Veeraswamy Krishnaraj, M.D.
Revised Oct, 5, 2018

The author of the website, My India Stories.com (myindiastories.com) is Veeraswamy Krishnaraj, M.D. I was born in Saram village in 1937 in Tamil Nadu, the then-Madras Province under the British Raj. A village doula administered prenatal, natal, and postpartum services to my mother.  My mother was in labor under the watchful eyes of the doula and bingo, I dropped into the dexterous hands of the doula. I grew up in the village for a few years. My parents took me to a nearby town with my younger brother, where I completed high school in 1953, My parents, my two brothers and I moved to a temple-town (Chidambaram with famous Nataraja Temple) where I completed my pre-med college education. I visited my village a few times during my permanent residence in the USA. The roof was blown off my childhood home, the walls were standing as the sentinels of ruin, and the weeds took residence in the roofless house. My great uncle was now the owner of the ruins. My younger son perspicacious of his heritage and ancestry, picked up a brick from the ruins and brought it to America in the 1970s.

In 1955, I entered Madras Medical College and graduated in December 1960 with a medical degree (M.B; B.S). I worked as a House Officer in Govt. General Hospital for six months, left for the U.S.A and landed in the Idlewild Airport in NYC (Renamed JFK Airport later) on August 3, 1961. Yes, a day later, Barack Obama was born. No, I did not deliver him. He was born in a far away place, which I visited in the 1990s.  I worked as an intern and resident in pediatrics in NY City hospitals, passed the written and oral examinations, obtained a board certification in Pediatrics in 1965, and earned Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians (Canada) in Pediatrics in 1968.  I married in 1967, practiced Pediatrics and retired in December 1998. 

Since retirement, I maintain a website, Bhagavad Gita USA.com (bhagavadgitausa.com). I also started the present website recently.

I was brought up in a secular home. I don’t remember celebrating even one major Hindu festival at home. I went to a Protestant Christian High School from 1945 to 1953, known then as The American Arcot Mission High school in Tindivanam. We had Bible Classes and were asked to write down one good deed in Christian tradition a student performed to another person daily. The students were inventive-that included me and entered in the book of good deeds, episodes from the Hindu Epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata.  One good deed entry was,"Today, I showed Hanuman the way to Lanka." We had no good deeds to report and so liberally borrowed from the Ityhasas. We had no religious instructions in Hinduism. About half the teachers were Christian and the rest came from Hinduism: Brahmins, Mudaliars.... Better than 90% of the student body belonged to Hinduism, Islam, Jainism… The rest were Christians. There were no overt or covert attempts to convert the students to Christianity. Christmas celebrations were an annual event, which the student body attended. The school had an Indian Christian Headmaster, a kind man. The Assistant Headmaster was a fair-complexioned Brahmin gentleman with hazel eyes, who, we saw, did his jogging on the Trunk Road (main highway, a North-South Corridor), used by lorries (trucks), cars, Jatkas, bullock carts, pedestrians, animals, sheep, cows, ducks... The duck crossing was the best thing we saw. When the heavy lorries carrying sand came to a screeching halt at the sight of highway crossing of the quacking ducks with the duck-minder conducting from behind the ensemble of ducks with a flourishing stick.  Duck Crossing. https://www.youtubeDOTcom/watch?v=JrRPwcVpZS4

The school had a soccer field. I never participated in the sports.

The school was about a mile and half from where I lived. I took the main bazar road to the school. Most people followed no traffic rules. There was no pedestrian path. The pedestrians were at the mercy of wayward cows, stray dogs, grunting pigs, roadside performing monkeys, dancing bears... I witnessed the marauding monkeys grab the half-eaten banana from the hands of a hapless child. The common modes of transportation was Bullock Cart, Tonga, bicycle... A car was rare on the streets. I remember seeing dense smoke-belching trucks powered by steam made by burning coal.  The tonga was ubiquitous. Once as I was walking in the middle of the road on my way home from school unknowing of the horse-drawn carriage behind me, the horse ran into me and I was hanging helpless by the shirt collar from the shaft tip for about 30 feet. When the horse stopped, I was unhooked from the wooden tip. I went home, no apologies from the driver. I was not hurt and happy the horse and the carriage did not run over me.

There was one Hindu teacher with the habit of putting his hand in the pockets of children and take small change they had for candy, snacks... Everybody knew it and nobody complained.  There was another Hindu teacher in Tamil language studies. He used to call the misbehaving students: Panni-Naai (This word has two meanings. When told as one word (Panninaai), it means, "What did you do?" When used as two words (Panni Naai), it meant a pig and a dog.  The words are spoken Tamil which is differrent from literary written Tamil. Most teachers were exemplary.

I sat on the floor in the corner of my classroom for one whole year in the late 1940s on the order of my teacher. I know him by name. That year I was fidgety and hyperactive. I know it now because I am a pediatrician. The teachers did not understand psychology of students. There was no social worker or counselor. My teacher failed me that year and I had to repeat. The teacher sent me away from the classroom to buy meats from the meat market, quite a distance away from the school and deliver it to his family. I never questioned him. I never told my parents. The teacher had no compunction in using a student to do his household chores during school hours.

Once, a fourteen-year-old girl had blood coming down her leg and spilling on the floor of the classroom. No one knew what it meant including the girl. The teacher did not tell us what it was. We did not understand. The teacher did not reassure or explain to the girl or the students. Neither the parents nor the teachers instructed the teenagers on the physiological changes they undergo in the adolescent years. There was no teaching of physiology. I spent all my years in the school thinking that the testicles in the scrotum made urine. Such was our ignorance.  We were not taught anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, botany...  Geology and history were on the curriculum.

I had some rudimentary knowledge of Hinduism during my school and college days. My parents did not take me to any temples. I tagged along with uncles, aunts, cousins… to temples. There were no formal religious instructions either from my parents or any organizations. I was a Hindu by birth and name only, and not by practice. But I knew what caste meant, because it was widely practised. My maternal grandmother was a strict practitioner of the art of separation of castes. We are a land-owning class. Coming back to my grandmother, whom I loved, she was a woman of the time and place. The Dalits -the untouchables- worked around the house tending cows, feeding them, cleaning the stalls... Milking was done by caste people. They all came by a passageway between two houses and reported to grandma at the back of the house.  I remember well I did the forbidden thing: touching them in the presence of my grandmother. My grandma chided me and gave me a purifying shower. The workers ran from me or asked me to stay far away as I approached them, because for no fault of theirs, they were chided for my transgressions.

Village life was simple but exciting. The children go to the rice fields, openly defecate in the fields, wash the bottoms in running waters and jump into the wells. Meals were served four times a day back home. The elders gather in the backyard with children under the moonlight, share roasted peanuts and stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. My knowledge of Hinduism came from such gatherings, aunts and uncles. All incidents anywhere drew referrences to parallel and similar incidents in the Great Epics of Hinduism. Those days, there was no talk between adults without reference to the Epics.

I was a medical student from 1955 June to 1960 December. Those days graduation included house surgeoncy. The medical school years were the happiest for me.  My family lived in Kodambakkam and later in T'Nagar. I commuted to Medical School (Madras Medical College) daily all those years. The students had each a free train pass in upper class cars. The dabbawallahs delivered midday meals to the students in the dining hall. As new students, we were subjected to 'ragging.' Ragging = hazing. It was mild and never injurious. In later years, fellow students engaged in ragging. I was a spectator. The female medical students were never ragged.

All the classrooms had stadium seats. The female students occupied and segregated themselves to the front rows. There was no mixed seating at all. When the professor turned his or her face to the blackboard, there was a barrage of paper balls flying off from the rear rows, meant to strike the female students. Most of the students were bachelors. Close to graduation a few students became married.

There were seniors in the college who were drug addicts. They failed their exams repeatedly. They were sharp dressors. Obviously, they had moola for drugs and expensive clothes. After a few failures in the examination, they were ejected from the medical school.

We spent the first years in learning anatomy and physiology in the classrooms and laboratories. We desected formalin-soaked corpses in antomy theaters (halls) and performed experiments on living frogs. We pithed them with needles to destroy the brain and the spinal cord before we did muscle experiments. The smell of frogs and the formalinized corpses still cling in my memory. Famous professors (and examiners) from other colleges came to deliver lectures. We had a popular Anglo-Indian professor of anatomy.

For my physiology practical examination, my examiner was a British woman physiology professor from Vellore Medical College. I dissected a frog. She questioned me about the role of heat and cold on muscle contraction. It took me some time to give her the right answer. She waited and waited. Every second was a light year. If it was not for her patience, I would have failed the test questions. I answered at last and passed the exam. 

Anatomy examination: Anatomy professor questioned a student to tell all about the Lumbricals (Small muscles) in the palms. One clever student added his own twist to the answer. Answer: Lumbricals become handy in shaking off the last few drops of urine from the male genitalia. He passed the test.

The next year and half was learning pharmacy, pathology, forensic science... We had a pathology professor who described the Melanin stain of the cells as Kari Vesham (= கரி வேஷம் = charcoal-black masquerade). The professor of forensics was the city medical examiner.

Surgical rounds. The patient was flat on the bed in a supine position. The professor ceremoneoulsy and respectfully exposed the patient's genitalia before the peering eyes of the students. No gloves were used to examine the patient. There was a nurse with a basin of  antiseptic solution for dip-cleaning of hands after patient examination.

Professor: What do you think it is?

Students: They were looking at each other, not knowing what it was.

My professor of surgery, a handsome fair-complexioned Iyengar by birth, told us, "If you see a coconut where the scrotum should be, it is a hydrocle."  We all spoke in English. The patient did not understand the contents of our conversations. After that demonstration of a coconut between the thighs, all the students knew what a hydrocele was. Our professors were excellent in their respective fields.

Patients with long-neglected hydrocle came with a humongous scrotum They had the village medicine man insert needles and evacuate the scrotal fluid out. The fluid came back again. Some scrotal sacks were infected. The students assembled around the patient. The professor preselected the patient for student insructions.

A professor of medicine screened the patients with chronic cough for tuberculosis with fluroscopy of the chest. The patients were lined up in a queue. He sat in front of the fluroscopy machine holding the frame with static images. The assistant had patient records on his hand. A patient was called and he or she moved behind the fluroscope. In a second or two, the professor diagnosed the lumg condition, as the assistant took notes. Later on all the suspected patients had their x-rays done for permanent record and treatment. This was the quickest way to screen hundreds of patients for lung disorders. If there was a study case, the professor lingered for us to see the images. Once the screening and outpatient hours were over, he tooks us to the college restaurant for treat with delectable snacks.

We were allowed to participate in the treatment of patients in the children's orthopedic clinic. There were infants with foot defects: club foot... The infant was anesthetized with a mask and an application of anesthtic from a bottle poured on the mask. The infant, rendered unconscious, was given a cast to correct the deformity and was sent home soon after anesthetic recovery for follow-up later. Yes, the students did anesthetize the babies under supervision. Yes, in US hospitals, students would not have been allowed to participate in the hands-on treatment of patients.

AA dermatology professor was a chain smoker. He was a strict hygienist. He washed and washed before, between and after patient examination. We noticed him accidentally drop his cigarette pack on the floor and he never picked it. He was so strict about cleanliness, though he was ruining his lungs.

AAnother dermatology professor, clad in a saree, never washed her hands any time. We noticed she had long nails with crescent-shaped black dirt under her proximal nails.

There was another professor of medicine at bedside teaching, who questioned students, "Enumerate the symptoms, signs, causes, complications, treatment, and prognosis of a condition." The professor would go, "What else?" One clever student said, "Death." All broke into laughter. The professor agreed.

I remember a case of esophageal atresia (Congenital obstruction of the food pipe) in a newborn baby. There was no pediatric surgeon those days (1950s). Adult surgeons operated on all age groups. The father said, "He is going to die anyway. Go ahead and operate on him." The child died after the operation. There was no autopsy done to find the cause of death.

The professor of pediatrics was the first one to go abroad and receive F.R.C.P (Canada). He was brilliant and extensively studied 'Indian Childhood Cirrhosis.' I was the second one to receive the same fellowship in Canada. 

There was a brilliant student in our batch. He was one of the top students in the first two years of  medical studies. In the clinical years, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and dropped out of medical school. One student died a few years after graduation.

The medical education in India was top-notch and served me well during my training and practice in the USA. Listening to the patient and the parents helped me make correct diagnoses often. Parents know the patient (child) better than the doctor. I always believed in that. We often forget how much the patient or parent teaches us about diseases.

Once I had a child coming into the Pediatric ER with abdominal pain. He was diagnosed as Acute Appendicitis. As a senior resident, I was to supervise the junior resident. As I approached the patient, he smelt of acetone. I told myself this was a case of Diabetic ketoacidosis with abdominal pain. He did not have physical signs for Acute appendicitis. Blood sugar and urinalysis established the diagnosis.

A child came with wheezing. The working diagnosis was Bronchial asthma. The child was not wheezing when I examined him, no ronchi that I could hear. I bent his neck fowards; that precipitated wheezing. The diagnosis was Vascular Ring in the chest mimicking asthma. Confirmation came by esophageal contrast studies.

My training in NYC hospital was excellent. Our professor of pediatrics had a particular interest in Adrenal glands. He did research on them. When I was a resident in Canada, an infant came in with shock. Routine blood tests and EKG were done by me. The EKG showed spiking T waves indicating high potasium in the blood affecting the heart. Immediately I gave the infant a dose of hydrocortisone. The blood tests showed high potasium and low Sodium. The diagnosis was Adrenogenital syndrome, which was proved by urine and blood tests. If it was not for my training and awareness of Adrenogenital syndrome, I would not have diagnosed the condition. Thanks to the professor.

A preschool child came in with ankle pain. One spot was tender (point tenderness) on the tibia. He had a low grade fever. My impression was osteomyelitis. X-rays were normal. I insisted on osteomyelitis, but the specialists did not agree. Early osteomyelitis does not show in x-rays, until reactive bone formation and thickening appear in a week or so. Treatment was started. Increased levels of radiotracer uptake indicated early osetomyelitis. The child was on IV antibiotics for weeks. 

I spent more time in the history and physical parts of examination, which I found lacking in some resident doctors. Some had no time for the patient and immediately dispatched them for x-rays and blood tests. What a waste of resources. After my retirement, I thought I would do part-time work in pediatrics out of state (NJ). I was hired by a pediatrician much younger than me. I was scolded for spending too much time with patients and my production quota was six patients every hour. Shortly thereafter, I was called into the office and handed a check. A few days later, I received a certified mail that I was no longer needed in the office.

I also beleive in home remedies and naturopathy under certain conditions and for certain maladies.  I suffer from Type 2 Diabetes since the late 1990s. Besides the allopathic medications I take cinnamon in powder form (150mgs twice a day). It helped stabilize and control my blood sugar.

When I left for the USA in 1961, my maternal uncle gave me a Sanskrit-English copy of Bhagavadgita published by Gita Press, Gorakpur, India. I still have that copy with me. Since I retired, I lived and breathed Hinduism during my waking hours. The stories and Hindu religious articles are from my reading during the retirement years. I began visiting Hindu Temples in the Tristate area and whenever I visited India, I went to Tirupati Venkatesvara Temple, Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple, local but famous temples in Chennai...