Renu's Week

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Report of 12 Dec 2018

Hello from darkness!

It is 6.43 PM and clearly not Sunday, which was a very busy day.  It is still fun to blog.

The week was good - busy.  Clinics and inpatient work.  And then, before we knew it, the week ended.  Kovalam was packed; several patients came by with an accusing "You were gone for 2 weeks."  I was not, I was away for a week.  This happens when I take off in the time that I am here in India - the patients get upset and I end up perennially having to justify taking off :).  My mother-in-law serves as a perfect excuse - "There was a family function in my mother-in-law's house."  And then, the patients go, "OHH, your mother-in-law's house."  The mother-in-law is queen here.

The lady who is supported by a young man she helped out earlier in his life came to see me.  She stated that she was alone and tired of living.  After the visit with me, I asked one of the social workers to see her and both of them discussed a residential facility she could go to when she felt she would.  It is a charitable institution, I think.  Later in the morning, the patient stopped back in my exam room and thanked me elaborately; I had done little, but I suppose for folks who are alone and apparently hopeless, a few folks taking an interest in them does wonders for their morale.  The Banyan is full of such folks, though, i.e., those who would perennially do for others.

Scott and I toodled about on the weekend, attending a women's market - and frankly, getting tired of the same wares.  Saris, clothing, jewellery, bags, food.  Do these truly distinguish us as women?  That said, I bought some traditional food from a lady and am enjoying it.

The Banyan was given a handsome grant towards our corpus by the Hans Foundation.  We marked the occasion at a local upscale hotel, kindly sponsored by another corporate friend.  It was nice to share the day with those who believe in us - Hans, Grand Challenges Canada, other donors and friends.  The meal was spectacular, Scott and I snarfed it down and headed to the annual pantomime.  It was fun, and featured a few friends of Naren's. 

I am now job-hunting.  My former private practice site - a fun place with fine bosses - is currently devoted to orthopedics and OB/GYN, I am neither.  I do have a house calls practice that I do and - wanting a hospital environment - I have gone to various hospitals.  This process in India is very unique: one has to wait for someone who can "put in a word for you," i.e., urge the authorities to consider you.  All of it is new to me and I am simply taking each day as it comes.  Sometimes, the employers say nothing and then the mystery continues.  But so does work at the Banyan, so it's all good. 

We spoke to both boys and I spoke to my father.  That was nice. 

Unw -

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Report of 2 Dec 2018

Good evening!

Jet lag is fierce.  We are hoping the worst is over.  Each night is suspenseful - awaken at 12 AM or 2 AM?  The night I slept through, I felt the accomplishment that a new parent feels when the baby sleeps through the night.  The last couple of nights have been okay and I swam both mornings, feeling a sense of purpose and relief as I put my face in the crystal-clear water and saw the pretty blue tiles. 

The Banyan's 25th anniversary celebrations were on Friday and jet lag played spoilsport again.  We were a few minutes late getting to the venue, but not horribly.  Speeches were on, then a few games were played - hosted by a very pretty TV anchor, energizing the crowd and making the folks laugh.  Gifts were given to those employees who have been with us for a long time.  And then all of us danced, as is our wont.  Dance, dance, dance.  We ate a nice meal, and hung out with each other.  Tea was served and hot samosas bought from a tea shop nearby.  Scott was a volunteer photographer and I was glad he was there: I tend to be a bit overwhelmed by crowds sometimes.  Scott and I have done a personality switch.   

Many of the more functional patients were also present and that was nice.  One of them heads the project in Tiruchi.  She and I are close, we talk often.  Other patients, and patients' children, came, too, and we talked and laughed and ate, and revelled as all of us battled mental illness - some from outside, others from within. 

Scott and I saw a movie called "A private war."  While Rosamund Pike's performance was worthy enough, I have hung around our older son a long time: I thought several scenes were staged explicitly to milk the emotions of the viewing audience.  And thus, I was not moved.  We also saw a classical dance performance by various artistes and I enjoyed the presentation by known names - Gopika Varma and Priyadarshini Govind - very much. 

We "hung out" with the boys and that was fun.  I talked to my Dad, and he is busy enjoying professional activities, which is good.  My aunt called yesterday, it is nice to keep in contact with my mother's side relatives, also.  I think regardless of how old we get, my mother's siblings want to ensure that we are okay, and that is affectionate and soothing.   

Hope your week is good!

Unw -


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Report of 28 Nov 2018

Good evening!

I did not get to blog last week as we were about to travel, and packing and shacking.  We spent a fine few days with our sons; I did not attempt to get on the hotel's computer as there are numerous security constraints to overcome, and did all emailing from my phone.  What a handy device.  I balked at getting it for a long time, and only relented as our older son urged me to, stating that communication would become easy and fun.  And it did.

We had excellent (and consequently, surprising) service on the airlines, landed in NJ, spent a night in PA, and drove to Dayton, Ohio, the next day.  It was a nice drive.  The day after arrival was the big snow and ice storm, but all survived it.  My mother-in-law lives in a fine retirement facility, and they do not let the electricity get disrupted there even if surrounding areas lose power.  So we were warm and safe.  We spent a fun couple of days there, and returned to the East, getting together with our sons and seeing every movie in town.

Thanksgiving was spent with Scott's cousin, Jeff, his wife, Anne, and family.  They are lovely people, and extended their home to us.  The food was delicious and the company scintillating.  Our sons revelled in being with family.  That always gets me - that we live so far away from our sons and I asked Scott why we do that; his answer - "Because we let the boys live their lives."  Thanksgiving was fine on many counts.  Anne's family members present and we enjoyed meeting them.  Leftovers were packed for us by Anne, and we enjoyed them again the next day, before Scott and I flew back.  It was a truly warm and loving gathering, and I was most appreciative. 

The hotel's manager gave us a nice discount and all the staff offered excellent service; we are likely to go back there, should we need to.

It was back to work at the Banyan on Monday.  I was jet-lagged, but the patients had to be seen.  A colleague brought a neighbor's motherless child to be seen; great gesture and all, but I am not a pediatrician and it is often difficult to convince people that I do not treat children.  I did the best I could and ordered blood tests to be taken at the local Government facility, where a doctor could follow up on them.  Lunch was very late that day, but I had little appetite (jet-lag, etc.).  I met with Vandana and that was the wonderful experience it always is.  The more I work elsewhere, the more I so appreciate having ethical, altruistic and fun bosses at the B. 

Unw -


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Report of 11 Nov '18

Good evening -

It is Remembrance Day.  100 years since World War I ended.  The contributions of Indian soldiers to the cause is being remembered. 

We are well.  Battling a virus, which appears to happen incessantly.  We were at an event yesterday, and it is now consider trendy for people of opposite genders to shake hands.  So shake hands, I did, and apparently brought home the goods.  I normally go for a very invigorating swim on Sunday mornings and the swim was the last thing on my mind.  So, I was up early, showered, had a cup of tea and fruit and an egg, and enjoyed the soothing quiet of the Sunday morning, before bustle set in.

Kovalam is great - busy and fun.  The little child, X, came by my exam room and announced that she was bored, that she wanted to go to her friend's house.  Here's the deal - she is perfectly entitled to say that, and well within her childhood rights; however, I am not the person to ferry her where she wants to go.  At some point in the parent's alcoholic stupor, I wish some thought would be given to the fact that a disruption in a school-going child's life can lead to bad things.  The mother's mental illness can be treated, I am not sure how much progress we will make with the father's alcoholism.

Adaikalam is also fine.  I was only there for a short period this week as I had some work at a Government office here, and that can be lengthy.  However, I did manage to get the ill patients and staff seen, after grabbing a quick breakfast at our cafe.  Said cafe is a great success story; they sell to anyone - intra- or extra-Banyan - and their food is inexpensive and good.  The cafe is located such that the windows are at an "L:" 1 part of the L opens outside the compound wall and folks outside can buy and partake of the food at the tables placed there, and the other perpendicular part opens inside for folks like Scott and me, who buy from within the B.

Diwali was on the 6th, and it was great to have a day off!  We ate sweets from morning to night
and relaxed at home.  Our small puja (worship ritual) involved prayers to my mother, who ensured that we celebrated both the Hindu and Christian festivals.  She was Hindu, my father is Christian, neither insisted that the other convert and all of us were brought up celebrating both religions.  Good sorts, my parents.   

We travel on Tuesday to the U.S.  As both boys will not be here for 1 holiday, we would like to see them for the other.  It is a lengthy journey, but what the heck - the destination (son-hood) is worth the travel.  We hung out with both boys today and that was truly fun - chatter, candor, laughter.  When I asked if they wanted anything from here, 1 said, "Just arrive safely."  My father says things like that, too. 

Unw -


Sunday, November 04, 2018

Report of 4 Nov 2018

Good evening!

The monsoon is here.  There are grey clouds in the sky; we had 1 day of heavy rain last week and more may come.  South Tamil Nadu has received more rain.  We need the rain; regretfully, many areas flood and the impoverished are put to tremendous hardship. 

Kovalam had some great news last week.  When I walked in, there was a taxi parked in front.  Not many people come by car, and I enquired.  Some relatives of a recently rescued patient had come to get her.  She had been homeless and on the street near one of our rented homes; our "Home again" program situates a few patients in rented houses, they run affairs in their own homes under the guidance of a staff member.  It is working very well.  Only visionary people like Vandana and Vaishnavi - the founders of the Banyan - can come up with ideas like these.  The staff member at the house near where this patient, Ms. X, was "living" had requested her to come in, and Ms. X had declined.  Persistently.  The staff member had then taken her food, and then sent a photograph of her to the social worker.  Said social worker showed up, and Ms. X agreed to accompany her to our Health Center, requesting the first staff member to accompany her.  She then revealed details of her family, contact was made through the police and 7 - yes, glorious 7 - of her relatives showed up to take her home.  Interestingly, she is related to one of our senior social workers; that came out in the quest to find her family.  We met the family, I got all choked up when thanking them.  We examined the patient, found her in good health overall except for matted hair, and sent her on her way.  This patient is older - maybe early-60's.  In the course of introductions, I was introduced to her mother and was in awe that she had come, made the 6-hour trip to reunite with her daughter; that all our patients should have such loving families, people who seek them, who are happy to find them, who would take them home.  This patient had been missing for 10 years.  When Scott heard that, he said "Wow," and I said, "We are a Wow kind of place." 

One of our clinic patients at Kovalam and I ended up discussing family, and he asked if my husband was 70 years old; I said no, that he was 57.  He then said, "You yourself must be well over 50," and I said I was 55.  Scott laughed when told this whole exchange.  I told him that I'd take a shovel to the clinic next time, that we'd put one foot each in the hole I'd dig. 

Adaikalam is also fine.  A couple of people are resigning and attempts are being made to find replacements.  Our music fan continues to bop along to old Tamil songs, to our unbridled delight. 

We now have facilities in Tiruchi and Kerala, and various state Governments have come to learn our model, to be replicated elsewhere.  The stigma surrounding mental illness must be removed; it is, after all, an illness, treated with medication and TLC.  As other illnesses are.  I got a call from our Tiruchi coordinator; she runs the show well and we went over some medical issues.

Scott and I went to see a Tamil movie called "Vada Chennai."  I like the actor, Dhanush; he has done well but the movie was jarringly violent.  Last week, we had lunch with my brother and his family at their house.  His wife is a very warm and hospitable lady, and his daughter had just returned from a school trip to NASA in Orlando, where she was part of the group that won a robot-programming contest.  I asked if her interest in science was piqued after this trip and she answered in the affirmative.  It is lovely when children can afford to go to wondrous places and learn marvellous things.  It was a splendid afternoon, with sumptuous food, lovely company and lots of chatter and laughter. 

We got to hang out with 1 boy this morning and that was nice.  I like seeing both, we take what we can get.  I also swam this week; our apartment apparently has 2 pools, the manager suggested this one as my usual one (on the 9th floor) is under renovation, and this second one (on the 2nd floor) is easily the cleanest I have seen on any side of the planet.  It was fabulous to swim and swim.  Regretfully, a woman in a swimsuit - albeit the competition kind, with shorts-like coverage - tends to attract the wrong kind of attention, so I have had to request Scott to accompany me. 

Diwali is 2 days away.  May the festival of lights bring you good health, prosperity and joy!

Unw -


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Report of 28 Oct 2018

Hello from dusk!

There are streaks of pink in the sky, which is still blue.  Darkness is descending.

One of Scott's colleagues said one Monday that she was "okay for a Monday."  Mondays are clinic days at Kovalam, our seaside village, and grand fun - social hour, melee, mela (Indian festival), etc.  There was more to the child rescue than met the eye.  Apparently, the couple's employer phoned the Banyan after it was noticed that the mother was despondent, not eating, etc.  The father, suffering from alcoholism, had not come home in a couple of days and the mother was upset.  So they called us and we went and rescued the mother and child.  The father came to visit last Sunday and was so drunk, the staff made him spend the night at the B; he left the next morning.  The mother wept on not being able to go with him.  The child, though, is as happy as a clam: she came scampering by my exam room, I said hello and gave her a glossy (unfortunately expired) calendar, asking her to draw me a pic from it.  She came by later with a different pic, and a drawing of a heart with an arrow through it, with her name and that of the Banyan.  I am glad she is happy, I hope the family resolves their issues and goes about family life. 

Alcohol is quite the great destroyer, isn't it.  When I have an alcoholic beverage on occasion, I don't always pause to think of the tremendous turbulence it has caused in many people's lives. 

Adaikalam is fine.  The staff has come up with a music system to play old Tamil songs for our patient, X, who was declining.  Declining she ain't now - she was up and bopping to the music on Thursday and I was exceedingly happy.  We underestimate the power of the arts in healing, says the mother of the actor.  Where would we be without music, or the movie "To kill a mockingbird," or the picture of the heart and the arrow with the 2 names.  We have another patient who refuses to eat; one of our young interns is on the case. 

We hung out with both boys this morning.  Neither will be home for Christmas.  I asked our second son about the possibility of taking the 4 days off on Christmas week, loss of pay or not, and coming home, and he said they have been told not to ask for time off in December.  Since he cannot come, son #1 will also stay back and hang out with him.  Corporate America/India needs a swift kick in the pants: I am sure if one of us parents dropped dead, time off would be granted.  The world needs to take time off for happiness just as diligently as it does for sadness. 

I am going to phone my father, so will say bye.  I was coming down with some malaise after every Kovalam clinic day, he suggested I wear a mask during patient contact and it was quite effective.  Veteran surgeons know what they speak of.

Unw -


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 -