Thursday, September 30, 2010

The case against Abortion

As I have mentioned before, it has always surprised me that my views on abortion are not shared by many of my colleagues and friends. So you will have to bear with me if I keep harking back to the topic, in the forlorn hope of convincing some of them!! But I thought I would sign off September (which has been a difficult month!!) with some links that deal with the basic pro-choice arguments and why they do not hold water. These have been drawn from the few blogs I read regularly. I have found that most of them inevitably link to the same posts!! And moreover, as these have been collected over time, I hope you will excuse the lack of credits.

THE STORY OF LILA ROSE: This is the story of one of the key investigators in the exposure of the lies and racism propagated by some abortion clinics in the US. Did you know that you can pay to have a black baby aborted?!! Lila Rose took up the issue when she was 15 and now (at 22) heads one of the leading non-profit organisations fighting abortion and also edits one of the important pro-life publications. This is an inspiring story......
P.S. Clock up one more point for home-schooling!!!

IS THE UNBORN CHILD HUMAN: This is the basic question that we need to resolve. Scientifically, the unborn child fulfills all the criteria for a living organism - like growth, response to stimuli, metabolism, and so on - from the moment of conception. Pro-choice advocates are generally forced to admit this fact in the face of overwhelming scientific proof. And the rapid development from a single cell into a newborn baby is a further proof that killing the unborn is just the same as killing any human being. If there are still any doubts(!), here is a video by another young advocate on the reasons why the unborn child is human.

IS THE UNBORN CHILD JUST AN EXTENSION OF THE MOTHER: While most pro-choice activists and feminists now accept that the unborn child is actually human, they base their support for abortion on the fallacy that the unborn child is just an extension of the mother's body. Rather like a tooth or an appendix that can be removed with no future consequences. But again logic shows that the unborn child is a totally different human being who is just dependent on the mother for 9 months. The unborn child has a totally different DNA, may be of a different race from the mother and in fact, can be transferred into the mother from outside as in the case of test-tube babies. If that does not make the unborn child a totally different human being from the mother, then what does!! (Sorry, no link for this one!!)

THE RAPE ARGUMENT: This is where the argument for abortion usually begins. This article brings out the absurdity of the argument when carried forth to its logical end. If the unborn child should be killed in order to prevent causing pain to the mother, then why not kill a young boy who mercilessly torments his younger sister. Or kill a boss who causes deep emotional pain to his co-workers by his words and actions. In fact, there are very few societies that even kill the rapist - who is the one that caused all the pain in the first place! So if the unborn child is human, there can be no logic that can condone killing him or her if it is not right to kill even the rapist. This article expounds this concept - the 'trot out the toddler argument'.

OTHER PRO-CHOICE ARGUMENTS THAT ARE FULL OF HOLES: This short article beautifully debunks many of the usual pro-choice arguments. It's just a click away and well worth a read. Another similar article is here.

AND FINALLY: For all those of you interested in learning more about how to argue the case for life, here is a flow chart that incoporates all pro-choice arguments into 3 simple questions and offers an approach to each one. For a video explaining the chart see here. For a video explaining the SLED test (philosophical differences between the unborn and a human - size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency), see here. Click on the chart to enlarge.
Abortion flowchart

Awaiting the Ayodhya ruling

As the nation waits with bated breath for the decision of the high court on the Ayodhya question, there is a palpable tension in the air. Travels have been cancelled, schools closed and provisions stocked up as people prepare for the expected backlash, whatever the decision may be. Of course, here in Shillong, the issue could not be farther from people's minds - we hardly hear anyone speak of it. But just looking at the headlines over the last few days clearly indicates the level of fear that the whole Hindu-Muslim argument is generating. And the worst part of it all, is that this decision to be made by the High Court will hardly be the end of the matter. Whichever side loses is sure to appeal the matter in the Supreme Court and we will have another prolonged courtroom drama that is likely to last for some years.

But that is in the future. Right now the common man is readying himself for the expected onslaught of the lunatic fringe of both these esteemed religions, a sad reminder that even 63 years after Independence, the deep-seated hatred that has festered over many centuries and been stoked by repeated assaults on common human decency by both sides continues to spread its poison through the veins of our society. And that is a sorry tale to tell of our much-vaunted, secular, democratic country.

I remember the time I travelled to Gujarat shortly after the riots of 2002. Ostensibly, I was there to research a famous health insurance scheme run by an organisation there, but actually, I just wanted to be a part of the scenario and witness first-hand what had happened. I will never forget getting off the bus in Ahmedabad in the middle of the night, getting into the first auto that came by and asking the driver to take me to a hotel. (Being young and adventurous, nothing had been planned - I can't imagine doing something like that now!!). After we had driven about a kilometre in silence, he slowed down and turned around. 'Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?' was the question he asked, making no attempt to hide the menace in his eyes and voice. I have never been so afraid to proclaim my faith before, but when I mumbled 'Esahi' (Christian), he lightened up immediately and we proceeded to the end of the journey in silence. I never did find out what faith he belonged to, I was too busy keeping myself from spilling the insides of my tummy after the shock. But for me, that was the story of Gujarat in a nutshell. Everything depended on whether you were a Hindu or a Muslim. Not what you believed in. Not what those two great religions taught, Not if you practiced any of the prescribed stipulations that these religions demanded. You may have never seen the inside of a temple or a mosque your whole life. But that was all immaterial. 'Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?' And nothing else mattered.... It was, for me, a great insight into the unbelievable stupidity of man.

Of course, we Christians are no better. Among ourselves, if there is a difference to be found in theology, we will be sure to find it and then harp on it until it becomes the most important thing in all the world. And our treatment of people who do not share our faith has stained our hands much worse than any of the other great world religions. From the Crusades to the Holocaust, not forgetting the Inquisition and the Ku Klux Klan, Christians have been instrumental in state-supported genocide of those who believed differently from us. And remember, we profess faith in a God whose best known character is love. Love so strong that He chose to come down and die for us. But human nature is fickle-minded at best and evil at worst and it is so easy to use religion to further our own vested interests. It has been used countless times in the past and continues to be the tool of those whose ultimate interest is power and world dominion.

And the saddest part of what has happened in our country is that so many people have been fooled by very people who have perpetrated these abominations. In Gujarat, the mastermind of the 2002 genocide wins every succeeding election by a greater margin. Throughout the country, the political party which introduced the concept of using religion to win votes continues to fascinate the minds of the common man and even some intellectuals. In fact, but for the severe bankruptcy of its leadership, it is likely that they would be in power even today. The lunatic fringe is no longer at the periphery. It is now mainstream and occupies a central position in the polity of today.

So as I await the judgement that is expected today and the backlash that may follow, the suspense has made way for a deep sadness. Sadness that even after our country has made such great strides in education, health and economy, we are still morally and intellectually impoverished. Morally, because we cannot see how wrong it is to attack our own brothers and their property over religion. And intellectually, because we fail to realise that a policy of 'a tooth for a tooth' is only going to end up with everyone having no teeth.

And in that sadness, I lift up my country to God. He knows its struggles and its failures. Only He can change the hardened hearts of those who are baying for blood. And maybe He will chose to act through you or me. Maybe He will put in my way small situations that will help me to show that forgiveness and love are actually possible. Maybe, He will give me an opportunity to melt a hardened heart by my readiness to be hurt and refusal to fight back. When He does, I pray I will be ready........

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shillong Bonsai Society Exhibition, 2010

Today we went for the Shillong Bonsai Society exhibition. There were an amazing variety of specimens and we had a great time. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I'm sure my specimens would have given everyone a run for their money, but fortunately for the others, they never left home!! Amy is not so sure about this....!! Here are some of the specimens. Remember, they are all less than a foot tall, except the last one. More pictures later, perhaps.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Picture perfect - Living Root Bridge, Mawlynnong

One of the great secrets of Meghalaya is its living root bridges. These would classify as one of the wonders of India with no difficulty. They are actual bridges formed over streams by training the aerial roots of the Ficus elastica over fifteen to twenty years. And once formed, these bridges grow stronger over time as the tree keeps growing. The most famous of the root bridges is in the village Riwai, near Mawlynnong. The other well-known one is the double-decker(!!) root bridge near Cherrapunji. But to see that one has to take a 4 hour trek one way, so I have so far given it a miss!! Many smaller bridges exist throughout the state - they were built (or rather grown!!) by the local people mainly for connectivity and not for tourism, though now that is an added benefit. I have been to the Riwai bridge more than 10 times, but realised that I have not really got too many good pictures. These will have to suffice.

With Amy's dad on the bridge

Monday, September 27, 2010

The hues of happiness

In this world of goals, targets and achievements, one of the common questions we ask ourselves or hear asked of us is - Where do you see yourself 5, 10 or 15 years from now. It appears that the best way to structure your life and focus your energy is to look into your future and then make plans based upon what you expect (or want) your life to be. There is an invisible force that drives our thought and action towards setting a 'goal' and then striving hard to achieve it. Corporate and marketing strategies are all based upon this guiding principle. Even the church is being encouraged to be 'purpose driven', both words that imply an aggressive movement towards a defined target. I remember making a 5 year and a 10 year 'Strategic Plan' for the hospital in Jharkhand where I worked for 2 years after my medical training. It was great fun doing it and I was quite proud of the final product, but I am quite sure it is gathering dust in some forgotten filing cabinet, if it has not been already destroyed. And I am sure that when I go to the hospital next month about 6 years after I left, a very tiny portion of what I envisioned will be in place although some much better and probably more relevant and fruitful things have happened since I left.

Now, I have always been a great enthusiast for management strategies and a regular expounder of these ideas, half-baked though they be, whenever I get the chance in discussions with the hospital administration. However, over the last year or so, the idea of 'purpose drivenness', which had so appealed to my Type-A personality, has been undergoing a gradual, subtle revamping. Though it has required (and still requires) an attitudinal sea-change which has been a harrowing battle against my achievement-requiring soul, it has been on the whole a refreshing breeze that is slowly but surely breaking down the walls I had built between me and my happiness.

Let me explain. Throughout my life, I have measured my happiness based upon my 'successes'. Be it a prize in a competition, a rank in the school or even a victory in an argument, I have tended to over-simplify happiness into the satisfaction that comes with achievement of a goal. Of course, I dearly love and am grateful for sources of joy like music, reading, friendships and family. But in other respects, my life has generally boiled down to the chasing of a goal and then raising the bar or setting a new one when it is reached. Now according to the business and self-help gurus of our day and age, I would be doing the right thing and I am well on my way to a 'successful' life.

But thanks to the blessing of marriage to a wonderful woman, and thanks to these two years we have spent in a near replica of my mind's idea of Eden, these ideas, while not yet completely dead, are undergoing a transformation. For in this time, I have begun to see that while goals and their achievement will bring us success, they will not necessarily bring us happiness. And even if they do, they are certainly not the only ways of finding it. In fact, they are poor cousins to the real joys of life and in fact take on the role of evil step-sisters who prevent us from enjoying these joys. For every day on this earth that we spend singlemindedly focussed on the achievement of our goals is one more day of blinkered existence where the forward focus has made us miss the beauty along the way. And every day brings with it new beauty to be savoured and enjoyed. Not just in nature; in the smile of a wife in the morning, happy to see you awake (at last!!), in the words of the Scripture that we often fail to read as we hurry on to more 'important' things that await us in the day, in the plants that I water every morning, often in too much of a hurry to actually be present to their ministry, in the happiness of a patient who is to be discharged, knowing he has been cured of his illness, in the love that a sister communicates to a patient as you watch while you do the paperwork in the nursing station...... The list of the things of beauty that we miss every day in our daily goal-oriented rush is endless.

And think of the things we miss in our lifetime goal-oriented rush. These last 2 years have been for me a time of realisation of these things. The regular study of the Scripture, the reading of good books, the spending of time with my loved ones, the enjoyment of bonsai, the involvement in the Friday Fellowship, the new-found skill (or lack of it!!) of cooking, the development of a loving and self-giving relationship..... these have all been things that would have never occurred to me to be put down as goals, but due to my total lack of goals for this time in Shillong, are things that have become so special to me. Had I been in the rat-race of my profession, where doctors are willing to sacrifice everything to the idols of money and academics, I would have lost rather than gained.

So this is the question I am asking myself - Do I really need to envision what I will be doing 5 or 10 or 15 years from now? Or should I rather, just enjoy the wonderful life that God has given me and let the future take care of itself. For I am sure, that as long as I am keeping the things of God at the centre of my life and allowing my limited understanding of Him and relationship with Him to keep growing, I am fulfilling the only goal I need to focus on. Of course, I may never win the Nobel prize, or build up a huge practice, or make a name for myself. But then, how many of those who achieve them are truly happy. And were those my goals in the first place, I may have given my life to achieve them. And what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul. I would vote for my soul every time....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Picture perfect - On the way to work

The walk to work every day is made special by the variety of sights that greet me every day. Every day is different, either because of the position of the clouds, the rain, or the sun. It's something I savour every morning. Some more beautiful scenes are here, my very first post of the hospital scenery with 'snow'.

Don't miss the rainbow
The view down the hill
From our back door

Friday, September 24, 2010

Linkorama 24/9/10

Today's links are all movies. Enjoy.
OPEN HEART SURGERY WHILE AWAKE: My mother send me this video of a pioneering procedure from Wockardt Hospital, Bangalore. Imagine being awake with your chest open and your heart in the hands of a surgeon, literally!!

THE PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN AN EMBRYO AND AN ADULT: Scientific differences are obvious, but this video gives an acronym for the philosophical differences between an embryo and an adult - SLED. Stands for Size, Level of Development, Environment and Degree of Dependency. The lecturer also proceeds to show why these differences are not enough to justify killing you when in the womb. (HT: Z)

WORLD'S SCARIEST JOB: It gets worse with every step!! (HT: Challies)

THE BIO OPTICAL ORGANISED KNOWLEDGE DEVICE: They say this revolutionary device will change the way we understand the world!! (HT: Challies)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Linkorama 23/9/10 - Courtesy Mother

My mother is an inveterate blogger on our family blog and today's links are all courtesy of her wide-ranging posts. Thanks Mama.

COMMONWEALTH FIASCO: The Delhi Commonwealth Games are turning into a huge embarrassment for our country. All this furthers my resolve to boycott them as far as possible. Amy wondered if that meant not reading about them as well!! But I guess that would be impossible!! Anyway, here is the latest in the saga of disasters that is the CWG 2010 - collapsing bridges and uninhabitable residential buildings.

A REFRIGERATOR THAT RUNS WITHOUT ELECTRICITY: Mitticool, a refrigerator made from clay has been making waves recently and has brought many awards to its creator, Mansukhbai Prajapati. A craftsman from Gujarat, his is the classic story of rags-to-riches entrepreneurship. From a family of potters, he put failure in class 10 behind him and has created a range of innovative and low cost products including a non-stick pan, pressure cooker, water filter and now the refrigerator. Here is his story and this links to his website.

THE MAN WHO MISSED A NOBEL: When Barry Marshall and Robin Warren won the Nobel Prize in 2005 for their discovery of Helicobacter pylori, the organism that causes peptic ulcer disease, they acknowledged the work of A. Stone Freedberg. Freedberg had postulated a bacterial cause for the disease way back in 1939. However, as his findings could not be proved, he was asked to look at other areas of research. He died last year and here is his story as written in the New York Times. Also, here is the video of Barry Marshall's speech at the Nobel banquet. Trust an Aussie to have a laugh even at this most daunting of occasions!!

LITTLE KNOWN FACTS ON DENIS BURKITT'S WORK: Dr. Denis Burkitt is well known for the discovery and description of his eponymous lymphoma. He is also well known for his suggestion that dietary fibre (or rather, the lack of it) could be a contributing factor to colon cancer. While that observation is now contested, another observation that was not previously well known is now gaining ground in scientific circles. This was the idea that the posture of defecation played a role in the development of cancer as well as other lower digestive tract diseases. I will not gross you out with more details, but those interested can read about it here.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE: Today's comic relief comes from a poem my mother found while researching articles for the humour section of the excellent journal that she edits (Current Medical Issues). It's an ode to the spell-checker.

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh

AND FINALLY: This 'Indian folk dance' on ice set to music from Bollywood hits 'Bunty Aur Babli' and 'Devdas' was performed by Meryl Davis and Charlie White at the Grand Prix finals 2009-2010. Though not very knowledgeable on Indian cinema, I thought I could recognise some Bollywood moves! Needless to say, they won the gold medal.


Bonsai (lit. tray cultivation) is the Japanese art of growing trees in a small container. I had heard about this before, but had not really seen a plant in the flesh until I came to Shillong. Here there is a lot of interest in Bonsai and there is even a Bonsai society, which holds a show every year. Dr. Sandi Syiem, who as I have mentioned is a person of many talents and great inspiration, is one of the movers and shakers in the bonsai scene in Shillong and has a huge collection of plants. He says he began about 30 years ago and now he has more than 300 specimens. In fact, when we have visitors to Shillong, one of the tourist destinations is the San-Ker centre, the psychiatric hospital Dr. Sandi runs and where he keeps most of the plants.

I had the idea some time ago, that I should spend some time with Dr. Sandi as a means of personal encouragement and inspiration and knew that the only time that would be possible in his hyper-hectic schedule would be the time he spent in the garden. And so I began to go to San-Ker every Sunday morning, and spend 2-3 hours with him in the garden. And when I say garden, I do not mean a dull, pot infested empty space in front of the house. The garden of San-Ker is on the side of a hill, with a pond in the centre and huge Khasi pines all around. Often these were some of the most exciting times of my week as the warm embrace of nature would complement our conversations on life as we re-potted, trimmed, planted and shaped the specimens.

After a few weeks, Dr. Sandi suggested that I begin my own bonsai collection and so, I started with a sapling of a weeping fig (Ficus benjaminis). I always wondered what the allure of gardening was, but am now beginning to understand. I guess with anything in life, you need to actually start doing it to grasp what others talk about. And I always thought that Bonsai was a hobby that involved a lot of experience and talent - another misconception, I now realise. The front of our house now displays 5 specimens, and surprisingly, they are all doing quite well. Unlike my previous attempts at gardening!! I realise that the hotter climes of the rest of India may not allow this to be a long-term thing, but for the time being, I am thoroughly enjoying it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Linkorama 22/9/10

HOW STRONG IS YOUR GRIP: Your grip strength may not have bothered you too much so far, but a recent metaanalysis of 33 studies recording physical capabilities published in the British Medical Journal says it may affect your life-span!! Among the interesting findings are that the death rate for people within the timeframe of the various studies was 1.67 times higher for people with the weakest grip strength, 2.87 times higher for the slowest walkers and nearly twice as high for people who were slowest to rise from their chair!! So I'm running to work today!!

AND WHAT ABOUT YOUR SOCIAL LIFE: Another metaanalysis suggests that with an adequate social relationships - family, friends and community involvement, were 50% less likely to die during the study period than those with sparse social support! And people with poor social support have a mortality risk equal to alcoholism and higher than obesity or physical inactivity. (HT: Freakonomics)

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER HAD SEVERE DYSLEXIA: In the context of yesterday's post on Temple Grandin, this article talks about the severe dyslexia of one of the leading evangelical philosophers of the 20th century, Francis Shaeffer, the founder of the L'Abri movement.

CHRISTIAN PIRACY: A good article on the Christian outlook to piracy in a world where the internet has made it a common and even acceptable practice. How many of us are going to burn our pirated CDs and delete those movies from our computers...

WANNA BE A PASTOR, ANYONE: A recent study has shown that the lowest salary for the lead pastor of a megachurch is $40,000. That's `18 lakh a year!! And it goes as high as $400,000. Read the article for the other interesting titbits about the money these servants of God draw in every year.

COMIC RELIEF: As you can see, I am an obedient husband and am following the order to include something light every day (though it's sometimes difficult!!). Today's lighter moment comes in the form of a song - I'm no kin to the monkey!! Enjoy! (HT: JNNPR)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Linkorama 21/9/10

WOULD YOU SCREEN FOR DOWN SYNDROME: We now have the technology in advanced medical centres to screen for a variety of genetic disorders in utero. But why do we screen? So that if there is a defect we can abort? In India, there are about 650,000 induced abortions every year in the centres approved to carry them out (Family Welfare Statistics in India, 2009), and the majority of them (we assume) are for the same genetic defect - the absence of a Y chromosome. So when I read this article about a 32 year old mother-to-be who refused screening for chromosomal anomalies, I thought it was a refreshing change and a different way of looking at this whole issue. Especially when I learnt that her first child was born with Down syndrome which magnifies the odds of a chromosomal abnormality in this pregnancy (from 1 in 1000 to 1 in 100). I quote the last 2 paragraphs of the article - Many people within our culture, and particularly those within the medical establishment, think that Down syndrome is a burden. Even pro-life advocates talk about those who “suffer” from Down syndrome. With language of suffering and lists of problems, it is no wonder that women abort when faced with the news that their child has an extra 21st chromosome. And yet this automatic assumption that Down syndrome brings with it only tragedy belies the studies that demonstrate the positive impact children with Down syndrome have within their families, the ever-increasing potential for learning and participation in community life, and the testimonies of adults with Down syndrome that theirs is a life worth living.

Even as maternal age increases, the incidence of children born with Down syndrome is decreasing. Studies show that 85 percent to 90 percent of women with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies. We declined prenatal testing not because we assume this baby in my womb has the typical 46 chromosomes. We declined prenatal testing because we would welcome another child with Down syndrome.

Would I welcome (and not just accept) a child with Down Syndrome..... (HT: Z)

TEMPLE GRANDIN AND AUTISM: This post reviews a film released this year narrating the story of Dr. Temple Grandin, a pioneer in 2 fields - animal husbandry and autism. Diagnosed to have autism and brain damage at the age of 2, she was blessed with good teachers in a special school as well as at home. She began to speak at the age of 4 and progressed through school and college braving the taunts and barbs of 'normal' people who could not understand her special needs and gifts. Overcoming odds that were stacked against her, she completed her doctorate and immersed herself in ground-breaking research into the beef-industry, which ended with the industry changing many of their practices towards more humane care for animals. Along the way, she was invited to a conference on autism and when she spoke, everyone began to listen, for here was someone who could actually relate first-hand what it was like to have autism. Her inputs have been instrumental in many changes in the understanding and treatment of autism and she is now considered a 'philosophical leader of both the animal welfare as well as the autism advocacy movements.' And in the future, if autism can also be diagnosed prenatally, mothers will be advised to abort....

THE BASIC QUESTION OF ABORTION: I think that the basic question of the debate on abortion comes down to what is considered 'life'. For most pro-choice advocates, 'life' does not begin from the time of fertilisation, but from varying points along the way in the next nine months. This article tells the story of one pro-choice advocate, who believes that the fetus is not human until detached from the mother. So, after delivery, the baby can be killed as long as he or she remains attached to the umbilical cord either 5 minutes or 1 hour later. That sounds rather irrational to me......

TWITTER HACK: All you tweeters out there, beware. A malignant virus has surfaced on that takes you to third-party websites without your consent. Read about it here.

A LIGHT-HEARTED LOOK AT PREDESTINATION: What is a major source of debate and discussion on some of the blogs I read is dealt with in a lighter vein by Bill Watterson. Did you know that the title character of the comic was named after who else but John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism which bases its whole doctrine on predestination!! In the context of this cartoon, that's ironical, eh!!(HT: Pure Church)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mission Hospital Blues!!

With every passing year, the number of surviving mission hospitals grows smaller and smaller. And the number of doctors who would even consider thinking about mission hospital work as a career option also diminishes year by year. So much so, that over the last few years, the big question on the lips of leaders and workers in mission hospitals at every meeting and conference has been - What is the future of the mission hospital system and what is the best 'model' that we need to follow.

Well, I am not going to try to answer a question which many greater minds than mine have still deemed a mystery!! And I am not even going to sound a clarion call (at least, not yet!!) for doctors all over the world to drop everything and rush to the forbidding (and often, dirty!!) corridors of the 100 or so surviving mission hospitals in the country. Actually, this post comes at the end of a long day of trying (and sometimes failing) to empathise with patients and relatives whose ideas and understanding of patient care are often at a totally different end of the spectrum from mine!! And I thought it would be cathartic (and possibly entertaining!!) to enumerate a few of these basic differences that I have with our patients here at Roberts Hospital. Here goes....

OXYGEN ANTIPATHY: I thought I should start with the most mind-boggling of all the local ideas that 'interfere' with our idea of the 'best medical care' every day. There is a widespread superstition in Meghalaya that oxygen is a precursor to death and hence must not be given to a patient, come what may!! I didn't believe it myself at first and was surprised when the sisters would ask the relatives permission to start oxygen when a sick patient came in. And when they would (to my disbelief) refuse, I would spend many precious minutes trying to explain in every-which-way possible (scientific or otherwise, politely or otherwise!!) that oxygen was the most important ingredient of the air that we breathe and so on and so forth. To absolutely no avail. I guess this superstition began when people realised that most patients who were started on oxygen would eventually die, mainly because of the poor resuscitation facilities that were available (more on that later!!). And now, it is firmly rooted in their minds - oxygen kills the patient!! Beat that for a superstition!! I have come up with a solution - though some of you may question the ethics of it!! I just start the oxygen and forbid the staff to tell the patient what it is (though some disobey, as they themselves believe the superstition!!). If the relatives ask what it is, I just say it's a special medicine that is given into the lungs. So far, they have all believed me!!

ALLOPATHY ANTIPATHY: I can hear my brothers and sisters from mission hospitals across the country lending their voice of assent to this observation. It is amazing that after so many decades of allopathic practice in our land, the local 'quack' is still more acceptable than the poor doctors who have struggled with the confusing concepts of medical practice for 6 and a half years (and in many cases, more than that!!). Here in Meghalaya, there is an alternate system of medicine which we call Khasi medicine and there is great faith in its efficacy through all classes of people. Even some of our doctors take Khasi medicines when they are ill!! Now, I certainly agree that there will surely be some logic and science in all alternate medicinal practice. However, when it comes to some diseases like cancer, I feel these systems of medicine are still way behind the rapid strides that allopathy has made with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Just 2 days ago, I saw a lady who was admitted in the medicine ward for control of her blood pressure. She had presented to us about 9 months ago with a small growth on her lip. At that time, all it would have taken was a small operation and a clearance of the local lymph nodes to cure her. But she decided to take Khasi medicines. Now, it is a huge fungating growth involving the complete lower jaw, pouring with pus and bleeding regularly. But the saddest thing is that she is still quite sure that the Khasi medicine is working. She says she is feeling better and wants to continue those medicines.... I had tears in my eyes as I left the room.

OPERATION ANTIPATHY: I guess this too, would be a common finding in all mission hospitals. Patients are sometimes just unwilling for operation. I have lost count of the number of patients who have flatly refused even to enter the operation theatre for a dressing, let alone a procedure!! With ailments ranging from life-threatening intestinal perforations to run-of-the-mill abscesses, patients from across the board display a strange revulsion to the very word operation (which seems to translate the same in all languages!!). And now, here's the interesting part. I have actually seen some of these patients completely recover without the operation that we had insisted on performing!! Perforations have sealed, abscesses have ruptured, infected wounds have cleaned up and fractures have set, just with antibiotics and TLC. In fact, this became so common at one point, that I even discussed with our good friend and psychiatrist Dr. Sandy Syiem whether it would be worth studying this phenomenon - that patients who refused surgery often got better anyway!! Thesis topic anyone!!

LAPAROSCOPY ANTIPATHY: Once the patient has been convinced, through our most persuasive entreaties, that an operation is absolutely essential and life would be at risk if they delayed (my cheeks burn sometimes at the various persuasion tactics!!), we run up against the next big hurdle. As we have been blessed with a lot of sophisticated equipment, we have the facilities to carry out minimally invasive laparoscopic and endourological procedures for most of the common problems here. However, our patients are dead against this. Throughout the world, there are papers coming out every day clearly showing the great benefits of laparoscopy over open surgery, but nearly every day, we have a 'discussion' with a patient about it and fail to convince them!! Here, laparoscopic and endo-urological procedures go under the sobriquet, 'drill'!! I have no clue where that came from, but I do know that the early laparoscopic surgeons had a few complications and now patients will refuse the 'drill' outright!! Again, we have had to slowly begin the re-brainwashing and have banned the word 'drill' from hospital parlance. However, while things are certainly better, just last week, we had a patient who preferred to have an open cholecystectomy, a procedure that is now completely outdated in most parts of the world except in places like Meghalaya!!

RESUSCITATION ANTIPATHY: Now, this is a 'superstition' of the hospital staff that I have seen in nearly all the mission hospitals that I have worked in (five and counting). It is a common belief that aggressive resuscitation is a waste of time and effort and hence not worth even beginning. In most of the hospitals, the doctor is informed that the patient is 'gasping' and when he or she arrives, the patient is in the late stages of rigor mortis!! In fact, some doctors take their own sweet time to come and see the 'gasping' patient, so that by the time they arrive, the patient is well and truly dead and they don't have to make the pretense of CPR, intubation and resuscitation. I guess with better medical education and more aggressive doctors, this will change in the next 10 years or so, but till then, it is rather stressful to be at the bedside of a patient who is arresting, with absolutely no resuscitation equipment ready or organised.

THLEN FEVER: In Vellore, we have a large number of patients who come to the community hospital every month for vitamin tablets. They are given the fancy-sounding diagnosis, KKI. This actually stands for the Tamil translation of hand-leg-pain!! Every hospital will have these patients, who come mainly to see the doctor, chat a bit and go home feeling reassured that all's well with the world and their body!! But here, there is a slight difference. A mythical snake-like creature called the Thlen is said to have haunted these parts in the days gone by. It was killed, but then regrew. (For the full story, read this). Now it returns every now and again to haunt the local people. So many patients who feel weak, giddy, gaseous, uneasy and basically have KKI, believe that the Thlen has got them. This makes the cure even more difficult (as if it was not tough enough already!!). Of course, this also gives an opportunity for prayer, but then, most of the people who come in with Thlen fever are actually Christian!! And here's the best part. I have heard at least 2 doctors confirm the existence of the Thlen and corroborate instances of its haunting of people.....

There are many more favourite superstitions of our local people that confound and frustrate our best attempts to provide quality care to them, but I guess I will leave those for another day. Some of these are common to all mission hospitals, while others are totally unique to Roberts. I can imagine some of you won't believe me, but hey - this stuff is just a part of the great excitement of life in a mission hospital!! You have just GOTTA experience it to believe it.... And trust me, it's TOTALLY worth it...

P.S. Just to make it clear, my understanding of a mission hospital is one which is built on the foundations of a relationship with Jesus (individually and corporately), which attributes its existence to His call to preach the gospel and which concentrates its energies on the poor people and the marginalised..... Of course, there are very few hospitals that would fit this description exactly, but you get the general drift...

Linkorama 20/9/10

TIPS FOR BRINGING UP CHILDREN FROM JC RYLE: Here are a few tips from a 19th century pastor on bringing up children. He had much experience as he was widowed 3 times...

SOCIAL ACTIVISM IN MEGHALAYA: Private coal-mining is banned by the government, but in Meghalaya, it is rampant thanks to our corrupt system and many people have made huge fortunes. The problem with this sort of money-making is that the environment and the rights of the local people are not figured into the equation. So it was good to read this article which tells the story of a group of young people in the Garo Hills who took a stand against illegal mining and the associated deforestation and actually emerged successful. A reminder to all of us that there is still hope for those who wish to take a stand against our corrupted and polluting systems.

LASER THERAPY TO QUIT SMOKING: This article describes a therapy under study where lasers are used at pressure points in the body to help a patient to quit smoking!! As expected, the results are not encouraging!! The things people think up!!

12 STEPS TO IDENTIFYING YOUR FUNCTIONAL SAVIOUR: An interesting checklist to identify what (or who) you actually consider your saviour - as all checklists go, an honest appraisal will be enlightening and possibly humbling.

CHECKLIST FOR HUSBANDS AND WIVES: A set of checks by Selwyn Hughes for husbands and wives - very useful and as expected humbling!!

MARRIAGE ACCORDING TO ALICE COOPER: I recently read that Alice Cooper, one of the pioneers of shock-rock, where graphic gothic and dark imagery (including guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood, boa constrictors and baby dolls) are part of the stage show is a born again Christian. And is a counselor for other rock musicians who want to quit drugs and alcohol. And has been married to his wife for 26 years. Here he says that 'romancing' your wife is the way to stay married. (HT: Challies)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pirates of Silicon Valley Linkorama

The story of the transformation of a sleepy, farming valley in California into the worldwide hub of technological research over the course of just a few decades has fascinated me ever since I watched the movie whose name I have borrowed for the title of this post. The term Silicon Valley was coined in 1971 by the editor of the Microelectric News and is a byword today for the technological revolution of the last 30 years. The many stories of risky entrepreneurship leading to wild success have made Silicon Valley a prime destination for electronics enthusiasts from all around the world. And even with doomsday prophets regularly announcing the collapse of the electronics boom, there is always a new product or idea that resurrects the industry and promises to change the world as we see it. But enough philosophising! Here are the links.

PIRATES OF SILICON VALLEY: The movie about the formation and early growth of the two most famous Silicon Valley start-ups and the men behind them. A movie that is worth watching just because you can see the reality that it portrays. Even Steve Wozniacki, the brains behind the initial Apple computers, who later left the company, agrees that the individual characters of the main protagonists Steve Jobs of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft have been accurately portrayed. It is certainly one of those bittersweet stories and the sometimes devious and cruel actions of these modern-day heroes are clearly portrayed without passing judgement. At the end, you are left wondering if it was all worthwhile - they certainly changed the world, but their means were not always above board. They achieved great wealth and fame, but at what cost to their own lives and character. Though it is easy to be jealous of their success or even to try and emulate it, the movie certainly leaves the door open for questioning if it was all worth it. Of course, Bill Gates now is systematically giving away large amounts of money to various charities which helps to offset the extremely poor light the movie portrays him in!! Steve Jobs, are you listening?!! Or for that matter Mukesh Ambani!! Watch the movie here.

WHO IS THE GREATEST - MICROSOFT OR APPLE: That's a no-brainer right? Has to be the company without whose software I wouldn't be typing this. But this article says that Apple has overtaken Microsoft as the most valuable tech company in the world. Well, who would've thought it!

HOW APPLE FOOLS YOU INTO BUYING THEIR PRODUCTS: This article describes how corporates, in this instance, Apple, fool you into buying their products. (HT: Freakonomics)

LEST YOU BE FOOLED: Guidelines for those of us who want to buy Apple's latest gizmo. (HT: Pradeep)

HOW APPLE PRODUCTS MAKE YOU A BETTER CHRISTIAN: Gimme a break!! Read this article for a laugh! (HT: Challies)

THE LAST WORD: I thought the last word in the Microsoft vs Apple debate should be had by Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft since 2000. Well, well, well!! (HT: Z)

P.S. Has Apple's logo - the apple with the bite taken out - ever reminded you of Eve!!!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thomas Jones of Cherrapunji, Meghalaya's first missionary

Episode 4 of the Cherrapunji chronicles (the previous ones are here, here and here). One of the most exciting stops for me on the Cherrapunji tour is the little church in the centre of the town. It is quite inconspicuous, though prepossessing and we missed it on the first few trips in the excitement of the many other more obvious tourist destinations. It was only when Dr. Dhruv Ghosh, a close friend from Ludhiana and a major history enthusiast told me to stop at the cemetery (which is just opposite the church on a hill), so he could look around, that I realised the extent of my folly - I had missed for so long what was probably the most important landmark of Cherrapunji! Dhruv said that in the old British towns of India, the most interesting place for a historian is the cemetery!! There the old tales spring to life in the various tombstones and monuments to great men of another generation (agreed, they were our 'hated' conquerors, but let's give credit where it's due - some, at least, were certainly worthy of the adjective). Personally, I thought this was rather silly and I sat in the car and tried to snooze while Dhruv, George (another Ludhiana friend) and Cornerstone (one of my colleagues and yes, that is his real name) explored the cemetery.

As I was parked in front of the church, I lazily read the inscriptions on the monuments in front of me - and that is when I discovered what I had so far been missing. I was parked in front of the first church in Meghalaya!! Now, since the fact that Meghalaya was one of the only places in India where there was widespread acceptance of the missionaries and their faith (to the extent that 70-80% of the population is now Christian), I forgot my nap and explored further. The church was founded by Thomas Jones, the first missionary to the Khasi hills and the founder of the Khasi script. Yesterday was the 170th anniversary of his death. Here is his story.

Thomas Jones, the son of a carpenter from Wales, was ordained a Methodist minister and left soon after with his wife, Anne to India. Soon after their arrival in Calcutta, Anne gave birth to a child, who could not survive and died soon after birth. The Jones' then climbed the hills up from present-day Bangladesh to reach Cherrapunji, where they set up their base. It always occurs to me, when I hear the stories of these early missionaries, that they certainly were men of tougher fibre than me!! An afternoon's climb is enough to put me out of action for at least a few days!! Sometimes, when it rains, I am ashamed to say I use the car to go to the hospital, a mere 5 minutes walk away. And I certainly cannot imagine living without electricity, running water and the so-called 'basic' comforts, though there are missionaries even today in our own country for whom this is normal! (Isaac and Vijila in Barharwa come to mind). It's easy to assuage our guilt and claim we are not called to such a life, but the question is, if that is the call, am I ready for it. Or have these material comforts become so much a part of my life that I would be lost without them.... But, I digress.....

Rev. Jones' skill as a carpenter were well appreciated by the local people and he soon became a part of the community and learnt the language. Here again, I realise the quality of his fibre. I have been here for more than a year and a half and I still cannot frame a straight sentence in Khasi - a source of great embarrassment for me. (Amy however, speaks like a native - her English has also taken on the lilting twang that is characteristic of this beautiful land). In comparison (to me!), by 1942, just a year after Jones had reached Sohra, he had already brought out the first ever works of modern Khasi literature - a Khasi reader and the translation of a Welsh book. Rev. Jones used the Roman script (which is what I am writing in), which fit very well with the Khasi language. Before this, there were many attempts at devising a script and the Bengali script appeared to be the least difficult to adapt. However, Thomas Jones changed all that and wrote his name into Khasi history for ever.

In 1846, Jones established the first church in Meghalaya in Sohra. But soon after that, tragedy struck and his wife, Anne, died in childbirth. She became the first Christian to be buried in the Khasi hills as her tombstone in the centre of the cemetery proclaims. Every missionary story seems full of this - tragedy. Having been recently meditating a lot on suffering, it amazes me that these repeated and regular assaults on the soul of these missionaries did not (for the most part) cause them to turn back from the road they had taken. In our modern age, where prosperity is often the marker of success or failure, even small setbacks are enough to cause us to rethink our situation and second-guess our calling. Like I said, those men and women were made of sterner stuff.

After his wife died, Jones found life tough. He fell out with the missionary board and had to strike out on his own, establishing another mission and church in Pomreng. He married again, but this caused him even more trouble with the mission as his new wife was only 15. He then condemned the malpractices of a local businessman (expatriate, of course) who was powerful enough to have him barred from the area. He returned to Calcutta, where he contracted malaria and died on 16th September 1849. At the age of 39. He had been in Meghalaya for just 9 years. In that time, he had given the Khasi people the script for their language and sown the seeds of the church which would bear great fruit in the years to come. All completed just in his 3rd decade of life.

There are many stories of the unsung men of God in small pockets of this world. It is unfortunately the Joel Osteens of this world who command our attention. But for me, stories of men like Thomas Jones strike much closer to home. He followed his call through every difficulty, he applied himself to relevant activities in his chosen community, he accepted major setbacks as part of his ministry and he died without ever seeing the fruits of the seeds he helped plant. But in heaven, he sits at a place of honour for eternity, which is far better.....