Renu's Week

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Long Report of 24 and 30 Apr '05

Hello from Indiana, where it is cold enough to wear a sweatshirt all the time (hooray!) -

I spent a grand evening w/ Tori in Houston, catching up on family affairs amid plenty of laughter. Her dinner was also sensational and it was lovely to see her family; we had babysat her son when he was around 1.5-2 years old, and it was hard to believe this handsome teenager drumming in the garage was the same young man. Her daughter gave up her room for me, which was most kind, I thought, and her husband spared some precious minutes for all of us to chat, which I appreciated. Tori's heart is extremely pure and gentle towards us.

Tori dropped me at the airport (no mean feat as it is pretty far away from her house) and I got to San Antonio. Linda Johnson (my former anat prof) picked me up and took me to her father's house. Max kindly took me to the home of our friends, the Freemans, to get the boys, who had flown in to SA earlier and by themselves (them unaccompanied minor tix are twice the adult fare, but worth it for us as the boys got to the destination safely), and we spent quite some time discussing the state of the union here and in India, amid plenty of guffaws. It was great. Linda and Dave Johnson took us to eat Tex-Mex food. In the midst of this merriment, one of our sons caused the guest loo to overflow - it had never happened before and I was quite stricken w/ guilt at my progeny causing this. The hosts graciously overlooked the incident.

The next day, I spoke at school, arranged by Linda, to several med students and faculty about the work here. It was good fun for me. I was privileged to have in the audience Dorothy and Vick Williams; Vick is an anatomy prof in SA and has done a fair amount of work in my sister's med school in Vellore, and Dorothy is one of the most genuine people I have met. She had some suggestions for me, and was good enough to drop the boys "home." The talk produced some interest in the med students towards doing a fourth year rotation here, and I welcomed it. The boys sat in on the talk and were spoiled by Isabel Rodriguez, who works at the Alumni Association there and appears to make it a calling to spoil us w/ candy and goodies. Through Dorothy, I got to meet Abraham Verghese, who is of Indian descent and works in the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics in SA, and who is also interested in sending med students to India.

The day of our departure from Linda Johnson's, the bannister broke as I was climbing the stairs. It seemed like we were destined to wreak havoc in that beautiful house, but Linda took it in stride. I caught up w/ several former profs, which was very therapeutic for me, and went to lunch w/ Greg Freeman, who is a cardiologist and a great friend. We ate Thai food, discussed my work and his, and walked back to school - Greg's car was w/ his son and he could not locate either. No matter, b'cos the walk was fun and we got to talk longer. That afternoon, Linda and Richard Luduena made time for me and gave me plenty of feedback on my talk, as well as sharing their sense of humor. Richard is probably the only biochem prof who can make the subject fascinating. That evening, Greg (having located car and son) took my sons and me to the next stop on our agenda and appeared to make that favor seem effortless to himself, which I greatly appreciated.

We had a great dinner w/ Aurora and Scott Freeman, our former neighbors in SA whose youngest daughter is the only girl my sons will tolerate and who treat my kids like their own. We spent the night w/ Dallas Connor, their friend who finished his peds residency the same time that I finished my medicine residency. The next day, I discovered to my horror that one of my sons melted a crayon in his pocket and the clothes dryer was coated w/ a fine patina of blue. Wonderful. The day was spent buying nail polish remover w/ acetone, then getting pure acetone and scrubbing the mess out of the dryer. Both boys have been docked $ from their U.S. spending money. We had lunch at a lovely little Mexican cafe well-known to Aurora and Scott, and all my attempts to pay for the meal were rejected by the owner, who had been cued by the Freemans. That night, all 3 of us had a great Italian dinner w/ the Luduenas who engaged our sons in conversation like adults and insisted on their calling the Luduenas by their first names. I noticed our sons sitting straighter and acting like young adults after this singular honor.

We had a spectacular b'fast w/ A and S Freeman on our last day there and don't really think we imagined San Antonio heaving a sigh of relief at our departure - post loo, bannister, dryer ... We were picked up in Indy by Victoria Walker, a quality resident at St. V and a good friend. (The pilot announced that the weather in Indy was 39 deg and I thought "Celsius?" No, it wasn't.) We got to the home of Brenda and Jim Hillman, who very kindly harbor and maintain my car for me, and they hastened out w/ sweatshirts (which all of us were grateful for); it is always a joy to see the Hillmans (Hillmen?). We headed on to the Tabers' and said hello, then went to the home of Cindy and Kurt Smith. Cindy had baked several dozen chocolate chip cookies for dessert, which the boys along w/ Christopher Taber, fairly inhaled. It was great to see the Smiths and their pretty little girls.

We were delighted to see Cindy Ching and her family over breakfast the next day, hosted by her for residents of our class. Kris Rea was there, too, and it was fun going over residency memories. Kris and Cindy, now parents, look very good, serene and happy, and it was a nice sight. We met little Ian, Cindy's son, for the first time and that was nice. We look forward to seeing Isabella, Kris's daughter. We went on to Cincinnati from there for a reunion of Scott's family and got very lost which po'd me; however, I must say the gas station attendants at the places we stopped were most helpful and kind, and let us use the phone for free. Kindness truly warms the heart and soul. We were also warmed by the hospitality shown by Scott's relatives, and the boisterous good time and great food. There was non-stop laughter and joking there, which I have always appreciated in my in-laws; there is no topic too sacred for them to poke fun at and that is as it should be.

We went on that evening to the farm owned by Scott's aunt and uncle, which is a stone's throw away from his Mom's. It was grand fun sitting and gabbing w/ the 3 relatives, all of whom have wonderful, understated senses of humor, often self-deprecating. It was a memorable evening, and I felt myself unwinding for the first time, after the San Antonio debacles caused by my sons, and the inadvertent tour of Cincinnati.

This past week, I have been privileged to round w/ Dr. Love, who was my advisor at St. V and is a brilliant clinician. It has been excellent refreshing my memory of inpatient medicine under his tutelage and I have seen some cool cases. Sometimes, what is cool for us (health care professionals) is not always cool for the patients. However, all patients have something to teach us. As does Dr. Love. It strikes me that, universally, patients are grateful for a kind word and the human touch, as well as being treated w/ respect regardless of socioeconomic status. The ladies that work w/ Jim Hillman, Ruth, Boni and Tami, have also ensured my welcome and that is "mighty kind" of them.

The boys are w/ their grandmother and aunt, and I am at the library today. The public library here is awesome, and I enjoy it immensely. Perhaps one day I will have a library in India - certainly there are public libs there, but far away and not as well-endowed as here. The library I start will probably be near the Hospice facility I will have, thus ensuring some human traffic to the area and the possibility of the lonely and dying having a visitor or 2. If you can dream it, you can do it.

This tome was a tad long and I apologize. It has been an eventful 2 weeks.

I feel very privileged to be here. Thank you all for the welcome, and for continuing to stay in touch.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Report of 17 Apr '05

Ribs and cheesecake for b'fast - welcome to Texas! Once I saw a bumper sticker - Indian by birth, American by choice, Texan by the grace of God. Yee haa!

We left India last week, flew into Chicago and were most considerately met by Colleen, our friend, who drove us to her home in Carmel, Indiana. After a lovely evening unwinding, and the boys hurriedly catching up w/ their friends in Carmel, we turned in. I left for San Fran on Tuesday, got to the hotel room graciously shared by my friend, Olivia, and slept. The conference of the American College of Physicians was over the next 4 days, and there were some excellent teaching sessions. I saw my former staff physician, Dr. Mark Henderson, who taught a session in his usual very clear manner. I also saw a couple of classmates from med school - Mikeanne and Carla - and it was good to catch up w/ them. The conf was made that much more bearable by Olivia's sweatshirt, which she thoughtfully lent me, when she saw I was freezing some body parts off and that my sweatshirt was woefully inadequate. We also saw some of the sights in SF, not new to either of us, but fun nonetheless, and more so due to Olivia's gentle presence and Texas-sized sense of humor.

There was a session on diabetes, which had the remarkable observation that 65% of Americans are overweight. Think about that - 65%!!!! The speaker endorsed lifestyle changes (such as walking and sugar and salt restriction, the latter to control blood pressure), which I have had success with in my patients, because many of them simply cannot afford the alternative - medicines. I spoke of my experience w/ it in my chosen clientele, and some people came up later and discussed it w/ me - it was a lively interchange and I liked it.

I took a "red-eye" to Houston and got to the home of Sharon and Keith Braxton, friends of many years. They had organised a large dinner, and gathered a crowd to hear of my work. The food was fabulous and Sharon and Keith outdid themselves in making me feel welcome. It was nice to speak of my work and all the pics of the Banyan and my life in India did cause a little homesickness. The Braxtons' friends were extremely nice and also engaged me in discussion, much of which convinced me that the essence of humanity is universal - not American, not Indian, not Martian. We have similar characteristics, do we not - worries about our children, a corner for the poor, a sense of humor which is vital for survival.

My friend Tori will get me today and I will spend an evening w/ her and her family. I sure appreciate that opportunity. Tho' my first few days in the U.S. were unsettling, w/ the unexpected cold, homesickness and missing Scott, causing me to want to catch the next plane home, the innate goodness and kindness of folks in the U.S. is causing me to have a renewed appreciation for the people here. Tori and her family exemplify this nicely.

More soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Report of 10 Apr '05

Hello from sunny Chennai -

We board the plane for the U.S. in about 10 hours, and leave for the airport in 6.5. I look forward to seeing many of you again, that is established; however, an element of nervousness pervades this trip. I will be speaking of this work in a few places, and am nervous about that. Added to that is the certainty that political correctness has flown out the window, and I really have to watch it when I am there.

The Banyan is fine. The young lady, P, who went as nanny to Star Actress (our equivalent of Catherine Zeta-Jones) is back. She did not like it there, felt nervous and uneasy, and came back as close to a wreck as I have seen her. A similar event was quite well-described in "The Shawshank Redemption," where a prisoner is released from the only surroundings he's ever been comfortable in and has a very difficult time adjusting to freedom and a strange world outside jail. P hung around us (health care workers) all day Thursday, and appeared to get a lot of comfort just from that.

I did not go to UK this week, preferring to use that time to gather all that we need to take w/ us, and oversee the boys' packing. They will also speak of the work they do here and I need to ensure they do not look like tramps. The time off was pretty therapeutic, and I felt no qualms about taking it. Tutoring also wound up last week. This week was spent attending the boys' end-of-term concerts - Indian music for Navin, and an English play for Naren. We enjoyed these, and Scott made it a point to attend them also, as he always does.

A young girl, aged 14, who had attended our kíds' carnival for the underprivileged committed suicide by hanging last week. Reason unknown, but irrelevant to me - I could only think of the profound morass of depression she must have been in.

The week was beset by the usual No's and that is par for the course. I look forward to the conference and seeing good friends and family while in the U.S. The chance to buff up my medical knowledge is priceless and an avowed goal.

"Psychiatry enables us to correct our faults by confessing our parents' shortcomings." - Laurence J. Peter

Until next week -

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Report of 3 Apr '05

This has been a tumultous week already - and it's Monday. I got an email from a friend from residency days and she mentioned that her ex-husband had committed suicide. I love this friend dearly, and was also fond of the young man, so was considerably sorry to get the news. As we decided, life is very short and we must enjoy every moment that we can. I was originally going to work in the U.S. for a year after residency and make some $, but after my brother Manu died, all those plans went flying out the window and we hastened here.

My 15 yo nephew, Manu's son, is going through some difficult times. Anyone w/ any input into teen grief, pls enlighten me. This boy has been put in charge of taking care of his 6 yo sister when his mother works long hours and executes this responsibility half-heartedly, esp as the sister is clearly the preferred child in the family. I can't blame him one whit, really, and all his actions are a manifestation of things dished out to him, I feel. His mother, furious, wanted us to talk to him; I thought it a better option to listen to him, and a whole host of complaints came flying from his side - such as he can never go to a sleepver or a movie w/ his friends b'cos he must take care of his younger sister. I have suggested to my s-i-l that she employ a maid and requested Scott to take the nephew out for a movie and a meal this past weekend - I consider Scott's presence gentle, comforting and sweet (much like a warm cookie, I guess) and felt this would be good for my nephew. Scott and I emailed this am, after said outing, and we decided we'd just ensure that my nephew knew he had people who cared about him. The 2 men had a great time, Scott said.

I feel wrung out. The Banyan is good. A young woman from there has been chosen as nanny to a famous Mumbai actress's child, and has left for the big city. She is extremely attractive and, after her husband sent her home 3 months after they got married (the marriage was essentially over), she felt that she was burdening her parents and got on a train and came to Chennai. She stated that she was raped by policemen en route. She had a couple of medical problems, which I treated, and stated to her that she could call us any time she needed for medical or other help. As much as folks envied her for being Star Actress's nanny, my priority was to ensure her safety and continued health. I noticed that the founders have a written plan of action for this young woman's resettling, and was impressed.

The boys and I spent last weekend in Madurai w/ my parents, today being my father's b'day, and my sister, Anu, and her younger son were there as well. (Scott could not get tix on the only train to Mdu from B'lore.) The entire time was spent eating and laughing - Anu stated that my parents' house was the only place where she could gain 2 lbs in 1 day. There is a big plastic surgery meeting in Mdu today and some apparent bigwigs were at my parents' house last night - they spoke solely of their own achievements and bored all of us to near tears. I can see no reason for this course of action (self-aggrandizement) and can only speculate that as folks age, they want to hold onto past glory. Anu states it has nothing to do w/ age, and I must agree: there are pompous folks of all ages.

The tutoring concluded last week as the school year is ending. The last day was 1 April and we stated to all, teachers and students, that we'd have a practice exam for them. Most received this news w/ trepidation until the April Fool's trick was revealed to them. We passed out paint boxes, pencils and candy, all of which many of you donated, and the kids were pleased w/ these goodies. We got some feedback from the kids about what they'd want emphasised in tutoring next year, and will implement these suggestions.

I am going to wind up. We leave for the U.S. next week and I look forward to seeing many of you again. Also, the chance to brush up on Western medicine is priceless. I visited a friend's mother, herself a wonderful friend, in Mdu and told her that tho' I am faithless, I think there is a God when I look at my husband and my American degree.

"Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre but they are more deadly in the long run." - Mark Twain

Until next week,