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The Real Voyage of Discovery

Jun 24, 2005

consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust

It happens Everytime I pick up the camera to film something- an interview, a street scene, a rural shot. I look through the lens with an amazement that is part wonder part indignation: When did my world get to be so beautiful? Where was I when it was all happening and Why wasn't I informed again? :-) New Eyes said Proust- the real key to the journey of discovery. And I find myself learning over and over again the truth of this wisdom...because in a sense the camera can be conveniently just that: A New Eye. A New I with which to discover the thrilling paradox of a Strangely Familiar world...

A couple of Sunday's ago we did a morning interview here with Dr Shah, visiting resident from SF Pacific.

Born and raised in a small town in Louisiana by Gujarati Jain parents, Pulin Shah (that's Pullin Shaw if you throw in the southern twang- which he does when he's on the slightly sleepy side :-)) candidly admits to staunchly resisting All Things Indian growing up. Looking back at a classic Southern childhood (catching rattlesnakes in the sugarcane fields that surrounded his school, sailing the family boat off the Gulf of Mexico) he has very vivid (not to mention entertaining) memories of visits from his grandmother a (to the then eight year old boy) thoroughly mystifying woman who spoke in a steady stream of gibberish (Pulin knew no Gujarati at the time) and inexplicably chased him around the house plastic hanger in hand when he came home from school one day with a hamburger (she then proceeded to ruin the social life of his twelve year old sister by answering all phone calls with a sharp 'allo? and slamming it down when she didn't hear instant Gujarati on the other end) Pulin remembers too- with the softened insight afforded by retrospect- her melting affection and the startling way in which she could (and still can)switch from sharp-tongued unintelligible sermon to lovingly gigglesome warmth.

Somewhere beyond all the snake-catching, boat-sailing and being-chased-around-the-house Pulin went to medical school and today he's a final year Ophthal. resident with a decided interest in community ophthalmology and a youthful commitment to Making A Difference. Meeting Dr V earlier this year and hearing the story of his work prompted him to explore the possibility of being Pacific's first resident at Aravind. Four months later here he is. Engaging with, gaining from, giving to and growing in the Indian experience in a way that would have seemed inconceivable to him awhile ago.

Funny how life brings us around sometimes :-)

Talking to Pulin about his experiences in Madurai was a real treat. Here the faint twang of Louisiana is tempered by a newly-acquired Tamilian lilt and accompanied by a masterful rendition of the ambiguous Indian headnod. But beyond the fun of that-Pulin has a boyish enthusiasm, thoughtful expressiveness and a sensitivity to the beauty beneath the surfaceness of experience that can take you by surprise in the way that it forces you back into an awareness of the Invisible Obvious at work at Aravind.

Just a quick illustrating extract...

?A lot of the patients who come here are truly blind from cataracts. They?ll have bilateral (both eyes) white cataracts- hypermature cataracts so you look at them and you?ll see just two big white pupils- idli cataracts (note: idli cataracts is an authentic pulinism and not a new-fangled medical term :-)). Oh my God! So you know these people haven?t seen anything for a very long time- for years. And so the other day- like I was telling you before- I?ve done quite a few ECCEs (Extra Capsular Cataract Surgery) here so I?m pretty comfortable and starting to transition to SICS (Small Incision Cataract Surgery) and so from a technical point of view- from a surgical point of view I?m a little bit cautious and careful- and I?m kind of critical of my own technique. So first day post-op I go to see my patient and I?m looking very carefully through the slit lamp and I?m very happy. Fortunately everything went well, the cornea?s crystal clear and the eye is quiet and everything looks great and I?m sitting there admiring my own work you know and saying ?I did a very good job?. And then I kind of take a quick look at his other eye and I realize there at the moment- he?d been having an eye patch on since the procedure because I did the operation 6-8 hours ago. So I took the patch off when I was in examining him and he started to look around and I didn?t think much of it And then I realized this is the first time this man is seeing in probably years and the first face he sees is my ugly mug sitting there on the other side of the slit lamp! And the patients here they don?t react a lot, I mean it?s a cultural thing I think in the States people would be like- Oh my God- look I can see! Here they?re very quiet they?re very solemn and I think they?re happy inside they?re ecstatic inside but it?s not all over their face so it?s kind of hard to see, but if you look beneath the surface you can see the satisfaction, and this happiness that they have. Because it?s only for a few minutes while I lift up the patch and then they suddenly start to see and they see my face and they see some things around them and they start to light up but it?s pretty subtle. And you know it?s a nice feeling. So in addition to me admiring my own work I got the satisfaction of seeing- this- This. And it?s a daily occurrence here. For us in the United States a lot of the cataracts we do and a lot of procedures we do- they?re all patients that need it but they are not as severe as here. These patients have been blind some of them for a long time and it?s such a satisfying thing to do- to be able to take a cataract out and give someone back their vision and it?s something that all ophthalmologists feel- I think that?s why we go into ophthalmology- most of us. But here you get to see it on a daily basis and you can see it in such amazing numbers and it- it really has an impact. It?s a different world. When you come here and become immersed in this place, in the Aravind kind of philosophy- you learn- you see. I mean Dr Aravind and Dr Haripriya- they live right next door here and I start to think about what their daily activities are like and they- all these people work very hard. They work at least six days a week and today is Sunday and they?re operating. They start very early and they?re operating till afternoon and then they?ll teach and they?ll do rounds. It?s a real commitment you know and they have this commitment not only to their work but- I mean- their work is their life. And in the US it can be similar- but it?s more a feeling of service as opposed to a feeling of commitment that you- you just have to do this. And it?s been valuable for me to see. That and just the- I guess the atmosphere in general about service to community that?s here. It?s very tangible. Before I came here part of my reason for coming was to try and get a feel for that and hopefully incorporate some of that into my own life... and to get that- that flame, you know- fuel- inside of me. And it?s been very successful, very tangible...I see it in the way that people do their work and the attitude they have about their work. The hours are extraordinary- not only the surgeons but everybody at the hospital- you?ll see the sisters and everyone else...they work tirelessly for all the patients that are there and they do it with a smile. It?s unique. And for me it?s an important thing to see- hopefully I?ll be able to take some of that back and also just go from here with more motivation to do the things that I?ve always kind of had ideas to do but- but to solidify those ideas and to ?Make Them Real."

Listening to Pulin that day helped remind me of a lot of things specific to and beyond the organization and its mission. His eyes saw the same things that mine do- but don't. The funny thing is- what he talked about is really what's at the core of the work Aravind does. It's odd to think how easy it is to forget to remember these things when you live and work here.

Because A Miracle Is A Miracle Is A Miracle...even if it does happen everyday.

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