Monday, August 25, 2014

The Promise of Varma Treatment in Kerala

We spent the second half of the year 2013 in Ernakulam, Kerala.   My sister lives there with her family and was sorely missing us.  To placate her we decided to visit for a month, but ending up staying for six.

Apart from the famed Ayurvedic treatment in Kerala, its also offers other promising alternatives.  Her friends suggested a Varma treatment / massage that cures the incurable.  This is an ancient Siddha treatment with its origins from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.  Although we have had some experience of Varma in Chennai, but for some reason the one in Kerala had an authentic ring to it.  

The Master, as the practitioner is addressed, graciously made an exception and visited our father at home.   Between my sister, who can understand malayalam better than speak it, myself with no Malayalam knowledge, the Master with no English and his assistant with some English, we surprisingly communicated with ease and conveyed our father's situation. 

His assessment was that our father was too weak to withstand the Varma treatment.  He would give us an oil that had to be applied for a month and then would recheck to see if our father was ready for the treatment. The Master seemed genuine, kind and a reasonable human being.  

We debated to give the treatment a chance.  But my sister and I were insistent that the Master should start the treatment after a month of oil application, irrespective of our father's condition. With my brother-in-law furiously translating in Malayalam,  my repeated argument was that our father was already 70 years old and its basically race against time. 

All that the Master said was he will see.  We came home with the not inexpensive oil.  Almost ten to fifteen days into the oil application and basic exercises, our father's standing dramatically improved.  He could stand with minimal support for almost 5 - 10 minutes.  It had never happened before and was miraculous.  Maybe there was something to the herbs in the oil.  

But in the following days he grew increasingly tired and was sleeping most of the time.  The Master had warned us of this possibility.  Our father was so exhausted that the Master asked to stop and requested we call him in about ten days for an assessment to start the treatment.  

Given the positive start we were looking breathlessly forward for the treatment.  

Ten days later, my sister called to fix a date for the treatment only to be told by his assistant that the Master suffered a massive heart attack and was in hospital for surgery.   Great news. 

We checked on him periodically out of both genuine concern and selfish reasons.  Obviously more of the later. We also paid a visit immediately upon his discharge.  Master was on bed, would communicate only through gestures.  The gestures had only one answer - 3 months before he can be on his feet, forget rigorous massage.  So much for my race against time plea.

Not the one to give up, my sister tracked down another Varma practitioner.  He incidentally was a student of the Master, but now had a separate practice.  Maybe they had a bad fall out.   He sounded nice and promised to come visit our father the next day.   Neither did he show up at the promised hour nor did he answer my sister's incessant calls.  He later called from a new number and gave adolescent excuses of losing SIM, was busy, "oh I thought you will call", "didn't have your number".   Yes, he managed to say all of this. He once again promised to come the next day.  We never heard from him again.  We finally learnt to let go.

All the oil application, anticipation of Varma with bated breath, long drawn stay in Eranakulam didn't really culminate into any treatment.  Who says we have given up?  Maybe we will find some new Master to hound close home in Chennai. 









Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Yoga Therapy

My good friend Chitra introduced me to Saraswati Vasudevan, a Yoga Teacher and Therapist.  Saraswati comes with years of experience, she is patient, a non judgmental listener and a wonderful teacher.   

Last summer I had monthly sessions at her place and would practice on my own on the other days.  This is the Surya Namasakaram that she taught me.

  video

Last year Saraswati also took a session for the caregivers at our monthly meeting.  The turnout was good, reviews positive. Yoga studio 136.1 was kind enough to offer their space at Alwarpet for no cost.  The following video is a set of relaxation asanas they taught during the session.  One of her students is demonstrating with Saraswati guiding her. 



If I do not practice Yoga for few months, I turn irritable, snappy, basically a threat to myself and those around me.  With no Yoga for past 6 months looks like I am surely heading there. 


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sri Narasipura Subbaiah Narayana Murthy

Somewhere in 2011 my good friend Rohan sent me a link to a documentary on Ayurveda.  It showcases different practitioners of Ayurveda, its ninth part caught my attention.  One, a patient in the film suffered from brain hemorrhage and two, the doctor (he is an indigenous healer / vaidhiyar, not a certified doctor) lived in Southern India which would make the travel not too adventurous.  I guessed the adventure part incorrectly.

Sri Narasipura Subbaiah Narayana Murthy (the Doctor) lives ofcourse in Narasipura, which falls under the Shimoga district in Karnataka.  My research prior the travel showed that all one needs to do is to get to Narasipura or Shimoga and locals know the doctor's place.

Our male cousin in Bangalore who is specially fond of my father agreed to accompany me.  We left to Shimoga on a Saturday since the doctor consults only on Sundays and Thursdays. Consultation begins at 7:00am, its on first come first serve basis.  I thought 5:00am would make us sufficiently early.  But our taxi driver in Shimoga ridiculed the time and took us there around 1:00am.  Apparently the documentary that got me there was the reason for the crazy surge in crowd.

Even at this hour we were already the 10th in line.  Everyone had come well prepared.  Mats, blankets, pillows, and food.  My cousin and I showed up with nothing.  Both of us don't take well to cold weather and it was rather cold to be out on the road in the hilly Shimoga region in the month of September.

After compelling my cousin to sleep in the car, I settled down next to a friendly family on the road by the Doctor's house.  Underneath me was floor mat from the car and to cover myself a flimsy shawl.  Token number 9 and my neighbors took pity on me and gave me a blanket.  I laid on the road awake for most of the night looking at the stars above and noticing constant influx of people.

Crack of the dawn showed a large crowd of waiting patients. There was a tea stall which also served breakfast and it unsurprisingly operated only on Sundays and Thursdays.  After the breakfast we fallen 50 places behind, so much for sleeping on the road.

video
Note: When we standing in the line.  My cousin is the one with the monkey cap and camera.  Can see how far behind we were in the line from being just 10th the previous night.


Stood in the line for over one hour. The consultation lasted for maybe 5-10 minutes.  He gave us some local barks.  One of which we were to make a paste and give with honey, the other was to be boil in water with pepper and cumin, reduce it to half and drink it.

I came home armed with magical herbs from the hills and sincerely followed the instruction.  What I always suspected happened, i.e. no change in my father's condition.  Maybe he warded off cold with all the pepper and cumin.

Was it utter stupidity and naiveness on my part to undertake something like this? Maybe.  Lying on my back on the road, unable to sleep and looking at the stars, I knew, and I suspect so did my cousin that this wasn't magically going to make my father walk or talk.  This was our massage to the universe that we loved and cared for him and have minimal expectations on what it would bring us.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Soy Milk and Yogurt

There has been a consistent and worrying drop in the Albumin levels for my father since we started him on a Naturopathy diet - more on that for later.  The accepted minimum norm might be irrelevant for someone like my father who isn't mobile or active like most people.  Thats what I tell myself to avoid panic attacks over the seemly alarming dip.

Almonds and peanuts were given to get his levels up.  They turned out too hard for him to digest and he developed constipation and lost weight.   The next hope was on Ragi (finger millets).  We had to soak, sprout, grind, boil and reduce it to half, & finally mix it with a banana.  Will elaborate on this drink in a different post, it was delicious. Everything was followed religiously.  He developed violent diarrhea and lost weight.  Meanwhile the albumin levels kept going down.

Dr. Arun Sharma, our natural hygiene doctor / Naturopath then suggested soy milk.  Online resources like the Instructables and Sharan were highly helpful along with friends who practice organic farming.

Steps for Soymilk


I soak 100gms of soybean and get around 600ml of soymilk.  The following recipe can be for any size of 1 cup.  Keep the quantity small for the first time. 

Things you need
  • 1 cup soybeans 
  • 13 cups of water 
  • Blender 
  • Strainer 
  • Thick bottom pan 
  • Container 
Making Soymilk
  

  1. Wash and soak 1 cup of soy beans in a pot that has enough room for the beans to expand. Change the water after the first hour.  I was recommended this as a step to further clean the beans.  Add 3 of the 13 cups of water when soaking next.  Let it soak for atleast 8 hours.   
  2. Finely grind the beans in a blender using the soaked water. Add more if necessary. 
  3. Strain the milk using a cloth (which is what I use) or a strainer into a thick bottom pan. 
  4. Blend the pulp again with some water and strain.  
  5. Repeat the previous step after exacting the milk for the second time
  6. You would have blended the bean and its pulp 3 times in total. 
  7. Divide the 10 cups of water (minus the 3 cups used for soaking) equally while blending each time. 
  8. The milk is raw now.  Heat it in the think bottom pan for around 20 -30 mins.  Keep in low to medium heat and keep stirring. 
  9. Let it cool and strain the milk into your storage container.  
Making Soy yogurt


Its the same procedure as making yogurt from cow's milk.  Through some trial and error I've figured that the soy milk can be (not should be) slightly warmer than cow's milk for fermenting.   I use cow milk yogurt as culture for my soy milk.  No fancy starter.  Maybe this is cheating, but it works.  Also unlike the regular practice of just a tiny bit of yogurt for culture, I use a full table spoon, have found this to give a thicker yogurt. 

Some Dos and Don'ts
  • Was strictly instructed to procure only organic soy beans.  I read an article that India doesn't have much of GM (Genetically Modified) soy bean.  However to be cautious I get only certified organic soy bean. 
  • Thinner the Soy milk the easier on the stomach to digest.  If I use store purchased soy milk, I ensure its organic and thin it considerably. 
  • Fermented Soy milk much better than non-fermented for digestion.  Although non-fermented soy milk did not cause any digestion issues with my father, I stick with the fermented - soy yogurt.
  • Homemade soymilk stays good for atleast 3-5 days.  If one wants to store for longer, heat it and refrigerate once it cools down. 

The smoothie

Blend one banana, add the yogurt and blend again.  Adjust thickness with water if necessary. 

I am starting to drink this with my father.  Happy soy drinks. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Care. Connect. Community. CARE3 - Support Group for Caregivers




Early this year Mr. Ravi from Pain and Stroke Rehab Center called to tell me about one Ms. Rama Murali who wants to start a support group for caregivers.   The call made me jubiliant as it had been my great desire to have or start such a group in Chennai.

Sometimes the promise of something is greater than what it ends up offering, thankfully it wasn't the case this time.   Following a good conversation on the phone, Rama and I soon met up.   She was passionate and persistent about the support group.  Had been working with IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), Madras, to develop a communications App for caregivers and had come with the name Care. Connect. Community CARE3 (read CARE cube) for the group.

She had put in a lot of work hunting for families, spending time with them and drafting objectives of the group.  When we met she was yet to have her first meeting.  Now the group has had over 6 - 7 monthly meetings, a newsletter, over 100 members / families as a part of the support group.

It amuses me to think how desperate I was to have a support group merely a year ago.  Somewhere when looking for families and getting them together, I lost the conviction that Rama exudes.  Anytime away from my father was guilt ridden and forming such a group was highly labor and time intensive.  This, and my realization that I am no compassion incarnate but mildly tolerant made withdrawing from the efforts easier.

My sister thinks CARE3 is my perfect situation where I get all the benefits with minimal effort. Thank you Rama.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Kumarakom



Three months and two weeks since we have come to my Sister's place in Kochi.  How and why we got here is a different blog post.  A month ago there was one of the usual hartals in Kerala that gave my brother-in-law a rare day off which he did not want to spend sitting at home.  None wanted to go leaving the other with our father.  The best option was for all of us to go - parents, grandma, sister, brother-in-law, niece, driver, nurse and myself.

Although it was merely an overnight stay at the resort we needed to pack supplies for our father - Diapers, rubber sheet, urine can, catherter, urine bag, cotton, gauze, two wheelchairs, couple of gowns, towels, enema can, sterilium, nebulizer kit, BP apparatus, thermometer, record keeping book, brushing set and lignocane jelly - just a few items.

The hour and half drive to Kumarakom was pleasant, he sat next to the driver looking out through the window and munching Hide and Seek biscuits.  We made it there for breakfast, it was the whole family around the table ordering, chatting and yelling.   Almost three and half years since hemorrhage and for him to make to the breakfast table.  His eating isn't perfect, coughs and aspirates a lot, but nonetheless priceless to to have him around the table with all of us.



 Since our resort wasn't  built on lake side - Vembanad Lake the singular and worthy attraction of Kumarakom - the only way to view or enjoy it was to be on a house boat.  Each one of us had a senior citizen to escort, our 88 year old grandma thought she was boarding a ship anchored in an ocean, our mother with multiple leg surgeries thought the ramp might lead to another one of those, but our father on a wheel chair hoisted by couple of us was blissfully unaware of the rickety ramp.

He sat smiling on one of the chairs on the boat that gives a great view of the lake.  It is rare to see him smile spontaneously and the rarity called for clicking of a ton of pictures.

The trip did take a toll on him.  He had a fainting bout on the ride, slept for days in exhaustion.  But nothing could dampen our satisfaction of taking the family out on our first happy excursion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Meditation

When living in the U.S. there were couple of times when I tried to do the 10 day Vipassana Meditation.   Something,  mostly work, would need me and I would end up cancelling in the last minute.  The first time around made me particularly sad.  Mainly so as I was to do it with a good friend Rohan. He had changed centers for me, we were to fly together to Boston and stay at one of my friend's place before heading to the center.  I had to back off the last minute leaving Rohan in a not too exuberant situation. 

During then and at other times when my desire to attend would obviously remain just that, I consoled myself that it wasn't for me.  Somethings aren't meant to be, not for us, not what we need, not in the plan for our spiritual path - so its been with me and Vipassana.

Since my father's hemorrhage I have tried to incorporate Vipassana philosophy into my caregiving and pretty much everyday being.  Days like today are particularly good practice days. Our nurse has gone for a few days to attend a wedding and I have taken over her role.  Today is just day two and I already feel closer to Nirvana than ever before.

Strangely when there is no help my father will develop some issue for the day.  Its stomach upset this time. I've cleaned motion and changed diapers almost 4 times of which three times I gave him enema.  The challenging part is not to know the cause of the problem and the solution for it.  Also, he is not too adept  at swallowing, this normally doubles the eating time and two hands are insufficient to clean his simultaneous secretions from trachea, mouth and nose when he aspirates or coughs.  Since he coughed most of the night last night, I bathed (sun bath, spine bath, regular bath), fed, changed, brushed and cleaned him in a sleep deprived stupor.

There is this zone, a thin stage that hangs in between all the physical and mental exhaustion, when body parts are numb, mind no longer wants to worry or think, when nothing seems to really matter.  This silver sweet zone as I call it makes all the past slights and disappointments a faded memory and apprehensions on future a futile thought.  No one or nothing seems wrong.  Every thought and movement is on present.  There is a Zen like acceptance to things.  This is my Vippassana meditation.