Saturday, August 29, 2009

To Be Surprised

After two months of loitering around and doing outpatient work, I started a floor rotation last week. For those who don't know, floors are used to refer to wards and a floor rotation means inpatient work, or, in my case, inpatient pediatrics. I am in charge of a team of five people, plus or minus a few medical students, and together we take care of all the children admitted to the general pediatric unit. Sometimes we also take care of kids in the ICU. It's an exhausting rotation. The day starts at seven and ends around the same time in the evening and in those twelve or so hours you are pretty much on your feet all the time, taking admissions, speaking with parents, coordinating care between the specialists and the general physicians, teaching the residents and students, following up lab results, planning discharges and home care. It tires me even as I'm writing about it right now.

Last week, in addition to my supervisory work on the floors, I had a couple of presentations to give to the interns. I was working even longer than normal, first on the floors and then later on in the library, preparing for my talks. By Friday morning, when I was done with the second discussion, I was completely drained. As we were walking out of the conference room, one of the attendings stopped me.

"Hi, KK!" she said. "This is for you."

She handed me a small shopping bag.

"Iftaar Mubarak!" she smiled.

There was a box of food inside the bag.

"Thanks, Dr Andrews!"

"My niece made some biryani. I thought you'd like some for your iftar tonight."

"Thank you, ma'am. It's very kind of you." I was too surprised to say anything.

Later that day, I went into the physicians' lounge and shared the story with one of the other residents. He grinned when he heard this.

"Yeah, she's great," he told me. "A few years ago, when Ramadan was in winter, I was going into clinic one afternoon when I noticed Dr Andrews sitting in her car eating. I thought it was a little strange so I asked her about it later that day. She said that, because some of the residents were fasting, she thought it was be disrespectful to eat in front of them. So she ate her lunch in the car before coming in to work."

Monday, August 10, 2009

To Kill A Mockingbird

It occurred to me this evening as I was watching Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird that the first time I ever heard of the book was in the fourth grade. Our teacher was a tall and volatile English lady, prone to violent tempers at the slightest provocation. I am surprised now that we stood for it, that we took her abuse without ever complaining to anyone. But I suppose we were just children and we reacted like most kids would to an abusive adult; we cowered around and tried not to incite her. Miss Williams would walk around the classroom monitoring our work, hands behind her back, sometimes nodding her approval, sometimes making a snide remark. It occurs to me now that she may have been ill, that this was a form of mental illness expressing itself. Why her colleagues didn't do anything about it, why no one brought it to attention, I don't know. I was a child a long time ago and I guess back then these things were still a stigma. People talked about depression in hushed tones. Going to a psychiatrist was unheard of. People like Miss Williams suffered in silence, occasionally dragging us along with her.

It seems almost ironic now that this lady would keep by her desk a copy of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Every time we went up to her to have our work checked, I would look at its orange cover, trying to pry meaning out of the words. I didn't know what a mockingbird was or why anyone was trying to kill one. I almost never saw her pick up and read the book. But it lay there all year, its simple tale of childhood innocence, of strength and moral courage, locked inside the pages. I wonder what sustenance she derived from it. How much of her life did she find reflected in the narrative. Whose skin did she wear? And where did we, the children she taught and bullied and screamed at, figure in that association. It's easy now to see her as a kind of Mrs Henry Lafayette Dubose, the old lady hurling obscenities at the children while battling her own private demons. Did she know what she was doing? Did she feel any remorse? At the time, I both hated and feared her. As an adult, though, I find it intriguing that she would keep that book by her side. Maybe it restored a sense of balance within her that was otherwise difficult to obtain. Maybe she wasn't Mrs Dubose. Maybe she was Boo Radley.

I remember at the end of the school year she bought gifts for all the kids in her class.

Choti choti baatein

My parents are over for a vacation and, between working and spending time with them, life is crazy busy right now. Yet, for all the action, time seems to have slowed down somewhat. I feel like there are more minutes in the day now than there were before, when I used to live alone. I work eight or ten hours at the hospital but as soon as I walk through the front door, a new life takes root. Ammi's usually in the kitchen cooking something, Abbu's at the dinner table, studying for an exam. He has a mess of books spread out in front of him from which he makes notes, diligently, meticulously, as if it were his very first time. Actually, after a long time, it feels as if everything is happening for the first time, all over again.

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