Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just keep trying...

... that's what I have to tell myself with William sometimes. Maybe it's the same with all kids his age, who knows? But we just keep trying.

When Patrick started crawling and now taking steps (i.e., requiring more attention from us, thus taking away attention from William), William started acting out, both at home and at school. So, we changed the routine up a bit. I fed Patrick earlier, so that Greg could put Patrick to bed; I now read William stories. William's also really been enjoying his twice weekly music class, so now he and I have "special time" for about 5 - 15 minutes each day (depending on his attention span) when we play the piano together while Greg takes Patrick. (side note: William's music school was selling two pianos; we purchased a used upright!) After about a month and a half, his behavior seems to have generally quieted down. At least, I haven't been receiving any phone calls from his teacher of late, and William's been playing with Patrick instead of screaming at him. Positive signs.

Just when we think things are going well, then we'll have a melt down night. Friends came over for a little chat before they went to dinner tonight. After being so happy to see them, William screamed for about 5 - 10 minutes for no apparent reason. He broke down again when we ate dinner (he's been taking to eating at 5:30 before we get home, when Sarwari is cooking, and then he just has peanut butter or fruit with us at 7). And after a nice, calm regular bedtime routine (part of a Thomas DVD followed by reading "E" and "F" in the kid's dictionary), he went berserk for about 10 minutes before - just now - falling asleep exhausted.

Our friends left amazed and half wishing that they could feel so passionate about something - anything - as William was about whatever had upset him (I think Greg put the paci in his pocket instead of leaving it on the table). "Passionate" is certainly one word. "Obstinate" and "manic" also come to mind.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hospital politics the same no matter which country

Unfortunately, I had to go to the emergency room last night. I slipped on a paving stone outside a coffee shop while carrying William. I broke his fall with my elbow - it hurt, but wasn't excruciating, so I didn't go to the ER right away. After four hours, though, I tried to pick up Patrick and couldn't. Greg (correctly) pointed out that medical care here is (relatively) inexpensive, so I should just go get an X-ray to rule out anything serious.

I went and had an xray (during which the staff thought I was nuts for insisting on wearing the lead apron, but we'll put that aside). The attending ER physician couldn't see anything, but my regular doctor had advised me over the phone not to leave without asking the on call orthopedist to check the X-ray. That dr (fairly junior guy, it was Saturday evening after all), thought he saw a hairline fracture. He called my regular doctor, who then in turn called the head of the orthopedic department of the hospital.

The on-call orthopedist recommended a split and follow on CT scan Monday morning after swelling was down - and just ibuprofen for pain since it only really hurt when I twisted my arm. The head of the department (who talked with me and my regular doctor on the phone) concurred. With everyone in agreement with what sounded like a reasonable treatment plan to me, I agreed. We were good to go.

But then things got complicated. Someone called the director of the hospital to inform him I was in the ER ... not sure if it was my regular doctor or someone in the ER (I had given my business card so they would spell my name correctly). Then, the director of the hospital called the head of the orthopedics department to tell him he had to come in personally to treat me. The department head pointed out with the rain and traffic, that would delay me by one to one and a half hours. But the head of the hospital said if the department head didn't go in person, he would go. Needless to say, the head of the department got in his car to come, and the junior on call orthopedist wouldn't do my splint until his boss came to triple check the X-ray.

One and a half hours later, hospital politics were smoothed over and I had my splint. Everyone is pretty sure it's just one fracture; I'll have the CT scan on Monday morning to confirm (with the department head). Turns out, there's big competition between two hospitals here for serving the ex pat community, and my trip to the ER got caught up in the middle. After all, if I have a good experience, then this hospital will stay on the list we hand out to Americans in distress (by law, we can't provide recommendations, but we do maintain a list of places to give to people if they are in trouble).

The funny part is, I hear treating political big wigs in DC ERs is the same - department heads called in and heads of hospitals kept abreast of treatment. This time, though, I probably would have gotten out of the ER faster had I kept my job out of the picture!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Cultural learning continues.

William's teacher sent home a note asking that all children wear "a vest and underwear." I was a little confused by this and had to call her for clarification. Underpants are not 100% given here, so I could understand that some kids might be wearing shorts without underpants (but William always wears underpants ... it being pretty normal in America to do so).

But what about this "vest" request? The school office sells school t-shirts (red, orange and yellow are OK for his grade), and I know he's supposed to wear any color short or long pants and sandals. But a vest?

Turns out "vest" means undershirt, sleeveless (aka "wifebeater") style. It should be: "touching their chest is preferable to help them feel secure and lead to fewer illnesses." William has lately been wanting to wear two t-shirts to school (looks funny, but I've humored) - maybe it's because all his little friends had vests on and he was feeling insecure without one.

Monday, July 12, 2010

We've come a long way, baby.

Tonight, I was distinctly reminded of one of my first posts.

Regular readers will be reminded of a time about a year ago, when I was all excited to make banana bread, only to be totally grossed out by bugs in my flour. I ended up throwing away the entire canister of flour (and skipping the banana bread baking).

Some friends wrote and recommended keeping flour in the freezer, which has prevented a repeat. I actually now keep all kinds of the various flours Sarwari uses in the freezer for this reason (wheat flour, chick pea flour and corn flour, in addition to white flour).

Tonight, Greg dumped a bag of pasta into the pot of boiling water and called me over - black things were floating on top of the water. After some inspection, we decided they were bugs. But, this time, we continued boiling the pasta, skimming off the now dead bugs, and then thoroughly rinsed the pasta. Added sauce. Ate dinner.

And laughed about how much our attitude has changed in a year.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travelogue: Orissa

Lesson #1: Things are not always what they seem.

We’ve had pretty good luck staying in five-star accommodations off the beaten path – in Ooty, in Gwalior, in Khajuraho. We’ve found good quality rooms, with eager to please staff, at reasonable prices ($120/night vs. $300/night for something almost similar in a big city). Thus, we didn’t really hesitate to book two nights in Puri, Orissa at a 5 star hotel, on a beach, with nice big rooms and a pool.

I think we pushed our luck in India a bit too far. We arrived at the hotel (after a two hour drive from the airport) to find its pool “under renovation.” Hotel staff said the renovation just started two days ago, but by the size of the bare hole in the ground, either they were concealing the truth to make us feel better or they found the most efficient workers in all of India. Needless to say, we did not stay at the hotel, and the only other option in town was passable, but not what we envisioned. We only stayed one night, and it threw the rest of the planned vacation off.

Lesson #2: Babies are not happy with sustained loud noises.

We decided to take a boat ride out to see some fresh water dolphins on Chilika Lake. We thought the drive through the villages would be interesting; it was – especially for Tracy who had not really seen rural India. We enjoyed seeing pictures of the “googly-eyed” (my irreverent description) tripartite Orrian gods painted on houses. But the boat ride from the side of the lake to where the dolphins were that day was over an hour each way.

Patrick was fine on the way out, but after an hour of a really loud diesel motor, he had had enough. Face it, he’d been in a car for two hours and then a noisy boat for more than an hour, at an age where he really wants to crawl around. It was more than he could handle and he screamed the entire way back until he exhausted himself about five minutes from shore. Luckily, the lull of the car (and the lure of the breast) coaxed him back to sleep for the ride to our new hotel.

Lesson #3: A good hotel is worth every rupee.

After checking into a great hotel (what we had expected the first one to be) – where everything was clean, where the swimming pool was refreshing, where the rooms were spacious, where the restaurant options were tasty and numerous – we felt recharged and optimistic about the next day (Monday), despite the disappointments of the previous day and a half.

Lesson #4: States with significant Maoist influence take a bandh call seriously.

Bandhs (strikes) in HYD are hit or miss – it’s a big enough city with enough economic activity, that I think an all day bandh is just not feasible unless something completely outrageous is being protested. In this case, many agree that the government should not subsidize petrol or even cooking gas, given all the other ways money could be spent – such as primary education or clean drinking water. Thus, we didn’t really take the vague calls we heard about a “Bharat Bundh” (i.e., all-India strike) protesting the petrol and gas price hike seriously. Ooops.

Our hotel absolutely refused to provide any form of transportation during the bandh – even rental bicycles! (No, we didn’t understand that one.) The hotel also tried to keep restaurants closed and force everyone to use room service … but we went to the “guest-only” restaurant anyway and the chef was more than happy to have some Americans to try out his skills on. That aside, we felt like prisoners, which I guess is the purpose of a bandh. Thank goodness we had an evening flight – or we would have had to walk to the airport, I think.

Lesson #5: Even a seemingly disaster of a vacation can look half-way decent in hind sight.

Every cloud has a silver lining. Even with everything that went wrong – and so much did – I can still find enough hidden positives that eventually I will look on this attempt of a vacation and laugh. For instance, Tracy got to taste the frustrations we face living here, from hotel resorts without pools (did I mention we only booked the hotel only three days before? And the staff made no mention of there being no pool?) to complete city shut downs. As I said, we all got an interesting view of rural India we rarely see in HYD. We took one evening walk along the beach in Puri, enjoying a flat and functioning sidewalk with a nice sea breeze (and no smell except salt water). The Orrian food was actually quite tasty and different from Hyderbadi/Andhran food (way less spice, more mustard, some interesting lentil preparations and overall quite tasty). The boys pretty much behaved themselves and sleeping all in one room was not the disaster we feared.

In short, our three days in Orissa (four for Greg and Tracy, who stayed an extra day to visit Konark to see the 12th century Sun Temple to which we could not travel on Monday because of the bandh) was nothing what we expected. Every frustration we ever have encountered in India seemed to surface in a matter of 72 hours. But the optimist in me is thankfully able to look beyond those things which went wrong – and I’m pretty sure in a year or two, I’ll be able to classify this trip as an “interesting experience” and not “disaster” (as I was apt to describe it today to coworkers).