Renu's Week

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Report of 27 Aug '06

Happy Ganesh Chathurthi (Lord Ganesha's b'day) -

I imagine it's possible to put on weight in a week, isn't it. I've just returned from b'fast at a rather upscale restaurant here, and it was Western (called "Continental") mixed w/ Indian. I kind of love the sausage and eggs deal, and tend to overeat merrily. Actually, overeating has been the MO (modus operandi) for the week, and combined w/ the lack of the morning workout, it is no surprise that the pounds are getting packed on.

So it's back to wifehood and motherhood first. I have totally enjoyed hanging out w/ Scott this week and he returns to Bangalore tonight. We've discussed things from the doping scandals (never liked Gatlin and Jones, anyway), Scott giving his sports-enthusiast perspective, to movies, his family and mine. Naren and Navin have hit puberty w/ a bang and Naren especially has gone from genial teenager to "Fight w/ parents first, ask questions later." I had lunch w/ both boys one day and told them this was normal teenage stuff, and I lived and breathed it as a 15 yo, but that the only reason my poor mother probably let me live to see 16 was because I brought home ok grades. Then Naren started the "Oh, you want me to be a doctor or engineer?" Yeesh - absolutely not, and when I was at my parents' house and their visiting student asked if I was in the medical field, I had to think before answering. I don't feel like a physician totally as I enjoy many other things: cooking, movies, writing, coaching, playing. Anyway, we're all trying to survive the boys' teenage years, and have insisted on 2 things for each boy - he will not date until he is 18 (as Scott and I told them from personal experience, we feel that any earlier is too complicated and way, way too hormone-laden esp for males - we appreciate our friend Hank Smith's perspective here), and he will study 1 science and 1 math in pre-college courses. Math is fundamental to all of life, we feel, and he must appreciate it. Liberal arts are not well-taught in India - w/ lots of outright memorising.

Just as we were thinking Navin doesn't appear problematic *yet*, we discover that he has inadvertently thrown out his school shoes w/ a bunch of much older shoes. And the trash has been picked up. Ah, the joys of double teenage-hood. On the plus side, tho', both boys have been very candid about the happenings in their lives - esp the plethora of girls. Thank goodness the boys see fit to speak to us.

I visited my parents in our hometown, Madurai, on Tuesday and that was great fun. We sat and talked of things Western and Indian, of my late brother's family, and of medicine. The cook made my favorite foods and I returned to Chennai full of bonhomie. I am very fond of the cook, Amudha. She went through a bit of strife last year, w/ an older Muslim man (she's 24 and he was about 60-ish) promising to marry her (he has grandchildren who are about her age) and enrolling her in a madrassah (an Islamic school) to study Islam. Her parents filed a police complaint and brought her back, and then condemned her; my parents took her back into their house and Amudha remains grateful to them for not abandoning her. My mother thinks I should be more circumspect in the gifts I give Amudha, but she is a young woman after all, given to liking "girly" things, and so I brought a length of shiny fabric and a necklace for her from the U.S. I was graced w/ a visit from my sister, Anu, w/ whom I visited a friend who has breast cancer; it was good to see Anu and the friend. We've also hung out w/ my brilliant aunt Indira, and enjoyed her powerful sense of humor.

There have been run-of-the-mill patients around our flat. Colds and coughs. We also tutored on Friday and our 3 stalwart, abysmally poor students came. One of them, who's about 6 or 7, had a long skirt and blouse on and the skirt was torn in one section. She appeared none the worse for wear, tho' it tugged at my heart, and did some pretty complicated math w/ ease. She does not know her letters, and that is going to be our uphill battle this year. We then worked on jigsaw puzzles that I'd bought at a garage sale in the U.S., and the kids loved 'em! It was cool to watch them figure out the mechanics, esp as they've never seen puzzles before. It is wonderful to be able to provide a respite for an hour for these kids, who are eager to learn, and color, and get candy, and I notice that even Naren leaves w/ some warm feelings in his heart as these kids finish their session and file out. What we can do, we do. What we get in return - immeasurable.

I discovered in funding quests in the U.S. that an individual doing humanitarian work usually does not get funded. There seemed to be the notion that the cause could easily be supported and that the person doing the work is not expected to have needs like food, student loans, clothing, toothpaste. Sort of like folks getting surprised that pastors welcome a little extra $ for weddings/funerals/baptisms. Even the flight attendant on USAir said there were no toothbrushes in Economy Class, so obviously the folks flying economy were not expected to have any teeth. I remember in the book "Mountains beyond Mountains" that the author was surprised that Dr. Paul Farmer (working w/ the poor in Haiti) enjoyed a meal at an upscale Boston restaurant. It seems to surprise the rest of the world that those of us who work w/ the impoverished have taste buds. Be that as it may, it is up to me to generate some $ for personal needs (the food and shelter and student loan kind) and I look forward to returning to the U.S. to work off and on - it is where I've spiritually recharged before, w/ the likes of you all.

Ok, I'm going to wind up. Naren is house Captain this year (of Cassiopeia) and the Sports Festival is this week. C beat Perseus (Navin's house), Andromeda and Orion last year, and the contest will be keen this year too. I will be there w/ bells on, along w/ another mother, Gopa, from Naren's class who did her part to care for N and N in my absence. I have wandered around w/ gifts for her and all of her ilk, and wondered again, aloud, why it doesn't seem to occur to the men to reciprocate giant favors w/ a thank-you gift. Any thoughts?

"Kids. They're not easy. But there has to be some penalty for sex." - Bill Maher

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Report of 20 Aug '06

Hello from Chennai!

It's a balmy 90-something, I think, the laundry has dried on our balcony, Naren is cramming math for an exam tomorrow, Scott is near him grading Spanish, Navin is at a Book Club meeting and soon we will have some rice and curry for lunch, accompanied by ginger pickle (a spicy relish) that I bought yesterday.

The flight was uneventful, the best attribute of a flight. I'd stashed my deodorant, perfume, toothpaste, etc., in my checked-in luggage and I landed a tad stinky but happy. Security did not stop to question me, and no one anywhere asked to see my green card on departure. Immigration procedures on departure appear non-existent (in fact, they appear to be left to individual airlines), and I am a bit surprised at this. Scott was working Sudoku when I exited Chennai airport and missed my exit completely, but he's easy to spot (6'3" and white, in a country where there are many short brown people) and we got home quickly.

Last Sunday, I moved out of the Simons' home back to the Tabers' place. It was nice to be there and I spent a ton of time packing (and throwing). There was still chocolate to lug (this is heavy!) and books to pack (also heavy), but we managed. Colleen Taber was kind enough to drive me to Chicago, and we ate a junk food b'fast en route - very tasty.

I was privileged to get in a couple of valued interactions before I left: Ruth Ranalletta, Boni Hypes and Tamela Horkay (all of whom worked/work in Medical Education at St. V) took me out for dinner on Monday. It was fun, and esp good to talk of the process of getting re-used to the U.S. after being in India, etc. These ladies are warm-hearted folks, and Tami has also given me clothes for my fatherless niece, Sanjana. Sanjana is rather well-dressed thanks to Tami, and other friends w/ young daughters, like Anita Sigler. I also managed to see Kris Rea and her toddler daughter, Isabella. I spent a month at Kris's place in June, and it was nice to be back there. One of the attributes I really value in Kris is her straightforward speech and manner, and we sat gabbing of many things, which was memorable. I also spoke of my work in India at Citizens and it was nice; the Citizens crowd is very interactive, and when I speak of the atrocities my patients have often had to endure, there are usually chants of "Shuuuut up," and "You'rrrrre kidding me." This makes things very lively. There was also a meal and a farewell cake, and I left Citizens on the 16th.

Perhaps next week, I'll write of patients I saw at Citizens before I left. One of them, Ms. F, had come to me after hurting her back at work at daycare. I treated her, she got better, and then returned to me stating that her bosses made her climb stairs (which made her back pain worse), and the story didn't completely jell. The insurance adjuster got involved, asked for documents, saw that I'd noted her back was not tender on subsequent exams, and called to speak to me. I told her what the patient had told me, she mentioned that the story was different from the employer's viewpoint, and then an independent adjudicator, Anastacia, also got involved. She came to see me, and I liked her on sight. We spoke to the patient together, though I'd fired her from the clinic by then (her story to me that her bosses had made her climb stairs was a lie, and I don't like my patients lying to me about health issues). As it turned out, the patient had elected to climb the stairs as she apparently had felt better. Sigh. There was compensation involved, as the injury had happened at work, and I imagine a subsequent "injury" also qualified. I was really livid, and ended up raising my voice w/ the patient, as I work in a country where one earns nothing if one is disabled, and my patients claw at the walls to stay healthy. Thank goodness for Ms. Hilda, our Spanish liaison, who stayed calm and composed, and educated the patient that her actions reflected poorly on herself and the entire Hispanic community.

Ok, see you next week. My stomach's rumbling and I'm off to eat some rice and ginger pickle.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Report of 13 Aug '06

Hello from Carmel public library -

This is one of the best places in the world - lots of books, the Internet, magazines, newspapers: a reader's idea of paradise.

Insha Allah, next week's blog will be from India. This week has been nice w/ some memorable patients. The nurse who has combated drug addiction and is back at work, "dropping" (apparently street slang for submitting a urine test) twice a week; I am full of admiration for her remarkable achievement and said so. The older lady who delivers papers, and checks on her older residents, even going in and fixing a meal or 2 for them; she gave me a hug on departure. The 61 yo whose knee arthritis is so severe, she reminds me of my mother, right down to her sense of humor; she told me that when the Gastroenterology department called to tell her she had missed an appt, she said as she nursed her throbbing knee, "Honey, I'm sitting here trying to die." The 44 yo man w/ high blood pressure who eats potato chips late at night, and knows he should not. Who said poverty makes people unremarkable - these folks are remarkable for all the right reasons: grit, compassion, senses of humor, right perspective.

I was very fortunate this week to get together w/ some fine folks: Deepali, Devendra, Anil and Ajay Jani, who very graciously put me up, and whom I stopped to say bye to; Malcolm Herring, a brilliant vascular surgeon at St. V who has got over the murder of his father by deepening his faith; Ruth Stevens, the former CEO of Citizens Health Center whose sense of humor and courage under adverse circumstances must be seen to be believed; Dima Rifai, the capable pediatrician at Citizens, who is holding up in spite of the assault on her native Lebanon and who bought me lunch and constantly gives me her good company; Kurt Broderick, the able pharmacist at St. V, whose reflection and appreciation for my grateful, happy patients in India always helps me solidify my sense of good fortune; Ruth Stevens, Whitney Moore, Dannee Neal, Jan Dallas, all fine colleagues at Citizens Health Center, whom I got together for dinner, drinks and lots of laughter with; Dr. Robert Love, a mentor and advisor at St. V, whose words of wisdom and perspective are of great value to me. I ran into some St. Luke's folks when I went to see "Little Miss Sunshine" - the pastor, Carolyn Scanlan-Craighead and her friend, Scott Semester, who treated us to the flick and who then invited me to join them for dinner. (By the way, the flick was very good, and has an exciting young actor named Paul Dano in it. I also saw "Step up," which I enjoyed as I love to dance.) Dinner was at an outdoor concert featuring Abba music, and we ate, sang and danced all evening. We were joined by Carolyn's husband, Will, and it was a fine time w/ absolutely lovely people. After church this am, Carolyn and Scott invited their friends Dave Bolander, and Kay and Gary Walla, to join us for lunch and we had a splendid time talking of the work in India, which I am eager to return to. I also got to talk to some college classmates - old friends, old is gold, as they say.

Also on my plate this week: lovely emails from the 3 Weiss men - speaking of how they are counting the days to the 19th (when I land in India), and sending me lots of love. It is indeed a matter of great fortune that I have these fine young men in my life.

Best to all of you. Next blog from home!!!

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Report of 6 Aug '06

Hello from the Carmel public library!

Man, everyone should have such a place and such people to hang out w/ as I do. I just spent the weekend w/ my in-laws and, as I told a friend, even if they weren't my in-laws, I'd hope to be hanging out w/ them. The farm is a beautiful place to be, w/ verdant surroundings, mooing cows, and dogs and cats w/ identity crises, but far more than that, it's a place w/ warm-hearted, genuine, supportive (when I said my kids didn't like my use of profanity, the in-laws said what I did: that the kids could stop doing things to instigate said profanity), interested and interesting people. It is probably the only place in the world that I fully relax: can't completely relax at my parents' place as my mother is disabled and raised all her kids to help out as needed (though of course both my parents place our comfort and convenience very highly and that is so touching); can't relax at my own place always as there is a household to run. So 'tis the in-laws' place for me - ate, talked, laughed, shared in the stories of aging as words were forgotten and incidents repeated for the 10th time, revelled in tales of the Banyan which the folks seemed keen to hear. All my favorite foods were on hand, and I got to read, veg out, eat. My mother-in-law, Jan, and I also visited her in-laws (Scott's late Dad's side of the family) to say bye, and that was tons of fun, too: irreverence is high on my list of desired qualities, and the Weiss side fills in nicely. Scott's grandmother and grandfather were up to receiving visitors, so we had lunch there and laughed much more. I have returned rejuvenated, and have deferred reading the email from Chennai until I finish blogging - for obvious reasons.

Last week, I spoke at St. Luke's United Methodist Church, and that was fun. Given the couple of incidents that happened last week w/ the perceived absolute lack of consideration for my work, I was mighty nervous about "imposing my viewpoint" on folks. But I went and spoke, and the audience was small but the size of the audience never matters to me, the level of interest does. The Tabers, Sonia Inger, Shilpa Mallur and Ali Floyd (my hostess of last week) were there and it was nice to have familiar faces in the audience. I'd invited a couple of patients as well, but they couldn't come. At the end of the talk, Carolyn Scanlan-Craighead, the pastor, could not speak as she was in tears, so moved was she by the stories of staggering resilience and humbling appreciation that my patients show. There were many questions about my work and I enjoyed speaking of it, as always.

Work has been nice, and the patients are always a treat. Except for the Vicodin and Xanax seekers, of course. A young man, MM, came in for a physical exam. He had been released from prison recently and was in a "half-way home," which requires the exam. I ask exactly what I want to ask in the course of the exam, and asked about the reason for his incarceration, which turned out to be "conspiracy." Apparently, his friends had robbed a drug dealer, had not used masks or disguises to conceal their identities, had been caught and told the police they had planned the crime at MM's house; so the police arrested MM and put him in jail for 14 months. We spoke some, and I felt for MM's mother that this had happened, and his younger brothers (what sort of example was this?), and clearly said so, but MM said things were cool all around, and he was looking to return to college. We agreed that some folks learn a lot from their mistakes, and I shook his hand, wished him luck and told him he could call me anytime for questions. There was a look of je-ne-sais-quoi in his eyes (I truly don't sais - I truly don't know) and he left. Patients are patients to me, ex-cons or otherwise. If they fail to make something of their lives, though, because of continuously stupid decisions, it's time to re-evaluate.

I have moved out of Jeremy and Ali's warm, lovely home to the equally wonderful, welcoming home of Marybeth and Andy Simon, and their children, Miranda and Morgan. The Simons used to be our neighbors when we lived in Carmel, and for a long time, Miranda and Morgan were the only girls Naren and Navin would tolerate. Marybeth and I also worked together at St. V, and she is a dear, loving, open-minded sort. It is mighty therapeutic to the soul to be w/ good people, and the Simons are among the best. Andy has, out of sheer will power, dropped 65-70 pounds and I think that's a great testimony to one's character. I have the run of the basement at Chez Simon, and am enjoying the place and the people.

Thank you all for the advisory emails on my teenage sons and the situation w/ my work. It is markedly beneficial to me to have good people around, and as of now, I have about 250 of you. Would I consider myself blessed and fortunate - you decide :).

Well, I'd better wind up and get to the waiting emails. As I told a patient, all 4 of us are ready for this exercise to end. Scott sends very romantic emails from Bangalore, and I look forward to being w/ the 3 Weiss men; to hugging my sons and assuring them teenage years are times of massive but transient turbulence; to going out to eat w/ all 3 and enjoying the vivid senses of humor; to playing games on Game Night and watching N and N interact w/ facile fluidity w/ each other that only siblings can do; to discussing all that has happened in the United States w/ Scott and having him say something that'd make me laugh out loud; to dancing w/ wild abandon in the living room w/ my stash of dance music that even poor Scott will endure.

May you dance like nobody's watching.

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