Indian Food: Delicious or Dangerous? Bernardo Bacalhau’s Hospital Incident

Bernardo Bacalhau

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Indian Food: Delicious or Dangerous? Bernardo Bacalhau’s Hospital Incident

India is well-known for numerous reasons: from Hindu temples, to warm people, exceptional traditions, roaming street cows, air pollution, and chaotic traffic.

And one of the more important things that do not escape India’s trademark is Indian food. Samosas, curry, naan, paratha, dal, paneer... India is a world of flavors. And I tried everything while I was there!

After living six months in Southern India, Chennai, where I studied at one of the most prestigious institutes in the country, I got used to the food and my stomach seemed to handle it. I grew confident. But everything changed when I moved to Northern India. 

It might be hearsay, but I heard from several Southern Indians that the North was dirtier and more polluted. Therefore people were more vulnerable to food poisoning. Regardless of small talk, I validated this opinion in the most painful way possible. After spending 6 months with no problems in the South, when I arrived in the North I was confident I could eat anything. From street food to upscale restaurants, my stomach could take it. I was wrong. And it was on my second day in New Delhi that I caught the infamous Delhi Belly.

Bernardo Bacalhau Hospitalized

I dismissed it as a small setback and continued my travels as if nothing happened. A month later I decided to create a YouTube video on India’s street food scene. And after that, I never felt 100% again. I was constantly having digestive problems, and after 40 days, I woke up with a high fever and lumbar pains. I thought I had renal colic (like I’ve had before), so I immediately contacted my travel insurance. Soon I had a consultation scheduled at the best hospital in the city. I was Ahmedabad a 7750Km (4800 miles) from home, returning from Holi Festival.

I spent the rest of the day at the hospital, almost immobile. Later on, after a bunch of exams, they told me the bad news. I had Hepatitis E―initial stages, and that I would have to be admitted into the hospital. They explained that the disease could only be contracted through food or contaminated water and that despite the gravity of the situation, I would be OK. I felt more relieved.

Tractor at Holi Festival with festival-goers throwing colorful chalk

Despite being in the initial stage, the infection could not be stopped. So during the following days, already hospitalized, I continued to worsen. My insurance ended up paying for my father’s flight, who came to India to support me. I was hospitalized for 20 days until finally being released and finish recuperating at home.

What saved me was undoubtedly my insurance. In addition to paying for all the treatment, and putting me in the best hospital they even paid for my trip back home (in business class!) so that I could travel as comfortably as possible. So follow my advice and never ever travel without travel insurance, especially to high-risk locations.

By the time I write this, I'm at home almost fully recovered, and thinking about my next adventure. My relationship with India has been affected, naturally, but it continues to be a country that fascinates me, especially the people who have always warmly welcomed me in the best way. One day I will return, but for now, I need calmer destinations. My dream of documenting the world we live in continues!

Bernardo Bacalhau
Writer, Photographer & Videographer
Lisbon, Portugal
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