Renu's Week

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Report of 1 Nov '10

Hello from the Banyan -

We are well, and hope to hear the same from you. Diwali is 4 days away, and we are counting down to the day, avidly hoping we'll have cash for the festivities to give all the patients food and treats, and not have to rely on credit.

It is nice to be home. Before I left, I'd had to treat our apartment complex's gardening assistant, who'd reeled under hip and leg pain for a long time. She said that she could not even walk on occasion. She is of the extremely impoverished class, and cannot really afford a day off from work. I examined her, thought she had some inflammation from arthritis, and gave her some Ibuprofen, which various individuals in the U.S. have either kindly financed or donated. My suggestion was also that she get an x-ray at a local public health center (PHC), because I wanted to see how her hip looked on film. I saw her a few days ago, and asked how she was, whether she'd got the xray done; she said she hadn't been to the PHC because she'd felt so much better and was back at work with a spring in her step. I was extremely pleased to hear this.

Ibuprofen - the wonder drug. I travel with it now.

Some fine times last week before I left the U.S. - I did see Tori Scott, and loved that. Scott and I met Tori and Jerry Scott when we moved to Houston; they had 1-1/2 year old Jordan then, and we found out we were expecting Naren, and it was the merry time that young parents are wont to have. They have subsequently added Caithn, as we have added Navin, and I feel privileged that Tori and I have stayed in touch. Jordan and his girlfriend are expecting a baby, and Tori is about to be a grandmother; we talked about this over lunch, which Tori kindly treated me to though it was on my invitation, and then she was magnanimous enough to take me shopping - which I abhor. I also managed to see former neighbor, Carolyn Humphrey; this was just great. Carolyn and Larry H. were our neighbors, and Larry died during our time in Houston; that was the first loss of someone close to us and I remember it vividly. Carolyn and I caught up on family and friends, and then I returned to Sharon's place and spent a quiet evening with her and Keith, which was lovely. I talked to my mother-in-law the following morning, and that was nice: she gave me an update on everyone. Then it was time to board my return flight, and service was good - nice-looking flight attendants and a piece of chocolate on occasion, life was good.

It is great to see the 3 Weiss men, replete with the joys and challenges they bring. We saw Naren in a play yesterday - a Kevin-Spacey-in-"Usual Suspects" kind of character - and enjoyed it. Navin was in a "Model United Nations" over the weekend and represented Moldova, so educated us about Moldova, the nuclear issue in Iran, etc. Scott and I got away by ourselves to a very extravagant lunch - "you did not eat very much, I feel," our kind waiter said to me. I eat lots of small helpings of things, and tend to feel hungry again a couple of hours later, so a buffet is wasted on me, Scott has determined. But no matter, we went and ate and talked and laughed, and it was very therapeutic: sometimes, the stress of raising teenagers can cause all sorts of wear and tear.

Hope all of you are well.

Unw -


Monday, October 25, 2010

Report of 25 Oct 2010

This is the way to do it.

Wind down at a friend's house, veg, eat good things, rehash memories. A picture of some other friends whom I saw yesterday is up on my camera near me and I am recharged.

This has been an interesting visit. Shortest I've ever had in the U.S. Fundraising has been a mixed bag, as it will be.

However, I managed to see several good people. In San Antonio, I visited with the kids' former pediatrician, Mary George, and that was lovely; Mary has tended to spoil my sons on occasion with Spurs t-shirts and the like, and apologised for not having gifts. Her gift to me was her time, and we laughed and talked and I enjoyed our time together. The following day, she sent a hefty donation to the Banyan through my host and her colleague, David Johnson, to me. So lovely.

The "Conversation with Women Alumni" was nice, and my friend Katharina Hathaway came all the way down from Austin for it. The young students were full of questions for us and that was engaging. It was nice to have Katharina's presence there, she is doing yeoman work as medical director at a center for refugees. I was to have attended a class dinner that night, but came down with food poisoning. I was at a movie - "Red" - just before the soiree, intending to head to it afterwards, but my stomach started to hurt and I could not pay attention to the movie even. As I started to mull over missing the dinner, my stomach made the decision easier by hurting more; so I went to see "Hereafter," a good movie by Clint Eastwood, and then crawled home, getting in bed by 8.45. Linda Johnson kindly checked on me later that night, and the following day, I was well enough to get moving.

Pulling up at reunion breakfast, Emily and Ryan McNellis pulled up also; lovely, lovely. Em promptly handed over a giant sack of clothes for me and we went into the Continuing Medical Education (CME) talks, where Ryan was a panelist. I promptly took a photo - imagine a classmate, young lad, being a panelist! He did well, and then I was summoned outside where Greg Brown was waiting. Greg is also an alumnus, from a later class, and has visited India multiple times. We headed off and he ate breakfast; Greg is a soul-mate kind of person - gentle, funny, kind, cute. I enjoyed the outing. At the b'fast place, we came upon former classmate Jen McKeand and her lovely family: she and husband Chris had had Alec, her son, in 4th year and have since added daughter Lily. Jen was not going to be at any more reunion events, so I was happy to have caught up with her; her sense of humor is very powerful and I laughed almost non-stop for 20 minutes. Jen is also a wonderful OB, and we shared some details of our respective practices, which was nice.

I gave a speech to the alumni at lunchtime, and Emily was kind enough to stay for it. I noticed her head bobbing around others at our table as she craned to see me, and it was an encouraging sight. That experience - speaking - was a mixed bag: all these well-heeled doctors, eating a fabulous meal, and I speaking of the destitute in an atmosphere of little interest (I thought). I returned very despondent to the Johnsons', and then got ready for the glitzy gala; it was nice to see former classmates there. I do remain grateful to our alumni coordinator, David Perryman, and his assistant, Sonia Rogers, for making this trip possible; they are kind and helpful folks, and have worked hard to accommodate me, which I greatly appreciate. Several folks came up to me at the gala and said they'd enjoyed the talk, which mollified me a little. However, the stark reality is that the destitute world will always be one that generates little interest and even lower funds. The only ones who say that money does not matter are those that have plenty of it.

The following day, I left for my friend Latha's place in Houston. Latha and I studied together in Lady Doak College, Madurai, and our families are friends as well. Several years ago, in a horrific accident in India, Latha lost her father and brother while attending the post-funeral formalities of her grandfather. She and I share a bond, and for other reasons as well, it is therapeutic to be with her. We have talked, and walked, and shared, and eaten, and she has managed to fill a part of my spirit that wanted to be filled. She helped arrange a talk in Houston, where I spoke and was happy to see Joycelyn Harris (who used to live in Chennai, and is an extremely "culturally adapting" person) and Mano, a jolly friend from Coimbatore days, and her daughter. It was a nice crowd. Latha and I then went on to visit Bojie, Satchi and their son, Vinod; Bojie is a soul-sharing friend from years ago, looks exactly like my mother, and Latha and I had a spectacular visit with them as Bojie laughed and joked and fed us. Bojie's presence is luminous and all-encompassing. Vinod is our contemporary, and it was nice to share time with him as well. We returned recharged and had dinner with Latha's husband, Ravi, and son Vikash.

I will head to Clear Lake soon to visit my warm and loving friend, Tori, and will share details of that in the next blog. It will be nice to see Tori.

Unw -


Friday, October 22, 2010

Report of 22 Oct '10

Hello from the United States -

Brownies, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream, bananas and granola for breakfast - all in the same bowl. Could anything be better? Actually, the sugar ended up becoming a bit much for me, and I had to brush my teeth again.

The week has been busy, but a nice busy. Last weekend was fun, with both boys being available. We saw a Tamil movie and enjoyed it; I like the fact that the boys are becoming much more comfortable with Tamil, and Naren particularly enjoys looking like a white guy in Chennai and spouting fluent Tamil. On Sunday we had a usual family breakfast with healthy stuff and sinful chocolate tarts from Winners Bakery, which trains underprivileged young people in the baking arts. We watched "Pulp Fiction" together, and parts of it were certainly not family fare, but the movie was good for a laugh nonetheless. Our sons shared details of their romantic lives, and this is a privilege for me, that we are trusted with such private information. The boys are indeed becoming men, and Scott and I are preparing for a life when the boys will be on their own, with their loved ones, running their own lives; it's a nice feeling. We visited beloved former neighbors, whose male head of the family died last year; the one year anniversary was observed, and we went to share some times with the family. They are lovely people, and it was Vijayadasami, a day of auspicious beginnings, so it was nice to get their blessings on this day - especially for our sons.

I left for the airport later that night, and had to look back many times - to see the 3 Weiss men standing there and urging me on. I did board, and slept - the seats next to me being empty. The next flight was a bit of a nightmare, unusual for Lufthansa: there was just one choice of meal and then the restrooms ran out of water, which was alarmingly unhygienic in my opinion. I was happy to disembark: the flight took off, stayed in the air and landed, which were the good things that could be said about it. And they are indeed good things. No grief at Houston Immigration, and then my beloved friend, Sharon Cole-Braxton, was waiting outside - beautiful, classy, warm, welcoming - easing all manner of homesickness and jet lag. Keith Braxton awaited us at home, and we shared details of family and life, and Sharon and I walked, and ate dinner. It was a lovely evening.

Sleep that night was heavenly, and then Sharon took me to get my rental car. I left for San Antonio, and landed at the home of Richard and Linda Luduena. It is a home away from home, and Sara Luduena met us for an awesome dinner at a restaurant. The Luduenas are hospitable, fun and funny people, and we laughed a lot over the meal. I worked out the following morning in the cool, non-humid San Antonio air (a change from Chennai), and then did laundry, etc. I got to Greg Freeman's office, where I saw a patient with him, and then he took me to lunch. Greg is a cardiologist of immense ability, and my former professor; as a peer, I have a healthy regard for him and Greg is always kind enough to allow me to accompany him on rounds. We saw an Arab patient, and Greg said he saw many of them; they escape religious persecution apparently, and are helped in the U.S. by many a Christian charity. This patient was my age, and profusely grateful for Greg's mere office visit. I looked at him, and wished him well, and thought to myself that it was very nice to live in a country where I am not persecuted for my religious views, such as they are - non-religious. I take completely for granted the freedom to shoot my mouth off at will, and do feel for those who live in countries that muzzle their citizens.

I saw "The Town" that afternoon and then went to the home of the Freemans, our former neighbors. Aurora and I are like sisters, and her daughters and my sons grew up together; thus, young Shaunessey Freeman's daughter, Vayda - an immensely adorable cutie - is my grand-niece. This is the first time I am seeing her, and she is such a delightful and unflappable baby that I had to hold her as often as others would let me. We had a grand meal, I saw other neighbors Gaby and Lamont and their daughter, Jasmine; this always soothes my soul. I went on to the home of Linda and David Johnson, where I am staying currently. Linda used to be my anatomy professor, mentor, guide, well-wisher, watcher-overer. When Manu passed away, Linda kept close tabs on my sanity and my world. Staying with them recharges my spirit and much else, and I am having a therapeutic visit. I spoke yesterday at school to the American Medical Women's Association, and it was nice to chat with the ladies afterwards. We (Linda; Kozue Shibazaki, the immensely capable counsellor and all-around good person at school, who also kept tabs on my sanity; a former classmate named Katharina Hathaway, who is doing yeoman work with the marginalised in Austin, TX; and I) will be at a "Conversation with Women Alumni" today.

I'd better wind up and get moving. Hope all of you are having fine times yourselves.

Unw -


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Report of 13 Oct 2010

This is why we only bite off what we can chew.

Our surgery professor in school, Dr. Carlos Pestana, used to handle a manageable load of topics in our course, and always finished them. This philosophy guides why I work part-time; work and home and marriage and extended family do take up a lot of time and resources, and I cannot do justice to all of them if I work full-time.

The Banyan has been rife with leptospirosis. I have talked to our able store (provisions) supervisor, Balan, and he told me rats and mice are very difficult to eradicate as the building is very old. Balan is a wonderful person - capable, unflappable, our best intentions at heart. He said he did find a rat's nest, and there were 5 babies in it, and he did not have the heart to kill them. But we HAVE to do something about the rodent menace, as it is affecting many of our patients and I need fewer hassles rather than more, in the quest to provide care to the marginalised.

We have rescued a patient from the streets, and her leg wounds are healing. They had been full of maggots, and the surgeons managed to save her limbs in spite of this. Her spirit is good, and she speaks of some relative or the other doing black magic and jeopardising her health. She also speaks some English, telling me to sit down as I stand during rounds, and telling me to eat, at lunch time. I am always moved - MOVED - by such consideration, especially from those who have been abandoned and brutalised and should really lose all faith in humanity.

One of our health care workers (hcw's), Ms. U, had her braces removed and her teeth are straighter. As I complimented her on them, I noticed that her glee was less than full. As she left the sick room, the hcw in charge of the sick room told me that both Ms. U's older sister and brother had died; her sister had committed suicide and less than a month later, her brother had died of a brain bleed. I was stricken, and called Ms. U back; I mentioned how sorry I was, held her hand, and then her shaking shoulder as she wept, and wept. Losing a sibling is always an unexpected jolt in one's world, and losing two - ohhh, I can not imagine. So, we commiserated on our older brothers' passing, and I told her that she and I must now take care of the widows and nieces and nephews, and we grieved together.

My father was in town last week and we managed to see him for a couple of hours. That was nice. He is learning to reconnect with his children - this always having been my mother's territory - and converses on topics other than plastic surgery. I am glad he feels free enough to come to my home, though his colleague had told him that he could not go to his daughter's house; in traditional Tamilian culture, you only go to a married daughter's house if invited (as she is now considered part of another family), whereas your son's house is your territory. We are far from traditional, so my father came to our house and we received him happily.

Sundaram Medical Foundation's annual conference was this past weekend and I was there with bells on. It is annually an excellent show and the opportunity to learn is so welcome. The bane of many an Indian event is lack of punctuality, and SMF has this down to a science: they start on time and buzz their speakers if they run over their allotted 20 minutes. Very lovely; so learning proceeds at a swift, engaging clip. Dr. Arjun, the director of SMF, and Dr. Suresh, organising secretary, are good people and it was nice to talk to them; they render yeoman service to the B. The evening event featured a speaker on mental health, and Scott and I went and had a good time, finishing the evening with a lovely dinner.

The boys are well, and we will have both with us this weekend for some rare family time before I leave. We will see a Tamil movie, I think, and play a board game, and eat some dreadful pudding which I make with regularity, and which all (except I) inhale. Simple joys, but all part of being a wife and mother.

Unw -


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Report of 4 Oct 2010

This is exhausting.

I am trying to find a venue to speak in Houston on 24 Oct, and am drawing a blank. The needs are a wall, a computer with Powerpoint and a projector. No luck so far.

Uthscsa, my alma mater, is paying for me to attend the reunion and speak there. Halleluia! I am delighted, because the Continuing Medical Education program I was eagerly awaiting is *this* weekend, and the reunion is on the 22nd-23rd. So I get to go, and speak, and was wanting another venue in Houston. It gets awkward for me to push the issue; I don't pass the hat at speeches, but most people fear the worst. Anyhoo, que sera sera.

The patients have been healing, though the incidence of gastroenteritis is on the increase. A couple of weeks ago, I had it too, and sort of thought the B's food was the culprit. Leptospirosis is also on the increase and we have to find the darn rodent and eliminate it - lepto is transmitted by rats. One of our older patients was looking very puny the other day, and when we checked her BP, saw that it was low. She's recovering from an upset stomach, and we started IV fluids, which appear to have worked. The older patients have very little reserve to survive an attack of diarrhea, same as little people, and I view this rampant gastroenteritis as a personal failure. Leela, our able nurse, suspects that the ladies are drinking from the taps, which we never do in India. Leela has instituted some measures to try and stem this problem, and I am hopeful of results.

Ms. V, our patient who gets delighted at all relatives' visits, got to talk to our cook's son the other day. He (the cook) had brought the boy to be checked by me (I am not a pedatrician by any stretch, but that does not appear to matter), as he was worried the child was a tad slow, especially compared to his younger sister. I did not find the child slow at all, merely contemplative and quiet, and mentioned that comparisons between kids should not really happen. The cook was a tad mollified by that, and took the boy over to the sick room to be weighed, at which point Ms. V saw him and was delighted by the visitor. I do wish more of our patients' relatives visited.

I had to refer the cook's brother over to Anu's institution; the diagnosis was suspected hepatitis, but that was ruled out. A scalding poultice has been applied to the young man's arm by a local mendicant, and as always, the burn is a bigger problem than the hepatitis. It is nice to know resources we can refer our patients to. The other day, the owner of the salon where I get my hair ironed on occasion mentioned that a friend of hers had her hands full with her daughter's depression; a phone call to Vandana later, the lady had an option for help.

It is oh-so nice to try and be of help to others, and connect people and resources.

Some fine times last week; we saw a beach volleyball tournament featuring teams from several countries and the quality of play was very good. I love live sports, and both Scott and I could get past the little bikinis on the female players to watch the actual play; the average repressed Indian male could not, however, and we were surrounded by men who were there for 1 reason only. We also saw a dance performance from Brazil; it is nice to see dances of other nations, and this one was good for a while. Bare-bodied men, attractive women, all oozing raw sexuality and dancing to the music - and then the acts got very repetitive, so we left. At one point in my younger days, I attended a friend's bachelorette party at a male strip club and enjoyed the novelty of the first 2 acts, then hoped fervently that the subsequent ones would juggle or tell jokes; just stripping and dancing was monotonous. Yesterday, Naren and a friend came for lunch, and that was a blast. I like interacting with young people, and young Nicole Norton in Indy was a particular treat - feisty, opinionated, genial. This friend of Naren's is an actor and has been selected to represent India at a 3-month theatre workshop in South Korea. Naren and he love each other dearly, in the manner of a healthy friendship, and we are always reassured when our sons pick good people as friends. After lunch, these 2 young guys dropped Navin at a nearby art gallery which had a showing of work by underprivileged girls; I would have loved to go, but grabbed the chance to watch "The Hurt Locker" with Scott, and we enjoyed our time together. It was better for Navin to go by himself, as he coincidentally met friends there, and they appreciated the art with the young, tender hearts that teenagers have; better this way than for him to see me wiping tears at the show and perforce seeing the effect that underprivileged folks have on his family.

Some grand news last week: Leela reconciled with her brother after many years of silence. Her sister-in-law helped bring this about, and I am very pleased. No point to not talking at all, especially to family members. I am especially appreciative of the sister-in-law's efforts, as I know of families where it is the spouse who foments the acrimony and prevents all efforts at reconciliation: pointless, wasteful and malignant, in my view. I was happy for Leela, who feels that prayers have been answered. That thought echoed in my head as Anu stopped by last week, and we had some giggles.

Unw -