Gluten Intolerance – Six Months Later…

July 8, 2011

It’s a little over six months now that I’ve been living gluten free. I’ve kind-of got used to it. I’ve managed to make a few cakes without tasting the tiniest morsel (though once, while mixing, I automatically stuck my finger in my mouth while it had some cake mix on it). By cautious trial and therefore very few errors, I’ve found various things I can have. Mercifully, I can have beer and some chocolates and some ice creams. So my life is not entirely a bleak desert landscape. I even tried gulab jamun recently (if you don’t know what it is, a wordy description by me certainly can’t do it justice, so I’m not even going to try) and suffered no ill effects. Actually, jamun shouldn’t have flour in it anyway, it should be made entirely of khoa – but I was just being cautious, because flour is so much cheaper and you just never know what weird recipes these commercial cookeries can come up with in an effort to cut costs.

Last Saturday, we went to Sue’s Kitchen for lunch. It is a wonderful little place that we’ve been too much too infrequently. That’s going to change. We usually like to go to “Conti” places (places that serve “western” or “continental” food – anything from sandwiches and burgers and pizzas to steaks and sizzlers) for dinner, but it’s become impossible for me to eat anything at these places. At first they claim that everything is gluten free. Then you question them closely and they disappear into the kitchen and return to confess that, yes, that sauce does use flour to thicken it and yes, that cutlet does have a bit of bread crumb mixed in, and yes, they do coat the chicken with a bit of flour before frying/grilling it and so on. Most frustrating.

So Sue’s Kitchen was something of a paradise for me. Sue, who runs the place herself, knows exactly what’s in each dish. When I told her I’m gluten-intolerant, she even seemed to know what that means. She told me the salads were all safe – no flour used as a thickener, thank god; in fact, she was aghast at the very thought of it. I’m not a great fan of salads, of course – I mean, I’m the farthest thing from a health freak when it comes to food – but the salads in Sue’s kitchen are far from health food anyway. Which is to say – they are heavily coated in mayonnaise-type salad dressings and they are absolutely delicious. Apart from salad, there’s a main course of rice, veg, two non-veg curries, channa, and rajma.

And then, there’s dessert. Of course I can’t have the cakes, but the mousses – ah! While I actually prefer my chocolate mousse with a lot more chocolate in it (overpoweringly chocolate-y is fine with me), Sue does a good job despite going easy on the chocolate and the sugar.

Chinese food is still difficult – you just never know when they use flour instead of cornflour for coating things and thickening sauces. And noodles are ruled out anyway, except for one concoction of rice noodles that I quite like.

Most Indian food is ok, so I’m not exactly starving here. I’m eating dosa in unbelievable numbers, which does reduce its appeal quite a bit, but at least it’s an item that affords a lot of variety if eaten away from home, while still being a quick and easy thing to make at home too.

There are still a lot of things I miss, though. For instance:

Cake – Sigh. What is life without cake? I sometimes dream about chocolate cake with chocolate filling and chocolate icing. And I will make that some day – I am going to get hold of some gluten-free flour, and soon. All the same, the one single item I’d love to be able to eat once in a way, is my favourite Corner House Death by Chocolate. You’d think I’ve had enough of them to last me a lifetime, but when it comes to DBC, there’s no such thing as “enough”.

Maggi – I still find it really hard to make Maggi for the kids and not take even a single bite.

Rolls – Lazeez Kati Rolls – need I say more?

Roti – I was never very fond of roti, but I wouldn’t have elected to give it up for life. There are some times, and some dishes, when nothing works better than fresh, hot rotis.

Bread – It used to be something I took for granted – more of a convenience than something to really indulge in. But as with roti, it’s something I unexpectedly miss.

Pizza – Not that we used to have this very often, but even once in three months or so, it was something to look forward to.

Chaat – I can’t have phhuchka (pani puri) or any of the other chaats. These used to be fairly regular snack-outings for us. Now I can only have bhel puri and then too, I have to tell them not to put the papdi in it. Sob.

Apart from these, one withdrawal that I really battling nowadays is caffeine withdrawal. I’ve always had a morning cuppa, ever since I was in my teens. The quantity of milk in my coffee has varied from 100% down to zero. For a long time, I used CoffeeMate instead of milk to whiten my coffee. But in recent months I haven’t been able to get my hands on CoffeeMate, and I’ve been reacting badly to hot milk. I tried using Pediasure as a substitute, but the coffee tastes foul, primarily because I like my coffee without sugar and Pediasure is nothing if not sweet. So now I’m forced to reduce my coffee intake to zero – and it’s really hard!

Strangely enough, despite all the goodies I can’t eat any more, I don’t seem to be losing any weight. I was expecting (or at any rate hoping) the weight would just fall off me, but that hasn’t happened. I suppose I’m doing a good job of making up for all the things I can’t eat with some of the things I can. And since I the list of things I can eat now includes ice cream, chocolate, and beer, I really don’t have all that much to complain about. Until birthdays roll around.


It’s a Pain in the…

February 5, 2011

…knee.

That’s the tragedy I was referring to in my previous post. Tragedy is a strong word for a little, niggling, nagging, clicking sort of pain.

But then again… Amit had a pain in the knee and that kept him away from the tennis court for three whole years. I saw him struggle with three years of restlessness, three years of boredom, three years of building up muscle to support the tendon.

Whoever has gone off the tennis court in our circles due to some little, niggling pain in an arm or a leg, has rarely made it back. We are, after all, neither young, nor professional. I don’t even know yet what is wrong and how long it is going to take to fix it. The whole prospect of starting yet another round of doctor’s appointments is depressing beyond belief.

It’s already been three weeks since I played, but the little, niggling, clicking pain is still there. At first, I was (stupidly) optimistic that a week or two of rest would take care of it. But now, I just don’t know.

Tennis has been a wonderful thing in my life these past five years. It has motivated me to get up early and get out there. It has motivated me to do at least a bare minimum of exercise to keep moving. It has (probably, hopefully) prevented my weight from shooting up even faster than it already has done and has (probably) helped to keep my cholesterol numbers in a very healthy range. It has been a good companion to me, especially in the days when I was a SAHM and it was practically the only time I got out of the house on my own.

It can’t possibly be time to say goodbye.


A Happy Confluence

January 18, 2011

Today I feel like a million dollars.

After a long time, the past few sessions of tennis have been good, and – what’s even better – improving. I’ve been swacking the ball and it feels great!

Last year, my game had completely disintegrated. Tennis Sir said I had lost conditioning, and I could see what he meant, I just couldn’t understand why. In September, after I could barely stand after a brief half-hour on the court, I finally decided it was time to see a doctor. He treated me for chronic fatigue syndrome, and I started to bounce back in days. But it’s taken time for my general conditioning level to recover. Now, after really going for the ball for over an hour, I can feel some stiffness in my arm. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened even after two whole hours on the court. But six months ago, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand on the court for that long.

Another thing Tennis Sir has been telling me is that I’m not keeping my wrist firm while hitting the ball. After struggling for months to fix the problem, and almost giving up in despair, late last year I decided I was just going to ignore it and go back to enjoying the game like I used to. Then my parents came to visit and one idle morning, my mother started playing tennis against the wall in our living room, using Mrini’s tiny racket. “Our coach used to tell us to hold the racket tightly,” she said, referring to an event that must have taken place at least 50 years ago. I realized that I should be doing that as well. Strangely enough, it was not something either Amit or Tennis Sir had mentioned, though they are both usually extremely perceptive in identifying the mistakes in my game and suggesting strategies to fix them. Still, in the last few weeks, I’ve been focusing exclusively on holding the racket tightly, and suddenly, my loose wrist problem has improved dramatically!

Then there was that gastro problem that has been plaguing me for a year-and-a-half. I remember exactly when it started – I had decided that I really needed to lose weight (for, of course, the umpteenth time in my life) so I’d started a new diet and exercise regime. When the bloating developed, I thought it was the sprouts and boiled channa I’d taken to nibbling on, so I cut those out of my diet. Then I cut out wheat and milk for a week each. Nothing worked. After some months, I went to a doctor. He tested me for various things and then gave me a list of pills to pop and sent me away. The pills worked, but only to control the symptoms; they didn’t fix the problem. And I didn’t want to be on pills for the rest of my life.

So then, in the winter break, with many reservations and much reluctance, I finally consulted a homeopathic doctor. He gave me more pills to pop and suggested that I avoid wheat. After a few false starts and a few denials and rebuttals, I’ve succeeded in weaning myself off all kinds of wheat and flour for about a week now. It’s much more difficult than I’d thought! When I’d gone “wheat-free” for a week or so the last time around, I hadn’t realized that it also meant no bread, and no beer. I hadn’t thought to check which of the processed foods and restaurant dishes used flour. I’d just cut out the rotis and not seen any difference. This time, I’ve really tried to avoid even microscopic bits of suspected flour. Like, boondi laddoos. They should be made of besan, but unless I make them myself (unlikely!), can I be altogether sure they don’t have some flour added?

The result of all this excessive paranoia and obsession? I’m not ready to bring out the champagne yet (and I’d need to check that it doesn’t have any flour), but my bloating really does seem to have reduced. This morning, I woke up feeling light, flat, and hungry! I haven’t felt that way for months!

According to various sources on the internet, lactose intolerance, wheat sensitivity or gluten intolerance (or, in more extreme cases, celiac disease), tiredness, joint and muscle ache, and possibly even chronic fatigue are all related. Also, wheat/gluten intolerance runs in families. I told the chronic-fatigue GP about my gastro problem, but he ignored it. I told both my allopathic gastro doctor and my homeopathic doctor that my sister has gluten/wheat intolerance, but the allopathic doctor just shrugged it off. If this gluten-free diet that I’ve been struggling to adhere to actually pays off in terms of putting an end to that eternal balloon-like bloating, I’ve got some nasty words in mind for those allopathic doctors. (But then again, according to the Internet, in most cases, gluten intolerance is misdiagnosed for years – so I’m actually ahead of the curve here, thanks to that homeopathic doctor that I didn’t have much faith in.)

So, right now, with my general conditioning, stamina, and strength improving, my tennis looking up, and my bloating showing signs of reducing, I have much to be happy about! Funny how sometimes what it takes is a happy confluence of circumstances. Or maybe it has to do with the alignment of the stars and planet. Whatever it is, I like it.


Lactose Overdose! Will I Survive?

October 7, 2010

I’m a firm believer in the importance of milk in a child’s diet. I was brought up on three glasses of milk a day. We had it plain – no Bournvita or Horlicks or even sugar – and cold. I loved it. My parents eventually allowed us to stop the lunch-time glass of milk, which made me feel all grown up, but I continued to have my milk twice a day until… I think until I started college/work. And then I continued to have one cup a day, though I started mixing it – still cold, or sometimes room temperature – with Nescafe. Eventually, of course, I switched to hot coffee, but it was still made entirely with milk. Back then, breakfast was my favourite meal – a big mug of milk with coffee in it, and a banana or an apple. All my favourite foods in one meal! Wow.

When we came back from the US in 1999 is the first time I recall have continuous stomach trouble. It took a while to work out that it was due to lactose intolerance. Looking back, I thought that perhaps it had been coming on for a few years before that, but it was never so bad. In the US, it seemed to have disappeared altogether, and I feasted not just on cold milk, but also on ice cream and cheese and flavoured yogurt without any problem.

For the last ten years, I’ve been aware of my lactose intolerance and all its various moods and manifestations. It comes and goes. For months at a stretch, it will be so mild that I can have generous helpings of curd or ice cream every day for days on end without any discomfort. When we travel to Calcutta it is always at its worst – a convenient and only mildly untrue basis for getting out of having to eat vast quantities of milky/creamy, sickly-sweet sweets. (In the process, I also miss out on some of the more delicious milk-based sweets, though. But you can’t avoid your cake and eat it too…)

When we trek in the Himalayas, I’ve noticed, my lactose intolerance really does become more acute. I avoid milk like the plague, of course, but even the slightest trace of ghee in the food is enough to set it off. There’s no apparent reason for this, so I can only surmise that my stomach is a little more irritable at high altitudes and this might be further exacerbated by drinking water straight out of rivers and streams (and you don’t want to even think about what all goes into the river and streams up in the hills).

Ever since the gastric trouble that the doctor is calling “functional dyspepsia” – which is a name they hang on a set of symptoms when they can’t find anything wrong that’s causing those symptoms – started, my lactose intolerance seems to be at its peak. Either that, or, I suspect, it is no longer possible to distinguish between bloating due to functional dyspepsia and bloating due to lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance used to lead quickly to a rather severe stomach upset with extreme cramping, but that no longer happens, so I’m a tad confused here.

Still, one thing is clear. Nowadays, I have to steer clear of all milk products. Even a couple of teaspoons of milk in my morning cuppa is enough to trigger the bloating. And that’s tragic. I gave up my milk-based coffee years ago, and I’ve never been able to stomach black coffee, so no milk means no coffee. And without my morning cuppa… life is just not the same anymore. The morning is strangely incomplete. The sleep won’t leave my eyes (and my brain) until I get my caffeine kick.

I struggle in other ways too. I can live without cheese and paneer, but cakes and ice creams? Is it even worth living if you can’t indulge in those once in a way (once in a day, more like)? I enjoy baking, and my baking uses liberal quantities of butter. How can I bake and then not eat? How can I not ever bake?

A much bigger problem looms ahead. Italy. The land of pizza and pasta. The land of pastry and gelato. Heaven help me – nine days of temptation! How on earth am I going to survive this?


So Much Better

October 1, 2010

I went for tennis yesterday after almost ten days of not playing. And I felt so much better! I only played about half an hour, but I didn’t feel like I would collapse at the end of it. And today there’s hardly a hint of stiff or sore muscles in my legs. Last time I played I was so stiff and sore I could barely move for two whole days! And yesterday my game was much better too. Partly that’s because Tennis Sir played with me and he can really regulate the game so that it’s just right for your abilities that day – neither too fast, nor too difficult, but just difficult enough to make you have to stretch yourself a bit. But… I played with Sir last time too, and my game was, in his words, “erratic”. Yesterday, it was beautiful – we had several 20-shot rallies and even Sir said I had made “zero errors”. I came away feeling that maybe, just maybe, I could play tennis. I haven’t felt like that for a long, long time. Last time, I seriously thought I should give it up… at least for a while.

What’s even better is, today’s Friday. Usually that means I drag myself out of bed feeling exhausted. Today I jumped out at 6 a.m. and went for a walk!

Well, what do you know? That doctor who was so extremely disinterested? Maybe he knew what he was doing after all! – despite the attitude.

And who would have thought that a couple of vitamins could make such a difference to one’s energy levels? Not me, for sure! I told you how ridiculous I felt going to a doctor because “I’m tired”? Now I feel even more stupid, because I probably should have done it long ago. Thank you, Chris, for providing the impetus I needed.

While I’m pleased and hugely relieved at having my energy levels bounce back like this, I’m slightly worried about what will happen once I stop popping pills. Amit has been persuading me to go to a homeopathic doctor, and other friends have mentioned Ayurvedic doctors. Despite the popularity of both homeopathy and ayurveda, despite the number of people who have been miraculously cured by these systems when allopathy failed, despite the number of skeptics who have been “converted”… I’m still highly skeptical. But I have to admit that after several months of allopathic medicines for a gastric problem, I’m beginning to think that, after all, what do I lose by trying out “alternative” medicine.

But first, I’ll try out the holiday treatment. That should prove highly therapeutic, I expect.


101

August 17, 2010

We took the kids for their annual health checkup on Saturday. Actually, there wasn’t much need to take them for a check-up, they seem to be so very ok. But we do have to provide this letter to the Family Court each year, testifying to their mental, physical, social, emotional and academic fitness… so we had to go anyway.

One thing is for sure: the healthcare industry is booming. The hospital was so crowded that we couldn’t get parking, even though they have a huge open parking lot which I never thought could possibly be filled up unless there were some kind of city-wide calamity. I went in, while Amit sat in the parking queue, but he eventually handed over the car to a valet to park. It was a smart move: A couple of minutes later, even people asking for valet parking were being turned away!

Inside, the chaos was equally evident. The pediatric department was full and overflowing, and the two attendants at the desk were harassed and busy. I asked how long we’d have to wait and was told it would take an hour. I immediately regretted having paid up the consultation fee already, but then it turned out that that was the waiting time for those who didn’t have appointments. With an appointment, we wouldn’t have to wait long.

Their weight and height was checked. They weighed in at 14 kg each, and Mrini was measured at 100.5 cm, while Tara was 101! When we found our place in front of the doctor a few minutes later, she told us their height was good and weight was only a little (1.5kg) below normal.

I had worried a lot about their weight and height in the early days. What do you do, when your one-year-old adopted babies are in the bottom 5th percentile for weight and height, and you can’t seem to get the word malnutrition out of your head? But that was a long, long time ago. It was gratifying to see them shoot up in the first six months with us, gaining inches at a time when for most kids growth slows down to a crawl. And it’s been a long, long time now since I worried about whether they were on-track weight-height-wise. I see them with kids in their class and I can see that their height is about on par. As for weight – they are obviously thin and probably always will be, until emotional issues begin to influence their food habits; but they are not unhealthy any more, and that’s the important thing.

It was good to hear from a doctor that their weight and height was no longer a cause for concern, but it was not a surprise, nor a cause for celebration – just an affirmation of something we had come to realize and accept over the months already.

What the doctor said next, though, was a surprise and more delightful than I’d have expected. She said that the girls have started to resemble us in their “dentition” and features. I don’t know exactly what features she was referring to, and to what extent this is true and to what extent it is fanciful I can’t be sure; and I don’t really see much resemblance between them and is in dentition or anything else myself; but it was strangely elevating to hear and to think that our girls might actually look like us a bit. I realized, suddenly, how much I’d missed hearing anything like that. Personally, I still don’t see it – I don’t think they look anything like us; but it was nice to think that to somebody, they look a little more like us than they did before.

It made the whole effort of driving, parking, paying, waiting, waiting some more, and finally driving back – it made all of that seem well worth while. We left the hospital with quite a smile on our faces – yes, even Amit.


…And Now This

April 5, 2010

As if we didn’t have enough on our plates already, with this second trip to Pondicherry coming up and all the paperwork it requires…

On Saturday afternoon, Tara had a mild fever. We put it down to general tiredness and/or a passing viral. It wasn’t much, and she wasn’t too put out by it, so we didn’t worry about it much.

On Sunday, she skipped lunch altogether. There was a fruit and nut cake (made by yours truly), but she skipped that too. Hmmmmm…

In the evening, she wanted cake, so we gave her some. As soon as the first bite entered her mouth, she put it down, drank a gulp of water, and practically ran away from the room. That was really strange!

That night, she refused to let me brush her teeth. I looked in her mouth and saw a small blister on the inside of her lip. Okkkaaayyyy… we skipped the brushing. Half an hour later she was screaming blue murder. Holy cow, her mouth was full of blisters! Amit called the doctor, who recommended a gel called Zytee. He got off the phone and headed out the door to get some, but before he could close the door behind him, I saw something that made my eyes pop. Her hand was erupting with blisters!

I called him back with a note of panic in my voice, which threw Mrini’s composure and sisterly solicitude to the wind. (She had been very solicitous till this point, offering Tara water, offering to hold her, and patting her on the back!)

It looked like a histamine reaction to me, specially given the rapidity with which the blisters were appearing. Was it a reaction to the nuts in the cake? Was it related to the fever? And what was that funny-looking blister thing on her bum?

Amit called the doctor nearest our home. He was away from home (and clinic) and would available at 9.30 – more than an hour away. Tara was very uncomfortable, but the blisters had stopped popping up, so we decided to wait. By the time 9.30 came, she was uncomfortably asleep, lying on her back because it hurt to put her cheek on the pillow. Amit took her to the doctor and was soon back with a diagnosis: hand, foot and mouth disease.

It was a relief to know that it wasn’t a nut allergy – that is a lifelong problem, and a big one – but… hand, foot, and mouth disease? If it hadn’t been for Sadia’s blog several months ago, it would have been something I’d never even heard of. Apparently it’s a fairly common viral, which only affects small kids. As with all virals, it is transmitted by coughing, sneezing and so on, and as with all virals, you can only administer symptomatic treatment and wait for it to run its course. At least it was nothing serious.

Still, it’s terrible to watch your child suffer. Tara slept through the night and was quite happy in the morning, until she tried to eat breakfast. Then she discovered that it still hurt to eat. I put the gel all over her mouth, but it didn’t work. Even swallowing water was difficult. The only thing she could eat or drink was milk. At lunch time she was desperately hungry, but everything she tried she rejected after a bite. Poor thing – she drank some milk and went to bed hungry.

Next will be Mrini’s turn. It’s impossible to keep them from infecting each other, especially when these virals are so vicious – people become contagious before they are symptomatic, which means, you have already spread the disease to others before you even knew you were sick. Nasty, no?

So next will be Mrini’s turn, no doubt.

And tomorrow we have to go to Pondicherry.


Health. Food.

September 9, 2009

First of all, I’m not going to crib about my diet and talk about how much I love everything that’s sinful, including food. Let’s just take that as a given.

The point is, if there’s one thing in which I don’t want the twins to end up like me, it’s my attitude to food. I want them to grow up to have a balanced and healthy attitude to food. I want them to be unfussy eaters, who will try anything once, will like most things, will have stomachs lined with lead, will thrive on bland, homemade, stale food as much as on oily, spicy, toxic street food, and through it all will achieve a balanced diet with a good proportion of dal, carb, fruit ‘n’ veg, dairy and non-veg.

And, of course, I hope they will always enjoy cakes and ice creams, but will never be cursed with an insatiable sweet tooth.

Is that too much to ask???

While the twins were at home full time, we made sure they got only healthy food. Their milk, curd, butter, and cheese came out of a packet of some kind, as did bread and cornflakes, but just about everything else they ate was fresh. They got fresh fruit and vegetables and enjoyed most of it; and fresh meat and chicken as well. They got no soups or juices out of a packet. They got no chocolates, no sweet except for what I sometimes made at home, no biscuits, no chips, practically no packaged foods at all. I did give them frozen peas, but they never liked them, though they loved fresh peas. Smart kids.

(Of course, I must clarify, to quell those rising eyebrows, that when I say ‘fresh’ food, I mean the ingredients are fresh as opposed to frozen or preserved. The food they get cannot not always be described as fresh, but I do usually impose a 48-hour limit; anything cooked more than 48 hours ago lands up in the trash can. That would be me.)

So right up until they joined ‘big’ school this June, they rarely had access to junk food like biscuits, chips, soft drinks, chocolates, toffees and the like. In playschool, they sometimes got a chocolate, but it wasn’t very often, and, back then, sometimes I just grabbed it from them and distracted them for a few minutes and they’d forget all about it (after shedding a few indignant tears).

Now, of course, it’s a different story. If they get goodies at school, they usually eat them before I get there (smart kids), but if they still have them on hand, it’s not as if I can just take them away, distract the kids and they’ll forget all about them. Oh no!

For one thing, they have my number. They don’t trust me at all when it comes to chocolate – and with good reason; if only they knew how many of the chocolates intended for them have landed up in the dustbin (me)! Now, if I tell them to put their sweets in their bags, they protest loudly, and when they finally comply, they keep a sharp eye on their bags. The whole way home, a small part of their memories are dedicated to the stored chocolate. As soon as we reach home, they start to ransack their bags looking for their chocolate. At which point, I usually take it away from them and keep it on top of the microwave – within eyesight, but, mercifully, still out of their reach. The deal is that if they eat their lunch like good girls (without throwing their food around and generally driving me crazy), then they will get chocolate. They don’t yet know that they shouldn’t have to negotiate for something that’s rightfully theirs… But that day is not far off.

One day Tara was too sleepy to gracefully complete her lunch, so I put her to bed sans chocolate. Mrini, however, said to me assertively, “I don’t want sabzi, I don’t want chicken, I don’t want dahi, I want only chocolate.” So I gave her hers.

Three hours later, Tara woke from her afternoon nap, and, still groggy and rubbing her eyes with both fists, said to me, “Mama, I want my chocolate.”

Well, I gave it to her – with Mrini looking on and saying “Taya, ha-piece-ha-piece,” as sweetly as she could. I told Tara that Mrini had already had hers, but she promptly broke her chocolate in half and gave it to Mrini regardless. It’s absolutely heart-warming to see her do that without any hesitation or prompting… especially considering that Mrini rarely returns the favour.

So distracting them and hoping they’ll forget about it just won’t work any more.

Still, they do get quite a lot of chocolate in school some days. It kills their appetite for lunch, and I doubt it does their teeth any good. And I really don’t want them to develop as much of a sweet tooth as I have. I don’t know whether not getting a lot of sweet at this age actually helps to develop a sweet tooth, or whether being denied it helps to avoid getting a sweet tooth; but it just seems like in this respect less must be better. So whenever I can, I still surreptitiously reduce the quantity of sweet that they actually get. Very sneaky and mean of me, no doubt, but that’s what parenting is all about, isn’t it?

What I really started out writing about though, is, why do all school birthday treats have to be packaged foods? I know that not all parents have time to bake up a storm like I did – and it is a lot of work – but can’t you do something simple and homemade? Or else send fruit? Or something that’s not food?

I’m a great fan of eating out and even of eating packaged food, but for these tiny tots, I still feel that the less packaged foods they get, the better. At least with homemade stuff, you have a better idea of what’s gone in it and how much of what and whether it is likely to be allergenic or not; and also, you have better control over the hygiene conditions. But most importantly, it’s the only way to minimise kids’ exposure to chemicals like preservatives, flavouring agents, and the like. Shouldn’t we be thinking of that for at least a few years?

I know – they’re three years old, I should just let go. We do the best we can at home and I should just let go of what’s beyond my control. And I will. But, when they come home with three or four different bits of chocolate and a commercially made cup-cake each, I just wonder.


More About Swine Flu

August 13, 2009

Swine flu has been a hotly debated topic in our home in recent days. Amit thinks my attitude is too ‘practical’ – which, I suspect, means unsympathetic.

Actually that’s not my intention, or even my area of focus. My only point is that, from what I’ve seen of the newspapers’ reports on this matter, the media is being irresponsible, giving a sensationalised picture instead of a balanced picture, trying to portray a doomsday scenario. Relevant reassuring information is buried. All of this tends to create a panic response in the general public.

I think that perhaps yesterday and today there is a slight improvement in the coverage – at least a few less alarmist facts and sensible precautions are also mentioned. A couple of points were made to the effect that there’s no need to panic.

It is, no doubt, alarming and sad that the number of deaths is so excessively high in India. From what I gather, several patients were admitted to hospital in a critical condition and couldn’t be saved. I wish people would get admitted sooner. I’m not, for a moment, saying that if someone gets sick, they should take it lightly until they turn critical. I do think that, with swine flu around, anyone who has fever and so on should go to the doctor. But it’s also true that an excessive number of people being tested could lead to a delay in getting the test results, with potentially serious consequences.

Plus, if you really aren’t that unwell, do you seriously want to spend some hours standing in a queue of 300 potential cases of swine flu?

A couple of news items that I read today seemed to me worth quoting in support of whatever I’m trying to say.

According to WHO, there have been 1462 deaths globally (as of Tuesday) since the outbreak of swine flu in April. (Deccan Herald page 7)

A Hindu Op-Ed article by a host of doctors says, “The hysteria created by the media and the knee-jerk reaction from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, are not conducive to rational and well-informed management of the situation.
“Swine flu is not more lethal, for instance, than ordinary flu and dengue. There is thus no need for the panic response. It can be treated like any ordinary flu, unless there are complications that require hospitalisation.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be worried about swine flu. I’m saying, we can be equally worried about chicken pox, ordinary flu, gastroenteritis, chikungunya, dengue, and drought. It’s just one more thing to try to avoid – let’s not blow it out of proportion.


Live Report and Swine Flu

August 11, 2009

We’re getting close to two years since we brought the twins home. And boy, they have certainly blossomed in these two years! Apart from being mischief makers on par with Dennis the Menace, they’ve also bloomed physically. When we got them, they were at the lowest 5th percentile in terms of height and weight. They were already over a year old, so we could only hope that any physical, mental, or developmental delays due to malnutrition or the institutional environment wouldn’t be lasting.

When we took them for their annual check-up last weekend, we found, to our delight, that they’re now close to the middle of their weight range. In height, they’re still below average, but at least they’re somewhere around the 20th percentile. They might come up to average, slowly, or maybe they just have short genes. Anyway, they are generally healthy now, and have got a certificate from the doctor to this effect. I didn’t really need a doctor to tell me this – but we have to send this document to the Family Court every year unti they turn 18, as part of their Live Report – but it was nice to have it reaffirmed from a medical perspective.

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I suppose what follows should, logically, be a separate post, but it seemed to me distantly related.
Swine flu is currently all the rage. It’s the number one topic for the newspapers and amongst all parents of school-going kids right now. The papers are doing their best to spread fear and chaos, as usual. Schools are agonising over whether or not to close, parents over whether or not to keep their kids at home, students over whether or not it’s hip to wear face masks. The government has been urging everyone who is even just thinking of coughing or sneezing to get tested for swine flu – without considering first how they are going to cope with the masses of people who come in demanding to be tested. Now that reality has hit them hard, they’re backtracking and saying, hey, hang on, don’t panic, just stay home and drink lots of fluid.

Maybe I’m stupid, callous, and cavalier, but… Don’t we need some common sense here? This is flu season. If you send everyone to be tested, you’re going to be so swamped, you’ll probably just miss the folks who might really have it, or get to them a couple of days later. Why not just tell people to go to the doctor? My understanding is, most cases of flu, even if it is swine flu, can be treated by rest, relaxation, plenty of fluid, and common sense. Only severe cases are cause for concern. The statistics show that, in most cases, the flu runs its course in a week, like any other flu. It is estimated to be fatal in less than 0.4% of cases, and then it is due to complications like pneumonia or pre-existing medical conditions. Don’t take my word for it – go do your own Google search (or any other search engine search, I suppose), and find out for yourself.

In retrospect, it’s quite possible that Amit had swine flu week before last – he is always working with people who travel, or with people who interact with people who travel. He had fever, lethargy, sore throat etc. And it did go off after a week without any medication, but with plenty of rest (and good food – not sure of the medicinal quality of that, but it does the morale a world of good). His doctor didn’t think it was swine flu, but apparently it’s really difficult to distinguish flu from swine flu without the lab test. All the same, unless you develop the severe symptoms or you have pre-existing medical conditions, specially lung problems, it doesn’t seem to be something to get into a panic about. I don’t think panic helps – even if the newspapers delight in it.

As a result of the newspapers’ scare-mongering, even Amit, normally quite a logical and practical person, is worried now. Our girls have had a stuffed head, particularly at night, for the past couple of weeks or more. They don’t really have a cold, only a very mildly runny and blocked nose. No fever, no sneezing, practically no coughing, no apparent sore throat, and they seem to be in fine spirits in every way. So should we be worried about the runny nose? Could it be swine flu? Should we keep them at home? Should we get them tested?

If you believe all you read, the answers would be yes, yes, yes, yes. But I believe getting them tested for next to zero symptoms would be irresponsible and a misuse of scarce resources. Amit thinks we should at least take them to a doctor. I think we just did – though for their annual checkup, not for swine flu, specifically. The mildly stuffy nose was present then, no better and no worse than it is now, but the doctor didn’t even so much as comment on it and prescribe a decongestant, so is it really likely that two cases of swine flu just walked through her clinic and she didn’t notice?

I think getting people to be aware of the symptoms and encouraging people to go to the doctor if they have symptoms of flu is sensible. Getting people to just stay home if they are sick is sensible. Emphasizing the importance of washing hands frequently, with soap, is mandatory (and I don’t see enough of that message being sent). But closing schools, testing every single person who coughs twice in a day, wearing face masks all the time etc is just over the top. Starting a panic response to the situation right now doesn’t seem like a really good idea. If a sensible, educated, informed, and generally level-headed person like Amit can be scared into taking two obviously healthy kids to the doctor just because of ordinary stuffed noses; if, in other words, an ordinary parent can be made too scared to call a stuffed nose just a stuffed nose, then you are already succeeding in overwhelming common sense with panic. That’s not sensible.

At least, that’s the way I see it. But then, what would I know?


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