Thursday, August 30, 2012

Zalm, Day 4

As I write this, on my fourth day of substitutional duty at Zalm, a village about 50 km away from my home town of Al Muwayh, I am reminded of my earlier stint here in May/June. The last time I was here, I had a minor accident while trying to exit from a local supermarket. The step outward was very deep down, and I had twisted my right foot and had had to apply a crepe bandage and walk with a limp for over 2 weeks thereafter. 

As it happens, I sprained my right ankle again at the very same place this time as well! It happened on my second evening here when I visited the supermarket to get some things. It is only after I had sprained the ankle that I recalled the previous incident. 

I got my foot in a crepe bandage the same evening, and now, after 2 succeeding nights and mornings, the pain has reduced considerably, although I still need an analgesic now and then.

Zalm has hardly changed ... I am referring to both, the hospital and the village. This time, I was not too keen on walking, and hence stayed indoors in my room on the first floor of the hospital, adjacent to a Syrian OB-GY doctor who is also here to substitute for the local gyne doctor who has gone on vacation. This doctor is Dr. Nabil; he is over 58, but has a steady hand while operating. I attended one Cesarean section delivery and I saw his work, hence the certificate of his ability. Outside the hospital, he has other good qualities such as soft-spokenness, concern for others and a simple but profound sense of the rightness of any matter.

The meals I get are the same as they were during my previous visits. The  kitchen staff usually makes one vegetable and one fried or roasted non-vegetarian item. Most of the times, they overcook the vegetable, as this is the custom here. The non-veg is generally either fried fish fillets or chicken broast (that is roasted and basted over heat and oil). Can't say I really enjoy them, but they are okay, I guess. 

I did not get proper access to the net on the first day, but later on, it's been better, and I have been able to study for long periods without interruption. My Onexamination stints are okay, and I am consistently able to score around 70% each time I do more than 10-15 questions at a stretch. However, some questions are really tough and I have to go to special internet sites to read about these things ... can't be sure I will pass ... so I keep trying to improve  myself.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An update

My studies are now progressing pretty well. I give myself 3-4 hours of study each day, but this is highly flexible and dictated by the other events occurring in my life. My dad has been re-admitted for tube feeding, and upon discharge, the tube that the doctors have passed into his stomach through the nose will probably stay in. He had a chest infection, and this is being treated, with good results, I am happy to report. As per the report my family gave me, he has improved considerably and even started talking now. Alhamdulillah.

My kids are fine, as is Nishrin. I had a long chat on Skype today, and they are doing well.

My hospital routine is going on as usual. Yesterday, the new week started with a bang because it was the first working day after a long Eid-vacation; there were millions of patients (okay, I am exaggerating), and the work was quite a lot. However, by the afternoon, the flow of patients had reduced somewhat.

In other news ... I go to Zalm again for three days starting tomorrow morning. Will keep updating you from there or later as and when I have something good to report. 

Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Eid ... my first away from home

Yes, Eid came and has gone! This is the first time I can think of that I wasn't with my family on this occasion. Well, over the past year, I have come to accept that there will be several such events that I will not be with the family in. I tried to re-create some of the Eid magic by preparing the traditional sheer-khuma. Most of the ingredients of this milk drink are available in Al Muwayh, although I had some difficulty in procuring dry dates (what is known here as Tamr Nashif). Eventually, I got this item from the Yemeni supermarket here. The two ingredients that I could not get were saffron (which is normally added at the end to flavour and fragrantise the milk) and charoli ... the small, pulse-sized dry fruit that we get easily in India. Even so, the result was acceptable.

To prepare sheer-khuma, you first need to blanch, deskin and then chop almonds and pistachio nuts (and charoli too, if available, though it is too small to be chopped). You also need to dice cashew nuts (without blanching them),  and dry dates. To start with, you need to place a big-enough vessel on the fire. Add a small quantity of oil or ghee, then add broken vermicelli, saute till brown, then all the chopped dry fruit (and the dates). Saute till they are slightly brown. Then, add milk and sugar, and cook over slow fire for up to 40-60 minutes, or till about 1/3rd of the milk has reduced. During the boiling process, stand by the stove to keep an eye on the vessel, or the milk will boil over and create a mess in the kitchen. Add some dried raisins to the mix and let them boil with the rest of the mix. The raisins will swell and become round globs which add fantastic texture to the drink. Towards the end, take a little milk in a small bowl, add some saffron twigs to it, stir and add to the milk and take the milk off the stove. Stand for a short while, adjusting the taste of sugar by adding more sugar if needed. 

Your sheer-khuma is ready. Remember to have it hot, or you won't enjoy the flavours. 

I am told that the south Indian payasam is similar to this preparation, but will await confirmation from some authentic source. To me, the sheer-khuma is the embodiment of what Eid is all about ... and I really enjoy eating it (yes, eating is a better word, since it has thick consistency ... which improves each time you store the remnant in the refrigerator, and take it out the next time and re-heat it ... plus, it has so many solids in it!).

I took about 750 ml of the drink in a can to the hospital and shared it with some of the doctors and nurses here, including the pharmacy guy Mr. Mohammad, Dr. Shehab, Dr. Ahmed Ouf, Dr. Moataz, and sisters Maui, Melody and a few more people. They all seemed to like it. 

I am afraid that unlike all my previous cooking experiences, I have no photos of my attempt or the finished drink this time ... so please bear with me.

Thank you for reading, and have a glorious Eid, all of you. Also, my best wishes for the coming festive season to all my Hindu brethren.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 279, Sunday, early morning, 19th August, 2012

It is about 2 a.m. in the morning here as I write this. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completed the full quota of 30 days this Ramadan and celebrates Eid-ul-Fitr in a few hours from now. I plan to join the congregation for the Eid namaaz. This is held on open ground, and one is expected to carry one's own carpet etc to pray the namaaz.

The last three days have been easy as far as the quantum of work is concerned, but the fact that one had to go for the usual duties yesterday on Friday was a bit of a dampener. The surprising thing was that there were so many patients in the OPD at night, despite this being a "holiday" day throughout the year. Not just that, we had patients from as far as a hundred km from the hospital, from places like Radwan and Um Adoom. My theory is that they probably knew that the hospital would be open, but a colleague of mine feels that they must have come to the A & E and been directed to the OPD from there by the resident doctors. Be that as it may, it was a unique thing to observe. Even on normal days, we don't have as many as 10 patients, which was the total for today. Thankfully, though, most of the cases were "cold cases", and did not need hospitalisation or any such problematic intervention.

My studies are going on, but the speed has slackened on account of the unusual twice a day OPD that I am doing since the month of Ramadan started. I console myself that now Ramadan is over, and perhaps once I go back to the previous 8-4 routine, the problems will settle down.

News from my family in India are not very encouraging for Dad ... he continues to lie in bed, but from what I have heard, his cognitive abilities are near normal; the problem is that he cannot speak coherently, and he cannot sit/stand/walk or be mobile as he was a few months ago. A male helper now attends to his needs, and thus life goes on. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 274, Tuesday, 14th August 2012: To Zalm and back

I had prepared my bag for substitutional duty at Zalm for 2 days, and so I went to the hospital to await further directions and arrival of a driver who would take me to Zalm. Unfortunately, I was unable to leave until 12.05 p.m. and had to while away the time waiting in the ER. Once the driver (Ayad) came, 
I first took him to my home to pick up my bags (one general bag and one for the laptop) and then, he drove me to Zalm over the next 35-odd minutes. We arrived at Zalm at about 12.45 p.m., and the driver left thereafter. 

I learned that Dr. Talal, the medical director, had gone for the afternoon prayers, so I awaited his return. When he came, he shocked me by telling me that they did not need any substitutional doctor today ... as they had requested this for Sunday/Monday and the pediatrician was already working here! I asked him to provide me with return transport, but he expressed his inability to do so, as there were no car-drivers at that moment. I called up Dr. Shehab who then talked back with Dr. Talal. The latter then arranged for my return to Al Muwayh with an Al-Ewan medical car that was travelling to T'aif.

In the event, due to some delays in Zalm, I reached my house back at about 3 p.m. After this, the day passed as usual. I studied, slept, ate, and went for my evening duty to the hospital where I surprised everyone who expected me to be in Zalm.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mini-vacation in T'aif

Wednesday, 8th August saw me taking a break to go to T'aif on a visit for some bank-related work. This time, my pharmacy friend Mr. Mohammed was going to T'aif, where he lives, in his own car, and I requested him to take me with him. He was very kind, and he actually came near my house to pick me up. We left at about 1.00 p.m., and arrived at T'aif at around 2.50 p.m. He went out of his way to drop me near the Gazzaz mall before going away to his own place which is in another area of the city. 

Being the foodie that I am, I was aware that if I wanted to bring any eatables from T'aif, I would have to stay overnight, as the mall (T'aif's Heart Mall, which I usually go to) and other eateries would be closed during the day, it being Ramadan. I went to the usual place to stay, which is the Nouf Hotel next to the Gazzaz Mall, but I was told that no small rooms were available. The big ones were SR 200 per night. I cringed, and decided that this time, I would try and locate something better. 

Just a few meters away stood a hotel called the Ahl-a-sif. 
The Ahla-sif Hotel

It is located above the Asian Restaurant that I usually have my meals in whenever I am in T'aif. The manager was a middle-aged but dignified Egyptian called Mr. Mohammad. He quoted a rate of just SR 120 per night. I went and checked the room he allotted me - # 112 on the first floor. It was nice, clean, and well-appointed. I took it and settled down. Soon after checking in, I went down to purchase a few things from the Malayalam stores located in the area. I also placed calls from the calling cabins, to my mom, and to Nish to inform her about my arrival in T'aif. 

My next port of call was the Tahweel Al Rajhi, but, not surprisingly, it was closed for then and would open after 9.30 p.m. I then returned to my room and activated the internet that was available for free ... the manager had supplied me the password to run it. Over the rest of the day, and for the next 2 days, I downloaded several movies on to my laptop, as well as several songs, ghazals etc. ... thanks to this fast wireless service. 

After Maghrib, I went for a walk, then back to the room, then again down, to the Bank for my transfer of money to India. Thereafter, I went to the Asian restaurant for my dinner. Had a chicken masala and roti/rice, topped with tea. It was already past 11.00 p.m. when I came out, and I decided that I would visit the mall the next evening, thus ensuring that I would stay one more night at T'aif.
See the "Down Speed"

The next day, Thursday, saw me sleeping late into the morning. Most of the morning and afternoon were taken up reading, surfing, praying and lazing around. The download speed was so terrific ... here is a picture that proves it. I could download a movie (850 MB) in less than 10 minutes! I went down at about 3.30 p.m. and caught a dabbab taxi to go to visit the zoo, a place where I might succeed in passing the time fruitfully. The place is located about 5 km away, and , again, not so surprisingly, it was locked for the day. I was told that I could visit in the night! How about that, dear reader? A zoo at night? To see sleeping animals? Ha ha.

After Maghrib, I made my visit to the mall, where I picked up diverse items from the food court. Thence, I left and went back to my room where I put all the purchases into the mini-refrigerator that the room had. I then went back to my room and prayed. 

Later in the night, I had a very enjoyable time discussing a few pediatric cases on the MRCPCH Part 2 group page on Facebook. 

The Friday morning was spent doing nothing really constructive. I decided to depart after 3.00 p.m. Accordingly, I checked out after the dhuh'r prayers and went to the SAPTCO stand by dabbab. The next bus was due at 4 o'clock; in the event, it actually turned up at half past 4:00 p.m., and left at a few minutes before 5 o'clock. At about 20 minutes after six, the bus slowed down and went into a public spot with a restaurant, a hotel, many food stalls and a mosque. For iftaar. This was about 35 minutes before the iftaar timing ... but such is the management here. The entire space here was full of hundreds of people, tens of cars, and many ready to eat food stalls, plus at least four or five "bakallas" or super-markets.

Stalls selling hats, toys, etc.
The hotel-cum restaurant that forms the main attraction of the area

Crowds entering and leaving a super-market

Can you see the people behind standing in a row and praying?
  People were crowding at all places ... it was like a fair in India. Normal status = utter chaos. Surprisingly, though, at just a few minutes before the iftaar time, the dust settled and everyone sat down to break their fast. Those who were alone were invited to join groups ... e.g. me. The groups offered whatever they had with them to those who joined them. I had already bought some stuff, so I happily gave my food to them in return for their offering. The carnival-like atmosphere did not deter the faithful from praying their namaaz, come what may. I am enclosing a few pictures of the general atmosphere and one of a group praying outside on the sand ... because the mosque was full. 

The bus finally moved at 7.40 p.m., and I reached Al Muwayh after 8.20 p.m. A Saudi gentleman who runs a super-market in Al Muwayh and who is the father of a patient I had recently managed in the hospital met me and offered to take me to my house. Thus, I was inside my place in less than 5 minutes. I unpacked, ran the washing machine, settled, surfed the net a little, then got up and went to the Pakistani restaurant for dinner. I had kheema with their large roti. Returned home and slept the night off.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Updates on Dad's health, and other stuff

As I write this on the evening of the 6th of August 2012, I am feeling a little depressed that I am not with my parents and family these days. It isn't that I was expressive about my love for dad and mom; I wasn't, and that is the honest truth. However, I did, and I do, love them. My dad is passing through his worst ever life year, and I am not there to help him or mom, who must be having to struggle with him a lot. Dad remains in hospital. Nishrin, together with Iqbalbhai Bhinderwala (our neighbour in Mazgaon), has helped clean up Dad's house as best as possible so that it is in a presentable condition when Dad is discharged from the hospital and brought back home. Not only did she orchestrate the selling of the old bed and mattresses, but also got the house disinfested with a professional pest control service, got a basic painting job done, and will, by tomorrow, replace the floor carpet etc., thus changing the topography of the house for good. In addition, dad's old newspapers, which had grown in bulk to take over large portions of the house, were all thrown away or sold off, so that a real change will have occurred. I plan to get photos of the new setting through the agency of my ever-willing daughter Hannah, and if possible, share them here with you so that you get an idea of what I am talking about.

My work here is going on as usual. There are hardly any challenges, and when they do come, most of the time, we refer the patient to T'aif. I plan to take a day's leave on Wednesday to go to T'aif and complete some pending bank work. In addition, I may stay overnight to be able to visit the Mall there and get some goodies back for later consumption.

I have been trying my hand at a few new dishes, as well as making old ones with a fresh infusion of instructions from a friend who has been inspiring me to experiment. I made rasam without using rasam powder for the first time last week. 

Pasta and beans
Then, yesterday, I procured fish curry gravy from the south Indian restaurant on the highway and added cut pieces of thelapia fish to make it into a proper fish curry. Today, I made Penne pasta and added a can of fava beans and some minced meat to it to compose my lunch. In this manner, I am finding things to do in an otherwise boring way of life.

I would be erring if I said I don't miss my family. I do miss them terribly, especially in Ramadan - and I nearly cried when Nishrin told me on the phone that they are missing my energetic input of spirituality and of getting different foods from Bhendi Bazaar for the iftaar. I suppose I can live with their absence, and they, with mine, but it is a sad thing to happen, and it won't be a day too early when I finally exit from here and go back to my home in India.

In the end, I may as well add that when my blog goes back into the public mode, this post and several others before it may make less sense than when they were read in live mode, but I indulge my readers to read them with the same love and care they have bestowed on me before I went private a  month ago. 

Thank you all.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Week That Was ...

As I write this early in the morning of Sunday, 4th August, 2012, which also is the 17th of Ramadan, 1433, I wish to inform my readers that by the time you read this, my father would have returned home from the hospital after an almost 2-week stay for weakness and infection. In the interim, my brothers and my wife Nishrin have managed to clean up dad's place and remove unnecessary stuff so as to be able to accommodate a Fowler's bed (the hospital kind which can allow one to raise the head-end or the leg-end of the bed separately. They have already completed de-pesting the house with insecticides etc. and will paint the house and change the floor-carpets. This should relieve my mom a lot as she was fed-up of the diverse junk dad has stored down the decades of his living in this small place. 

Dad's condition remains delicate. Although his kidney status is better and he is temporarily off dialysis, this will have to resume sooner or later; his infections are in control and he is ready to be discharged. My family actually delayed his discharge to be able to clean up the house. He may thus go home on the coming Tuesday. I entreat all my readers to pray for him. May his suffering be reduced and he spend the remaining years/months/days of his life with no pain or torment. May my mom also have no problems of health as she goes on to tend for her husband, our father. Amen. 

The past week I was on call. There were nights when I had no calls, and nights when I was being called almost every half an hour ... such as the one on Thursday night. I had five or six phone calls, and one where I had to go to the hospital to manage a snake-bite victim. That one took me over three hours, so that I decided to sleep over the next morning. As it was a Friday, I had no problem with the plan.

It was on Sunday night that one of the E.R. doctors, Dr. Imaam, invited me for iftaar at his home. His wife had prepared traditional Egyptian items, including Vermicelli-rice, a shorba that was fantastic, and rolls, samosas and many other baked and fried items! Dr. Ahmed Ouf, the ophthalmologist, and Dr. Mohammad Abd Jawed, one of the E.R. doctors, were also invited. After prayers, we relaxed outside the house in the courtyard where Dr. Imaam has spread out a carpet and kept his T.V. We chatted about this and that. We were served tea and a sweet dish, which being too sweet, I had just one morsel of. While Dr. Imaam's fourth child is an infant, the other three - two girls and a boy - came out to serve us our food and drinks from time to time. It was a wonderful experience indeed. 

My studies are proceeding satisfactorily, but I am not too happy with my scores. I am getting worried that I may not be able to prepare myself optimally for the Part1 exams that I am giving on the 9th of October. Please pray for me, dear readers.