Renu's Week

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Report of 11 Nov '10

Hello from Virus-ville:

Navin came home with "pink eye" (conjunctivitis or "Madras eye") last week, Naren caught it the next day in his short visit home and then Scott and I partook. No clearer evidence of age than this: the boys have been over it in a couple of days, and Scott and I are still dripping antibiotic eye drops in each other's eyes almost a week later.

But work has been fabulous - if my life span is 90, I do think I will work until then. The Northeast monsoon is here and as I got to the B one day in a very ethnicky skirt set gifted by Vandana, a car drove by and splooshed muddy water all over my outfit. But that was the least of my worries: we had to ensure that the monsoon did not yield gastroenteritis and malaria, and related ills. The emphasis on hygiene continues to exist at the B, so I think we'll be okay.

Our patient, Ms. M, says she is going home. She describes the village in some detail, and I ask with great sadness (as I know for a fact that Ms. M's family has abandoned her and there is no remote possibility of her going home) who is there: she describes her brothers and their wives and children, and asks if that is not enough. I cannot tell her she cannot go home, so I engage her in conversation and then she asks, as usual: "Are you married?" Yes. "Is your husband with you?" This is particularly wrenching, because her husband abandoned her and married someone else. I say yes. We talk for a few minutes and then I write in her file for the psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker to see her, to address this desire to go home. I wish more residents' relatives visited: it would assuage the patients and fill a need that we absolutely cannot, try though we may.

Our new patient, Ms. Se, is HIV+ and just recovered from an attack of leptospirosis. She is hard at work in the sick room; many of our residents are employed in various capacities and are paid. Ms. Se can apparently tolerate the bad mood of many a sick room patient and works non-stop. Sharon, my friend in Houston, had given me some fruit snacks and I took them for the children of our staff members; Sharon had also given me raisins for the B, which the Banyan residents and staff got. I love when friends give us treats for the B: they are so rare that they quite make the day for our residents and staff. There was a little bag of fruit snacks left, so I took it to the sick room; Ms. Se got one tiny fruit gummy. I asked if it was good, and she said yes. Another resident had followed me in to the sick room and would not leave, and I said it was okay for her to stay for a little while; she got a gummy, too, and said in Hindi, "I have not eaten a sweet like this before. It is so tasty." This is part of the reason I love working for the poor - one little treat, a tiny gesture, even just a smile and a greeting, and they become very happy. Ms. Se is a delight; in the midst of working, as I ask her if she has eaten, she replies - mostly with her eyes. She and I do not speak the same language, but communicate nonetheless; as I watch her work away, I realise that she left a husband and children, either voluntarily or was forced, due to her mental illness. I wonder, as a fellow mother, if she wonders how her children are, whether she hopes they are eating right and doing their homework, if their hair is combed and if her daughter gets the green ribbon that she so likes. But there is not a trace of sadness in her spirit, and she has made the best of her new surroundings (I am guessing this is better than the street), and smiles at me with her mouth, her eyes and in fact, her whole being. Very wonderful to see.

The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health (BALM) and University College London (UCL) conducted their fourth course together, this year titled "Rethinking Psychosocial Interventions in South Asia." I was deputed to go and was well enough to attend days 2 and 3. To sit in the middle of such intelligentsia, to listen to arguments and opinions and facts artfully said, all of this was a treat. Vandana and I were in the same small group, and as usual, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after listening to her dissect a problem and offer a solution in about six sentences; truly heady to be in such august and erudite company. Mental health is not completely my bag, but I love learning new things and this fit the bill. I had to be very careful not to shake hands, but the evidence of my illness was writ large in my very puffy and red eyes, so no one hastened to touch me. :)

The boys are well. We have just had discussions with Naren about his love life, and then he has pronounced that he really does not want to come home for any great time over the holidays, as he cannot abide the rules here (Get up early, exercise, eat right), and wants to spend NY Eve by himself (not necessarily with the romantic interest - just away from us :) ). Candor is a good thing. Hurt can be a consequence. Adolescence will bring about an almost visceral need to hang out with "friends" in the holiday break. I messaged him later, told him he was welcome to his NY Eve plans, and said I would love him regardless of his choices, as indeed I will. Motherhood is not for the faint. Navin continues to consider academics a distant second over reading fantasy books and gabbing with friends, and I do hope his cosmos comes in alignment with ours at some point. Overall, though, it is good that the boys choose to communicate with us; they could be devising all sorts of alternatives to cope with teenage angst.

I talked to my father today, and he was surprised at UCL's choice to collaborate with us - "Oh, has the Banyan done anything worthwhile in the field of mental health?" Where has he been? He refers friends constantly to be treated by our psychiatrists, and then considers us some sort of random, earnest organisation with no success stories to speak of. It would be funny if it were not annoying. But really, it is better for us to be low-key about our many successes - if the residents are happy, we are happy.

Unw -



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