Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shock Treatment Varieties for Mental Issues

I was reading this news article in The Hindu, describing a ritual where 2000 women were given whip lashes to remove "evil spirits" that possessed them. It sounds very cruel and unscientific, and speaks ill of the society. There are actually many such methods, including a place in Kerala called Chotanikkarai, where they nail the hair of insane people. Other less cruel methods include putting them under the Kutralam waterfall in Tamil nadu for a cold and swift shower.

They are not able to explain, but I think the underlying principle is to provide shock treatment, with the hope that the brain works differently (or normally!) after the shock. The nerves obviously will get triggered, and some inert ones may start functioning as well with these nasty surprises. Even psychiatrists may resort to shock treatment with electricity, so the principle and practice is not without substance. The psychiatrist will be able to explain better that it is a "mental disorder", instead of "evil spirit". Even today, it is said the brain is the least understood part of the human body, and it is not clear yet which nerves to trigger, what they control or how they work. Until we can fully explain the brain, the psychiatrist is taking a chance with electric shock, and these ritualistic "doctors" are taking a chance with their version of shock treatment - both hope that something good will happen!

Sometimes "evil spirits" denote infections like bacteria or virus. I had a relative who had high fever, and her mom took her to a country doctor who tried to ward off the fever with neem leaves, holy ash and such - again, I think the principle is to provide a setting that triggers the immune system to kill the bacteria or virus.

I don't support these approaches, but if they are largely harmless in providing hope, I think they are OK - especially when the science is not fully understood. What is clearly wrong however, is blind faith putting people in more danger. Like this homoepathy lecturer in Australia who killed his baby suffering from eczema (news) - he refused other medicines insisting only on homoepathy, and I don't think he understood how or why they work or don't work. Or worse yet, the Wisconsin parents that just prayed to God instead of calling a doctor, and let their diabetic child die (news).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Navrathri kolu and Betel leaves

It is Navrathri Kolu week, and my wife is calling her friends home for "vethalai paakku" (vethalai = Betel leaves), as well she is visiting her friends' homes to receive the same. It's all fine and good fun, except that the betel leaves are expensive and difficult to find in the Indian grocery stores. A similar hunt for coconut happens during "Varalakshmi Pooja" - I think even Lucky or Safeway stores now track those dates when coconut demand goes through the roof!

A couple of months back, I was talking to my aunt in India who is now in her late seventies. She was describing her life as a child, living in the villages, families clustered among a group of homes with plenty of back yard trees and other fauna. During festivals, they would pick these betel leaves from their backyard, or coconut from the trees, and give them away as gifts. Likewise, much of the food habits involving rice, vegetables, spices also were due to what grew in the backyard - including banana leaves used as plates. There wasn't much need for money, and people didn't have much of it anyway, so buying things for gifts was out of question.

So, the right equivalent to do now is to go to the backyard and pick some edible leaves and fruit and give to people! Instead, we religiously want to absolutely buy betel leaves, even if they are ridiculously priced!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Book Review - The Millionaire in the Mirror

The Millionaire in the Mirror by Gene Bedell: This book is meant for those who seek Outstanding Success (Gene emphasizes the capital O and capital S) in career - going beyond happiness at work, to really make it to the top 1%. I am really happy I read this book, and unhappy that I never knew about it earlier in my career. Gene has been there and done that, and it is also amazing he is willing to mentor so well from all the wisdom gained from his distinguished career. He is very methodical, thorough in defining what he means by Outstanding Success, how some one can become a "Heat seeking missile" and shoot for such a lofty goal, what pitfalls to watch out for, and how to coach oneself to get ahead, get unstuck and navigate the corporate world. He also provides a different perspective on entrepreneurship - why it is not as glamorous as it is projected to be, and why working for large corporations is not as bad as it is touted to be either. If there is one book I'd recommend for career oriented individuals in 30s and 40s, or those just starting out in early 20s, this is it.