Thursday, December 7, 2017

Where The Light Shines Through

Steve Jobs' biography is an interesting read.

It is evident from page 1 to 656 that Walter Isaacson went above and beyond to present a fact based, accurate depiction of the Apple co-founder’s life.

The book is brutally honest.

I finally got around to reading it on a short weekend trip to Chennai. 

While I’m normally a non-annoying co passenger, my fellow patrons on the bus were often distracted by my loud exclamations. On many occasions, I found myself pausing and saying out loud things like - ‘No way, there’s no way he did that’.
In the end though I found Steve to be an interesting, complicated and controversial personality, all at the same time.

One thing I could not deny was his unfathomable passion for everything that he put his time and money into, it was palpable in every page of the book.
Whether it was him aggressively marketing Steve Wozniak’s circuit boards or pushing the Apple II’s team to the limits of exhaustion, his drive was incredible.

It is easy to see that he was not really motivated entirely by financial gain, I was moved when I read about an instance during the early days of Apple’s formation where Jobs cried after Wozniaks father accused him of trying to take advantage of his son.

After he was fired from Apple the first time, Steve founded another computer company-NeXT, the biggest surprise in the book came to me while reading the chapters detailing this phase of his life.

I had no clue that Steve Jobs owned Pixar at one time.

He bought it from George Lucas and invested 5 million dollars of his own money into it primarily because he was blown away by the innovation he saw at the company.

NeXT although ambitious was not successful and Steve was on the verge of bankruptcy, he had decent offers to sell off his stake in Pixar but he didn’t do it.
Pixar continued to lose money but innovation didn’t stop.

Everything changed when they made the world’s first fully animated movie about a bunch of toys that come to life at night.

Steve did eventually agree to a merger of the company with Disney, but terms of the the deal included a clause that put all creative aspects of production in the hands of the people at Pixar.

I’m not a very big fan of animated movies, but I love Pixar.

Over the years the studio has produced some great movies, films that combine state of art animation with stories that can stand up to any live action drama.

There is usually something to learn in all of these films, both for kids and adults.

Carl and Ellie in ‘Up’ taught us about lasting love, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and Andy continue to demonstrate what real friendship is like with the Toy Story franchise, and who would have thought that one of the best depictions of parental love in cinema would come from the same studio in the form of a story about 2 clownfish named Nemo and Marlin.
This blog is about another Oscar winning Pixar production.

'Inside out' is a fascinating movie for many reasons, I consider it one of the most innovative projects made in cinematic history.

Pete Docter redefined storytelling in animated movies through this feature.

The story revolves around a 11 year old girl named Riley, but the main protagonists are actually her emotions - Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger, 5 characters with 5 different personalities residing in her mind.

In the beginning most of Riley's memories are happy and ‘Joy’ dominates her emotions.

So 'Joy' is pretty much in charge of all her feelings.

'Sadness' is an unwanted emotion and the others kind of bully her all the time.

When Riley’s dad suffers some losses in his business he moves the family to San Francisco and that’s where her life changes signficantly.

With every bad experience 'Sadness' starts to grow and her happy memories begin to decline, naturally all the other emotions in her mind blame sadness for this untoward turn of events and isolate her even further.

On one particularly unfortunate occasion 'Joy' goes to the extent of trying to delete one of Riley’s bad memories and both ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ get pulled into a maze of some kind and Riley is left with fear, disgust and anger to manage her feelings.

As one may expect this does not work out too well for her.

As Joy and Sadness navigate through the maze of Riley's memories they come across one incident that changes Joy's perception of Sadness for ever. 

More on that later.
I have written about my love for Switchfoot’s music many times in my blogs.

Jon Foreman is a modern-day poet and prophet.

Their latest album that came out in 2016 was called ‘Where the light shines through’. 

I didn't get the reason why the band chose 'Where the light shines through' as the name of their album, not even after listening to the titular song a bunch of times.

Then one cold Sunday afternoon while on another bus ride the song revealed itself to me.

Here are the lyrics from the chorus.

'Cause your scars shine like dark stars
Yeah, your wounds are where the light shines through
So let's go there, to that place where we sing these broken prayers where the light shines through
The wound is where the light shines through
Yeah, the wound is where the light shines through’

I once read somewhere that some of the nicest, most kind people in the world are the ones who have been treated very unfairly in life.

And I have actually found this to be true from my own experiences.

The first people to rush to your aid when you are in need of help and support are usually the ones who have suffered immensely in their own lives.

It is almost as if the light within them shines through the scars of their healed wounds.

Which brings me back to the movie

While Joy and Sadness are trying to find their way out of the maze in Rileys mind, they bump into a memory of a ice hockey game where she goes from being immensely sad to extremely happy after her friends and family rush to console her.

Thats when joy realizes that if not for sadness, empathy would be non existent.

If Riley's parents couldn't empathize with her sadness they wouldn't able to make her feel happy again.

Although all our pursuits in life are centered around our desire to be happy, sadness plays an important role in our lives too and we shouldn't fear it.

And if we can't keep it from coming our way, we should embrace it remembering that even sadness does not last forever and that our wounds are where the light shines through.

Until Next Time.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Little Wins

One thing I really missed about our first year in medical school was our classroom.

I mean it, literally.

It was this beautiful well lit oblong room with cross ventilation that could challenge the 'Hawa Mahal' in India.

80% of our subjects in year 2 were based on patient care and so they moved our classes to an odd square shaped room in the basement of our hospital.

It was dark down there and it took 10 overhead lights to keep the room sufficiently illuminated.

The acoustics were terrible, even with a microphone some of our loudest teachers were barely audible at the back benches.

To keep a class engaged was no easy task for the speaker. Not especially for a visiting psychiatry professor with a voice so soft, even dolphins had to strain their ears to listen to him speak.
Dolphins are the best listeners!
The first 45 minutes of his presentation are still a blur to me, I don't even remember the topic. But, from the 46th minute onward I began to pay attention.

'What is love'? He had asked the class, and seeing that no one was volunteering an answer, he picked on me.

'Excuse me sir'? I looked at him with a confused expression.

'What is love'? He asked again.

Of course he thought I knew the answer. 

People had been asking each other this question from before the time fire was invented, but little did they know that a second year med student had all the right answers to all of life's big mysteries.

Before I could speak he interrupted me.

'Let me rephrase, Why do we feel love'? He asked, an even more complicated question, as if the first one wasn't hard enough.

Please don't ask me why I said what I said.
Maybe I was in a trance or something.
But this was my answer.

'Its the dopamine sir'. I said.

'When the dopamine level in our brains increase we feel love'. 

There was silence in the room.

No sooner did the words come out of my mouth did I realize that I had said something extremely stupid.

I felt like kicking myself, but you cant reverse words already spoken, or split milk right?

Thankfully my friend Shruthi stepped in and saved the day.

'It's all about emotions', She said, and the psychiatrist who appeared as though he was in a coma after hearing my answer quickly regained his composure.

The lecture ended with a Q & A.

But by now, nearly every single person in the room was exhausted to the point of passing out, except the speaker himself and me, my head was still reeling (from all the dopamine inside it I presume).
Dopamine Pills
Shashank wanted to ask him what the topic was, but some of us managed to keep him from doing that.

We didn't want him to think we were a class full of imbeciles (Shruthi excluded of course).

In order to redeem myself I stood up boldly.

For the second time that day everyones eyes were pointed straight at me.

I asked him my question.

'Of all the patients you have seen in your life, is there one that stands out'?

I could feel the hate of my peers in the room.

This was the last session of the day, only 7 out of the 10 lights inside were working, the topic of the presentation was unknown to most of us, the speaker was surely a dolphin in his past life and in addition to bumming everyone out with my love is equivalent to 'dopamine levels in the brain' theory here I was prolonging the process with my ridiculous questions.

He took a very deep breath, quite akin to the deep breath of a dolphin underwater.

Then he took another one.

And another.

'Maybe there were many patients who stood out in his practice' I thought to myself as he dove into his fourth deep breath, utilizing every single alveolus at his disposal.

'Every patient of mine is special and I have learnt something from each of them'. He said.
It was a good answer.
Ambulatory medicine is not everyones cup of tea.

It is not as exciting or intense as working in the in-patient setting at a hospital.

But that being said, traditional medicine is best experienced at the clinic.

Establishing lasting relationships with patients is possible only when you have a chance to follow up with them regularly, that happens more often in the clinic than at the hospital.

Some patients religiously keep with up their appointments.

This blogpost however is about a patient who was actually quite the opposite.

When I saw her name on my list last November for the 5th time since I started , I told myself she was not going to show up.

Even though I had never seen her in person, I was familiar with her voice.

We often called her over the phone to ask if she wanted to reschedule and almost always the call went to her voice mail.

‘Hope you have a blessed day’ thats how her recorded greeting always ended.

After closing the visit of my penultimate patient, assuming I was done for the day, I started putting my things back into my bag.

That’s when the something unexpected happened.

I looked up at my screen and the white light next to her name turned yellow and then green.

She had finally made it.

I was excited to meet her and it showed when I walked into the consultation room.

'Hey! How have you been'? I said enthusiastically.

She just smiled back at me.

'I wanted a refill on my medications'. She said as I sat down.

'No problem' I replied and we carefully went through all of her meds one by one.

She never stopped smiling the entire time.

After I signed the last prescription, she got up to leave.

'Thanks, you have a blessed day'. She said in her characteristic style and began to walk out of the room.

'Forgive me but why weren't you able to make it to your previous appointments'? I asked her just as she opened the door.

It wasn't a great or important question, quite like the one I asked the psychiatry professor at my medical school more than a decade ago, but I wanted to know the answer.

She closed the door and sat back down on her chair.

She looked at me for a second and started talking.

'Anxiety is a terrible, terrible thing to live with doctor'. She told me, Still smiling.

'On some days it is hard just waking up and getting out of bed'.

'You want to go back to sleep but you know in your heart that ain't gonna happen'.

'The first time I cancelled I just couldn't put my feet on the ground, but thats ok because the second time I was able to get dressed'.

'But then the thought of driving all the way up here paralyzed me, you see I have not driven my car in a long while.'

'The third and fourth time around I was able to drive a few blocks but then I had to rush back home because i hadn't been out in such a long time and it was scary'.

'But thats alright'.

'I am here today doc, I am here'. She said smiling even more widely.

'I got up, I got dressed, I called my nephew and he drove me to your clinic'.

'3 small victories in one day'.

'Isn't that something'? She asked me.

She didn't wait for me to answer.

'I am hoping that next time, I will be able to get here on my own'.

'It may not seem like much doc, but being able to do these little things is a big deal for me'. She said.

I was left speechless.

I learnt something from my patient that day.

She taught me how important it was to be happy for the little things we accomplish everyday.

The things we struggle with on a more personal level - our fears, our phobias, stuff known mostly only to us that the majority may find trivial, or unimportant or even a little crazy or weird.

The big moments deserve to be celebrated and they will come our way eventually, but we don't live from one major accomplishment to another, no, a large chunk of our lives is spent in the in-between, one day at a time.

So the next time you wake up in the morning with a smile instead of a frown on your face or work out for 30 minutes instead of 20, or show up to work on time or keep your neighbors dog from freaking you out, remind yourself to take notice of it, do a little dance, click your heels, or hug somebody, have a glass of wine or a piece of cake, if none of that appeals to you just be happy and congratulate yourself for doing something that you struggled with before.

Take a little time and celebrate the 'little' wins in your life and let them set the stage for the bigger victories that are headed your way.

Until next time, hope you have a blessed day too.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

30 Years & Counting...

Everything I was wearing that day was brand new, except for Dad’s watch.

The ensemble - A striped blue shirt its long sleeves neatly buttoned at the ends, pleated black pants ironed to perfection and my shiny black shoes.

‘It's a brand new start son’ Dad had said as he gave me his large Seiko timepiece. It didn’t fit, obviously, but I held onto it tightly nonetheless.

Our uniquely oblong classroom was really noisy on my first day at junior college.

The rustling of restless feet and the incessant, nervous chatter of anxious students like me only served to tighten the knot in my belly.

I sat on the first bench with 3 others, trying my best to keep it together.

Peace and quiet finally came to us like a wave, the noise gradually reduced starting at the back simmering down the aisle.

I didn't have to turn around, It was clear to me that someone important had just walked into the room.
Jibimon Joseph was an unusual name for a physics professor.

His name was only the tip of the iceberg.

I was expecting a much older, unkempt, eccentric man with thick glasses as the department head of physics. Professor Joseph or Jibi sir as we called him was the complete opposite.

Come rain or shine, his hair was always combed to perfection, it was almost as if the wind in Bangalore city helped him each morning, organizing every strand on his head to a preset angle with respect to the planes of his scalp. 

His eyes complemented his focused, laser-sharp stare which was a little odd when coupled with his boyish smile. 

In sharp contrast to my attire though, the long sleeves of his chequered shirts were always folded up to the middle of his forearms.

We loved him, and like every great teacher, he made us fall in love with his subject.

There were exactly 63 students in my science class that year, and when the teacher of the year was announced in both 2004 & 2005, Jibi sir beat the closest competition by exactly 63 votes.
2 years went by at the speed of light, and coincidentally our last lecture on our last day was again in physics.

He was calm and composed, as usual, I waited for him to give us a lengthy discourse on the path that lay ahead of us, but he stuck to topics that were important for our upcoming exams. 

Maybe he didn’t want to make it harder for us than it already was to say goodbye.

With barely 2 minutes left for the class to end, he made us promise that every 5 years, we would get in touch with him and apprise him of all major professional and personal milestones in our life.

The front bench had by now become my designated spot,this evening too I was finding it hard to hold everything together, but when I looked at my hands I realized something was different.
Working nights is a unique experience.

It’s been very long since I first burnt midnight oil working the graveyard shift at my medical school. In spite of all these years, it still takes some getting used to.

The first night is always the hardest; no matter how well you prepare for it your body is just not ready for the change.

But then, the first 5 shifts go by and snap, all of a sudden your rhythm just changes.

You go from being human to werewolf just like that.

I don't mind if my night is busy, time just passes by, but once the switch has occurred, having a quiet night without any work to do is kind of a punishment, because at least in my case, I just can’t go to sleep.

One feature that really stands out when working at Saint Joseph Hospital in Chicago is the spectacular view of Lake Michigan visible from most parts of the facility.

Irrespective of the weather or time of day, it is very hard not to be captivated by the beauty that lies ahead of you.
The first half of my recent night float rotation was incredibly busy.On some of the shifts, I didn’t even see the inside of my call room.

Then the switch happened, both with my circadian rhythm and also with the patient load at the hospital.

I got less busy and I was able to find time to rest. 

6 nights in unable to sleep and tired of staring at the ceiling I walked up to the window in my room and stared at the lake.

It was still very dark outside, but the moon and its reflection off the surface of the lake was simply stunning.

I tried to take in as much as possible of the view in front of me, but when I realized I might be standing too close to the glass I took a few steps back, and then a few more.

When I adjusted my gaze a little I was slightly taken aback by the sight of my own reflection in the glass.

But then I wondered If I stretched my imagination just a little more would I be able to make an objective assessment of the man staring back at me

Don’t judge me, like I mentioned this was my sixth night straight in a row, I was entitled to hallucinate a little.
I started by smiling at him, just to see how he would react you know.

And he smiled back, right away.

‘What a good looking guy’? I thought to myself.'Even with the dark circles under his eyes' I duly noted.

As you can see I was stretching my imagination a lot.

‘He could use a haircut though’ I thought out loud.

‘And a shave’ I told myself.

'Why do his scrubs look so crushed'? I asked, pointing my finger at him.

Slightly annoyed by the sight of him pointing his finger back at me I paid closer attention to his hands.

That’s when something else caught my attention, the same thing that I noticed on my last day at junior college.

Like my shirt, the long sleeves of my white coat were neatly folded up all the way to the middle of my forearms.

I thought about Jibi sir as I sat down at the foot end of my bed.

The first time I met him, I was 15 years old, and now in a few weeks,I was poised to turn 30.


I took a deep breath, and all of a sudden I felt a lot older than I ever did before, like someone at the end of a long journey.

Sure, like Frost once said, I had miles and miles to go, but still, I couldn’t stop my shoulders from feeling heavy and so I placed my hands on the bed and looked down on the floor.
It dawned on me that in all these years, I hadn't kept my promise to Jibi sir.

Only once eons ago I had called him to let him know that everything was going well at my medical school. When he asked me what I was planning on doing next, I told him the truth, I did not know. That was it.

When Orkut was still a thing, for a short time he created a profile there, but after the website was closed down he completely went off the grid. Most of my searches for him online returned fruitless and before I could get my first cell phone, I lost the book containing his contact information.

With my night float behind me, and my sleep cycle restored to normalcy, I reached out to some other teachers at my college whom I could identify on social media.

I heard from our English teacher who told me that he had moved out of the country many years ago relocating to the UK.

I was left with a bittersweet feeling.

If I could somehow reach out to him today, I wondered what I would say to him.

He was never a man of many words, so maybe the best thing I could do was summarize the last 15 years of my life.

How best could I do that?

I would tell him that on completion of 30 years I felt grateful more than I felt anything else.

Grateful because God had been good, grateful because the blessings outnumbered the curses,  joy surpassed pain, laughter dominated the tears and happiness overcame regret.
In spite of all the ups and downs, for all that it gave and took away from me, life had been good and for those reasons, I was grateful.
Maybe all he wanted to do was instill in us the ability to set goals for ourselves and strive towards achieving them, or maybe this was his way of making sure that no matter where we ended up we were doing ok.

While I will never give up my search for finding him, sometimes when I fold the sleeves of the shirts I'm wearing I wonder if after all these years he would still remember me, and if he did, would he be proud?

I hope yes.

Until Next Time