Renu's Week

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Report of 26 Nov '06

Hello from the B!

Man, good equipment is worth its weight in gold, isn't it. I love the B's new computers.

We are well. Life is fine at the B, and a couple of fine interactions helped me reaffirm my purpose in life. I'd mentioned Ms. P, whose husband, and subsequently, uncle, had thrown her out. Her little son is in an orphanage, and attending school, and one day he came to visit. I was at the B's entry gate looking for the doctors' register that all of us sign on entry and this sweet little kid whipped out a pen thinking I was looking for one. I took it, anyhow, signed in and asked who he was. He told me. A little later, I saw P taking him for b'fast, her hand at his back, a wealth of love, pride and affection in 1 little touch. She introduced him to me, I mentioned we'd already met, and I told her what a smart little boy he was, narrating the pen incident. She pulled another pen out of his pocket and said, "He says he wants pens, and I had to spend 7 Rupees on this one." It was the mixture of mock-irritation and undiluted affection that doting mothers are wont to have, and I saw Ms. P healing more just by the presence of her son. We can empower her, I am sure, to earn a living and provide for her son, thus giving her a ton of self-worth.

Ms. M, of the butt gash and non-functional leg fame, wants to go home to Kolkata (Calcutta). She comes crawling over when I enter, takes my hand in both of hers, and speaks fervently in pure Bengali which I can't understand a word of. Sandhya, a social worker who understands a bit of it, was roped in by me and translated. We have to wait for a rehab team to head Kolkata-wards, and told Ms. M that. When Sandhya asked about a prosthesis for her leg, Ms. M vehemently shook her head and said the leg was what God had given her, she did not want a change at all.

I read a saying once: One of the great tragedies of life is to not get what one wants, the other is to get what one wants.

Folks at the veg market are reeling with conjunctivitis. One of the therapies is isolation and not handling what the affected person handled, and in the vendors' defence, several of them did have protective eyewear on. The place was crowded. When we stopped at the beans stall and asked for 1/2 a kilo (about 1 pound), the vendor took a look at what was on the counter, then dove under it, opened a fresh bag and pulled out extremely fresh, good-looking things. Our blessings are many and varied.

Tutoring happened. 3 little girls came, did their lessons, worked on some math and then all (tutors and students) dove into "Pick-up sticks" and some candy. I don't know what we do academically, but the kids come very happily and whenever they can.

My father transited through Chennai to Madurai, on his way back from a conference in Hyderabad. He had told me not to meet him as he changed from airport to train station, but Scott and I went anyhow, to facilitate the passage. It was fun to get a quick gab in. My father is a big fan of his daughters, and delighted w/ his sons-in-law; soon after our wedding, Scott did a little favor around the house (fixed an outlet, perhaps), and my father said, "Thanks, I'll give you half my kingdom," and Scott said he looked over at me and replied, "Thanks, I already have it."

It seems like ages since we saw a movie. We don't have TV in our house and I used to think this was the territory of Tofu eaters and those who commune w/ the earth, etc., but you know, my sons read more and converse more (well, as much as teenagers will). The boys' exams are on the 1st and both are studying. Several 10th standard (grade) parents email back and forth, and all of us share our angst as our children sit for these crucial exams. Naren continues his adolescent opinions, which I enjoy unless he's picking a fight w/ us, and Navin persists in attempting to express them also.

Stay cool, count your blessings. Trust all our U.S. friends and relatives had a great Thanksgiving!

Unw -


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Report of 19 Nov '06

Hello from the Banyan -

The computers here are markedly better than ours at home, where the moisture in the air has caused the keyboard to stick and power might or might not go down.

We are well. The week had its share of great interactions: first, I was privileged to attend the Abacus (my kids' school) Inter-House Cultural meet. This is a set of competitions in speech, art, music, dance, etc. I had a chance to watch both boys in action, and Naren was 1 of only 2 boys in the entire school who danced: a fusion number featuring Bharata Natyam, a classical South Indian dance form, and Hip Hop. Naren did Hip Hop w/ perfect rhythm, and played the bass guitar (taught 2 days before by his friend, Ritwik) for his house band's "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Both items (dance and band) won the first prize. Navin had to do a speech performance, and an imitation of George Bush ("I'm bored," said Navin, "I'm going to bomb Iraq"), and placed for both. Cassiopeia, of which Naren is the House Captain, won the overall title and we were all happy; as I told a friend, I watched Naren prance and play w/ glee, and thought to myself that I cannot lock up this talent. Should he want to pursue the arts later, let him. Where would we be w/o Mr. Hanks's life-changing performances, and w/o Dire Straits's magnificent "Sultans of Swing."

Next interaction: our friend David Gere swung by for a visit, squeezing us in to an extremely packed schedule. I love it when our friends make time for us, and David is a great favorite w/ all 4 ("Hope to see you again soon," said both boys, independent of each other when they said good night). We talked of work and family and life partners, and India and the U.S. One of the things I really value in David is his good-natured teasing, always at my expense, and laugh a lot when I am in his presence. Laughter is a great blessing to have in one's life. David has a project titled "Make Art Stop Aids," and was in India to help a local Aids-activist organisation install a PA system (through radio-ish) at the Aids hospital to carry their message, along w/ the doctor's, throughout the entire hospital. I also got to visit a Chennai friend's mother, Mrs. Menon, whom I hadn't seen in months; the late Mr. Menon used to be in the foreign service, and Mrs. M has a fantastic sense of humor, great stories, and an inspiring, optimistic outlook on life.

The Banyan is well. We've reeled w/ conjunctivitis and head lice infestations. My sister, Anu, said they (pediatricians) are taught to de-worm and de-louse every 6 months, and I imagine we'll have to follow that at the B also. Our patient w/ the butt gash, Ms. M, is becoming more interactive as her wound heals, as she is fed and clothed - and we communicate in my meager Hindi. We are getting a Bengali speaker to acclimatise her to her options w/ her leg, and I think that ultimately, I will let Ms. M decide what she wants done w/ it. Just because *I* want her to walk upright does not, by any stretch, mean that *she* wants to. Ms. M has asked for a Koran, and states that she is not comfortable exposing her leg or head as she is Muslim; enough said - I asked the social worker for a Koran and a shawl for Ms. M's head, along w/ long gowns, and all of these will be provided. The B is a nice, nice place to work.

Ms. K, our HIV+ pt, was taken to see her son, Thirumalai (w/ the eye cancer). Her husband went also, and when I asked her the following day how Thirumalai was, she said he did not want to go to his father, and that the father had consequently wept. I explained to K that the child was in an orphanage (as the parents can't afford to raise him), that he really does not know his parents, but to please, please, not let that stop the parents' visits. As I whipped up some dreadful macaroni for my sons (they really like this goo), I thought to myself how fortunate we are that we can afford our children.

Tutoring was not attended, I think because the mothers did not want the kids to get soaked yet again. The veg market had its share of patients, including some hastily summoned when the tomato lady saw that I was there. One of the patients was a 12 yo w/ a history of being operated some time ago for a heart defect, and she is now well except for joint pains after a fever. The "history and physical" (my exam) were performed on a vegetable crate, and we came to the diagnosis very quickly (already given by the child's doctors elsewhere). It then came up that the child was balking at attending school, and when I heard that, my subsequent lecture was longer than the entire exam; she's a smart kid, and I told her that such intellect absolutely could not be wasted, esp in a girl.

So let me wind up. Scott is now posted in Chennai briefly, until Naren finishes his exams in March. It is fabulous to have him here. The Board exams (in 10th and 12th grades) tend to consume the whole family, and a lot of parents are now emailing and phoning each other to share strategies. I truly love all of Naren's classmates, and to a person, these folks would be whom I'd pick as Naren's friends; they also come from fine parents.

Unw -


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Report of 12 Nov '06

Good day from Chennai -

The sun is streaming on our balcony, the wet and thirsty towels are now drying, our living room curtains (made by the magnificent women of the Banyan) are fluttering in the breeze and we will soon head down to the first floor from our 6th floor to have biryani (pilaf) at a friend's place.

Ms. M, the lady w/ the gash on her butt and non-functional left leg, has been evaluated by the physio and we have various options now - crutches; an orthotic device maybe; or amputate part of the leg and use a prosthesis. In our grand enthusiasm, we overlooked one aspect which Ms. M made certain to tell us: she does not want a change. She states she's been on her butt her whole life, likes this, did not try the crutches and will not hear of any of *our* magnanimous (!) attempts to improve *her* life. This is quite a lesson to me, that a well-meaning medical endeavor might not be what the patient wants. The social workers are going to have many sessions w/ Ms. M to find out her mindset and get her to consider her options; we shall see.

I once had a patient when I was a resident in Indy who came in w/ respiratory difficulty, ended up testing + for HIV and the senior physicians wanted him to stay for treatment and put the fear of the illness in him w/ dire forecasts. The man told me he wanted to leave, go to his wife's native Hawaii and die on the beach. This sounded good, actually; I told him the pros and cons of this move, gave him my card and the patient signed out AMA (Against Medical Advice), and then I headed off to face my senior colleagues who heard this outcome resignedly. The pt later sent me a lovely thank-you card, and attached his hospital bracelet, thanking me for not treating him as a number. This was one of the most memorable patients of my training (written appreciation from patients is very rare in my experience), and I saved the card for Scott to see but it got thrown out. Story of our lives, really.

The folks at the veg market are well. This is a great relief for me, because w/ the endless monsoon, waterborne illnesses are legion.

We have had 4 PTA meetings last week w/ our sons' teachers, all of whom have said "He can do better." Private tutoring is big business in India and we have appointed private tutors for Naren (might need to do so when Navin is in 10th grade as a gigantic exam looms at the end of it). My sister, Anu, came up last night and Scott and I took her out for a simple dinner; we commiserated on raising teenagers and their academic lives. It was a spectacular evening, w/ lots and lots of laughter which Scott and I desperately needed, and we lingered over the chocolate truffle cake until the waiter came up repeatedly (wanting our table).

The kids did not tutor last week as we were in meetings.

We had an international school group from Pune visit the B to work for a week and it was headed by Story (family name apparently) and Ron Schildge from the U.S. This young couple was delightful, and we invited the whole mob (9 students + 2 teachers) over for a simple meal; all of us enjoyed the evening interacting w/ guests from all over the world. N and N had fun hanging out w/ fellow teenagers. Story mentioned that Indian girls are healthier (emotionally and mentally), compared to young American women whose focus is on boys, diets and trying to achieve an impossible physical appearance; I imagine that is the truth, the giant focus on the opposite sex here is tempered by several other distractions such as academics, social service, sports and an increased awareness of the rest of the world.

"If any of us had a child that we thought was as bad as we know we are, we would have cause to start to worry." - Will Rogers

Unw -


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Report of 5 Nov '06

How time flies -

November already. And it seemed like not too long ago that the world was kicking up the Y2K frenzy.

Life is ok. The boys are through their week of exams, and all parents of their school have heaved a sigh of relief. The week ended w/ a party organised by our apartment complex, which was accompanied by a talent show put up by the complex children. N and N chose not to participate, as they had no time to rehearse, and sat and enjoyed the show. We went to Pondicherry yesterday for a little family R&R; Pondicherry has been renamed Puducherry, and used to be a French possession. Parts of the city still have a uniquely European feel and are lovely. Several folks speak fluent French, and quite a few street signs are in the language also. We ate at a French/Italian restaurant; French cuisine is easily one of my most favorite of world cuisines.

The Banyan is fine, and I am varying my responsibilities there. We have expanded to a new center, and I see patients there as well. This variety works for me. We are making strides in the healing of the patient w/ the huge gash on her butt. She also has a non-functional left leg - it's shorter than the right, and the left foot hangs uselessly off it, instead of being firmly attached to the bone. I asked the visiting physiotherapist if she could please evaluate Ms. M and see if we could get a brace for her left leg. Ms. M has scooted on her butt her whole life (which now has said huge gash on it), and I am very keen (almost to the point of being manic) on finding out if we can work some magic and enable her to stand upright, on two "limbs" - as the rest of us humans do. Stand by for more; the suspense is driving me nuts, and I am really hoping for the best.

The vegetable market's vendors appear to be well. The tomato lady's husband had chikungunya (a viral illness transmitted by mosquitoes), and continues to be worried about joint swelling, which can persist for up to 6 months. I have tested his kidney function, and it is normal, so I assured him the swelling is a normal sequela to the fever. He then gave us a huge bunch of greens at a discounted price, which was a sweet thought. We also loaded up on fruit - pomagranates and guavas and oranges, and this was also given to us at a bit of a discount by the fruit man, whose eczema I have tried to treat.

Tutoring was slow - 1 child braved the rain, and we had to clip through the session, as it looked like more rain. No one is happy w/ the shortened sessions, as there is no time for the kids to draw, color and play Uno or the like after the required lessons. My sons and their friends play happily w/ those of "low caste" - may they never know the horrors of this dreadful system.

There was a family meeting yesterday to discuss the boys' academics, their thought processes and how they'd like us to react if they brought home poor grades. It was well-intentioned, and we hope for more. The good thing is that the boys still talk to us - even if it is a tad loudly at times. There are many, many parents who have bemoaned the lack of communication w/ their teenagers, and indeed, kids of all ages.

Unw -