Thursday, March 29, 2012

Million years before I go to School!

I spent my last weekend with some of my oldest friends - almost from an era gone by - from my school life. A rather unfortunate incident had crated this union. One of my friend's son had an unfortunate accident and had broken his hand. Whatever shock and worry we had, was dispensed with, when i realized that he still had his sense of humor intact.

I had this seven year old sitting on my lap, and me trying to small talk him..

"So, Aadi, Don't you go to school now?"
"Nope" Comes the half smiling reply pointing to the pretty awful cast on his arm.

"Ooooh!", say I, " so when do you have to go to school again?"
"When this cast is removed.."

"Oh! So when do you think this cast will be removed?"
I was stunned by the reply.

"In a million years!"

Yeah right. That's called Wishful thinking! :):):):)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Our children - The sad state of what they are growing up with

I wanted to start this post with something as interesting as "This weekend was an eye opener for me". But i don't think so. I think i have been seeing these all around me, but i have just been avoiding seeing them. So in my mind, i divide this post into two - What i saw, and what i think i should do about it.

Section 1: What i saw:

My wife's sister and her two kids ( one aged 10, and the other, half his age ) had come to visit us during this weekend. So Along with McDonald's and Domino's, we also planned some "learning" time in our own Birla Planetarium. ( Oh yes, Namma Chennai has a planetarium, located behind CLRI on Gandhi Mandapam Road ). The first thing that hits you, while you walk are the trees, the vegetation and the serenity of the place. The opportunity to re-explore the wonders of science along with my two eager nephews. Imagine my shock, when i turn the corner into a rusting, broken, dilapidated science center. Here are the highlights:

  • A playing park, conceptualized extremely well, holding play things and toys that explain scientific phenomena, rusted, broken, missing parts, overgrown with weeds, corrugated, and obviously not working at all! - More than that, given the condition, they are a hazard to children's health
  • Huge spacious marble tiled halls, filled with scientific exhibits - that show, hold your breath - a cube replica of a "modern day bedroom" - no i am not kidding - what do you expect kids to learn from showing a model of the new age bedroom and bathroom? There are exhibits of plastic pipes and taps ( the common variety ) that you see in every hardware shop. Why? What imagination do we plan to kindle in a young child's mind with plastic pipes?
  • A 3D show that has an entertaining, Alice in wonderland movie and also a instructional, journey through a human body ( done a la the Inner Space Movie ), but executed, once again in a theater with terrible acoustics, and a voice overlay of heavily American accented English. Right, the children who come there know what is Alice in Wonderland, and can understand the American Accented commentary while they show the human body! :(:(:(
  • Finally, the planetarium experience - Not too shabby, and definitely the best of the experience. At least the show was good, was decently executed, and the voice over was conversational. I think for a child, that would be interesting. I have no gripes there, except for a wish list that they could probably maintain the planetarium theatre well - and make the shows a little bit more fun!
The government officials cannot complain that they do not get visitors. Apart from seeing many honeymoon couples (??!!??) we saw that the place was full of school children. There were at least 6 school buses on Saturday and at least one more school trip on Sunday. Which makes it even more sad and outrageous - here we have a potential to engage and get children interested in studies - there is opportunity, there is place, there is time and there are resources, and we are shamelessly letting all of these pass by. I am not saying that all million children will become eminent scientists inspired by this visit ( maybe they will, who am i to underestimate?) but even if there are 100 children who could potentially have been kindled into this thoughts, we are not able to bring that transformation.

Sad. And terribly disappointing.

Section 2: What can i do about this?

There is a disclaimer as seen in the movies. What you read further can shock, as it shocked me when I realized it. Let me start with an anecdote. Sometime back i was driving through the roads of Kerala with my mother in an air conditioned car. Outside, in the sweltering heat, there were people pulling loaded carts, sweating and straining. My mother looked at them, and mentioned to me painfully " Oh my God, every time i see them, i feel pained - I feel sad, and i feel guilty to ride in this comfort."

I nodded in silent agreement. After few seconds she opened up again" I think i am a hypocrite. One one side, i yearn for such comforts - i want them, and while i enjoy it, i look outside this cooled glass and shower sympathies to the other side of the world. That is not fair or good ( for those who know Malayalam, these are the exact phrase she used " Nalla saamarthyam, enikku" - I am not sure if i can translate this directly into English ). I guess more than the sight of those people leading tough lives, what troubled her was that she, as a person, was not doing anything for them.

I find myself in a similar situation. I feel terribly sad about the condition. In fact, this post is the third time i have ranted about in the last one day. And i know i can do something about this, if i pain myself to change my life. But here i am , going ahead with my life, taking the path of least resistance of commenting about this sad story, clicking my tongue, shaking my head, .. and looking on my android phone for further twitter updates. Shameless! :(

In someways, i feel that this dilapidated condition of the planetarium is just a symptom of a larger issue - Solving this symptom wont cure the disease - but then, at the same time, we can't boil the ocean.

I introspect. I don't think i deserve to ask "What can / should i do?" As an educated person, i know what i should be doing. It's not that i do not know, just that I haven't yet taken that step. I am already feeling very guilty and hopefully, i will take a step. Soon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Sound Horn", Please!

While the world spends tons of money for ways to solve problems, we Indians find interestingly simple ways to solve the problems. What, you don't believe me? Let me take something simple and prove that .. "looks around.." ah.. there you go, lets take the poor simple horn fit in the Indian Automobiles .. Cars, trucks.. ah, yes, the same old horn... what could you do with this? Wait till you hear what all we do with it.

In india, the horns have many, many uses:

  1. Remote Garage opener - I have seen many a foreigners having a puzzled look on their face, when in India, they see a car honking at a close gate.  Rarely do they realize that we are using our garage openers. And like a child pressing the button of the remote until the TV starts, our drivers just sit there, continuing to press the horn, until someone comes out to open the door - Even if all it takes for our driver is to get out of the car and walk two steps to open the door, and it takes 5 minutes for the guys inside the house to reach the gate. After all, you have invested so much i this technology, it better work! While the automobile companies in the west invest more and more money in making better garage openers with long range, we simply go ahead and fix ourselves a louder horn. When we want a seamless drive in experience, we just continuously honk right from the turn of the street. Apparently, we have the ability to tune out this incessent noice, if we don't belong to the household of the car owner.
  2. Calling Bell - "No way" you say? Let me invite you to stay with me. I live next door to a family who have school going kids. A Van comes about 7 A M in the morning to transport the kid(s?) to school. I think he has stronger hands than legs - If he doesn't see the kids waiting for the van, the driver, instead of using his legs to run up and ring the calling bells, decides to use his hands to sound horn. If you want to know where the phrase "blowing one's trumpet" originated from, you have to listen to this. Now, here's the weirder part. Somehow most of the parents have taken the horn to be a signal to start feeding breakfast to their kids. I believe they think that it is better to hear the horn rather than the the TV noise. unfortunately, i don't! :(
  3. Blind spot Indicator - While the newer automobiles in the west spend much on ads that tell the drivers "Hey! you don't have to turn around and 'painfully' check your blind spot now - We have neat indicators in the rear view mirrors that indicate ( what else would indicators do? :P ) if another vehicle is in your blind spot", we at India, simply use our horns. That ad campaign i mentioned above will not work in India, because we anyways don't turn to check who's in my blind spot. If you are in my blind spot, you better sound horn! and God forbid, if you do go and have a small "car to car kiss" with someone on your blind spot, you get down and blame the other guy " abey! Why didn't you horn? Careless driver!" 
  4. Traffic Light Indicator - "Now I have gone too far", you say, "how can a car horn replace the traffic lights at the roads and junctions?". Well, then you haven't driven enough in India. When you are on the road, and you see the light ahead of you turning to Red, you simply start honking continuously, telling everyone around " I am coming, i am coming". Somehow it has got into our minds that if we honk continuously at a signal turning red, it will turn back into "Green" for how many ever seconds it takes for us to cross the light / junction. and if by chance, any other driver on the intersecting road didn't notice that, you screech your brakes, take a wide turn to go around this nuisance, roll down your window ( all at once )  and shout at the oncoming driver "Abey, can't you hear my horn?"

Now, you believe me? We use our horns so much, i think we should call ourselves a "Horn"y country. ( No puns intended :P )

Image courtesy: ( If there is a copyright around the image, please do let me know, and i will remove it immediately )

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Failing, and Learning

They say that failure is your biggest teacher. And if you can learn from other's failures, all the more bravo! :)

Two of our IVF cycles have been unsuccessful, and i thought it might be good to write about some cause of IVF failures., ( Like every blogger, i imagine millions and millions of readers, who are simply waiting to read my blog :) ). Sometimes knowing about the reasons for being unsuccessful can help you cope with it better, at least in the case of an IVF. So Here goes.

An oft quoted reason for IVF Implantation Failure owing to poor egg quality. Implantation Failure occurs when pregnancy does not occur, even though fertilized embryos are formed in the test tube. What confuses here is, you would think that once the fertilization occur and embryos are formed, how can quality of eggs be blamed for failure? Here's how it works. You see, the egg performs two functions - first it enables formation of embryo after fusing with the sperm, and once embryo has  been formed, acts as the battery that powers the cell multiplication in the embryo. ( i love this battery analogy :) )  Something has to fuel the cell multiplication within the embryo - the egg is this "something". So if the egg Quality is bad, the egg would run out of battery power even before the cell multiplication within the embryo reaches the critical mass to cause a pregnancy. Imagine a line at which the group of cells in the embryo crosses over to becoming a small living organism. The egg has to provide external power at least till this line, at least. If the battery dies down before this line, well, we go back to square 1.

The easiest way to resolve this would be to undergo medication for making the egg quality better. As with our Dr, i think every Dr would have a standard set of medicines to get this effect. Generally this would take a cycle of 3 months.

Another oft mentioned reason is  "endometriosis" ( am a little lost here :), for generic aspect of this reason. ).  As the Drs say, we cant always pin point the reason, but we could analyze the data to find the most probable cause. Owing to endometriosis, our Dr said that that there was some amount of blood while doing the implantation ( which is a common symptom in endometriosis patients ) - But then, this is not a confirmed Villain. Apparently, endometriosis patients with indication of blood while embryo transfer have also had successful IVF. But it looks a "most probable cause". As the doc says, for a woman, there are only two things that matter for an IVF - The uterus and the egg quality.If the egg is of good quality (which will show up in the growth of the embryo, especially if you do the 5th day transfer) , it might be receptive environment of the uterus and the presence of blood that could cause an IVF failure. "Might have" :)

If Dr quotes this as the reason, the usual way to handle this  would be to give yourself time for couple of months with medically suppressed periods. This would remove this issue of having blood spots during the IVF cycle after this gap.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

So, what's your opinion, doc?

Yesterday, we were told that our second cycle of IVF has also not been successful. One question rebounded from most of our friends and families when we called them to inform about this sad news ; " Do you want to consult another doctor?"

You will meet this question in many avatars:
"My friend/cousin/brother/relative had been to this doctor, and was successful in the treatment"
"This stream of medicine is much more proven, reliable and established than yours"
"This doctor is very experienced and knows all.."
.... and so on an so forth.

I personally have firm belief that we should stick to one doctor for your treatment. And yet, if not for doctor hopping, we would not have found out our issue itself! :) Ironical, isn't it? But here's what i make of it.

  • In the Initial days, when we only know that there is a problem, and we don't know what it is, i feel that it is 'more the merrier' :). Different diagnostics, as long it is not "for the sake of it" diagnostics, is good for us to know that is wrong. But then, "how do you know that it is not "for the sake of it"? I think that's where our involvement comes in. Medical information is available freely on the net ( and if you are here, reading this, you are familiar with Google.) We should not take the inputs from the Dr. at face value, and we should definitely do our re-searching online and also discuss this with few friends to get their opinion.

  • Once we identify the problem, and we start looking for a specific solution to this, stick to one doctor. Do your research beforehand to know our doctor and his/ her performance beforehand, and in the initial days, monitor the interaction. Here are few things that i found very symptomatic of a Dr patient relation:
  • >>> If you find that the doctor is not accessible, either you have to jump through 15 hoops to speak to him, or if you need a appointment schedule to be set 2-3 weeks in advance, i suggest, you start looking out. Accessibility is key, especially if you have any sensitive issues.
  • >>> If the Dr continuously says "All is Well" and continuously asks you to just keep trying, it is better to get another doctor's opinion.

  • Once the treatment starts, many times, we will find doubting whether this course that we are taking is correct or not. It might be a good idea, to get a second opinion at this time. Be very clear on what we are trying to do. We are not searching for a new treatment, and when we go to the new doctor, just tell him / her that we are only trying to validate our current treatment based on the existing diagnostics and patient information.

And, Believe in Serendipity.
Here's what happened to us..
  • We started our consultation with a gyneac early enough. The Dr. was very accessible and was very clear on her advice. But it didn't look like we were going anywhere (Point 2B above, crossed! :) )
  • We spoke to a friend who had the same Dr, and was going through same issues, and she asked us to consult another doctor. Now, this Dr., thought looking at it in a slightly different angle, was very tough to meet ( We would have to get appointments one month in advance - point 1A above, crossed! :) ), so we decided to give this Dr, a slip. ( but not before we wasted a year or so with him :( )
  • Our family recommended us to another Dr, who identified the problem, and suggested a small surgery to resolve it. Now we knew what the issue was.
And purely out of luck, my friend was getting his baby born in Dr. GHP's hospital ( who is our current doctor.). When we heard that we could walk in and meet the Dr, and she would meet you irrespective of the time of the day ( or night ) as long as you were waiting there, we decided to give it a go. 

About a year or so of her care later, and two failed cycles later, we have been asked many times, do you want to change doctor? I have not really had a motivation to do it - for cpl of reasons - she is extremely accessible, and all her diagnostic, seems to be on the right track based on online forums. And yet, we still did consult yet another famous hospital for validation, and the direction and treatments were validated by that  Dr. too. I guess, we will go with this Dr for some more time....

Fingers Crossed for next steps :)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Farook and Shah Rukh!

I had to blog this :)

Today is my nephew's birthday, and so in the morning, we made the customary call to wish him. During the conversation, i asked him " so are you all ready to wear your new dress and go to school?" ( Some traditions, some memories dont change over time :) ) Unfortunately for him, last night, Kerala Governor M O H Farook passed away, and the schools in the state have apparently declared it a holiday, on this account.

So, when i asked him, i got this sad reply "No, there is no school today-someone passed away last night, and therefore its a holiday"
"Someone passed away? Who?"
"I don't know.. someone did!" came the sad reply from the 10 year old, "i think its there on all the papers also"

"Ok.." I went to google and checked it up - just to see that Farook had passed away. So in all earnestness of letting this young guy know who this "someone" was, i told him "Oh, it is Farook, the Kerala governor"

2 seconds silence.
And then with a lot of trepidation, lot of anxiety and and a lot of fear in his voice came a question "WHO? SHAH RUKH? "

We had to spend half a minute to pacify his anxiety and to get him to know that all the words that end with "Kh" is not Shah rukh! Once he knew it, it was back to "oh, someone passed away!" his life crisis averted ! :)

May "Farook"s soul Rest in Peace!

Post Script: I didn't know this, Farook was the youngest chief minister in India ( URL: malayala manorama, TOI )- He was CM of Pondicherry when he was 29! For all of us who yearn for young blood in politics, he should be a mascot!
( the malayala manorama URL is in malayalam font )

Thursday, January 26, 2012

To tell or not to tell? or, the curious case of "I know Jay, and I'm pregnant"

Since the time that we knew that we had to go through the IVF procedure, one question that always kept us thinking was " should we tell others about this?"

Somehow, it seems a little sensitive. And opinions are widely distributed in this regard. But with the wisdom of someone who's been there, done that - here's my recommendation - please do! And here's why....

  • It manages anxiety among close family and friends. Peer pressure is no pleasure...
  • It helps you to be honest about why you cannot take time for social events - you are going to spend a lot of time at the doctor's anyways
  •  It can surprise you with the support you get. Once you open up, you will realize how many people around you has gone through similar situations. 
Once we started opening up, almost every other person knew someone who had gone through this, knows how difficult the time is, and is willing to help; or even more surprisingly for us, how many people around us had actually gone through this. ( thanks to all those friends for their support.... You have no idea how much it matters to us ). You will get doctor reviews, procedural comparisons, medicine notes and so much moral support. That itself is enough to go ahead and open up.
Given the software dev mentality that i have, i like to analyse this to death and categorize this to 4 phases :

  • The Deep Sigh phase - This is phase 1. You are having a conv and you hit upon this difficult question of " so what are your family plans?". You stop for two seconds, take a deep sigh, and start " you know what, we are going though an IVF....." 
  • The Tilted Head Phase - This is phase 2. You have used up your quota of sighs ( and it doesn't work when you try to :) ), you continue your conversation without stopping, but by tilting your head to one side and having a "this is a difficult topic" face expression.
  • The "Oh That!" Phase - No conversation stoppers, just an "oh that! that is because we are going through an IVF..."
  • The "You mean you still don't know this? phase - well, you get the idea. by now, probably the radios are announcing your progress in their daily news :)

This opening up business has also given us phenomenally funny moments in our journey. I had a lady friend who was also going through some difficulty in getting pregnant and was taking medical advice. ( She is blessed with an adorable baby now :) ) Anyways, we used to discuss this quite often. One day, when I was at the airport, she called me up excitedly, and said that she is pregnant. I requested her to call my wife and tell her this, as i would be getting on a plane and i would have to switch off my cell phone. I kind of missed the fact that this friend and my wife has not talked earlier at all  :):):)

So here is how the conversation apparently went :

Triiiiinng triiiiiing ....
My wife picks up the phone.

"Hi this is ...., is this Aparna?" a voice from the other side ( Aparna is my wife)

"Oh hi!" 2 seconds silence
(awkward silence, my friend suddenly realized this is the first time she is speaking to Aparna )

"Hi Aparna, I Know Jay, and I am Pregnant"

2 seconds silence this side of the line. and then, a fitting reply
"I also know Jay, but i am not pregnant......."

What happened when i came back from my trip is still classified information.