April 16, 2015 - Preethi

April 16, 2015 - Preethi (1st person I approached)
As much as I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, I had to be downtown early. I didn’t sleep well last night; it seemed to be a night of run-on dreams. I’m an early morning person, except on those days that I ‘have’ to get up early. Yet I somehow managed to leave the house earlier than planned, and was fifteen minutes ahead of my appointment time.


Afterwards, I went for a coffee and sat at a bench in the coffee shop's window, and people watched going up and down davie Street. I walked towards home along the seawall. I saw Preethi sitting on a bench, taking in the view from a small park near the Cambie Street bridge. She readily agreed to chat, once I explained my project to her. 


“I was born near Madras (also known as Chennai), in southern India. I have a younger sister, who is five years younger than I am,” Preethi said.

“We got along well as children. Until the teen years. When I was fifteen, my sister was ten and she looked up to me as her cool older sister. Now the tables have turned. She’s the cool one and I’m not!” she laughed.

“There was definitely sibling rivalry, come on, two sisters, yeah. But we get along very well.”


“My mother worked as a technician in a medical lab, and my father was a doctor,” she said. Preethi learned to speak English in school.

“Everything was taught in English. We learned to speak Tamil, our mother tongue, as a second language. I also learned some Hindi. I’m fluent, and  can write and read, in Tamil,” she told me. Preethi’s parents separated when she was twelve years old. Both children continued to live with their mother, seeing their father less frequently.  

“Our mother encouraged both of us that the way to a good job in life was through education.”

“I loved chemistry and biology in school, but not physics,” Preethi told me.

“We moved from India when I was fifteen years old. It wasn’t the easiest of transitions. I joined the calculus club right away, but it was a completely different system. I didn’t know what the teacher meant when he kept referring to a T51. We were told we could use it in exams. I didn’t know that it was a calculator!” 


I asked Preethi why her mother chose to come to Vancouver.

”Oh, I’m not from here. I’m just visiting. We live in California,” she said, smiling. Never assume.

“My mother knew people that had long ago come over to California and so that’s how we ended up there,” she said.

“When we first moved to California, I wanted to go back to India. I went for three months every summer, for the the first few years. I went under the premise of seeing my father. And then I started getting busy with school, and working. My father died and there wasn’t any reason to go there anymore. I have been back with my mother once.” 


Preethi thought she wanted to be an engineer. She went to college and took engineering, but also took pre-med classes, “Just in case,” she said.

“My mother lost her job and I wanted to finish school and get to work. I accelerated my courses, went to summer school and worked hard. I finished college in two years and three months, instead of four years,” she said. And took pre-med classes!


“I had seen my mother work hard to provide for us. We had everything we needed. I wanted to do what I could to help out. I started working and moved in with my mother and sister, so that I could help financially. I was working at a large medical lab facility. I would get bored, it wasn’t very intellectually stimulating. I’d keep moving from department to department, so I could keep learning,” Preethi said. 


“I wanted to apply for med school, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. I did some research and chose four schools to apply for. Well, that was a ludicrous number. Apparently I needed to apply for something more like thirty schools. I didn’t get accepted at those first four schools. I applied for a lot more, and got into the University at Albany, in New York.” Preethi spent four years becoming a medical doctor there, and stayed an extra year for further studies.

“It was my first time ever seeing snow. It was nice at Christmas. Then it was there for Valentine’s Day. And St Patrick’s Day. After five winters, I was done with that.”


“I’m at Stanford (University) now. I did my residency and now I’m doing my fellowship in Critical Care,” she told me. Preethi was elected by her peer group of about fifty to be one of two Chief Fellows.

“I still work in hospitals. I want to keep working in my job, because I love it so much. Working in critical care, I’m in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). The patients are the sickest of the sick,” she told me.

“I’m about halfway through my fellowship, with about a year to go.”


Preethi is considering going back to school, at some point.

“I’m thinking business,” she says, her eyes getting bigger as a smile breaks out across her face.

“I’d like to open my own ICU one day. You don’t need an MBA in business to do that, but I’d like to continue learning. I don’t feel like I’m ready to settle down into one field quite yet,” she says.

“When working with people who are that sick, their relatives, friends and family are focussed on their loved one. Sometimes they’re not happy with how things are going. They have their own grief and emotions. Medicine can be a thankless job at times. Even though we know we’re doing a good job. The biggest acknowledgement of doing a good job comes from the people I work with. They know what we go through on a daily basis. It’s about supporting one another. We’re there for each other.”


Preethi is single.

“I’ve been single for some time. It’s really down to being so busy and focussed on my education,” she tells me.

“But of course, my mother wants to see me married and having children. She advocates for an arranged marriage, even though hers was arranged and that didn’t work out. So she set me up on many first dates throughout my twenties,” Preethi says, half laughing. 


I ask if her mother meets the suitors through the Aunties.

“Oh no. I wish it was Aunties. When my mother left my father, she sort of was shunned, for leaving. She doesn’t have that network. She finds these men online. I’ve been on, I kid you not, so many first dates. At least over one hundred, if not one hundred and fifty,” she said.

“It’s always a phone call first. You don’t even have enough time to hear the stories I could tell you. One guy asked me what I did. I told him I had worked at the medical lab facility. He asked me if I still knew people there and could I get him a job? I said yes, I know people, but I don’t know YOU,” she said, with a justified dismissiveness. 


“Another guy, remember he doesn’t even know what I do. He tells me that it’s okay if I want to stay home and not work. Really? As if I’m going to not work after all this. And then he says ‘But you can’t take naps during the day!’  This is the first conversation we’ve had. I will take as many naps as I want. In fact, he better be able to cook, make dinner when he gets home, I’ll get up, eat and then go for another nap!” she says, adamantly, and with laughter 


“But then I hit my thirties and my shelf life is expired now, so my mother doesn’t arrange any more dates for me. I didn’t want to disappoint my mother, so I went on those dates. Now I take care of it myself. But I’m pretty picky, and I’m not ready to settle just yet.”


Preethi had four days off, and wanted to go on a trip.

“I was thinking either Seattle, Vancouver or Hawaii. I’ve never been to Vancouver, and it’s far enough away without having to spend too much time travelling. It’s so nice to get away by myself every now and again. I arrived yesterday morning, and walked around Gastown and Chinatown. I went for a lovely lunch. It's so nice not to have to answer my pager, or take a phone call. I don’t have to think about this patient getting that medication. I don’t have cellphone coverage here so my phone hasn't even rung. The toughest decision I had to make yesterday was should I buy that dress in coral or teal?” #notastranger