Renu's Week

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Report of 21 October 2018

Good afternoon from our living room!

The haze is hazy, cannot see the Bay of Bengal well.  I love water; to be able to see the sea and greenery and the backwaters closer to our apartment has always been soothing. 

I swam this morning and it was fabulous.  The big pool is being cleaned, so it was yellowish-green.  Hardly swimmable, but the baby pool was clean and good; usually, after I swim in it, I am not sneezing all day as I do after plooshing around in the big pool.  The baby pool has to be used strategically; it is a 5-stroke size, but going diagonally yields another stroke or 2.  I was up early this am, after going to bed at 8 PM last night - a daily sought-after time, and accomplished last night, Saturday night!  Thus, I was up early and went out before it was bright outside, heading over to the nearby clubhouse, discovering no electricity and the security man asleep on the sofa inside; up 8 flights of stairs and ducking under bats (who are very good at keeping the mosquito menace under control), to the pool.  The water was a wee bit cool, but hey, fabulous.  My "Tyr" swim goggles are some fancy tinted numbers; while good at keeping the water out, they tend to change the view under water - things aren't clear and pretty, they're blue and pretty.  No matter, on I went, and on and on, then came home and announced to my husband that I was home; I got a "Hello, beautiful," in return.  Nice, no?

The Banyan is good.  We have rescued a mother and child at Kovalam.  The child is about 10 or 11 and as I walked in on Monday for our joyously frenetic clinic, I asked whom the child had come with; I saw not many patients about.  I was then informed of the rescue, i.e., this mother and child were homeless and starving, and we took them to Kovalam.  This child is pretty and full of beans; she likes being at Kovalam - in shelter, warm and dry, fed until her belly is full, with many people who show genuine affection and caring.  Every child's birthright, truly, but sometimes life gets in the way.  I asked her how much she had studied and she said, "Fifth standard (grade)," then said "English medium."  In English, I asked her her name, how she was and whether she had eaten, and we had a splendid conversation; I patted her head and told her to go eat, a hitherto-unguaranteed activity.  There, but for the grace of God go I.  My mother valued nutrition, we ate well, and to succeed in academics was an unwritten rule from both my parents.  My mother was also an excellent seamstress, so we were well-dressed, and sufficiently-fed and excellently-educated; I appreciate my mother's efforts much more now, especially the fed and educated parts.  With regard to the little girl at Kovalam, the B will undoubtedly find a school for her, and see that she is fed and clothed and read, and treat her mother for whatever's ailing her.  The ailment that most of our patients have is poverty. 

There was another memorable interaction at Kovalam: an older patient came in and we started talking about her home situation.  She lives in a little hut and said God would provide for her needs other than medicines (we got those).  As our flabbergasted community worker, used to tangibles like all of us, voiced our thoughts and said, "How will God provide?," the patient - with immense conviction - said, "Kattaayam kuduppaar," or "He will definitely provide."  Then she stated her story, that on living in a dargah once, she had cared for a boy with all sorts of needs; the boy grew up to be a young man who went overseas to work and now sends money for her upkeep.  It was riveting; the lady was poor and somewhat frail, but when she spoke of God's mercy, her voice was strong and confident.  I have little faith, and all 3 of the Banyan employees in the room - the community worker, our medical assistant and I - were enthralled, and subsequently counted our blessings.

My robust, handsome, loving older brother died in a motor vehicle accident several years ago, way before his time.  That's why the faith is little.  My other siblings - his widow, my sister and my younger brother - still pray and such, I do sort of. 

Adaikalam is also nice.  One of our patients, who had been hospitalised with a serious bacterial illness, is back with us.  That is good to see.  She is not quite herself yet, but occasionally is.  All of us are keeping a close eye on her, and that is the joy of the Banyan.  Young colleagues - women who have had to give up their dreams of an education due to poverty - work with us and avidly soak up what we teach them: to recognise an emergency and to respond, to know when someone is better and someone is not, to call for help when necessary.  It is a joyous place, the Banyan.

It was a 4-day weekend.  Ayudha Pooja, when we set our instruments (my stethoscope, Scott's laptop and pens) before God and worship, and Saraswathi Pooja, when we pray to the goddess of learning, were this week.  The kids like Saraswathi Pooja: it is the one day of the year when they are told not to study, as the books are placed in front of the goddess.  Yes, every other day except for summer vacation and sometimes even then, they are expected to hit the books.  Scott and I went to see 3 movies on Friday and eat at one of our favorite restaurants - Writers' Cafe, which is run by women who are victims of burns.  The food is a little pricey and excellent, and we go joyously, overeating merrily for a great cause.  We saw "Venom," "A star is born," and "First man."  Scott and I don't always agree on movies and plays, but both of us thought "Venom" was the best.  Tom Hardy did full justice to the role, I could honestly believe he was infected by something, and the humor and dialogue and supporting players were oh-so fine. 

We talked to Naren and Navin today, and that was - as always - fabulous.  Navin feels he is getting to be like me, mouthing off at will; he said there was an adult customer throwing a tantrum at the grocery store and he nearly went up and asked which one of two anatomical parts the man was.  I don't quite do that, but totally appreciate that Navin thought we were similar!  Naren enjoyed the shoot; he insists it is a small part (Episode 2 of "The code," Dr. Patel), his father asked if he got paid, he said "Yes" and Scott said it was a big part. 

The #MeToo movement is taking off in a big way here in India.  Good. 

I am stricken at the Jamal Khashoggi episode.  Scott and I have often gone to consulates, one has waited outside.  That this should happen, my word, how horrific; all because Mr. Khashoggi wrote something that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia apparently did not like. 

The pen is always mightier than the sword.  It is nice to live in countries where there is freedom to write.  India is trying to curb said freedom, and there are numerous people fighting back.  Go, freedom!

Unw -


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Report of 14 Oct 2018

Good evening!

The traffic on Muttukadu bridge is moving, the lights are on and it is night-time.  A certain husband is correcting (grading) papers in front of me. 

We are well, and are grateful.  The Banyan is also fabulous.  At our Kovalam Monday clinic, we see many, many patients and I feel grateful to have the help of a community worker there; I had requested this help for some time, as we have no way of convincing the patients to see a specialist or get the lab tests done (these cost money).  Many of the patients live at the local dargah (a Muslim place of worship) where they are dependent on charity; some of them do have some money and can get the tests done.  One of them came with the results and I was very happy; otherwise, we have to have conversations like "Whom am I ordering these tests for?  Whose well-being are we interested in?," and those can get lengthy.

Adaikalam is also nice.  The other day, I watched a patient eat her meal.  She has developmental delay and does not speak.  As she tucked into her tasty breakfast - a wheat dosai (crepe-ish) and chutney (relish) - I was mesmerised: had she been at home, she might have been viewed as a burden and even if she had been fed, it might not have been with love or affection or civility or dignity.  At the Banyan, she is a part of our family and the health care workers and nurses and all the staff do a magnificent job of ensuring that she is loved and cared for.  A truly fine place, the Banyan.

We went to Madurai over the weekend.  Lady Doak College, my alma mater, celebrated 70 years since founding.  It was nice; some classmates and I got together the day before the actual alumnae reunion, and that was fun.  We could at least hear each other, which we could not at the meet.  Lady Doak College is a women's college and was a wonderful place to study in.  It was nice to catch up, and get glasses on to see each other's pictures, and talk to former, revered professors.  A couple of the professors asked me why I looked so old :) and that is also one of the joys of being at such events, especially in India - the candor.  A good time was had by all.

Scott and I also got to talk to my Dad for a bit.  That was fun.  We had taken some foods that he enjoys - salami and such - so we ate and talked and laughed.  A great, long-time, fine friend of my parents, Dr. X, also a surgeon, stopped by and my father insisted on sharing the salami with him; the friend did not like it at all, and his expression was very funny ("Spasm," said my father).  Dr. X told my father I now resembled my mother and made several observations - often quietly and as an aside to my father, when I put on my glasses, or said something - to that effect.  I suppose I might also get nostalgic, if a beloved friend passed away and an offspring looked just like the friend.   

I had a visitor at work this week.  The son of a Banyan colleague, formerly impoverished, he has finished a 2-year technical degree and got a job with enough of a salary to help his mother quit her job.  She has wanted to, as she is tired of the violence from the patients; she is a nurse and gets hit fairly often.  The young man has studied, and done an internship, and is off to work for a good company offering a decent salary.  It is pure joy to get such news.

We got to talk to our own joy-bringers this morning.  Naren and Navin are well.  Naren has a guest role in a show called "The code," I don't know when the episode will air.  We do not own a TV, thus have to see it after my mother-in-law records it.  Navin is well and enjoying the benefits of employment. 

Unw -


Monday, October 08, 2018

Report of 8 Oct 2018

Hello from dusk!

The sea is visible, but dusk-visible.  We were away for part of the weekend and then madly catching up on Sunday, thus I did not blog as customary on Sunday.

Scott and I went to Mysore and Coorg to see relatives.  We did manage to see most of the aunts and cousins who live in India, and that was nice.  We stayed with my aunt, Chitra; she is fun and a very warm hostess.  She had a big bottle of honey for Scott to take home and made him a special rum drink which was delicious.  We had been to Coorg earlier, and the relatives there produced some home-grown pepper and coffee for us to take back; Scott was delighted - he is a huge fan of Coorg coffee.  Seeing everyone was very nice.

On our return, my sister-in-law, Susan, met us at Bangalore station and we exchanged packages: we handed over U.S. merchandise and she had a bag of tasty fruit for us.  It was nice to see her in the 10-minute stop and we got all our chatter in hurriedly before the train took off again, with us in it.

The Banyan is great, as usual.  The more I work elsewhere, and age (i.e., get older), the more I think the Banyan - with its horde of ethical, moral, diligent and fun employees and bosses - is a fine place to be.  Today's clinic was not as busy as usual, as it was a pooja (worship) holiday.  We saw several patients, though.  One of them had the usual arthritis and I had suggested to her to go to the nearby National Institute for Empowerment of People with Multiple Disabilities (NIEPMD), a fine place with lots of physiotherapy treatment options.  She declined, saying we had cured her of her shoulder pain.  Sometimes divine powers are wrongly attributed to us.  She did, indeed, appear to have better movement of her shoulder.  Often, I start patients on multivitamins and iron, and their aches and pains are ameliorated, thank goodness.  The benefits of vitamins and iron continue to manifest in mysterious ways.  My sister is a brilliant pediatrician, and works extensively with the Gates Foundation; she found that supplementing micronutrients in children causes them to whinge less and engage with the caregiver more.  Perhaps these benefits are displayed in adults, too.

We did not get to hang out with the boys as one of them was travelling, as were we.  We'll chat next week, hopefully.  I spoke to my father yesterday and that was nice. 

I saw an excellent Tamil movie called "Pariyerum Perumal."  It dealt with the caste system and was very well-done.  Sad, but good, and a wonderful debut for its director.  Usually, women do not go alone to movies here, but that is slowly changing.  This theater's management is good about accommodating me away from the crowds when necessary; seating here is numbered, and I am often fortunate to sit away from everyone else.  This time, the movie was surprisingly (for a weekday matinee) almost sold out and my seat was right in the thick of the crowd, but I sat on the steps at the back and enjoyed the show.  The theme appeared to resonate with the audience; it is very nice when off-beat movies enjoy box office success.

Have a good week!

Unw -


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Report of 30 Sept 2018

Good evening!

There is a nice breeze about, the blue Bay of Bengal has boats on it and I have a theory that the recent rains might have settled the ambient dust, as the picture in front of me is crystal clear, with vivid greens and bright blues.  Like someone painted it.

I swam this morning at a nearby hotel, as our apartment's pool was being cleaned.  The hotel normally charges a heap for this privilege, but our young neighbors upstairs work there and granted us a favor.  It's a lot more difficult for folks in the U.S. to use a hotel's pool if they are not guests - liability, and all that.  After my exercise and shower and breakfast, we Skyped with the boys and I was in a simply splendid mood; Scott enlightened all - "Amma just swam."

It's nice to start the day with a workout, especially a fun one.  It's also nice to sleep in, and that happens on a Saturday.  Fun workouts include zumba, which I don't get to do very much here, swim, and any form of dance.  "Don't give me people who want to dance, give me people who have to dance," said a sign once.

Work is fabulous.  Kovalam remains busy.  We have a cadre of workers called Nalam ("Health") workers, recruited from the community for various purposes, such as accompany a fellow citizen to a Government office, and help them traverse the maze that is the standard Government office here, etc.  One of them, who actually assists at our clinic, came to me with belly pain and stated that her mother had died of uterine cancer.  That was enough; I referred her to the Cancer Hospital, and she was very quick to agree to go.  I will find out tomorrow what transpired.

Adaikalam is also nice.  One of our patients, Ms. X, was admitted in the ICU; she is a beloved person, alternately cranky and quiet, and I went to see her in the hospital + talk to the ICU doctor.  It was a good visit, with the doc tolerating all my questions.  Ms. X has recovered, but has a urine infection that is resistant to most antibiotics.  That is the bane of our existence here: resistant bugs which wreak havoc on all bodies, frail and not-so-frail.  I am hopeful that Ms. X will continue her course of recovery.

The young lady whom my nephew married 2 years ago regretfully lost her father last week.  We went for the funeral, condoling with extended family.  Many of my extended family met for lunch yesterday.  That was nice; all enjoyed the get-together and it was fun to see family.  Indian custom actually demands a period of mourning, but our niece and nephew joined us for lunch and we were grateful.  They are very sweet people, and I simply love getting together with the next generation.  A good time was had by all, talking and eating and healing.

Today, we Skyped with the boys and there was a lot of talking and laughing there, too.  The call lasted 1.5 hours and that was grand fun.  After that, Scott and I were industry incarnate: there has been an ant infestation in our chest of drawers (as you'll see, no pun intended), where "inner wear" is stored, and we had to de-ant (you can well imagine the complications of ants in one's pants - ooooh); then I washed all my non-color-fast clothes by hand; we washed bed linen in the machine; Scott cleaned; I cooked, which I absolutely enjoy, making my red and yellow pepper and cucumber salad, and fish; then Scott took a nap and that was incentive to me to stop and read the paper.  I have not yet finished the paper, but it is a fine piece of journalistic excellence and I enjoy it.  We went to a cotton fabrics show held by rural personnel yesterday and it was great: some non-profits help these folks design and produce fine clothing, beautifully designed and nicely tailored, and I bought some clothes plus linen.  It is a nice feeling to directly benefit the artisan, not the middleman.

Hope you have a good week!

Unw -


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Report of 23 Sept 2018

Good evening on a sunny day -

The sea is picture-perfect, traffic is rolling along on the Muttukadu bridge, heading homewards maybe.  It is a trifle hot, so our living room fan is on full blast.  I have eaten a delicious chicken roll from Scott's favorite Crescent Bakery (Crescent usually = Muslim) and a nice salad - red and yellow bell peppers (or capsicum, as we say here) + cucumbers and salt, oregano (brought here from the U.S.) and lemon juice.  Our refrigeration techniques are poor, so our produce is usually fresh and this was.

The newspaper today had a lengthy article on pests from the Americas decimating our crops.  Customs in the U.S. is unfailingly stern about checking incoming travellers' luggage for fruit, etc.  One year, I had some cut apple for our young sons and had forgotten about it; as the sniffy dog came up to my backpack, I opened it and there was the fruit.  The agent was kind - she said, "Yes, I usually carry fruit for my children, also," waited while I threw it, and did not make it sound like I was a common criminal.  Our newspaper today stated that we had to be similarly vigilant about fruit/veges/flowers coming in here from overseas.

Work is good.  As I told my colleagues at my U.S. workplace this year, never feels like work.  Monday mornings have our hugely busy clinic at our seaside village, Kovalam.  Last week, a mentally ill lady was referred to me by our psychiatrist for weakness and fatigue.  As I checked her over, I asked who the young girl was with her; she mentioned it was her daughter, who had stopped studying on her brothers' edict to care for her mother.  I was livid; I truly cannot tolerate this stop-studying-to-care-for-a-relative business when education is the only way out of poverty.  Our community workers are excellent at making our patients understand such concepts and I left this matter in the capable hands of one of them.  The young lady was also recently engaged to a relative and I cannot stand this business, either; beyond stating that one should not marry a relative, we had to drop the matter as the engagement had been finalised and any breakage would reflect extremely poorly on the girl.  The family did hasten to add that the fiance was not a close relative and we are grateful for small mercies.

Adaikalam - our residential facility in Mogappair - is also fine.  We have a patient from the U.S. who is reeling from mental and physical illness; as she questioned the management here, stating that she was in the care of doctors from the U.S., I mentioned that my credentials were from the U.S., too.  That appeared to mollify her and we talked a lot.  I feel for those who are family-less due to their illness; I know I would be less than whole if I could not talk or email or Whatsapp the fam.

Scott turned a year older yesterday.  He cut a scrumptious cake the Banyan had made, we went out  to lunch and then got to hang out with the boys today.  A low-key day; as Scott told our sons when one wished him an eventful or relaxed day (whichever he chose), he tends toward 1 speed now - "Parked."

Today, we attended the wedding of a former nurse colleague and that was fun.  We like surprising the populace by showing up.  Weddings here involve large numbers of guests, usually no RSVP's, and we try to go to as many as we are invited to.  I missed many a cousin's wedding when we lived in the U.S.

We saw a bunch of good movies - 2 Tamil and the English "Searching."  Mr. Cho has certainly developed some dramatic chops after "Harold and Kumar ..." and it was good viewing.  The premise - of a lost child - was, of course, unsettling.  The movie was well-done and that is always good.

Have a very good week!

Unw -


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Report of 16 Sept 2018

Hello from amidst the rumblings of thunder:

Grey clouds are gathering, the sea is no longer a clear blue.  An idol of Pillaiyar/Vinayaka/Ganesha has been immersed in the pond behind our apartment.  Thursday was Ganesh Chathurthi, a time to venerate the Lord Ganesha, which ends with the idol being immersed in water.  This year, there has been some tension with Muslims not wanting the procession to go through their neighborhoods and heavy police presence has accompanied the processions.  Not our little procession here, but bigger ones, where the idol is huge and so is the procession.

I am better, thanks to all who asked.  I even swam this morning and enjoyed every minute.  There was a lot of rain water in our pool and it was clean and warm.  That was the first exercise in quite a while.

The Banyan is fabulous.  I did not go at all 2 weeks ago but for Kovalam, our seaside village where the clinic gets very busy.  Scott drove me to work last week at Adaikalam, our distant branch and that was nice.  The nurses mentioned that they were going to surreptitiously show up at my house to see how I was - sweet thought.  I got IV fluids at Kovalam and Adaikalam and felt better.  I also got a commemorative book and a sari for our 25th anniversary, i.e., the B's 25th anniv. 

The patients are on the increase at Kovalam.  One of them was brought by her daughter-in-law, who mentioned that when the patient took this turn (gesturing to her forehead with her forefinger in a swirly motion), she and her husband brought her from her other son's place.  I requested that the lady not use the gesture, that the phrase was "mentally ill" and we proceeded to speak of the lady's condition.  At the end of the visit, I thanked the daughter-in-law for taking care of her mother-in-law and got a big smile in return; the d-i-l's whole face lit up.

We spoke to the boys today and that was fun.  Lots of chatter and laughter.  I also spoke to my father just now and that was also laughter and chatter.  It's a nice state of affairs. 

Last night, a bunch of school friends and we met for dinner: a schoolmate was visiting from the U.S. and all of us got together.  It was a nice evening - reminiscing about the high jinks at school and other things. 

Well, let me wind up.  Hope you have lots of good in your life.

Unw -

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Report of 9 Sept 2018

Good evening from our balcony -

The day is clear and bright, the sea is visible almost at hand and it is a relaxed Sunday evening.

We are okay.  The Banyan is fabulous.  I resumed at Kovalam last week and had all my favorite patients there.  One of them, a fairly cantankerous older lady, stated to me, "Well, sat around for 5 months getting good rest, did you?"  I mentioned I had gone to see my mother-in-law, which instantly shuts down patient ire.  We saw many, many patients and tried to do what we could with what we have. 

While the trust from the patients is bolstering, it is a mixed blessing: when I tell them to go see a specialist, many do not.  One of the patients died earlier in the summer due to delay in getting to a specialist and I was sorry.  Until they realise the importance of seeing a heart doctor or an eye doctor when we suggest it, there is no way we can force them to go.  An older lady actually told me to operate on her eye at our clinic.  That I am not an ophthalmologist, that we do not have an operating room, that we are just a rudimentary clinic - all that was lost on her. 

We have attended 3 weddings since my return.  The last one featured guests from Qatar.  I think the flu doing the rounds at the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, and which has since gone with travellers to other parts of the world, made it here.  My sister's entire family and I came down with fever and flu-like symptoms after the event.  It has been spectacularly horrible; 6 days of fever, malaise, weakness and a disinclination to do anything other than lie on the sofa.  One night, Scott acually moved well away from me in bed as my body temperature was so high :) - and then I moved to spend the night also on the sofa.  I already spend the days there.  Tomorrow, I am going to ask for IV fluids when I go to Kovalam; let us see if that would help. 

So, that has been my life.  The Banyan and a most annoying sickness.  We did manage to hang out with Naren and talked to my Dad; both conversations were nice.  We hope to catch Navin in a day or 2.

Unw -