minute after the consultation because the doctor didn’t seem quite sure how to treat me. She checked my blood pressure, my tongue, asked if I had any allergies, pulled down the blinds and held a device with a dim light in front of my eyes. Then she said she couldn’t treat me because it wasn’t an allergy.

I never liked hospitals because there is never good news in them. This doctor was starting to piss me off. She wanted me to see an eye doctor, but the hospital didn’t have one. The ophthalmologist had taken leave because of the fuel shortage.

“We are also helpless,” the doctor said twice, sensing my frustration. “Maybe the eye doctor will come at noon. Maybe the doctor will come to another nearby hospital at 4 o’clock. We can’t really say.

I must, however, commend the doctor for his next acts of kindness. She personally called the eye doctor and talked about me and asked if I could have a telemedicine appointment. She then reimbursed the costs and asked a nurse and the public relations person at the hospital to help me either find another eye doctor at another hospital or get a telemedicine appointment.

The second hospital the PR lady checked had doctors available. It was called Golden Key Hospital and specialized in eyes, but was in Rajagiriya, near the outskirts of Colombo.

I had to get there in an hour — which isn’t a problem once you find transportation because the fuel shortage has left the roads deserted.

A long line of automobiles and cars waiting for fuel.  There are hardly any vehicles actually driving on the roads |  Regina Mihindukulasuriya |  The footprint
A long line of automobiles and cars waiting for fuel. There are hardly any vehicles actually driving on the roads | Regina Mihindukulasuriya | The footprint

That day, there was a car parked just outside Asiri Hospital, charging LKR 600 (Rs 132). I tried to lower the price closer to normal rates, but he said, “Miss, please find another one, I am giving a very fair price. We have to get gas from the black market. I gave in.

The eye doctor from the second hospital examined my eyes and said it was an infection and prescribed me medicine for 15 days. I spent about 40 minutes there. The doctor’s appointment, medication and travel cost just over LKR 5,000 (Rs 1,100).

I took two buses and walked the last mile to save money. It was then noon and the curfew had been reimposed.

You must be wondering how much longer Sri Lanka can go on like this – 5,000 LKR to treat a basic eye infection? That too after checking several hospitals for a doctor. What happens when you have a life-threatening emergency? Or if you suffer from a serious chronic illness requiring long-term care? Public health care was already slow – I shudder just thinking about his current state.

Getting sick in Sri Lanka is now truly a wealthy person’s privilege.

(Editing by Asavari Singh)

Read also: Charred coconut shell stoves, cycling – 5 hacks helping Sri Lankans survive the economic crisis

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