Renu's Week

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Report of 30 Jan '08

Hello from the B -

Hope all are well. Good health is something I tremendously appreciate, esp after I see my mother with her disability. Her left knee is not functional, walking is horrendously painful and now her right knee has started to bother her too. My father is full-time caregiver, is not without physical complaints himself and they are needing to consider full-time help. Scott and I saw them on the 26th and it was lovely. My parents are the epitome of class and grace, in spite of all that has happened and is happening, and their senses of humor are truly awe-inspiring. We enjoyed their company and returned rejuvenated.

The visit was to observe the anniversary of my brother Manu's demise. Scott and I went to the cemetery, and I am usually loath to leave there. But we had to, and then Scott went to the temple of the Goddess Meenakshi. It is a famous temple, and we take it for granted when we visit as it is in my hometown, but Scott went and prayed and got peace of mind.

I had a non-Banyan patient at the B, a former staff member (and relative of current staff) who returned to be evaluated by me. I am always very honored when relatives of staff and patients seek medical attention from me, and I saw this young lady who has come from miles away. She's had disabling belly and back pain for 3 months, and has consequently lost verve, zeal and interest in life. I suspected kidney stones or ovarian cysts, and ordered an ultrasound; the report came yesterday and she has both. She has gone today to Sundaram Medical Foundation hospital for follow-up with one of my favorite doctors, and I tell you, it is thunderously rewarding when one's suspicion of an illness is founded. Very gratifying - whether the patient is impoverished or not.

So our mission at the B continues. One of our older patients, Ms. E, acted like she'd had a heart attack the other day: lost consciousness, tongue seemed blue, was tough to arouse. She came around a couple of minutes later, I ordered some blood work and yes, she's had a heart attack (myocardial infarction). We've started the appropriate medicines - aspirin, and medicine to slow her heart down a bit (beta-blocker) - and hope for the best. Ms. E is a delightful, grandmotherly type and the health care worker (hcw) in charge of the paatis' (grandmothers') room brought her to visit me yesterday. We had a good time laughing and chatting, and the hcw asked that Ms. E pray for me; Ms. E put her beautiful hand on me and did, and it was touching and lovely.

Navin was elected School Pupil Leader yesterday - similar to Student Government president or Head Boy. I went to listen to campaign speeches on Friday, and they were good. Navin promised soap in restrooms, and to coexist peacefully with his rivals whether he won or lost. Naren had also been nominated in his time and lost to a worthy opponent; he drew Navin's campaign posters and they were awesome. He is pleased that his brother won, and I mentioned that he was being gracious.

Ok, I'd better wind up. Someone else is waiting for this machine.

Unw -


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Report of 23 Jan 2008

Hello from the B -

Hope all are well. The month sure is flying along.

The Mumbai Marathon went off well. A bunch of Banyan folks "ran" 6 km of it - ran is a bit of a euphemism. It's a fun run, sort of, and the B folks apparently danced and walked their way through it, all the while publicising the cause of mental illness. Navin's registration was not sent in (by the B - such chaos is usual here), and I was much more irritated about that than he was. (I think we can be error-free if we try.) But anyhoo, we made plans for him to run in Chennai, he finished up a tutoring session one day, changed his shoes and came down to the treadmill in the apt complex's gym. He ran the 6 km, having to pause to walk twice, and at one point gently asked if there was water available in races. Scott charged off and got him some, Naren came down to cheer and Navin finished in 44 mins. Scott Semester's church and folks mentioned last week donated lots of bucks, all of which have been turned in to the B. A wealthy benefactor had told Vandana that he'd pay her some money if she finished the run in 50 minutes, and Navin asked if the benefactor would accept Navin's time instead (fearing that Vandana might not accomplish the goal). Vandana stated that she had run earlier in 45 minutes, and was indeed to collect her bonus - but she was touched by Navin's offer.

We do take our children for granted. Their beings are slowly and surely transforming into compassionate, gentle sorts, quick and eager to help those who have nothing. We could have yelled (what "yelled"? Some of us continue to yell) ourselves hoarse about the need to do so and here are these 2 boys doing their thing, with very little desire for credit or accolades. I have said this before, and here I say it again - they will be our legacy.

As I was off for Pongal, I returned to the B after 4 days' break. Ms. V, one of our belligerent patients, the one who'd cussed at all who tried to x-ray her, greeted me effusively; she told me of eating sweet pongal (rice), saying it was tasty and "thithippu" (sweet), smiling all the while - it was immensely lovely. Then she took my hand in hers and touched it to both her eyes. It was a tremendously humbling gesture, and I stood somewhat transfixed, fairly wallowing in her generosity and good humor. She has no family that visits, no home to go to, is likely not aware that she is mentally ill - and to help take care of her is a privilege.

The lady in the next bed, Ms. SM, is feeling better. I read her file, and saw that she was chased off from the family home after her parents died, as her siblings considered her a "burden." Sometimes I think human beings' most potent weapons are our mouths - to tell a sister that she is useless, a burden, an undeserving mouth to feed, how can we then stop this woman from feeling lower than pond scum. The B appears to have done wonders for SM's self-esteem, and she smiles and laughs a lot when I visit the sick room - quite making my day.

We have the pleasure of Greg Brown's company for the next few days. He is a fellow alumnus from Uthscsa med school in San Antonio, now a second year medicine resident in Albuquerque, and a bit of an India addict. He is also great company, willing to take India (and all of us!) with all foibles, and all are enjoying his presence. He came loaded with pens, chocolate, trail mix and microwave popcorn - so, you know he is more than welcome :).

Well, I am going to wrap up and go see some pts. Hope all of you are well.

Unw -


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Report of 16 January 2008

Hello from the B -

Hope all are well. We are fine and have just returned from a 4-day weekend. Pongal, the harvest festival celebrated with sugarcane, sweet rice and some days off school/work, just finished. Navin went to Yercaud on a school trip, and did some rock climbing and rappelling (spelling?). Naren went to visit his cousin in Bangalore, and a friend went along. This friend is the only one from Abacus, their old school, at Sankara, the new school, and he hates it. Blames his mother for this choice, does not study, is determined to not study engineering (his original goal), etc. So I thought a trip together would do both Naren and young A good. We haven't got the details yet, but both appear to have had a wonderful time.

Scott and I had 4 days of no children, and it was fun. We ate out, went to the beach, saw some movies, generally chilled out. It was mighty therapeutic. We went to Chennai's Street Folk Arts festival, called "Chennai Sangamam," and loved it. There are so many vibrant folk arts in India that are little-known. We also saw Washington, D.C.'s Dana Tai Soon Burgess dance company perform here; the dances were ethereal and lovely. Has anyone heard of this dance company?

The B is fine. Last week, we had a patient who got somewhat unresponsive and puffy; she'd had diarrhea, but I didn't think that ought to alter her mental status. I asked the staff to put in a catheter to drain her urine and the change was practically instantaneous: the patient responded to our questions clearly and appropriately. Scott often feels that the lack of communication from many patients actually helps me hone my examination skills. I wonder, but do know it's a great feeling to help a non-verbal patient feel better. Just that (a recovered patient) is gratitude enough. Several young people have been named for my father the surgeon, and that's a manifestation of gratitude, surely. However, what I get - a well woman - is enough for me. My father and I have had blazing arguments about this, as it unsettles him to come to the B; methinks he's used to the world of the private practitioner.

A team of students from the staggeringly prestigious Indian Institute of Management came to the B as part of a mandatory course on Corporate Social Responsibility, ostensibly introduced into the curriculum early so that the students and future young managers would retain, or develop, a portion of their "care-for-the-less-fortunate" nature as they wander into the realm of mucho bucks. It's always a great privilege for me to talk to young people, and bright young 'uns are a special treat. I enjoyed the interaction tremendously. 3 of us were individually filmed chatting with the students on a range of issues, and I saw the film today. I look like Dobby (an elf in Harry Potter stories) - all eyes and goofy, dramatic mannerisms.

So the struggle to raise funds for the B continues. We were extremely privileged to get generous donations from Garrett Matsunaga, Ron Schildge, Kris Rea and Sharon Cole-Braxton. Scott Semester informs that there are a few more checks coming, and we are grateful for all your support.

Let me wind up. Hope all of you are well.

Unw -


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Report of 9 Jan '08

Happy New Year 2008!

The year had just started and already 9 days have fled. We wish everyone a healthy year, filled with things that make you happy.

All are well here. I just spent some minutes talking to one of the patients here. Ms. J is a nurse, and was beset by mental illness after she finished her training. She was treated and recovered, and was employed by the B. She met a young man here and married him, much against everyone's wishes (ostensibly because the chappie was a louse - I don't know him). He proceeded to doubt her fidelity and was physically violent towards her, so her mother came and took her home. I will always be grateful to this lady: many mothers in traditional India view it as a big shame to take their married daughters back home in such a scenario as it manifests family failure ("What will the neighbors say?"). I remember running practice interviews in Lady Doak College, my undergrad alma mater in Madurai, and the captain of our basketball team stated, in answer to one of my questions about what she'd do if she ran into marital troubles, that she'd never go back to her parental home as she did not want to burden her parents with the indignity of her return. Wow - I remember being thunderstruck that this phenomenal athlete and leader had such a traditional and conservative bent. Back to Ms. J - she is back at the B to live and work, we chatted, she is in good remission from her illness and we discussed her medical problems which are easy to manage (back pain). It was a nice chat, and it is wonderful to be a part of the team that helps Ms. J.

We were invited to join friends for New Year's Eve at their club. Our guest, Scott Semester, and all of us went. From the time we got there, Scott S. and I danced; a little later, to my great delight, Naren joined us and jigged along in perfect, hip-hop rhythm. His shirt was soaked in minutes, and I enjoyed his presence on the floor with us. It surprised me that he'd dance with us when there were so many Beautiful young women around, but I remember hearing from male friends that it was usually intimidating to go up to a group of girls and ask 1 to dance. So we had the benefit of Naren's company and it was fine. After the New Year was rung in, Scott Weiss and Navin joined us briefly and that was a treat, too. We got home happily worn out, went to bed, and watched movies (the slick Bourne trilogy, brought by Scott S.) during the day. Scott S. took us to eat at our most favorite restaurant in Chennai, and that was a great way to start the year.

Scott S. spent some time with the fundraising team at the B in a set of very good talks. He has also stated that he will start and manage "Friends of the Banyan" in the United States. Just now, our accounting head said that we have no money in the bank and have taken a loan of Rs. 25,00,000 just to tide us over until some monies come in from the marathon run, etc. So this education on fundraising is timely. We managed to sneak in a day of sight-seeing with Scott S. at the end of the week, and he left on the 6th.

The boys' tutoring service with underprivileged kids will likely resume next week as we have a long weekend upcoming. 'Tis the harvest festival in Tamil Nadu and we will eat sugarcane and sweet rice mixed with jaggery (brown sugar) and not go to work/school.

May you have plenty of sweet treats of your own. Have a healthy and happy 2008!

Unw -