Temples, faith and dissonance

We were on this road trip with our parents to this temple called the Garbharakshambika literally translating into the Goddess who is the protector of the womb. It is located near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and believe it or not, is very easy to find using Google Maps.

Flashback: We have fielded many suggestions around applying some kumkum from some temple to wearing some thread on the left hand. A visit to this temple was something that came up over and over from relatives and it was something we never acted on. I was able to park it aside with the excuse of undergoing treatments and therefore not wanting to do road trips. But once we decided to stop all treatments, we lost that excuse and it was hard to ignore the plea of “there is no harm in trying”.  So off we went with a seething husband waiting to connect his fist to the face that made this suggestion in the first place.

What is strange about this temple is how new-age it is. There is a dedicated website (feel free to look it up. I have no intention of ruining my day with sponsored ads by posting the link here) explaining the history, instructions on how to consume the prasad and most importantly, how it can be couriered with blessing to U.S, UK, Canada etc. There are also testimonials but again all by NRIs as though domestic clientele is not worth bragging about.

As we were entering the temple, the lady selling flowers on the other side of the entrance, yelled out saying buying flowers as an offering is great for putrabhaagyam (fortune of having a son). That got the ball rolling.

Outside the administration room (where one goes to pay for the rituals and prasad) there is a board in Tamil explaining how there is no need to stop on-going medical treatments in order to make an offering at the temple. In fact, it strongly encouraged continuing with medical treatments.

Walk further in, there are cows grazing and women in three clear categories:

  • Category 1: Women here to pray to have a baby
  • Category 2: Heavily pregnant women who are praying for a safe birthing experience
  • Category 3: Women with babies who have come back to offer thanks

As everyone stands to look at the deity, the main priest offering prayers inside the sanctum summons the Category 1 women to line up with the ticket bought, a 5-rupee coin, a small bottle of nei/ghee (clarified butter) and a coconut. This isn’t some discrete announcement or a tacit understanding but more like an angry man bellowing at a room of about 50-60 people.

Then in groups of 4, we were asked to sit at the threshold of the sanctum and the priest took the stuff from our hands to rest it at the feet of the deity. Sitting there it is hard to not notice things like the palpable sadness in the women around me, the fact that our husbands are not expected to sit alongside us, that the priest is churlish to a point that makes me wonder if he is mad at us for not being able to do the one thing that is expected of us.

I was also incredibly conscious that I was basically sitting at a threshold of a temple asking for absolution. As a feminist, was I disrespecting the way paved for me by all the work done in the past? As an educated woman, did I fight hard enough against this? As an educator, am I no longer a role model for my students when I preach rationality? But what if this works, would I become a statistic on the website in the favour of this ritual? Was I going crazy thinking this would work?

The four of us were then asked to put some kolam on the threshold of the sanctum and place the 5-rupee coin on the design. Now the other three women drew a star with two intersecting triangles and in my head, I was like everyone obviously has seen/read the Da Vinci Code. But I cannot draw straight lines with a pencil let alone rice powder so I drew a basic flower imagining that I could place the 5-rupee coin at the centre. Clearly, I didn’t meet the brief since the priest scowled, redrew a star on top of my flower and placed the coin on top of it, not trusting me with anymore tasks.

We were then given back our small bottles of nei/ghee and sent on our way with instructions on consuming it for 48 days.  As I walked back to my family, I was struck by how even though I come from incredible privilege (caste, colour of my skin, ableness, education, economic background, access to medical care, voice, you name it) in this temple I shrunk my presence without being explicitly asked to do so. I walked slower, with lowered shoulders, I struggled to find my voice when the priest barked something at me and most importantly, I experienced guilt.

Fast forward: The 48-day thing didn’t work. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt. The rational part of me, of course, didn’t think it would work. But clearly miracles happened to someone right?  I was just hoping it could have been me.

Other things I noticed:

  • This temple is dedicated to a goddess who is dedicated to solving only the women’s problems. There is another section in the temple with another god for men but guess what, that God deals with “general health problems”
  • There is an ecosystem around the temple where there are flowers to please the goddess and chappal stands. BUT there are also a few stores on the parallel street to the temple selling porn. Loving how this “ecosystem” is committed to the whole experience
  • All the paintings in the temple explaining the story have incredibly fair skinned people. Because you know, if you are dark-skinned and struggling with infertility then even God cannot save you
  • How the word “luck” was thrown around so many times and most of the women in Category 3 came with twins. Awfully coincidental?

temple-clipart-kovil-5

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Immaculate conception during wedding season

When in teens, sex was all about the sheer quantity – how much are you getting. Then came the 20s where it was about the mood, the ambience, the planned spontaneity (my favourite kind) and needless to say the quality. At some point towards the end of 20s and early 30s, IF procreation is on the cards there begins an unspoken scheduling  and then verbalized scheduling based on apps and/or pee sticks. Post which comes a time when the dates for sex are on a prescription alongside the different medicines that need to be paired with it. While sex by itself is great, when accompanied by a calendar and a cocktail of hormone stimulating drugs it does little for either parties involved.

Along with this angst, add a houseful of people and the madness of an Indian wedding – even a platonic hug seems like a chore. Typically when I whine about weddings, it is because they are a great place for anyone to be more inappropriate than usual. Not only do people shamelessly try and arrange the next wedding by pairing up unassuming souls, there is brazen questioning of anyone’s child-free status. In at least two cases in the last year or so, I have been asked about why I didn’t bring my non-existent child to the wedding. I think this is the latest strategy of the aunty network – ask with so much conviction that the person is shamed into at least renting a child for the next wedding if not making one on their own.

But there is more than just the random accosting by strangers during the ceremonies. Weddings also mean cohabitating with family from far and near. Families with great heart but also Vulcan hearing, x-ray vision and enough curiosity to kill any feline.

Case in point:

Me (gulping the water down with my drug cocktail in the kitchen thinking everyone is in bed): Ohh..hi!

Aunty: What is wrong? Do you have a headache?

Me: No, no…I am fine

Aunty (eyes narrowing): Then? Why tablet and all? Are you still on the pill?

Me: What?! No, no…just some vitamins for good health

Aunty: Oh good, so you are trying. Nice nice… Give me also one vitamin tablet.  So much work in this wedding, I could do with some health.

Me: Ummmmm

Other problems include: How do you escape for a couple of hours to go for a scan between the mehendi and the sangeet? How do you get out of people giving a mile-long shopping list when you lie about going to the market? Or worse, ask to accompany you or be dropped off somewhere on the way to the market you weren’t going to in the first place?

But the most difficult to tackle is ovulation and prescribed sex.

With people camped in every room, walking in and out at all odd times and gendered, hostel-style sleeping arrangements; making a dash for the narrow window of ovulation is hard. Forget the stress-free ambience or the mood, there often is little room to get the basic mechanics right.

That leads to shady projects like trying to get people out of the house for at least an hour by suggesting movies, shopping or even a chaat visit. But no – every project will be met with either disinterest or worse, extra kindness where you get pulled into the amazing plan you made to get rid of people in the first place.

That’s when even an agnostic such as myself turns to all the possible gods to get tips on how exactly does one manage to make a baby without really doing it. Does one try pulling a Kunti from Mahabharata – glaring at the sun while chanting some prayers and risking blindness? There is the Mary-Joseph route, but if I actually had a barn to myself I could make this work without needing divine intervention. I also considered the birth of a child like Aphrodite from the foam of the sea on Marina beach in Chennai but knew deep within that there is no way the husband will willingly throw his testicles into the ocean.

For the sheer number of examples I could pull up, I realized that these stories were not just folklore – they were clear messages pointing in one direction.

If you want to make babies during the wedding season, you are better off trying to pull a baby out of the earth, fire, ocean or sky.  There is no bloody way that the conventional, more fun route is getting you anywhere.

kunti

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Not everything starts on a Monday

To set context for this rant, let me begin by stating that I am a bit finicky. No surprise there.

I am someone who will continuously miniaturize my handwriting so that I don’t spill into the next day in my weekly planner. If I had days-of-the-week underwear, I wouldn’t wear them out of order. I organize my To-Do list (when I have a choice) in the decreasing order with most to do on a Monday and then Friday being reasonably chill. I think it is sacrilegious to take a Crocin from the middle of the pack instead of following the line (across or vertical – I am chill and very open like that) or to stack books with only some of the spines visible.

I guess you get the picture.

But coming back to my story/rant –

After multiple cycles of Clomid + Progesterone, I willed myself to start IUI. I showed up at the clinic ready to knock the cycle out of the park but a quick scan revealed that my follicles weren’t looking great and the doctor predicted that the eggs will be of poor quality.

This was infuriating for two reasons:

1) I re-read my emails thrice before sending them out and here my unsupervised follicles were doing a shoddy job.

2) I had pushed back a month of work travel so clearly while I am busy clearing my schedule to make this work, my body was not being a team player.

Anyhoo…the doctor recommended a month of oral contraception and regular scans as a performance improvement plan for my shady follicles. So I went to the chemist armed with a new prescription. Side note – in most parts of India, the chemist bhaiya/anna is an integral part of any journey you are on. If you stop buying pads for two months, he will suggest a Pregasure test when you go to buy Combiflam. So when I went from buying ovulation sticks to progesterone to birth control; his surprise was legit and as a stakeholder in this decision, he did vocalize it. I explained everything and now we are cool. But I digress…

This is the pack and before you yell about its expiration date – it is an image off the internet.

28414-loette-levonorgestrel-ethinyl-estradiol-packaging

Observe closely. This pill is supposed to begin from day 1 of the cycle. The design assumes your cycle would obviously start on a Monday. I mean which woman’s body would dare to be rebellious enough against the very artificial markings of time? Further, scans are prescribed based on the days of the cycle therefore days of the week have little meaning. Now you can tell me that not everyone who is on the pill needs to plan for a scan and I will say, “Excellent point my friend, but would you rather not check your weekends on iCalendar instead?”

Besides, what happens if I need to start on a Wednesday? Do I even then begin from Monday or worse break pack from the middle? *gasp*

I really want to know what could have led to this decision of using days of the week instead of the number of days in the cycle. Is it a “differentiator” that 3 men in a room came up with?

Man 1: Well, everyone has days in numbers on their packaging. We should stand out in the world of contraception and help women calendar their week

Man 2: That’s a great insight!

Man 3: Great! Beers everyone?

Am I being catty? Yes. Am I making assumptions about someone’s gender? Yes. Am I falling back on stereotypes to make a point? Yes. Is it unfair to the men who want to be helpful and actually care? Probably Yes. If you reversed the situation and deployed the same logic, would I be mad? Hell yeah! But who are you kidding? Men willingly using oral contraception? Ha!

But as a valued customer (for the sheer number of times I have had to go on this pill!) I can tell you that it is fucking annoying to see this pack and count the empty blisters to know when to go for a scan!

But for all this ranting, each time I had to start a new strip it HAS been on a Monday. So either my brain is so nitpicky that it willed my body to sync with a poorly designed pack or maybe those three men were onto something.

Hmmm…

P.S: Other thoughts in my head as I stared at this each night – what is with that logo? What pose is it advocating for? Why the pink arrows? Why three arrows from Sunday to Monday when everything else is two? Is it because it feels longer? Sigh…so many more thoughts! Ugh!

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Why I won’t be trying IVF

In an ideal world this post would be one sentence long where I would just say “Because I don’t want to” and we could all be on our way. Sadly in real life that is somehow never a good enough answer.

I don’t know much about other parts of the world but there has been a proliferation of infertility clinics here in India (in the big cities at least). There are innumerable hoardings or print ads with white people or incredibly fair skinned Indian couples hugging while looking shyly at the growing pregnant belly with clichés of completing the family or motherhood. With ads taking the place on multiple inside pages or advertorials in business newspapers, every other person now believes they can suggest this medical process like they would suggest you buy a washing machine during the Amazon or Flipkart sale.

The process of IVF includes multiple ultrasound procedures, followed by follicle stimulating injections, harvesting the eggs on specific dates and another procedure of putting the fertilized eggs (yes multiple!) back in. This could be further supplemented by more injections and pills to support implantation.

But this just tells you the half of what really happens. What I describe below is an IUI, it is when they fail that an IVF is recommended by the doctors.

The scans (TVS) typically happen on every alternate day to check the growth of follicles so every other day you are sitting in a crowded clinic for about two hours to be told of a half millimeter growth in your follicle size. Alongside begin the injections. Now US based websites and YouTube videos will have you believe that your spouse/partner can inject these drugs into you after practicing a few times on an orange. In India we have too much manpower and we do not place this level of responsibility or pressure on our spouses/partners, therefore you visit your doctor’s clinic and the nurse there will give you the injections. These injections are typically oil-based making the needles thick and rookie nurses will struggle. You will develop a strange sense of empathy towards the aforementioned orange.

With each passing day, your back will hurt and so will your stomach. You will put on about 4 kgs in 3-5 days and your boobs will hurt like they are taking revenge for every bra worn. You will burst into tears seeing a cover slide of a presentation template because it has pictures of kids on it. You will experience rage when you realise your jeans no longer fit. In that fit of anger, you will go shop for clothes that are one size too big and justify to yourself that you will grow into them when you get pregnant. You will feel sadness when someone asks you if you are already pregnant because your face looks puffy and you are wearing loose clothes.

You will yell at your partner for not having to contribute anything beyond a sperm. You will then cringe knowing who is being the real pain here. There will be awkwardness because there are days for prescribed sex and abstinence. You will be embarrassed when you realise that sex is the last thing on your mind and then be struck by the irony of this situation. You will say mean things to people you love even when you know you shouldn’t.

You will go to the clinic with hope on the day of implantation/insemination. You will feel wistful about how it needn’t have been this way – you on the bed of a clinic and him in some grimy bathroom with a broken window sill. You will squeeze your doctor’s hand for a second longer than needed when she wishes you luck. You laugh the hollow laugh when she says it could even be twins while secretly being terrified. You will get off the bed as though there is a seed of hope you are already carrying. You will be sore and crampy and convince yourself that you should be prepared in case this is how the next nine months are going to be. You will wipe after every pee and look for traces of blood. This will become a habit that will stick with you for much longer than you’d like to acknowledge. You will start being nicer to your partner and without saying it you both will stop planning for holidays in the following year.

You will go for a HCG blood test and not know what you could have done better when you get a negative result. You will get angry when you watch the Mothers’ Horlicks ad because the bitch had it so easy (and which fucking clinic gives you a report with POSITIVE written in such a large font size). You will cry for something you never had and will find it hard to explain the loss. You will not know what to say when the doctor says you can always try again but the success rate is less than 10%. You will be crushed when you get your period because there was some forum where one person posted in 2012 about how her HCG levels were reported wrong and you held on to that as the last hope.

The decision to stop fertility treatments is a tough one. Which handbook tells you how many attempts are good enough? Who can quell the voice in your head that wonders about if you are being a quitter? How do you say with confidence that you are not passing up on a chance every time someone suggests something new? How do you explain to friends and family that you are tired of trying? How do you truly know that your partner is okay with this choice and not saying it to save you the trouble?

When people constantly told me it would all be worth it in the end, I didn’t have the courage to tell them that I think otherwise. I am doing it now. I am placing myself and my most precious relationship over this pressure to procreate. I am intentionally choosing to not put myself and those around me through the cycles of hope and rejection. I have immense respect for women who are able to do otherwise. I don’t pretend to understand what motivates them but I don’t lie about wanting to be them either. When I am told I will forget all of this when I hold that little bundle in my arms, I struggle to explain how I am not that magnanimous and know that I can be resentful. I find it hard to place myself at the center of these struggles month after month when there is so much worse happening in the world around me. Whether it is biological or not, I find this level of self-centeredness after a point, distasteful.

Sanity doesn’t come easy. Sometimes it’s a choice and therefore I choose.

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What Not To Say – a handy festive season guide

Festive season is here. You will be meeting family and friends. Even if you are some part Indian, you will be curious about the child-free status of some of the couples you meet. Here’s my Diwali gift to you.  A checklist of ‘What Not To Say’ to these people even though you think you are helping. I wish I could tell you I made this list up but I have personally heard each of these and surprisingly from unexpected quarters.

In an unfortunately mixed group

  • Any good news?
    • Different prefixes include – you are looking so healthy, you have a glow, you look tired, you look unwell, you have put on weight, you have lost weight, you are wearing an Anarkali/Angarkha/anything that doesn’t cut off circulation
  • Your parents are tired of waiting to become grandparents
  • These days you people think your career is your baby
  • Who will take care of you when you become old?
  • If you travel so much for work, how will you give <insert random kid’s name> a cousin to play with?
  • When we were your age, we didn’t think so much before having a child…your whole generation overthinks decisions
  • I saw on my Whatsapp group someone had posted that if you do deep breathing like Pranayama, it will help clear all your tubes for pregnancy
  • I saw this medicine on Facebook…
  • I saw this video where these liberal, feminist types are refusing to have children, are you also?
  • If you don’t increase our numbers, we will get run over by all other religions and communities
  • These days adoption has become fashionable

One woman to another

  • Have you tried <insert obscure herb>? It is supposed to help
  • Don’t drink too much coffee/tea/alcohol
  • Drink green tea
  • Don’t exercise too much
  • Exercise more
  • Have you tried yoga?
  • Don’t do CrossFit – it won’t stick
  • Try losing weight
  • Try meditating on the days of your ovulation – visualize your egg being fertilized
  • Have you tried veganism? I read it is helpful for getting pregnant
  • He will leave you for someone else <insert uncomfortable laughter> if you don’t do something soon
  • Isn’t ironic that you didn’t want kids before…
  • Don’t your in-laws say something?
  • You both work at home and even then it’s not happening?
  • Keep your legs up in the air after you have done it
  • There is this app you can use to track when to…
  • This is why I didn’t go on the pill
  • Go on a vacation for 5 days – but go on the right 5 days
  • When you go to <insert name of any Indian state you had no plans of visiting> there is this tree you can offer water to
  • You can go get this thread from this temple to tie on your right hand
  • That aunty’s daughter in the US also had the same problem, she quit her job and now she has twins
  • Don’t let him spend too much time in the bathroom if you know what I mean
  • IVF try kiya? There are some really good packages these days
  • There is this doctor (best said in Tamil) – avar kai vechaale porum. Translated – if he lays his hands on you it is enough
  • These days everything is so complicated. I toh got pregnant by accident
  • We also really struggled for two months
  • Are you really trying? I mean trying hard or chumma?
  • Which direction are you facing when you are….? North or East?

What you can say instead

  • Happy Diwali
  • You look great!
  • Here eat some mithai/sweet

See…not difficult at all 🙂 Happy Diwali and don’t be an asshat.

Image result for diya png

 

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The bullshit of “mild discomfort”

So as a part of this quest to diagnose why we are not pregnant yet, the doctor suggested a HSG test. As any brave woman would do, I asked her how painful it would be and if it can be done under sedation. She casually mentioned I would feel ‘mild discomfort’ just like regular menstrual cramps. Now as someone who has gone through menstrual cramps over 200 times (quick Math FTW!)  I was like I can totally deal with this!

By now you would know that for any procedure, I prepare as though I am the one performing it instead of being a patient. So I began by reading up on the dye, the mechanics, possible side effects and everything suggested mild discomfort but also most websites had this sort of weird declaration about how different people have different pain thresholds. Only WebMD mentioned serious pain but then they are also the ones who suggest cancer or Lyme’s disease anytime I key in a symptom so…

Warning 1: The billing lady

As I was paying for the procedure, the woman at the billing counter asked me who I had come with. I was of course by myself since I don’t typically expect the husband to stand guard for such things. She looked a little taken aback and asked me if I want to reschedule when he is available. I held back my wise-ass, “my uterus waits for no man” comments and handed over my card.

Warning 2: Declaration signing

As I was waiting in the hall, another staff member came up to me and called me on the side. She asked if I had come with someone. When I said no, she looked at me nervously and pulled out a declaration form for me to sign. The form basically stated that I was completely aware of this procedure; I have chosen to be unaccompanied and shall not hold the hospital responsible for anything.

Warning 3: Painkiller injections

I was then sent to receive painkiller shots. While I am happy to share that I am a firm believer in drugs when it comes to pain, but two painkiller injections? That left me wondering why we are trying so hard for “mild discomfort”.

Procedure: The unhelpful helper aunty

The procedure happened in an X-ray room and here also there were three other people in the room apart from the doctor and one helper aunty. The doctor asks me to relax (a hard thing to do in that position) and begins injecting the dye. Now let me tell you that I have had some pretty severe menstrual cramps, I suffer from frequent migraines and I have walked into a solid concrete wall and a giant tree (not making this up), so no stranger to pain. But this was someone twisting my insides like tying a water balloon for Holi. The worst thing was the helper aunty chuckled and asked me that if I cannot handle this, how I will endure the labour pain.

Realization: HSG was designed by men for women

As with how I deal with most of my issues, I came home and sought revenge by Googling to see if there are ANY tests that involved injecting anything into a penis and don’t hold your breath – there are none. No surprise there so I then looked up on Wiki to answer the question who the fuck decided it was a good idea to check for blockage in fallopian tubes like you would add Drainex to your sink. It then dawned on me that this was once again that time in history when two men got together and decided to devise a test for women because you know…who understands plumbing better.

Things I wish someone had told me:

  • Take someone with you. Someone who is okay with snot, tears, cursing and holding hands.
  • You will read that it sometimes is easier to get pregnant just after the HSG test. Unless you are into Immaculate Conception, this will not happen since you will hate men for a while and sex will be out of question
  • The “mild cramping” after the HSG will feel like you are carrying four women’s uteri during their period
  • Visit forums instead of generic websites with Getty Images photos. Women tell women things when things get shitty (not the helper aunty though – she hates you!)
  • If you are mad at your non-existent baby and are questioning if any of this is “worth it” – it is normal and you are not a monster

I know…you are welcome.

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3 out of 5 for my scan

Going for any sort of medical, diagnostic procedure in India is an experience by itself. With there being a sea of humanity waiting to be tested, screened, scanned, poked or probed; the staff doesn’t really care about small first-world things such as feelings, discretion, propriety etc.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have no grand illusions about me being a snowflake but at the same time I do get awkward if you are drinking chai or discussing which Shanti Sagar has the best chutney with four other people in the room when you are moving an ultrasound probe inside me.

I was undergoing my follicular study which basically means I was having a transvaginal ultrasound every week. Going to the same diagnostic center each week, establishes a strange relationship with those there. You don’t want to wave and shake hands in greetings of course, but neither can you waltz in with a poker face. So with awkward smiles, you sit and wait your turn.

Since the wait time typically for each of the scans is a minimum of two hours, I carry my Kindle and my laptop. I have been a silent listener to conversations around the modern day evils of technology, women in cities and the rise in infertility because of the use of laptops. I have no idea how laptops cause infertility in women unless one placed a searing hot Macbook on one’s abdomen and singed an ovary.

After about 10 pregnant women have gone in before me, I get called for my scan. Like a pro, I drop my pants and lie down waiting for the diagnostician to do her magic. The staff by now knows that I have been married for seven years and am sexually active therefore doesn’t feel the need to let me know before inserting a cold, lubricated probe inside me.

As I lie there being probed, my mind travels through a zillion places – why are there 4 additional women in the room (apart from the doctor and the lady who types up the report)? What kind of business model allows for it? This is like having that guy in the mall press a button for my parking ticket or like that guy who punches a hole in my receipt as I exit the department store. Oooh…I need to go to the supermarket to buy milk.  Suddenly, the diagnostician says I have one follicle on my right ovary that seems to have grown well. I swell in pride as though I personally watered it and raised it to good health.

After a few more pokes and prods, I am sent my way with my follicle report card and me red with hope and pride about my ovary’s superb performance.

The next day I receive a call from a call center associated with the diagnostic clinic asking me to rate the experience of my procedure on a scale of 1 – 5. I incredulously asked the woman on the other side, if she was aware of the procedure I went through. She said, “Yes madam, this is to get feedback on your TVS scan on xyz date.”  I thought back about the coldness and vague aches due to the prodding but I also remembered that’s about as much action I was getting that week since husband dearest was busy trekking the Himalayas then.

I replied with utmost seriousness, “Since my husband wasn’t in town this week, I will give you a 3.” The woman completely unflappable made me repeat it and typed the score and my comment. She thanked me for my positive feedback and hoped that I will continue to avail of the services in their clinics.

I still don’t know if this is being aired on some radio channel or some TV network as one of those prank calls. So if you do hear of it on air some place, let me know.

If it is not a prank, I am seriously amazed by the customer centricity of this chain and weird as it is, feel like a valued customer. Maybe they have a Facebook page I can Like.

 

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