Renu's Week

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Report of 30 Oct '08

Hello from the Banyan -

The system has crashed twice due to power fluctuations, and I must hasten through this blog.

Belated Happy Diwali to all! It is our national festival, in celebration of the vanquishing of evil Narakasura by Lord Krishna. N asked that his death be commemorated by lights, and the "festival of lights" is celebrated annually, with the date being determined by looking at the stars, like Easter and Ramzan. We get up early (well, some of us do), have hair washes, put on new clothes and go down to join in lighting sparklers and other fireworks. Our kids have outgrown this last part, but we go down anyway. We then distribute sweets (in our case, made by Naren and Navin) to friends and neighbors, and enjoy a day of rest. Some go to visit relatives, or catch a "Diwali release" movie (such things are big here); we watch movies at home and eat the whole day.

The paper had news about a woman being locked away in a room by her husband for 20 years as he did not know what to do about her mental illness. He forbade their sons from seeing her, and remarried (this is fairly common here - even without an official divorce/annulment). A niece, enquiring about the lady's whereabouts, found her, the case made media fodder, and the lady, Ms. B, came to the Banyan. She has been admitted to the sick room with a fracture, and is healing well. She is most interactive and genial, affirming Vandana and Vaishnavi's steadfast belief that mental illness is an *illness* and people treated for it will heal. Ms. B told me yesterday that her niece had visited, bringing her a sari for Diwali and some sweets and fruit, which Ms. B shared with all in the sick room. That pretty much melted my heart; that this lady, who has endured so much, still had enough goodness left in her to share some precious treats. (Once, when we helped a Banyan volunteer rescue a lady from the roadside and bought her some biscuits, she took the biscuits and immediately pointed to Navin, indicating that the child ought to have some - see what I mean, these are melt-worthy moments.) Ms. B and the healthcare worker and I talked at length of the relatives' visits, etc., and it was nice to see Ms. B's face bloom. Truly, blood relatives can make (or break) someone's day.

We have stopped tutoring, as subjects are taught in the vernacular, which all tutors find difficult to read. I want our sons to volunteer their talents elsewhere, but their schedules are packed with study and tutoring sessions. I want them to find time for volunteer activity, though, so let's see. They continue to cause a fair amount of turbulence with their studies and extra-curricular activities, including girls, but this is normal for this age and, as I told them, I might never know what peace is without said turbulence. They do continue to be loving and affectionate and funny, and this is also good. As we watched "Ice Age" on Diwali, and watched the young mother fend off the saber-tooth tiger from her little baby, I mentioned to Naren and Navin that the urge to protect and care for one's young is a powerful force (capitalised on ably by the wonderful 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus and his Grameen Bank); the boys are starting to see that, and appreciate it.

Unw -


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Report of 20 Oct '08

Hello from the Banyan -

Man, my success story this week is from my street medicine practice. A neighbor's maid, Ms. K, was worried about her daughter, Ms. E. She hadn't had her period in a year. Apart from the obvious (pregnancy, but that would have shown up), none of us could proceed on this case without some expert consultation. So our neighbor, Usha, found a good Primary Health Center the young lady could go to and I wrote a note to the doctor there. Ms. K went, got Ms. E evaluated, she was seen to have polycystic ovaries (which can lead to a lot of problems with the menstrual cycle) and was prescribed treatment. Last week, tiny Ms. K told me that the cycle had resumed. Hooray! I like triumphs like this. Ms. K is a single parent, I am not sure if she has been deserted or widowed, and is raising her 2 daughters with tremendous tenacity, single-minded purpose, and strength. The older one, Ms. E, is doing very well in college and I feel that if I can help a fellow mother, I must. A lot of women here have no social support, especially if they are mate-less, and given my abundant good fortune with my support sources (including many of you!!), I think I should share. Ms. K told me, "There isn't even anyone to say nice things to me," and I thought about that, and how wonderful it is to hear nice things daily, and how much our spirit thrives on such words.

The Banyan is fine. We continue to have women falling and breaking bones. The papers are full of news about the prevalence of osteoporosis in Indian women, and we are living it at the Banyan. Our residents are now on calcium, and get a modicum of weight-bearing exercise, and I am hoping to minimise fractures.

My sister, Anu, returned from visiting her on-sabbatical husband, Benji, in Australia last week. She spent a night and a day with us, and brought a couple of her friends to the Banyan. Anu was disconcerted by the B - the retardation present among the residents, the institutional setting, all of it. This is not new, because I experienced it when I first started here, too. And then I saw all the success stories, and the spirit of the people who worked here, and the definite thread of joy running through the place, and that I could definitely choose to make a life here. It was great to see Anu, and her friends treated us to lunch at a very nice restaurant where I had the buffet and ate salad until I almost dropped. Prices have risen, and our occasional splurge of expensive restaurants has ceased. I miss a good salad, though, and we only get those at these opulent places.

The family and I visited Jaipur over the weekend. It is a city in Rajasthan, and I find it important to show the boys the grandeur in this country. Travel is difficult in India, with many places set up to cheat tourists, but as the men and I discussed, that is not unique to India. Also not unique is the complaining my family does when I announce such a trip - "What?" "How come we are going?" "I'm going to miss 2 classes." "Jaipur?! What are we going to do in Jaipur?" Once we get there, of course, a great time is had by all, but it is fairly typical of the Weiss gene to complain first, loudly and continuously. Some year, perhaps the doofs will appreciate these trips, but in the meantime, it is up to me to studiously ignore the complaints and plan the entire blooming holiday. No different this time: we stayed in a lovely place and saw some sights that filled me with awe at how old the Indian civilization is, and all that Indians have accomplished. Unfortunately, many of these magnificent attractions are very poorly maintained, and that makes the visit doubly challenging; India has not yet capitalised on the tourist buck. We managed to get family time over dinner and discussed all we had seen and done. We swam. We also shopped, as clothing and footwear in Rajasthan are different from those in Tamil Nadu. We returned rejuvenated, and the men even managed to keep good humor for 1 night. I usually provide the dialogue of appreciation myself, e.g. -

I: "So did you all have a good time?"
Men: "Yeah." "It was fine." "Mm-hmm."
I: "Thank you, Dear/Amma, for organising this holiday, and for thinking of us all the time. "

One can't let a little thing like Family Bad Mood interfere with life, can we, one needs to find release elsewhere and that I find abundantly at the Banyan, along with plenty of appreciation for my services. :)

Unw -


Monday, October 13, 2008

Report of 13 Oct '08

Hello from the B -

I am breathing distance away from my colleague, and this is the way those of us who need computers must work.

The B is fine, and we are bracing for the monsoon. It seems to have started yesterday, and poured buckets. My cabbie didn't show up today, and didn't call, either, so I had to take an auto (a little 3-wheeled cab) and it was adventurous. Almost to a person, though, the auto drivers are gallant: there's a little strip of tarp on the passenger side opening so that rain doesn't pelt the client, and the drivers generally try to maneuver the vehicle so that rainwater doesn't come splashing in from wheels of other cars.

My patient with breast cancer has gone home. She had been listless and apathetic, not wanting to do very much for herself, and then her son started visiting. He brought fruit and juice, and some of her favorite foods, which she requested, and she got to feeling good. I haven't been told otherwise, but it appears like the son might be wanting his mother's last days with him, and that's a fine thing. I think the entire reading audience knows how much I whine when I have a simple cold, and want the family around me, and blah blah, so I especially appreciate when a son can take care of his dying mother.

We were privileged to have my sister-in-law, Susan, and her family visit. My nephews came to spend the night and we played board games, overate and laughed a lot. Naren went on a school trip and was back by the weekend, and the next morning, very early, he came and woke his father up, stating his stomach was upset. Both Scott and I got up and tended to the boy. Later, we had a discussion about why he chose to wake up the engineer for the illness when the doctor was also present.

Unw -


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Report of 6 Oct '08

Hello from the Banyan -

We are well, and hope the same with you.

The lady picked up from near our flat (apartment) has been admitted in the Government institution (Institute of Mental Health - IMH). We (at the Banyan) are bursting at the seams, and can't really admit new people, but closely follow the IMH patients whom we admit there.

A colleague, Mr. S, asked me to investigate his sister's condition at the Cancer Institute. She has been admitted with cervical cancer, which in itself is tragic because Pap smears are not routine here, and such consequences are seen. There seems to be also some lack of communication between doctor and patient/relatives (the relatives cannot be present when the doctor is, due to their work schedules), so no one had any idea of the prognosis. Scott and I went to the Cancer Institute, and while Scott ran another errand, I talked to the doctor in charge of the patient, Ms. M. The prognosis was good, and I was happy to report back to Mr. S. The family is poor, Ms. M's husband is a drunkard, they have 4 kids and were ready for some encouraging news. 4 kids?! I crusade against having any more than 2 - especially for people who cannot afford more than that number. I am happy there is a place like the Cancer Institute: they do great work.

One of the patients at the B, Ms. C, had been hospitalised with a leg fracture. Most of our patients are osteoporotic (brittle-boned), and a little fall has big consequences. Ms. C is better now, and sits outside, gossiping with all. A few months ago, she had asked to see my sons, and I'd taken them; she exhorted them to study well and behave themselves, which generally sounds better coming from anyone other than their parents. Ms. C calls out to me when I pass the stoop where she sits at the B, and I stop to chat. The other day, she said to me that I must be aged 51 or 52; I laughed and laughed (I am 45), because candor is so welcome. Too often, people gush fallaciously and state we look young, blah blah, and here Ms. C pinned my age at what she thought, regardless of whether it appeared non-flattering or not.

We attended an exhibit of photos of visually-challenged people; I was very keen that the boys see it. It was excellent, and I got teary at several points, including when the photographer came over to chat. I could not speak for several minutes, and the 3 Weiss men weren't going to say a thing while I was blubbering, and it struck me that I really do talk a lot, don't I - these characters were going to wait for me to regain my composure and continue the chatter, *instead of bailing me out with some talk of their own*. But all enjoyed the exhibit and we went home rejuvenated. Naren is off on a school trip and Navin has been grounded due to poor grades, so life goes on, as usual. Last weekend, I attended the annual conference of Sundaram Medical Foundation Hospital, and it was excellent, as always - lovely to have Continuing Medical Education, especially when it's well-organised and nicely run. Yesterday was the Banyan's 15th anniversary celebration, and several of us got gifts for our service and commitment, which was kind, I thought. No greater commitment than that of Vandana and Vaishnavi.

Unw -


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Report of 2 Oct '08

Hello from my living room –

The boys had 2 days of holidays, and the Banyan had neither holiday, but I took off to sit with these 2. They are in the almighty 10th and 12th grades, with giant board exams at the end of the year, and the bonus days off in the middle of the school year are ideal times for doing a little academic catch-up. Both boys have proved that this is not high-priority for them, that music and movies are, so there was a little parental initiative from me – to their great dismay.

The Banyan is lovely. Underfunded but not flailing. Can’t let a little thing like money – or lack of money - stop progress. I saw the lady who had been outside our flat, now at the Banyan; she had been cleaned up and looked dignified and presentable, but still was not saying very much, just shaking her head in reply to questions. I feel for these ladies, let me tell you: when postpartum weirdness (my memorable experience with mental "illness") hit me with a vengeance, both the nurses and Scott were understanding and tolerant and no one turned me out on the street sans new baby or food to fend for myself.

There is another lady in the sick room, who has been picked up from the street. Her right arm was fractured some time ago, and did not heal well, so the orthopedic surgeons, God bless them, operated to make it heal well. She is a beautiful young woman, with large, expressive eyes and a non-fussy manner; the health care worker thinks she is mute because she does not say anything but she mouths things in the manner of someone who knows the words, and does not have the homogenous grunt that mute people often do. I feel for this lady, too; who turned her out? Who broke her arm? Does she have someone somewhere who misses her eyes which smile first, her gentle demeanor? What a privilege it is to care for those whom others will not care for.

Naren’s band, Blue Light Daze, played 2 weekends ago and that was the first time I heard them. I enjoyed the show. They played last week at our apartment complex to raise funds for the Banyan, and the show was magnificent. The band had a mixture of original songs and covers of others’ songs, and they kept the crowd rocking. Some of the instruments drowned out the vocals, but it was a merry fest, enjoyed by all in attendance. Blue Light Daze raised about Rs. 42,000 (about $1000) and Vandana was thrilled. Actually, the band was more thrilled.

Scott has a new job, and is based in Chennai. Quel relief. It is with a firm that is based in the U.S., called UST Global.

Today is Gandhi’s birthday. Thanks to his phenomenal, peaceful, single-minded effort, I sit today in a free country. I feel like I need to appreciate other things in my life today, too – so please accept my gratitude for your friendship and the effort you make to stay in touch with me.

Unw –