Renu's Week

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Report of 22 Sept 2008

Hello from the B -

There is a dog sleeping near me. V and V are huge dog fans, and dogs are allowed free access in all our Banyan facilities.

The week has been ok. My father visited the B last week as he had an extra day in Chennai, having finished his work a day early. He stated vaguely that he'd like to try for an earlier train, which implied that Scott and I would have to do the booking, and as trains get sold out 3-4 weeks in advance in our overpopulated country, there was no prayer of our trying any such stunts. So we stayed put, and my Dad came to the B (most reluctantly). He saw a couple of patients, including one who was off her psychiatric meds for a bit and voluntarily contracted her feet and fingers so much they are now abnormally bent. She is a postgraduate in history, and when my father heard that, he appeared to have new zeal in trying to heal her.

Ms. M, also in the sick room, came up when she saw my Dad. She was abandoned by her husband long ago, due to her mental illness. He is a lawyer, and the B went after him with claws unsheathed, suing for support. He agreed to pay, and Ms. M gets Rs. 950 a month. It is not a lordly amount, but is more than zero, which our other residents get. Ms. M had bought 2 apples with her own cash, and gave my father 1. I was extremely touched by this gesture - it is often those that have precious little that will share open-heartedly - and we ate the apple that night. My mother continues to state I must make money, blah blah; well, I do make it. And I help, along with several good doctors, heal those whom some doctors would not have in their exam room.

We went to breakfast yesterday with my nephew, Sudhir, and it was fabulous. I love Western breakfast - sausage, eggs, fruit, juice. We overate, of course, and came home. On our return, we got a call from a neighbor that there was a mentally ill woman outside the wall of the apartment complex. I called the Banyan's rescue team and they came over. The woman was most reluctant to go with the team and Naren and Sudhir helped her into the van (Navin was being tutored). It is good for the boys to do things like this - so that they become aware of the need to share at least one's labor with the less-privileged.

Unw -


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Report of 15 Sept '08

Hello from the Banyan -

There are mosquitoes galore here, and the situation might worsen with the upcoming monsoon.

We are well. The B continues to be a great place to work. One of my young patients, Ms. J, had fallen, and our ladies are so osteoporotic (brittle-boned) that she was sent for an xray. She came back from the Emergency Room (called "Casualty" here) with the diagnosis of sprain, and an ace bandage (a pink, elastic wrap) was wrapped around her ankle. When she went back for a review, the ortho saw that the bone was fractured, which the original doctor had missed on xray. This was concerning: the patient had been off her feet for a week, but no cast or other care appropriate for a fracture was extended. Ms. J looks at me with extremely trusting eyes, and I was very upset that the fracture had been missed. So I contacted one of my favorite doctors, a nephrologist at the hospital, and mentioned this, along with the very firm message that we did not intend to find fault but wanted to ensure this error was not repeated with any patient. This hospital, Sundaram Medical Foundation (SMF) Hospital, is an outstanding one, and extends great care to our patients, but apparently their junior doctors were a bit hasty. I got a phone call from one of the senior doctors at SMF, he apologised for this oversight and I asked that the junior staff contact their senior colleagues in case of any doubt in management. We were extremely privileged during residency to have unbridled access to all our senior colleagues and it helped matters tremendously, *especially for the patient*. You know what else we had during residency - repeated and steady reinforcement of the message that the patient and the illness were important to us, not the size of the wallet. This is a wonderful message to keep in mind. Thankfully for us, SMF and the other hospital that sees our patients, Sri Ramachandra, have the same ethos.

I think my vision is changing. I have to hold printed matter farther away to read, I had to incline my seat to view the TV on the plane, and am getting frequent headaches. Times they are a-changing. We were with friends last night for dinner, and a sudden bout of nausea with a headache put a damper on proceedings. The aging process is alive and well.

Tutoring is in full swing in our house. Navin has 3 weeks of holidays, and we would have liked to travel a bit - a great love. But the kid has a lot of catching up to do in the Department of Academics. So we are staying put - a "staycation." We did manage to see a couple of wonderful older movies: "A knight's tale," and "The usual suspects," both starring favorite actors. The boys are turning out to be avid movie buffs - hmmm, wonder where they get that.

When I looked at Ms. J, and felt grateful that we were taking care of those whom others would discard and revile, I thought to myself about what a privileged position I was in, to be using my valued American education for the betterment of the impoverished. Such an affirmation of life and purpose, is it not.

We are privileged to have my father visiting us for 2 days; he is part of a team to select the new principal of my alma mater, Lady Doak College. We are to have some relatives over for dinner tonight, and I remain grateful that we are in touch with our relatives and get along with them.

Unw -


Sunday, September 07, 2008

Report of 8 Sept '08

Hello from the B -

I'd better hasten to type this in before the electricity gets cut. When I was much younger, Madurai would have unscheduled power cuts, esp in the summer. The Electricity Board tried to avoid night-time cuts, as one could not sleep then, and daytime cuts were de rigueur. When Scott and I moved to Chennai as adults with families, we noticed no power cuts, and I was grateful for the new affluence. Powercuts are back, and scheduled powercuts are the norm now. Nighttime cuts are still avoided, as children have to study. Quite a few aspects of daily life here revolve around children, their study schedules and their exams.

A dear friend wrote and stated she was very offended by an earlier blog about my experiences with Christians. I was extremely grateful for the candor, and want to give a little background. 2 years ago, a friend suggested we approach an Indianapolis church for help with funding, as churches tend to support projects in the 3rd world. Indeed, my lone year of funding was by a Christian charity. So we approached the church, the person there suggested my cause would be considered much more deserving if I attended services, and after much time, deliberation and soul-searching, I started attending services. I enjoyed them, revelling in the Minister, Carolyn Scanlan-Craighead, her sense of humor, and her earthy messages. One day, a couple started talking to me (this happened a lot, as I was new), got a few details about my life and work, and asked about my faith. (People are wont to consider my work God's work, or some kind of Christian mission, and I don't belabor any point, beyond mentioning that I am not religious - esp after Manu's demise.) I mentioned that I was raised in both the Hindu (my mother's) and Christian (my father's) faiths, and was comfortable with both. They asked which way I was leaning, and I told them I wasn't. This appeared to bother them, and they persisted, wanting me, I thought, to choose the Christian faith. I left the discussion, and mentioned it later to a senior staff member, stating that the original warm welcome I felt in the liberal Methodist church appeared at odds with this couple's insistence. The lady stated that this couple had come from another church, that they had been married to others then, had had an affair, divorced their respective spouses, married each other and left that church, fearing condemnation, to attend this one. Evidently, then, I thought mildly, Hinduism or "bifaithness" ranked higher than adultery in this couple's list of sins. Near Scott's relatives' town, there is a bookstore with the sign "Hinduism, Satanism, and other cults" above a display. On a flight once, I sat next to a pastor's wife, and she stated she was a follower of Pat Robertson; I asked if that was the person who had ordered Hugo Chavez killed, and the lady offered a justification. I believe there is a commandment that states "Thou shalt not kill." (Undoubtedly, there are Hindu and Muslim fanatics also, I simply have not met any.) There have been many promises made by churches and representatives of churches, and none, yes none, of them have been delivered. Scott and I discussed this yesterday, and he stated that Christians want something done to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. As to why promises were made is beyond my comprehension, other than it made the promiser feel good that something was being done, nay promised, for the destitute. Why they were not carried out is also puzzling, esp when that is not the norm in the U.S. Is it that folks feel good to promise all kinds of things, and then, when it's time to collect, the people promised are so far away that delivery need not occur, and there would be no reprisal or follow-through, at least in this lifetime? The person who wanted to advance my cause if I attended services has also not done so. So, you see, the lack of execution of promises is much more the norm for me than otherwise. I should have, however, not generalised. It is my experience that all grand promises made by Christians have not been kept, but I cannot state that all Christians do not keep promises. My apologies to all.

In that regard, I also want to state that I expect nothing of any substance from anyone. What is done or promised for the Banyan, though, I zealously want. And the hordes of unfilled promises, undelivered money, etc., only serve to reinforce what the destitute must feel when there is no avenue for help. And it helps me feel grateful, all over again, to Vandana and Vaishnavi, for putting us in the enviable position of saying "We can help" to the abysmally poor and forgotten. This is a nice feeling.

We spent last week at Navin's school, Abacus, for their sports festival. Navin won the best athlete award for his age group. Shortly thereafter, we got his grades, and suffice it to say he ain't close to getting any kind of "best student" award. It irks me considerably that a child of this potential would get these grades. So, mighty rounds of yelling have occurred, and umpteen tutors, all the norm for 10th and 12th grade students, have been employed. As we went to each teacher at Abacus, and heard volumes about how it was clear that Navin was not doing any work at home, the sinking feeling in my chest became a physical ache. I told the boys that if Scott and I did not experience such turbulence, we might never know what peace means. There is absolutely no excuse for poor grades, though: if non-comprehension is an issue, we can employ tutors. If poor grades are the result of sloth, grounding and removal of privileges happen - as Navin has learnt. India is very unforgiving of poor effort. We will find out Naren's grades next week; he was in the same state when he was in 10th grade, and appears much more motivated in the 12th. And then we will go check on my nephew, Sudhir. 3 teenage boys, 3 courses of study = 1 very full plate for the parents.

Unw -


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Report of 3 Sept '08

Hello from the Banyan -

Today is Ganesh Chathurthi, a festival to celebrate Lord Ganesh. We just finished a pooja, or worship, and the residents got kumkum, the red powder, and sandal paste to smear on their foreheads. Also, prasadam, food blessed by the Gods, was given out. I was happy we did this; as I looked around, I saw women who might have worshipped thus in their homes, at happier times. Manjusha, a pretty young woman, did the arthi - passing the flame around the God - and then put the dots on people's foreheads, including mine. The whole ritual appeared to give the ladies peace and happiness, and I am again grateful to Vandana and Vaishnavi for having founded this Banyan, that we may give a home to those disabled by mental illness and either having been thrown out by their families or having wandered off, that we may observe rituals of all religions to the betterment of our ladies, that we might in someway resurrect the spirit of one who might have outlived her usefulness to someone else.

I have a patient who just had a cataract operation. She was picked up from the street, and appears to be very well-educated. 'Tis a shame, I feel, that when a woman is afflicted by mental illness, she can be so easily discarded and her husband either remarries or otherwise acquires another wife. The male patients at the Institute of Mental Health are visited regularly by their family members, I hear. We are lucky if we can count on 2 hands the number of visitors our ladies get - and we have 300 ladies here. Out of sight, out of mind. The nephew of one of the ladies came once, and she was delighted; as I thanked him for coming, he got the impression I was trying to palm off his aunt to him and he hurriedly said he could not afford to look after her. I assured him we would, and that we (and she) would welcome regular visits by him.

It's a good life, a great profession. The lady of the cataract operation came by this morning, and she is doing very well. Our health care workers do post-operative care extremely well, and Shankar Nethralaya, a premier ophthalmologic institute here, gives outstanding service, esp to the poor, and clear follow-up instructions. Such a joy to have such a partner.

The health care workers and social workers did a cultural program last week - plenty of dances, skits, laughter. It was wonderful. We are privileged to have such talent here. One of them asked me to dance, and I would have in a minute, but the performances involved a lot of rehearsal, and I did not want to mess things up with my ad-hoc prancing.

The weekend was spent quietly, as Naren has exams. Navin just finished his. Although my mother bemoans the plethora of exams the kids have, I like the fact that Indian education is so rigorous. Scott has helped out the boys ably on many occasions, with a little extra tutoring. The boys explicitly request that I not tutor them, as my lack of patience is legendary.

Unw -