Saturday, June 30, 2007

Going Bananas

Folks who have lived in or travelled to the tropics will testify to an abundance of interesting fruits at any time of the year.

There are so many delicious fruits to remember from Africa.

Two of my favourites from East Africa are the Baobab fruit (Adansonia digitata L. on the right) and the rare Victorias (? ref. neeed). More friends have broken arms and legs trying to be the first to get at the Baobab fruit on the slippery branches of these 'upside down' giant trees!
In India such delicacies as Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.),

Mangustan (Mangosteen, Garcinia mangostana L.) and the deliciously acerbic Jambolam (Black Plums, Syzygium cumini L.) arrive in sequence in the early summer and make life very livable.

The Genus Musa:
But nothing comes close to comparing with our varieties of banana!

We have super sweet varieties, soft ones, tough ones, red ones, honey flavoured ones and the list goes on... and on.

In Kerala, the all time favourite variety of banana is the Nenthram. The word 'plantain' is misleadingly used of this fruit. This is a robust variety with seeds and a very firm texture. The taste of an orange centred, ripe fruit is quite sweet but with a tart edge to it.

The unripe fruit can be sliced thin and fried into crisp tasty chips (only coconut oil is use for frying and the combination of flavours is wonderfully aromatic), while the ripe fruit can be steamed, eaten as is, or batter dipped and made into the tastiest fritters (slightly salty batter with succulent nuggets of sweet Nenthram embeded in it).

Needless to say, fried chips and fried fritters are out for me, but the steamed varieties I can still enjoy.

Each variety has it's special flavour, texture, aroma and taste. There is the red and quite robust Sevallai (right), the chubby delicately flavoured Rasthali, and the 'anytime after food digestive', the Poovan.

Let me assure you that the temperately available common variety 'Cavendish' just does not begin to do justice to real, fresh, tropical bananas.

Why I am particularly now reminded of these wonerful fruits is mostly because in the aftermath of my hearty lesson (previous post) my diet has been severely restricted; no oil, no meat, no eggs, BUT I can eat as much as I want of vegetables and yes - fruits!

I have little if anything to complain about when the abundance and variety of very tasty fruits comes to mind. I am also reminded that our first parents were set up in a (tropical?) orchard and appear to have been fruititarians, or so implies the book of Genesis!


Friday, June 22, 2007

A Close Brush with Life

For those who have yet to hear the news, I just had a close brush with life. Last Friday very early morning (June 15th) Aruna woke me as she heard me groaning in my sleep. This is one of those small coincidences as she had actually gone to bed upstairs since I had the lights on and was working that night. Somehow, very unusually, I slept off and crawled into the nearest bed and somehow, Aruna came back downstairs at around 2 a.m.

I awoke with a feeling of slight breathlessness and a sense of tightness under my breastbone. We both thought it to be indigestion and i took a couple of antacid pills, but to no avail. Apart from my jaws being very tight, there were no other symptoms. After an hour of fruitlessly waiting for it to subside, we called our family doctor and he suggested that we come in for a checkup. This was about 3 a.m. (dedicated doc Ravi Thyagarajan!). We got there about 3:30 and he checked my BP and pulse and both were normal. I had no temperature, no sweatiness, no chills, no other discomfort except for this steady 'almost pain' under my breastbone. The feeling of breathlessness had also faded away.

After some deliberation and observation Ravi put a tablet under my tongue, 'just to be on the safe side' and ordered me to a nearby cardiologist for an ECG (EKG) and whatever other tests they may decide. The tab melted off not too unpleasantly but then I felt a bit lightheaded and went home to sleep. This tab-under-the-tongue was concidence #2 for without it things would have gone from bad to worse that much faster!

On awaking, the discomfort was minimal, just a vague feeling of tightness and I was ready to ignore that but Aruna insisted and so at about 9 a.m., after sending the kids to school/college, we finally went to a nearby cardiologist's office where the ECG looked suspicious enough that they decided to do an echo and that showed that a heart attack was under way. The medical term is acute myocardial infarction, in this case affecting the muscles of the anterior wall of my heart. Due to a sudden lack of oxygen these muscle cells were unable to beat properly and would soon die altogether unless rapid action was taken.

I was rushed to a nearby hospital where good cath lab facilities were available. There, as luck would have it, mini miracle #3, a cardiologist who was also a good friend and the best in the city for interventional cardiology was handling the cath lab that day (Dr. J.K. Periyasamy) who on seeing my report, ordered me in for an angiogram. I went straight into the ICCU where an IV line was inserted, medication injected, test doses of the anesthetic and radio-opaque dyes were spotted onto my forearm and I was prepped for the angio.

Within a couple of hours they had me under the moveable head of the x-ray machine in the cath lab, with a catheter working its way up my right arm towards my heart. I was conscious and by now enjoying the whole show. The monitors were on my left and I could watch by craning my neck around slightly. The dyes started to be injected in double puffs of black, highlighting the arteries of my heart. The x-ray head swung in all directions as they got a fix on the two main arteries and studied them for blocks. It didn't take too long to find TWO 90+% blocks right next to each other on the artery known as the LAD. This was obvious even to my untrained eye as Dr. J.K.P. pointed it out and then asked if he could go ahead and put in a stent. After careful measurements they decided that they had a stent that was just big enough to cover both the lesions and that's coincidence #4 as without that 30 mm stent, it would have been a bypass surgery for sure and I would have lost some valuable heart muscle while I awaited that surgery. A very worried Aruna was consulted and shown the blocks and after she agreed, the doc inserted the stent and sent me back to the ICCU.

It turns out that ad hoc stenting like this is almost never done in India. There are too many risks involved and the cardiologist has to be supremely confident that they have seen and diagnosed correctly without needing to ponder the films for a couple of days at least! Yet, I was in that critical window period where if the blocks were removed, my muscle would be preserved and back to normal within a couple of weeks, otherwise the muscle would soon die (about 12 hours is all that's there) and an infarct would result - that's the scar tissue that results from an untreated MI.

That next 24 hours was really painful. I was feeling fine but flat on my back with bandages swathing my arms and under the watchful eyes of the ICCU staff, who flatly refused to even let me watch my own monitors!

The next day I begged to be let out, and the doctor reluctantly agreed. Then after 2 more days in a room at the hospital under observation, I was finally let go of but under strict orders to take rest. I've even been kept away from my computer till today and hence the delay in informing all of you.

I would like to thank in particular Senthilkumar (our adopted brother) and the staff of his company Ventura Omnitech Pvt. Ltd. for the constant and selfless support during a time of crisis!

If I can figure out how to podcast bits of my angio, that may also show up on this blog one of these days...


Monday, June 11, 2007

The Culture of Fear

Talking of PTSD led me to think about the ubiquitous nature of fear. Fear is all around us. Fear is within us. Yet we rarely acknowledge our fear.

What are our fears? Why are we afraid of fear?

Looking at my own little self and asking these questions I get a number of answers.

I am afraid of the future.
I am afraid of losing my job.
I am afraid of losing my health.
I am afraid that my relationships are too fragile.
I am afraid that those I love are getting into trouble.
I am afraid of doing something wrong and getting myself into trouble.
I am afraid of the changes in nature and environment that are taking place around me.
I am afraid that my country may lose its political and economic stability.
I am afraid of market forces controlling and spoiling the economy.
I am afraid of the rapid changes in Indian culture.
I am afraid of certain things in my past.
I am afraid of dependence.

These are generic fears, fears that perhaps most Indians would identify with.

But there are other fears. Fears of what is inside of me. Fears of my own inadequacy. Fears of my ignorance. Fears of my personality traits. Fears of my inability to hold together relationships. Fears of my inability to share. Fears of my neediness. Fears of my inability to love, fears of untruth, and the list could go on...

The way I deal with fear is basically to try to ignore it. I do my job. I spend time with my family. I spend time with friends. I watch TV. I blog. I read the newspaper. I read a novel. I go for walks in the woods. When I think, I try to focus on objective 'stuff'. I sleep.

During each of these avoidings, I carry my fears with me. The fears cause all sorts of turmoil, all the worse for being ignored!

Fear, the fear of fear, eventually drives me to face the fear. I recognise that fear. I recognise that the fear may be justified. I recognise that I may be causing the fear. I recognise that I have to change.

The conscious fear is also an indicator (the tip of the iceberg) of a trouble spot, a trend, a trait, or as John Doyle would perhaps term it, a strand. It is something that has to be dragged out, identified, and faced. Like the pain of a real wound, fear indicates that action is required.

Being 'frozen in fear' is an expression of our response to something sudden and terrifying. We have perhaps not even had time for a 'fight or flight' response to kick in. But, most of our fears do not fall into this category. They are insidious and if they are ignored they will prove debillitating!

Fear causes stress. If there is enough fear and enough continuous stress, you may not get PTSD, but depression and anxiety are probably already knocking on your back door.

The market dislikes fear. Fearful people will not be big spenders! The culture is supported by the market. Market forces and culture cooperate to keep the whole machine smoothly running. Therefore the market, supported by culture, actively suppresses fear. One way of suppressing fear is to revel in the fears of others. Reality TV, the News, and images of Iraq, are today's equivalent of the Roman Colosseum which boasted three types of gruesome 'entertainment'; the venationes, noxii, and munera. Another market-friendly way is to sell you a pill or two!

If you look at the map of ancient Rome, you will notice that the Colosseum is called the Amphitheatrum Flavium or Flavian Amphitheatre. it is suitably situated (territorialised) outside the main city but not too far away (I wonder why malls come to mind?). The analogy is perhaps just a part of life in any civilisation. But, in order to really deal with fear, the territory that it has staked out within one's soul will have to be identified and then reterritorialised!

Real fear is not talked about. Fear is the enemy. Let's suppress those fears!

The title link takes you to the "Rome Reborn" website. Check out the video clips under the gallery, especially the Colosseum in 3D!


Monday, June 04, 2007

The Hiding of Paranoia

PTSD, what do you really know about it? Posttraumatic Stress Disorder has been recognised as a common aftereffect of exposure to warzones since the early 1980s. The phenomenon was first identified in Vietnam Vets. Now, those were the days of my youth in college and I got to know quite a few veterans of the Vietnam War on-campus.

I distinctly remember that many of the veterans had a heightened sense of imminent danger that we would otherwise call paranoia. Now, the odd thing is that during a recent series of exchanges at Ktismatics (follow the title link) on fear, depression, and how we perceive/understand reality, I looked up PTSD on a number of sites and found that paranoia, a heightened sense of fear/danger, is prominenlty missing.

I wonder why? Are we afraid to recognise just how devastating a condition PTSD is? This is certainly possible for the fact is that more than 30% of all soldiers in any real war will suffer from PTSD and for many of these people it will be a debillitating, isolating, lifelong reality, of being dysfunctional in society.

I'm just curious, do any of you know warzone vets who are not paranoid? if I had been subjected to these kinds of stress continuously even for a short space of time, I would be!

But, the more fascinating question that arises is, "is there any reason for people in 'normal' (not war-torn) society to not be paranoid?" Are these Vets perhaps simply responding to real dangers that actually exist but that we have sublimated for some reason or the other? Maybe society and the global marketplace are geared to bury the fears, so that production and efficiency are not affected... Even if it is not a silent conspiracy, could it be that fear itself is societally considered the enemy?

The reality is that it is not only soldiers who need to worry about PTSD, or live with fear. Any psychological trauma can bring it on including motor vehicle accidents, having been a victim of child abuse, rape, a natural disaster, and other common occurrences within 'normal' society.

Any thoughts?


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