My Guru

I wasn’t born into a religious family. At least, not like my brother was. My parents really only joined BAPS after immigrating to the States. My father’s best friend took him to sabha (an assembly) one weekend, and that was the beginning of it all. When my mother, sister and I joined him, he had a small ghar mandir (home temple) set up, and we learned, together and over time, to believe, worship, respect and follow God and our guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj.

My childhood and teenage years were thus filled with following agnãs (wishes) of my guru. We didn’t eat out (ever… not even on road trips), we avoided drinking, smoking, eggs, meat, onion and garlic, we wore modest clothes (I didn’t wear a dress that showed my legs until college again), we went to temple every weekend and were immersed in our language, culture and religious/philosophical knowledge. This might seem like a list of to-dos and not-to-dos, but for us, it was our life. I was a happy, devoted person. My guru taught me the meaning of sacrifice, the burdens of evil thoughts and doings, the simple, unmatched joy of loving God. I was a proud satsangi (devotee), and never hesitated to take my stand in the world as a Swaminarayan.

But college tore me away from my safe haven. God became an idea rather than a reality. Religion became a sheep yard rather than a community. Niyams (rules) became tedious contradictions rather than safeguards against a cruel world. They say knowledge is confirmation… and for a while, I let knowledge confirm my disdain for the religion that shaped so much of who I am.

In fact, I admit I still don’t like talking about religion. I don’t like giving the impression that I am, at the heart of my being, a God-loving person. I don’t want anyone to know how deeply ingrained religion is for my well-being. I doubt even Surgeon knows much about this side of me, because I never find the need to delve into it much. I never introduce myself as a Swaminarayan (or a Hindu, for that matter), and I still find myself questioning the everyday little things we’re supposed to do (the chanting, the praying, the mark on the forehead etc.).

I would rather advocate for goodness. I stand up for goodness. I take the side of goodness.

And my one guide of goodness, no matter how little I mention him, or credit him, or herald him, has been my guru. Never has he wavered in his 95 years on this earth, and never could I say a word of doubt in his doings. It may seem strange for outsiders to understand the outpouring of love from millions of devotees around the world for an old man who resembles the position of a pope in Catholicism. But, he isn’t our Pope. He isn’t our president. He isn’t our celebrity figure.

He was our guru. He brought us, like the word “Gu-Ru” in Sanskrit defines, from darkness to light.

He brought me, in a sense, back to where I know I belong, even if no one else knows it.

Rest in peace, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Thank you for all you’ve done for all of us, knowingly or unknowingly. May I always do that which allows goodness to flourish.

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HH Pramukh Swami Maharaj: 7 December 1921 – 13 August 2016

 

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Thirty

My grandmother was 13 or 14 when she rode on the back of a camel from her small village to the small village that would become her home for the rest of her time. She was to see her husband there for the first time, because during the wedding they had draped her sari so low down her face there was nothing to see, even sneakily, except perhaps an outline against the bright red cloth.

“I knew he was tall,” she would tell us when we asked what it was like.

By 30, she had given birth to six children (including my father), lost her eldest, and was perhaps pregnant with my youngest uncle, or maybe had already had him and was shouting at his two-year-old behind as he ran around, causing mischief.

“I don’t know how old I was!” she would always retort when we implored.

30 for my grandmother was a silver away from being old. She would be welcoming her first grandchild soon enough, and that would almost be, for her, a lifetime of completeness.

“But it wasn’t until your aunt was married off that I was truly free,” she’d sigh happily.

My mother’s story isn’t so different. She was raised as a city girl, and was just starting college when her first proposal came. It was from a young man whose aunt was married into my grandfather’s (mother’s dad) village. She had never seen him before he walked into the door with two friends, confusing my then seventeen-year-old mother as to WHO was the man asking for her hand.

“I remember my mother pointing to your father, sitting to the side, and I couldn’t believe how dumb I was… of course it was him! He was sitting ALONE,” she bashfully recounted.

By 19, she had married my father, and joined him in running a small household filled with my father’s younger siblings and cousins who had come to the city to study.

“I cooked, cleaned, entertained and cared for 5 young boys aged 7 to 20 and your father. Not to mention, I also finished my bachelors degree, taking my final exam while I was pregnant with you,” she nodded at me with a distant glimmer in her eyes. “Those were some of my favorite years, though…”

I can understand why. By 23 she had left behind everything and everyone she knew and come with her husband 7,590 miles away to the country that is still her home. She was shocked that February meant bitter winter weather, and that milk came in gallons. She nervously sent her first daughter to preschool, worrying all day on the verge of tears because she thought she hadn’t taught her 4-year-old enough English to survive for a day. She learned how to drive, how to deal with difficult Indian recipes with limited resources, how to maintain a balance of cultures in her daughters.

At 30, she was a mother of three, was fluent in a language she hated learning as a child, and knew exactly how to handle any crisis that befell her or her family.

“By the time I was your age…” she would taunt when I was in my early twenties.

Because it’s true: I have always felt inadequate compared to my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents when it came to age. Every year, I find myself setting goals, trying to find some sense of satisfaction in my actions as I scrambled to match myself with the struggles of the generations that came before me. I have always fell short. At 21, I was still in college, finishing up my English degree after 4 years of pursuing Biology, refusing to become the doctor my parents always dreamed (and knew I had the potential) of being. At 24, I had shamed my family by breaking off an arranged engagement to a young man who was rather perfect for everyone but me. At 28, I was the suspiciously unmarried older sibling at my sister’s wedding, everyone trying to hide their hunger for gossip behind false smiles.

And today, at the big 3-0, I feel no more glorifying self-love than before. Here I am, married (to the relief of my parents), in a new place, with no work, and my first child curled inside of me, occasionally kicking against the walls of my stomach. And while being the wife of a talented, resilient and amazing person is the best thing that could have happened to me, I am hardly the mother my mother and grandmother were, hardly the teacher I know I can be, hardly, even, the writer who had promised herself to have a novel out by now. I woke up feeling, all things considered, quite a failure.

But as I reflect and judge, perhaps this is exactly how it needs to be. Perhaps it’s exactly how I need to feel on day one of being 30, so that the rest of 364 days can be spent doing and becoming exactly what I aimed to do and be.

And maybe one day, I’ll get to smile and share, “You know, when I was 30…”

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10 Tips for Dating A Resident

Dating is pretty daunting. Dating someone in a surgical residency program (or really, ANY residency) is something of a myth. So rare is the meeting/dating/marrying during residency formula that when Surgeon made his graduation speech, the loudest applause was when he mentioned meeting/dating/marrying yours truly.

Surgeon and I met during his 2nd year of residency. I seriously had no idea what I was getting into back then. I am still learning things, but just in case you’re texting that really awesome, sexy doctor online (yes, gentlemen, I am talking to YOU too), there are some things worth knowing.

Inspired by the wonderful and talented Single With Scalpel‘s guest post on the equally savvy and fabulous Sassy‘s blog, here’s a handy list to keep around.

Tip #1: Be Flexible – Dates can and SHOULD happen anywhere. After my first formal date with Surgeon, it got not-so-formal. We’ve had dates in supermarkets (yes, we grocery shopped together and then went home). More dinner dates happened at the hospital than anywhere else. In the end, your where-to-have-a-date question should be: where can I spend the most time with this person? And then, DO IT, no matter how weird it seems.

Tip #2: Appreciate Time Constraints –  Residents don’t have a lot of free time. Surgeon worked 100+ hours for many weeks, and with 4 days off a month, it wasn’t easy getting a “weekend away.” Realize this and really appreciate that they want to spend that little time off with you, instead of, you know, SLEEPING.

Tip #3: Be Ready to Put in MORE Time – They say all is fair and equal in true love. HAHAHA. Ahem. I mean, yes, it is. But when you’re dating a resident, fair and equal doesn’t apply for many things, especially time-wise. It’s one thing being flexible, but you should also count on spending a lot of time prepping on your own for that date. By the first month, I knew a dinner date meant me cooking, packing and cleaning up afterwards only to spend 30 minutes eating with Surgeon. I was willing to give it that time. Did that mean Surgeon NEVER cooked for me or NEVER did dishes? Of course not! But I never held it against him when he couldn’t.

Tip #4: Be the NON-Work Person – I found out early on that I LOVED listening to Surgeon talk about his work. It became a habit for me to ask, “So, what procedure did you do today?” Surgeon was a good sport, but I realized it wasn’t as enjoyable for him as it was for me… he needed someone to take him OUT of the medical world, quite understandably after spending 17 hours of a day there. So we learned to talk about OTHER things. Do I still get stories and reports about the OR? Absolutely. But not because I asked 🙂

Tip #5: Be Honest About what YOU Want – Also on Single with Scalpel’s list, yet it’s important on both sides. Residency is hard, but don’t let it become an excuse. Be flexible, but also let your super awesome doctor know when you want something! I was always hesitant in bringing up issues, or suggesting things that I knew would be difficult for Surgeon to do. But you matter. They want to be with you. They just don’t have time for the wheedling about, so TELL THEM the truth, always. You’ll be (most likely) pleasantly surprised. I certainly was when I found myself on a hike with my favorite person on a post-call day…

Tip #6: Befriend Co-residents – and spend time with them, even if it means being the only non-doctor in the room. Some of my best allies in getting Surgeon to be somewhere on time were his co-residents. Better yet, you haven’t heard from your person all day? Text a co-resident and they’ll fill you in. Pay them back in homemade cookies. Or pies. Really, food. Any food. They are your best friends forever. Truly.

Tip #7: Know That You’ll Sometimes Come Second – but never by choice. That’s the most important thing to understand. It is NEVER by choice. There have been many disappointing moments in our almost 4 years together directly tied to Surgeon being caught up in some dilemma at the hospital. Delays upon delays. No-shows with delayed responses as to WHY the no-show. Cancellations. Once, he had to leave me mid-ordering a meal during my birthday dinner. It sucked. But it sucked for BOTH of us, not just my poor little self sitting alone at a table. Surgeon didn’t get to eat again for a whole night and day.

Tip #8: 99% of Bad Moods/Days are NOT About You – This was really a hard one to learn for me… I tend to take a person’s mood around me as a reflection of what they feel about me. This is not a bad way to judge whoever you’re interacting with, but when you’re dating a resident, it might come to the point where all you see is bad days, row after row. It took me a while to realize that Surgeon probably deals with a LOT of frustration that he CAN’T show at work, so he comes home and deals with it there. It’s not about me. We learned together how to deal with the stress and the emotional burden of it… but that’s a whole other post in and of itself!

Tip #9: Learn How to PROUDLY make Excuses for their Absence – All my friends knew I had been dating, but no one believed me until I finally posted up our wedding photos on FB. Even then, there were people asking me if I hired someone to mess with them, heh. Truth is, residency means NO TIME. I went to all my friends’ weddings during Surgeon’s residency without him. Hell, I still go places without Surgeon! But I tell everyone proudly: my boyfriend/fiance/husband is working hard… he would love to be here, but he can’t be. He really is sorry to miss this! Don’t ever belittle your other-half’s work through their absence. They aren’t there because the work they are learning to do might someday save the very person you’re explaining their absence to.

Tip #10: Know that You’ll Never TRULY Understand the struggle of residency, but you’ll know better than most. You can’t walk in a resident’s shoes unless you’re a resident, too! There are things I still don’t get, frustrations that I am still grasping to make sense of, hospital bureaucracy that I am still wondering angrily about. I cannot compare anything I do to what he does (and really, no one should ever compare in ANY relationship, resident or otherwise), but I can listen. And by listening, I can’t say I have worn his shoes, but I can say that I do love the shoes he wears and will always stand next to them in my own. Residency is tough, but love is stronger.

And on that clichéd but very true note, I’ll leave you. If you have anything to add to the list, let me know below! I’d love to amend/discuss 🙂

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Omar’s $500 Bill

About a year into our relationship, we decided it was time to make sure we could take care of something and keep it alive together. No, not plants… although we’d had our share of failed plants by then: a lipstick plant (yes, there is such a thing) we named Alice (yes, we DO name our plants) had slowly lost all her beautiful curled leaves, no matter how hard we tried to keep her happy, and over a trip I took during the summer to the west coast, Surgeon had managed to OVER-water a cactus named Carlos —

“I thought you had to water him every week!” he protested.

“It’s A CACTUS.” The poor thing had fallen apart on my kitchen counter.

All things considered though, it made sense to try this “next step.” Neither of us had had a pet growing up. My mother was adamant to keep her house fur free, “and besides,” she’d point out, nonchalantly eyeing my siblings and I lined up with faces creased in hope and pleading, “I already have three pets to take care of.” Surgeon’s case was a little different: he is allergic to fur, so dogs, cats, and all things furry were never an option.

“How about a hedgehog?” Surgeon prompted.

A hedgehog. I’d heard of them, but I also HADN’T heard of them. The only representation I had of them was Sonic the hedgehog. But when Surgeon pulled up pictures of REAL hedgehogs online, I knew we’d get one… how could anyone resist the cuteness?

So the search began, and about 2 months later, I brought home (well, to Surgeon’s home back then) a very terrified, balled up, spiky bundle of a baby hedgehog.

We had just finished watching The Wire, and after playing a bit with our new pet, we decided that Omar, after Omar Little in the show, suited the little creature perfectly: tough on the outside, but soft-hearted on the inside.

Omar grew and we found his temperament to be more like the extreme introvert rather than the quirky, excited explorer I’d hoped him to be. His needs are: feed me, clean me, and leave me alone. Nevertheless, he was the one “family” member we had at our wedding, and his presence is always calming, especially when I am stuck at home for hours with no one else really around.

He has also managed to teach me a couple of things about animal medical care… it can get pretty expensive. A yearly check up with a vet who specializes in exotics (apparently Omar is an exotic) can cost up to 200 dollars, especially if they have to put him under for examination. But what’s 200 bucks a year, right? I shrugged it off.

But when it comes to real problems, it really isn’t something to shrug off. A few weeks back, Surgeon pulled Omar out of his cage and we found, much to our dismay, an abscess on his little butt. Surgeon, being who he is, gently poked at it and said,

“Let me get a knife and drain it.”

My heart just about flew out of my chest. “NO. He’s not gonna be CUT without being under!”

“Well, it doesn’t seem to bother him when I touch it. Let’s try.”

“WAIT. Let me look this up,” I reasoned. Surgeon knows me well and was gracious enough to let me pull out my laptop and do some research while he continued to examine and poke at my poor creature’s abscess.

Online, I found that it was done exactly as Surgeon had suggested. Cut, drain, keep it clean. But it was ALWAYS cut while the animal was under.

It also cost upward of $500 to get it done at the vet’s office.

“Come on. Let me try. If he goes berserk, I’ll stop.”

Reluctantly, I brought him gloves, towels and a blade. Yes, a surgical blade… he keeps them around.

Surgeon picked Omar up, flipped him into his hand on his back, and tried to hold him still. Omar is a fidgety animal, but for some reason, it seemed as if he knew what was happening. As soon as Surgeon brought the blade near, Omar went completely calm. Surgeon deftly made a clean cut, squeezed out all the puss, and cleaned it all up in less than a minute.

And Omar? He just stared at my worried face and Surgeon’s concentrating one, back and forth, as if nothing important was happening.

“See? It’s handy having a surgeon around!” Surgeon smirked, “I just saved us $500 and then some.”

I scowled at him and then smiled down at the little face looking up at me from the bath in the sink.

I guess it is kinda handy.

The Drop Off Dilemma

I haven’t written here for some time, mainly because I needed to feel comfortable about being public about my life with Surgeon who, I’ve certainly learned, is extremely private. If he had his way, he wouldn’t exist in the world of the internet. As boldly as I may have asserted my willingness to write, I realized that I really had very little to write ABOUT if I didn’t include him in the picture. Getting a grasp of what is acceptable and unacceptable by his standards has been a little taxing. Posting past chats? Nope. Hence the halt of the Snippet Series. Telling the world about the best travel baggage for interviews? A non-issue. Basically, the rule of thumb is getting clearer, and I am ready again to write on.

So, allow me to re-begin with a peeve that has bothered me from the moment I started making homemade meals for Surgeon a couple of years ago: The Drop Off Dilemma.

As a surgical resident, you really have no clue what or whether you’re going to eat on a given day. I’ve heard of days filled with healthy, full plated meals Surgeon manages to grab from the cafeteria to an entire 35 hour run sustained on animal crackers and juice boxes stolen from the ER in between surgeries. As a surgical resident’s partner, you’re left wondering how the heck you can make meals easier for someone who cannot be there for dinner, but needs one badly.

The best option is to make fresh meals and deliver them to the hospital doors. Sounds simple, right? How hard can it be to bring a steaming lasagna with a fresh salad and hand them over with a smile and kiss?

It’s hard. Trust me. It’s UNBELIEVABLY hard.

First, I have to text Surgeon hours in advance, asking if he thinks he’ll have time to actually come to door to get the food. YES, THIS IS A REAL ISSUE. The answer varies from a certain “maybe” to a downright, stressed “probably not, but you can try around ___ o’clock.”

So you take your time constraints and work around them. I’ve had meals prepared and ready to go anywhere between 3 PM and 11 PM, depending largely on his schedule and sometimes on mine. Once it’s all packed to go, I need to text him again, asking “Okay, should I leave now?”

If I am lucky, the answer is immediate and positive. At that point, I basically drive over there as fast as I can and he’s already waiting at the doors. I pass the food, get my kiss, and am free.

If I am NOT lucky, the answer doesn’t come for a while (longest wait so far has been 2 hours), and when I get to the door, there is another text apologetically stating, “I’m so sorry, this is going to take a couple of minutes” (longest wait in the car so far has been an hour and fifteen minutes).

Meanwhile, the food is cooling, cooling, cooling… and finally no better than the temperature of leftovers I could’ve packed the night before.

It’s disheartening on so many levels:

  1. What kind of system is this where meals are skipped regularly by those who make it their life’s work to help people become and stay healthy?
  2. What kind of environment must Surgeon be in if he literally CAN’T get five minutes (when he’s NOT operating) to come get some food?
  3. Why in the WORLD hasn’t any HR department at ANY hospital given some thought to the prospect of partners/spouses dropping off meals for their busy other-half?

Seriously, how HARD can it possibly be to have a Drop Off space inside a hospital? It wouldn’t even need to be elaborate. A counter would suffice! Would a hotbox and a refrigerator be nice? Yes, but we’re not picky. We just want a channel INTO the hospital system that can let us pass the food on…

It would have saved me so many hours. And for Surgeon?

It would mean having a meal waiting for him when he CAN go get it. It would mean he doesn’t have to rush through patient care just to not keep me waiting. It would mean he’d never have to stand at the doors waiting for me in a full, about-to-scrub-in outfit (beard net and all), and then RUN like his life was about to end back to the OR.

It would mean he’d never have to go 35 hours again without a decent meal.

Who would’ve thought a plain old COUNTER has the potential do so much good?

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