Doctor Susie Samuel – A blog

Return to Chennai

Soon it was time to leave England and return to Madras now known as Chennai a seaport on the eastern coramandel coast of southern India and the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu. A Madras that no longer had my Mum and Dad. Rekha and Anish came back from boarding at the Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling to  Madras and started school at the JK Krishnamurthy School, the KFI in Besant Nagar. We were all together again as a family.

Sam and I converted my Dad’s house in St. Thomas Mount into a Nursing Home. This was not a smart move, as neither of us had the skills to run a nursing home. We were not savvy nor were we street wise.  We lacked entrepreneurial skills to run a business. If we had been a surgeon and anaesthetist couple we could have run it with our eyes closed. Since we were not, we were totally dependent on visiting consultants who worked in ten other nursing homes with busy schedules of their own. I used to perforate several ulcers waiting for the anaesthetist to arrive while I sat with a foetal distress. I could not practice the Gynae side of my DGO, as I was not able to sleep after doing abortions.

Sam would battle with bills from employees of corporate companies who would harangue him for inflated bills. We felt like medical touts soliciting patients for other doctors who waltzed in and waltzed out leaving us holding the baby. Literally. It was extremely depressing and a financial nightmare trying to run the place and pay the salaries of the staff.  Definitely the worst patch of our lives.

Sam eventually got a break when the TN MGR  Medical University advertised for a person to start the Department of Experimental Medicine. It was tailor-made for Sam with his qualifications and training. To his enormous , he returned to academics and research. We sold the Nursing Home to Dr. Bhat and moved on and out without a backward glance, grateful that we did not have to perforate ulcers while running a Nursing Home.

I freelanced as a dermatologist at the Chennai Kaliappa Hospital in RA Puram, the Willingdon Hospital in Nungambakkam and the AO Clinic in Adayar ,with long spells driving a canvas top red Gypsy on the road, struggling with the traffic from one place to another and home. I seemed to be tearing around apparently busy , doing a lot with nothing much to show for it except fatigue. Sometimes I would wonder what I was doing, as it seemed like an out of body experience, watching the days pass into months and the months into years.

I am not really living am I? I would ask myself.
I am just existing
I am not really living

Some days I would wonder if we had really worked in places like Bhutan and Nepal with Leprosy patients who had so little, but gave us so much. I missed all the maggot filled leg ulcers that I had dressed and treated in all the leprosy hospitals that I had worked in.

London and St. John’s seemed like a faraway dream.

 

 

Transition to Dermatology in Chennai

My work in Chennai was enormously different from anything I had done.

I was practicing dermatology in an affluent city catering to the rich and famous. Every other patient was a VIP. Over the years they would have seen every dermatologist in town and some would even have seen specialists outside the state and country. When they arrived for their appointments they would have files bulging with prescriptions. Sometimes I would have to search with a magnifying glass with all the halogens on, to find the blemish that had caused fresh wrinkles on some aging socialite face. I got impatient with a nation that was so preoccupied with getting fair. I got irritated with the fairness creams that screamed out of the TV sets to keep the cosmetic industry booming.

Slowly I began to realise that the scars on a teenager struggling with acne were as deep as the ulcers on a leprosy patient’s foot. The blemish on a pretty face is as mutilating as an amputated limb. Perception of body image varies from person to person. Dysmorphism is real. It did not live in a person’s head.

Each one has a complaint that needs to be addressed and treated no matter how trivial it may seem. If a patient cried that her hair was coming out in clumps when she bathed, I listened carefully because it was destroying her peace of mind. Once-upon-a-time-hair-on-the-head  was more than a  protective thermo-regulator against the elements and the sun. To some this is still its primary function, though anecdotes from history have curious tales about hair.

In a weak moment Samson told Delilah that his strength lay in his hair and paid for it when she had it cut off in his sleep. Rapunzel, imprisoned by the wicked witch let down her hair for her prince to scale up the tower. Lady Godiva drove through the streets of London wearing only her hair while Tom peeped through the window to get the reputation that he did. Through the ages hair has grown to become a valuable asset in grooming. Hair loss in any of its diverse forms is devastating. It does not matter if the hair loss is congenital or acquired, diffuse or local, of slow onset or sudden, associated with disease or deficiency. The horror experienced is the same in all cases and in both genders when disbelief, panic and acute embarrassment pan out to paranoia. In some the preoccupation with hair loss can grow to desperate levels, experimenting with every new hair product that is bought. Often these gather dust as they join many other products on the bathroom shelf. The options in hair restoration range from temporary measures to permanent techniques with several zeroes between them and no guarantees in results, I have a poster in my waiting room that shows a profile of on eagle with a tuft of feathers around his smooth head. The caption reads God made so many perfect head, the rest he covered with hair. Good for a laugh but not good enough for the balding pate.

This might seem as trivia when the mind recalls the amputated limb of a leprosy patient. But to someone losing hair it can appear to be the end of the world.

Nobody seems to be happy with the kind of hair they. Straight hair wants curly. Curly wants straight. Each spend time and money warming chairs in beauty parlours damaging their hair. The curly haired spend time and energy ironing out their hair damaging the keratin bonds that hold the hair shaft with its tensile strength. Time pushes the hair shafts out and the hair that grows back is the genetic kind and no respecter of previous temporary treatment plans. Nature’s spring back to normal rule does however ensure more visits for hair treatment and more money spent playing musical chairs.

When we moved to the ECR, I shifted my clinic in Spencer Plaza to a clinic in Neelangarai  on the east coast road. I joined the Fortis Malar Hospital and moved to The Global Hospital when we moved to the Bollineni Hillside on the OMR Road

Kerala Boat Races

Every year after the monsoons, the rivers of Kerala would swell to float the annual pageantry of boats on water.

Uncle Joy and Aunty Kunjamma lived in Thazhathangadi , a picturesque hamlet, near Kottayam on the banks of the River Meenachil. If we were in India over Onam we would spend it with them and watch the oldest Aquasport of Kerala, the Annual Boat Race which was started in 1887.

Thazhathangadi was known for its scenic beauty, architecture and had the Hindu, Muslim and the Christian living in perfect harmony. The hamlet would wake up in the morning to the sound of the Conch shells from the Thalliyil Kotta Siva Temple, the call to worship from the 1000 year old Juma Masjid Mosque and the peal of bells from the St. Mary’s Orthodox Church. The houses were magnificent pieces of architecture,  made up entirely of wood from the Teak and the Anyelli trees . My Uncle and Aunt had a beautiful  wooden house overlooking the River Meenachil that showcased the Thazhathangadi Boat Race. The house had an attic which was vantage point for the Boat Race.

The festivities that accompanied the races lasted for a week, to coincide with the harvest festival Onam. Ornately decorated boats, big and small, overflowing with the first fruits of the harvest, would glide up and down the river carrying offerings to the temple. The exquisitely carved snake boats, made from logs of the anyelli tree riveted together for at least a hundred feet, proudly flaunt an arched prow that resembles the hood of a snake. At least a hundred bare-chested oarsmen in crisp white dhoties and colourful gilt edged headgear in single file and double, would flex their rippling muscles to row as a team. A visual delight, they pulled synchronously to the rhythm of the vintage folk songs that singers placed strategically in the length of the boat, meted out. The villagers would throng the riverbanks as spectators, cheering them on as the boats cut through the placid rivers and back waters to a spectacular finish. Perched up in the attic, we would cheer the boats as they raced past us, singing as they heaved together, never missing line or beat.

When the boats disappeared around the bend, we would go and play, rushing back to resume our places in the attic only when the jubilant winners returned. Coming or going we always heard the shouts and the singing before we saw the boats.

The Mycobacterial Research Laboratories

In the meantime, Sam had cleaned out one of the wards, near the road leading up to Anandaban Hospital to start the Mycobacterial Research Laboratories. This was an ambitious endeavour considering the terrain, the erratic travel options and communication.  He set up a lab with thymectomised nude mice to do in vivo studies in Leprosy.

Wards that have housed Leprosy patients for years, end up being cozy nooks and crannies that hide anything from pets, dried cheese and vegetables to chillies hung out to dry as buntings across the ward.  He spent weeks cleaning the ward and weeks fumigating the ward with formalin to get a sterile environ, before the place had a new coat of paint.

Sam used to travel overseas and return with cages of nude mice that did not impress anyone in the least. Mice were mice, were mice and they all looked nude. Mice are never dressed .They are all nude as in naked , for goodness sake, joked the hospital staff. The staff at the airport called him the Musa Doctorsahib, the mouse doctor. One day Nara Bahadur, one of the drivers who used to drive Sam to and from the airport asked me in bewilderment why , the otherwise apparently normal , Doctor-sahib, had to travel out of the country, to collect mice. He felt that he had better looking healthy mice in his house, that would cost next to nothing.

Setting up a Research Laboratory in Anadaban in the early 80s, was a herculean task. The new Lab needed staff to be recruited and trained. New state of the art equipment trundled up the road. Electricity and storage in cold temperatures were crucial and the local ambient temperature helped. However it meant that the ancilliary support system of the hospital had to be strengthened. When something was fine tuned at one end, something else would come undone and unravel at the other end. For Sam it was two steps forward and two frustrating steps backwards.

He plodded on despite the odds, often unappreciated and criticised. By the time we left, his hard work and dedication had paid off and The Mycobacterial laboratories was up and running and churning out research papers.

Sweet Pea the buzz behind the scenes

Sweet Pea was an initiative of the Girl Child Group in 2016 and 2017.

The project was to make a Goody bag with new Xmas dresses and trinkets for the HIV/AIDS orphans.  We did it for two years when I was in Chennai and I had to very reluctantly and with a heavy heart give it up when I moved to the Retirement Village at the Foothills of Kodaikanal. There was absolutely no way that I could have done it after I left Chennai. If there is something I really miss about Chennai, it is the excitement and joy that working on the Sweet Pea project gave me.

Cotton Street is a fascinating experience off the Pantheon Road in Egmore. On the left are a row of temporary wooden platforms and stalls that run all down the length of the street, displaying the most amazing and colourful fabric imaginable. The fabric are rejects from the major export houses in Chennai. The flaw may be in the colour, the width or the print.  This is usually not invisible to the lay eye. To the untrained eye it was a bonanza. Merchants display them on sunny days, in bales, bundles or draped on rods. The fair prices are a bargain and they attract women across the board in Chennai, especially those who like to design and tailor. Bejewelled women from the upper classes drive up in chauffeur driven Mercs to haggle alongside the working classes, with no holds barred.

Colours have always fascinated me and I used to spend many a happy afternoon after I retired from The Global Hospital, browsing in  Pantheon Street,  as a stress buster. The possible combinations and colours were mind boggling. Matching colours and prints was the easy bit. Keeping a hawk eye when the vendors short changed the customers on the measurements while cutting, was a challenge. What was paid for, never reached the home, as every metre of fabric would be at least 10 cms short, making it many cms short on the bale.  You could not afford to take your eyes off the scissors in his nimble fingers, no matter how much he tried to distract you with small talk while cutting.

I used to be delighted matching the polka dot with the stripes, the paisley and the Jacobean with the plain. The possibilities were endless. I would come home with the bales of fabric and wash out the dust and dirt of Cotton street in batches in our domestic washing machine, using just fabric conditioner so that the finished dresses would smell fresh for the kids when they got them as parents.

Radha Sudarshan , my walking calculator and voice of caution, lived 2 doors away from me on my floor and she kept me grounded from floating away and there was a strong possibility that it could happen every other day . When I had gone overboard and bought more than she would have approved of, I would sneak past her door and smuggle the parcels into my apartment, praying she would not catch me. I could not resist all the pretty fabrics and all the fantastic combinations that ran around in my head.  She is an absolute doll and there was nothing she would not do for the Sweet Pea project. She would double up and do everything cheerfully.  She was the backbone and the spine and the spirit and the life of the project. Sheeba John was another angel in my life . For years she sent us regular home cooked meals relieving me of the strain of shopping, fridging and cooking routine stuff. If I cook, the food would rise up to meet me and I had to stash it in Tupperware and stack it in the fridge.  Initially the food would appear in its original form, resurrected on table. Then with time it would be reincarnated when it would be mixed with something else to mask its identity and age. Poor Sam’s face would lengthen with dismay with every passing day. Extremely tedious on a day to day basis. Sheeba used take to take the sting out of all that.

Sheeba knew tailoring and she launched Sweet Pea on the our 8 seater Dining Table which was Sweet Pea property except at mealtimes. The first dress she cut was the epic yellow dress that eventually became the dress the Girl Child mascot wore on the Face book page. She gave Radha and me a template each and we would cut the fabric. They would place the pattern on the fabric in way that there was no wastage. Whatever was left over as bits was made up into baby frocks will frills and ruffles. Nothing was wasted. Initially Sheeba and Radha did the stitching. Later friends would send us paper patterns , pinking shears and sewing accessories from abroad , so there was no guess work with sizes.

We wanted pretty dresses made from bits and bobs. We were creating beauty from cut pieces and rejects. something along the lines that the people looking after the HIV/AIDS teams were doing with the orphans who suffered the aftermath of a disease that decimated their families. The dresses were Hobo dresses with tiers in different colours and prints. They were so pretty. Even the sleeves had ruffles. Someone asked me why we did not do it as a commercial venture. It would never have been the same.

We sent out feelers into the community, asking if there were tailors among in the neighbourhood. After a few hits and misses, we found Kavita , a lovely girl who understood the concept and translated it the way we wanted. She was willing to think out of the box and eventually we got her an Usha sewing machine with multiple appliances and fancy stitches so that she could take tailoring at home to make a little money. She was a  quick learner and soon we were humming a happy tune. She would collect the cut pieces and bring them back the next day sewn when Radha would pack it in plastic sleeves and label the sizes.  Since the Bollineni Flat had 5 bedrooms, one was converted into the Sweet Pea Room as a stock room for fabric and to stack the finished dresses in the cupboard. Soon Geetha Anand and Lin Panakal joined the group.  Some dresses were outsourced to volunteers who wanted to be a part of the project. Rene George was our liason person in Town. She opened out her house in Chetpet and stepped in whenever we needed  her help.  Rene belongs to a vibrant class of Good Shepherd School Alumni, a bunch of  girls who called themselves the Goodshies,  who jumped in enthusiastically.

We got trendy coir Goody bags from a NGO Stripes run by Gavin and  Julie Route. The bags were filled with all the stuff generous people donated across the Globe. There was a packet of sanitary towels for the older girls, crayons for the younger ones, trinkets,  a little pouch with pencils, a towel, knickers etc. Dr. Daisy Dharmaraj’s  group got sandals fitted as well. Selvam our Driver used to run around doing all the odd jobs and errands with his cheerful laugh. Sam and Selvam brought us Cardboard cartons that we packed , strapped and despatched to the HIV Orphans in Andhra, Bangalore and Nammakkal .

I never saw the faces of the kids when they got their Goody bags at their Xmas party.  Sam brought back videos of the event on his phone. They would open their bags with great excitement and on seeing their colourful frocks they would break into squeals of delight. They would stroke their dresses and smell them in wonder, sometimes burying their faces in the fabric. The trinkets would be inspected and tried . They would peek into the other bags to see what the others got. Like all kids, some would like what someone else got . Some would squabble and try to pinch the other bag and would need arbitration. The Older kids were given tailored Salwar Kameeses made again with matching and well coordinated fabric. The Staff of the Orphanages wer given sarees. Since some of the groups weere mixed a few lucky boys were included in the program. However on the whole , it was a happy day with happy faces. I used to feel so happy seeing those videos again and again.

Sweet pea would not have been possible without the generousity and support of all the kind people who opened out the hearts and purses to bring a little cheer to the kids in the orphanages.

 

 

 

 

Sweet Pea

Wrapping up Sweet Pea 2016.

Sweet Pea Xmas 2016, an initiative by the Girl Child Group was launched to dress a girl child, this Xmas.

The beneficiaries for 2016 are kids affected and infected with HIV/AIDS. Somewhere along the line, some lucky boys in the Adoni , Pratysha and Shelter orphanages and in Nammakkal, were included in the project. Total kids numbered 433.

Beneficiaries

1. Calvary Chapel Trust orphanage in Krishnagiri, recommended by Dr. Glory Alexander , ASHA Foundation.

2. Shelter Orphanage, Chennai, recommended by Dr. Daisy Dharmaraj Paul, TEST / Green Valley. Co- ordinated by Rev Solomon.

3. Adoni Orphanage, Kurnool recommended by Dr. Daisy Dharmaraj Paul, TEST / Green Valley, co-ordinated by Rev. Daniel Premkumar.

4. Pratysha Orphanage, Mellow Circle, Chennai, recommended by
Jachin and Elizabeth Jack

Entire Sweet Pea 2016 , Sponsored by Amit Khanna of Roshanlal, Chennai. Co ordinated by James Abraham, President of Mellow Circle.

5. Two TEST Community based HIV/AIDS programs in Andhra Pradesh recommended by Dr. Daisy Dharmaraj Paul.
Guntur
Chilakaluripet

5. Two Community based HIV/AIDS programs of CARE Trust,
recommended by Dr. Samuel N Mathew in Tamilnadu.
Nammakkal
Kolli Hills.

6. Katpadi Street kids recommended by Usha Jesudasan

Cotton fabric from Pantheon Street , Chennai and Nalli Stores was washed, preshrunk and bled to be stitched as colourful, multi-tiered dresses for ages 1- 12.

Kurthas were stitched and matched with leggings for the ages 13-23.

Synthetic Sarees were bought for the Adult women.

The Boys in the Adoni Orphanage, the Shelter Orphanage and the community based project at Nammakkal were included. T-shirts and shorts were gifted to them along with the girls at the request of the authorities running these programs..

Sponsorship for stitching was undertaken by groups and by individuals.

Jute and Cloth Bags were bought from Stripes, an NGO based in Chennai.

The Goodie Bags with a Xmas card sponsored by  Sudhacolours,  were filled with

The Dresses
⁃ Girls Age 1-12 : Frocks
⁃ Girls Age 13-23 : Kurthas and Leggings
⁃ Boys : T-shirt and Shorts
A towel
A Pouch
Trinkets for the girls
⁃ hair clips
⁃ bracelets
⁃ bangles
⁃ necklaces
Crayons and colouring books for the little ones
Sanitary towels for the older girls
Nail Polish

Custom fit Sandals were provided at
Calvary Chapel Trust
Guntur
Chilakaluripet

15. The event : Sweet Pea Xmas 2016 Special lunch was Biriani and and an Indian Sweet.

We would like to thank the following kind hearted people, across the Globe, who linked hands to reach out to the kids with their time, talent and tithes, both in cash and kind.

ALL contributions and sponsorships are valued equally, thanked profusely and dedicated to the Sweet Pea Xmas 2016 with love and prayers.

This project was a thumping success because you decided to make it so.

Please track Sweet Pea Xmas 2017

See you then.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

Till then Consider yourselves, hugged, kissed and blessed.

Bhaji

They broke the mold after they crafted him.

The other day, I saw pictures of a family on a picnic. The same afternoon I I found paper thin spring roll sheets in the Nilgiris supermarket. I don’t know if this was a coincidence, or a voice from the past.

It triggered a far and distant , long forgotten memory from the recesses of my dusty mind . A wrinkled and kindly face from the past. An ex-serviceman who stiffened to attention and clicked his heels when called. A faithful and loyal old friend we called Bhaji , Grandpa in Nepali.

We were blessed that he chose to live with us and shared our lives, atop the snow capped mountains of the Himalayas. He was a retired ex- serviceman from the Border Roads Task Force . The chief of BRTF, Mr. Sampathraj, a dear friend of ours, will be remembered in the annals of the family history, as the man who brought Bhaji into our lives.

When my kids were growing up, we had to make up all sorts of ways, of dressing up left over rice, when we lived in the Himalayas. Undoubtedly, mixed fried rice was a great favourite that appeared with predictable regularity on the table , in their lunch boxes and on picnics, when we took them down to the river with Bhaji in tow.

Unexpected guests arriving at high altitudes unannounced , when there were no supermarkets and no departmental stores, honed our cooking skills in putting together meals that stretched and served them with panache , something I could not have pulled off, without someone I will never forget as long as I live. Bhaji with time was in total synch with my crazy adventures, in a resource challenged kitchen and took his cue from the look on my face.

One afternoon , a top ranking Indian Engineer from the Hydel Project in Bhutan, dropped in unexpectedly just as we were sitting down to dinner. After years of Research and Development, I swung into Operation Stretch  . Wasting no time , I thinned the Chicken curry, added two boiled and quartered potatoes, salt and sprinkled a little more cilantro as I invited him to the table, where hot steam rose in rising swirls, from the bowl of freshly cooked Rice. He sat down , took one look at the bird floating in the gravy, looked up at me apologetically and said  Madam , I am a Vegetarian.

My jaw fell with a loud gasp and thud to the floor. I looked at Sam for help, but he was disintegrating rapidly into a heap of acute embarrassment at the other end of the table. Nonchalantly, I smiled as if I was used to vegetarians gawking in shock at the table, pretended as if this was only just the first of many courses , whisked the offending bird into the kitchen and out of sight and offered him the cold Channa from lunch dressed up as a tantalising Channa Chat, as a starter, while I cooked the second of many courses, even as he sat at lunch.

Ema Tashi , the traditional Bhutanese Cheese and Chilli dish was a favourite life saver, as we were never out of the three ingredients that went into it. Cheese, chilli and onions. It did not matter even if it was cooked in a tell-tale, loud, noisy, temperamental pressure cooker , that whistled off key in the kitchen, even as guests sat at the table, in the next room.

Bhaji, my partner in crime, meanwhile had swung silently to action, without a spoken word as he started kneading the dough for Spring roll wrappers. Deftly, he rolled them out into thin squares and filled them with small quantities of fried rice, that was left over from the kids lunch and fried them crisp on the old Aga Stove, that cooked our food and warmed the kitchen. We arranged the Spring rolls , radially like the face of a clock , on a white plate with a small bowl of Tomato sauce in the centre and I sashayed into the dining room with the curtain raiser.

After an entertaining meal , the polite CE rose from the table after several helpings of seconds, totally amused. He thanked us at the door and said that he had never tasted such crisp and tasty Spring rolls in all his field trips in the snow capped mountains. With a smile and a twinkle in his eye, he added, that these Spring rolls stuffed with fried rice, he chalked up as a first. He came back many times and he always let us know when he was coming and he always asked if I would be kind enough to put some fried rice in his Spring rolls.

A frequently used hack, that Bhaji and I used in dire straits , was spring rolls filled with left over fried rice. This was an all time favourite , served hot. The wrappers were homemade and rolled out they were a tad thicker than the factory minted crisp Spring roll sheets of today.

There is no need for a recipe. It’s simple.
1. Buy and thaw the Spring roll sheets.
2. Fill with small amounts of left over fried rice.
3. Deep fry in oil or in the air fryer.
4. Serve with sweet chilli sauce.
5. Enjoy the compliments.

When we left the Himalayas, Bhaji went to stay and brave the unfamiliar heat of the plains to look after my elderly parents, when they retired from Singapore and relocated to Madras. He spoke no Malay and my parents spoke no Hindi. They got by with sign language that they punctuated with audiovisuals. Once on holiday with them , when I pointed out that Bhaji doesn’t understand their mix of Tamil- Malayalam -Malay, my hearing challenged mother, merely dismissed it with an impatient He should have learned by now !  .

Bhaji stayed with my parents, till the end. When my Dad, who survived my Mum, left for the ICU for his last admission , he gave the keys of the house to Bhaji and said Bhaji, give the keys to Susie when she comes back from London. I won’t be coming back , All in my Dad”s broken Malay.

When my Dad passed away, as he predicted, I had to close an empty house, to return to the UK to continue my Dermatology Fellowship at St.John’s. A tired Bhaji, who had chosen sultry Madras over the cool Himalayas, had to reluctantly admit that it was time to hang up his apron. He left and we never saw him again.

It was the end of an era. A lifetime of loyal devotion. He left as he came . Silently and unobtrusively , taking our hearts full of love for him, with him.

Dr. Frank Garlick

Remembering teachers who taught us

Dr. Frank Garlick taught us Our first surgical skills. He had a wooden board on which he used to have screws nailed in and tape threaded through from one side to the other. He showed us the difference between surgical knots and granny knots and made us practise them so well that even now , though I am retired and need only to tie the tape for the disposable garbage bags at night when Sam takes it to throw it down the garbage chute, I still tie surgical knots out of habit, much to his amusement.

Dr. Garlick used to smear grease from his car all over our hands upto our elbows. Then he would make us scrub with soap, till the grease was just a distant memory Up and down and side to side and in between  was a ditty he taught us.

He was very keen that we practised procedures on each other . Of course no one crossed the line to internal examinations.

Dr. Garlick used to take us on his house calls . I shared a patient who was an amputee and moved around on a uneven , wooden platform with rusty, squeaky wheels. You would hear him before you looked down and saw him on the corridors outside the surgical office . Murugan was an amazing champion of life itself. He had overcome his disability and had learned to skillfully manoeuvre himself and weave with panache , through ill disciplined traffic lines , giving us heart attacks.
One day Dr . Garlick bought some food, simple fare from Andal Cafe and we went to Murugan’s house for lunch. None of us thought anything of it , when the big Australian Surgeon , who took humility and compassion a few notches up, sat cross legged , on the mud floor of a thatched home and ate a meal with a patient. He seemed so much at home. I will never forget that scene till the day I die .

He taught us so much much more than Surgery . God bless him.

Maja

An unexpected friendship between a Teacher and a student…..
Maja came to stay in St. Thomas Mount in her Dad’s old home with her sister Aunty Liza when we lived in the Defence Colony and ended up being my best friend. If anyone had told me that I would have shared all the things I did with Maja when I was studying Anatomy I would have jumped into the formalin tank and bobbed up and down with the cadaver in total shock and disbelief as she took strict to a different level when we were students .
But we became the best of friends and I used to drive her around, laugh and giggle with her, shop with her and for her and she would hold my hand like a child in the Mall. I even cut her hair for her as it became tedious for her to groom and her ringlets crowned her face like one of the sisters from “Little Women”. The make over was complete when we got her diminutive frame into pyjamas to lounge around the house.
She had a tabby cat to whom she would talk in Shud Asianet Malayalam and chastise him when he went off on one of his merry jaunts and return looking like death warmed up and worse for wear.
Yedda ninodu Nyan paranjitilae ingena chootan pogaruthe enna. Enthoru Kollathil anu nee thiruchu vanatha?
Dai, have I not told you not to go roaming around? Look at the state you have come back in ! The tabby would nuzzle against her foot and all would be forgiven.
She fed all the waifs and strays who gravitated to her. Once when i went to drop something off she was feeding a tidy and neat line of the scrawniest dogs i have ever seen in my life who looked at her with absolute and undiluted love. She had a name for each one of them and she spoke to them with the utmost love and tenderness. She knew them all and they knew her too.
My kids adopted her, loved her to bits and called her Aunty Maja to her face. She often buffered between the kids and me and often took their side like an affectionate and benevolent Aunt.
She was in awe of Aunty Liza who was older than her and a head and a shoulder taller than her and had a silver plait that hung down to a point midway and medial to her popliteal fossae. One had to be correctly anatomical when Maja was around. When she had an abdominal pain it was placed correctly in a page in the Cunningham’s section Abdomen.
Sometimes she would call me on the phone and whisper her news to me and grumble about Aunt Liza, as Aunty Liza wanted absolute peace when she watched her Tamil Movies on Sun TV on Sundays. The two sisters lived together but they had their moments as both were fiercely independent and had lived alone till they lived together in St. Thomas’ Mount.
As the years advanced she became affected by the multiple TIAs she suffered and her memory would come and go. Go more than come.
The old white bungalow on the airport road became a white elephant and threatened to fall down around the two sisters and they were rescued and transported to Katpadi to stay with their younger sister.
I lost a good friend and confidante and for days I could never drive down the GST Road without a twinge. She is one of the loveliest people I have ever known.

Beautiful on the outside and beautiful on the inside.

Global Hospital and the Floods

You can take an Alumnus out of CMC but you can never take CMC out of an Alumnus.

Global Hospital, a Tertiary Corporate Hospital built at a cul-de-sac, on the Marshlands of Perumbakkam,OMR, has risen, like a Phoenix from the Ashes, to help in the Rescue and Rehabilitation of the Chennai Floods 1 and 2. The Diesel shuttle that plied up and down the road leading to Global Hospital carrying patients from the Main Perumbakkam-Shollinganallur Road, on hot and dusty days was swiftly replaced by a boat that ferried patients and staff to and from the Tertiary Corporate Hospital. Two CMC Alumni have proved the adage ” YOU CAN TAKE AN ALUMNUS OUT OF CMC, BUT YOU CAN NEVER TAKE CMC OUT OF AN ALUMNUS”. Dr. Subramanian Swaminathan Batch of ’91 is a reputed Consultant for Infectious Diseases at The Global Hospital. He has been the driving force of Operation Aftermath of the Chennai Floods at Global, truly the Gentleman of The Hour, in South Chennai. He has been spinning like a top, attending to the cases coming in, as well as ensuring the SOPs are in place to prevent epidemics within the community, a Herculean task by any stretch of the imagination. He also has a busy-back-to-back-schedule, slated with for extremely useful lectures about prevention of disease, timely interventions, vaccinations etc…all over town, corporate offices, medical camps and media. I am bursting with pride at the seams, seeing him work so tirelessly and selflessly. A tall, lanky, Cool Dude with a shock of premature grey, that belies his years, he lopes around with a reassuring, prophylactic smile, conveying a clear message that everything is under control never letting his challenges deflect the job at hand. So very, very proud of you Dr.Subra . The other Alumnus, who is giving me goose bumps, is Sr, Jothi Clara, The Nursing Director of the Global Hospital Group. She is an Alumnus of the the College of Nursing, CMC, batch of ’89. She has done a Stellar job in keeping it all to together. When I spoke to her she said, “Dr. Susie, Our patients come first ” in her quiet, confident voice. She and I could have been walking down the corridors, of any ward in CMC when she said that. That was an ageless never forgotten echo from the corridors of CMC, its Life and Times. The four words “OUR PATIENTS COME FIRST” could happen anywhere in the world, at any point in Time. Globally and at Global. If you turned around, to see who had said that, I can bet my false teeth, my wig and my artificial leg and a few other unmentionables , that there would be a CMC-ite at the end of that sentence. Sister Clara and her team of Nurses deserve a huge wave of appreciation for their unselfish dedication. So very proud of you Sister Clara. God bless you both, Dr. Subra and Sister Clara and the Team at Global. God could not be everywhere so He sent Angels like you both to minister to His people in need. I will try and copy and paste an update from Sister Clara so you can see what they did as a first person account. Please continue to pray for the work in Chennai after the deluge and in Global Hospital. They may leave you to work anywhere in the world, with challenges big and small, but, trust me, when I say that they NEVER leave CMC behind.