Making a Difference as an Immigrant in America
Welcome to “Healing From Within.” with your host Sheryl Glick, author of The Living Spirit: Answers for Healing and Infinite Love who is delighted to welcome Arun K. Singh M.D. author of Your Heart My Hands a story of an immigrant’s remarkable journey to find the American dream and become one of America’s preeminent cardiac surgeons.
Sheryl is delighted today to share the perspective of Dr. Singh who came to America in the 60’s as a young physician from India to be able to find a way to support himself and his family in India and eventually choosing America as his home and all the lives that were helped as a result of his choices to succeed and persevere often against challenging odds and also due to his desire to be part of American life.
As listeners of the show are well aware Sheryl and her guests share intimate insights into the nature of our human and spiritual essence and our hopes for uniting this dual nature to find health truth prosperity and happiness. By knowing more about who we are, where we have originated from in a metaphysical sense we learn how to manifest a healthy self-investigative process, master our emotions and live in harmony and balance with nature man and the universe.
In today’s show Dr. Arun Singh will share his journey from rural India arriving with five dollars in his pocket sharing proof that hard work persistence and grit can overcome the most discouraging obstacles and will also share his views on life and the health care system that deserve our attention
When asked to think back to his childhood in India to remember a person place or event that might have been a signal to them or others of the interests and lifestyle they would pursue as an adult for it seems our story is written in our soul energy and often signs show us the path we are meant to follow. Arun immediately mentions his very devoted and strong willed mother who helped him with health challenges and injuries to his hands when he was young. Arun grew up in Deoghar a city in northeastern India and in 1944 when he was born it was a nation poised for partition into two states—today’s Indian and Pakistan. It was a violent time, a time of upheaval when society was divided not only between Hindus and Muslims. There were those who had adopted British western democratic ways and on the other side nationalists fighting for independence, self-rule and a return to India’s original culture and languages. Arun embodied the tumult of the times and on two separate occasions both his hands were crippled and he had to have painful treatments to regain the use of his hands. Had he been in America he would have been labeled a juvenile delinquent who ran with a bad crowd and got into trouble skipping school and defying authority.
Then there was Arun’s learning disability although it wasn’t recognized much at that time..Suffering from dyslexia I couldn’t read or write well and I had to find other ways to grasp information. Arun discusses dyslexia and the challenges he faced in dealing with this learning disability while intellectually quite gifted he did have to find alternative ways around these issues dealing with processing information and his delivery of information. Many people afflicted with dyslexia have difficulty spelling and enunciating words. Sometimes words come out garbled. The problem is not in intelligence: it’s essentially a congenital malfunction in the brain. The cause of dyslexia is a glitch within the language system. Most humans can instinctively and effortlessly articulate the building blocks of words called phonemes. But for those with dyslexia the phonemes are less sharply defined so they are not able to properly construct and articulate words..(example confusing the word cat with scat.) When giving a speech Arun didn’t take the chance on reading it he memorized it. Arun used a system of code words and acronyms to remember strings of facts or terminology. (Example: Veins arteries and nerves go in that order..V A N using the first letter of each word to remember the sequence.)
Arun faced many other setbacks in India including his father”s doubts about his future and possibly growing up to be a beggar on the streets due to his hand injuries which greatly influenced him. Interestingly both his maternal and paternal grandfathers were physicians and your fathers father was a surgeon. However he was staunchly anti British and pro independence and came from a higher caste than your mother who was the daughter of an Anglicized pro Empire Indian. They were so different and your father’s father never accepted his marriage from a lower social stratum. So many years ago, and yet the political and religious differences here both in this country and indeed the world still suffer from the way people separate themselves, rather than accept the human need to find love and service to others, looking past culture, economic problems, religion and ancient traditions such as a caste system.
As a young doctor Arun saw the deficiencies in the hospital he worked at in India where adequate equipment and staff as well as proper care was nearly non-existent but still there were idealists and people who tried to do their best and trusted in a higher hand to help them.
Arun tells us about the hand injuries he had in India as a boy and writes, “When I was seven I was climbing a guava tree ten to twelve feet off the ground and the monkeys came and there is nothing cute about a Langur monkey about to strike so Arun fell and his right hand and elbow took the brunt of the fall and there was a big gash to the forehead There was nerve damage to the elbow and in a few days there was much swelling and the cast was removed and it was discovered that the hand had been set the wrong way. Again in six weeks the cast was removed and the broken bone had healed, but Arun’s right arm and elbow wouldn’t bend. He couldn’t pick things up, couldn’t write, couldn’t feed himself. While Arun had the cast on he’d developed pneumonia and because of poor sanitary conditions had a severe case of hepatitis. The surgeon cautioned his parents that with his liver in a bad state, general anesthesia given in order to break the arm and reset it was extremely dangerous.
During this challenging time you found out your father had been married before and his wife, son and daughter had been killed in a train crash. Then by marrying beneath his caste he had lost his father and the family who disinherited him. After months Arun was taken back to the doctors who broke his arm and reset it once again. There was some improvement and with the help of his mother and strength building exercises at home Arun began to get stronger in time. Years later when in a kite flying contest Arun fell into a ditch and broke his left arm just as severely as he had broken his right arm years before.
Sheryl says that some may call this a coincidence, but there are no coincidences nor random happenings. It seems the soul often calls these events to us perhaps to overcome some karmic condition or to enact great and necessary change. Even accidents are not random but part of a bigger pre- designed plan by your soul for specific results to be achieved.
Arun writes “More than six decades later these two childhood accidents are still with me. While my mother’s primitive physical therapy regime certainly helped it couldn’t totally undo the long term damage. My left arm is an inch or so shorter than my right. Decades later both my hands and arms are atrophied. While they never fail me when it comes to wielding a scalpel, I often lack the strength necessary for simple daily activities like working a screwdriver or opening a jar.”
Sheryl says, “All of us carry the scars, fears, and often limitations of our childhood…Some problems were self-created. Other fears were given to us by parents and teachers in hopes of protecting us, but often did just the opposite and limited us from stepping out of our comfort zone or forgiving ourselves or others for events that may have hurt us.
Arun tells us he arrived in Massachusetts in 1967 in the city of Worcester at the only hospital that would accept him. At that point with exactly five dollars in his pocket he soon realized that many Americans thought of people from India as snake charmers, half-naked Gandhi like ascetics or characters from the Jungle Book. Indeed Arun’s country with 1.3 billion people was most identified with not the people, but an animal: the elephant, and a building, The Taj Mahal. A lot of this was simply cross cultural ignorance, but in the late sixties there were other forces I became painfully aware of. The fact that I was non-white led to suspicion, and I was unwelcome in some quarters. Of course not everyone was adverse to befriending a man from India and I began to date Barbara Schachter, a pretty nurse from Queens College nursing school. We married and meanwhile, my career was taking shape as a surgical residency at Columbia University and then cardiac training at Rhode Island Hospital-Brown University. Arun also participated in a year of advanced training at London’s Hospital for Sick Children where he learned the delicate science of surgery on young hearts. If you ask surgeons why they choose this branch of medicine they usually respond that it is because of the effect of saving lives as well as wanting to avoid surgery as much as possible except for patients where the choice is clear: either surgery or death.
Sheryl brings up the concept of racism which is all we hear about these days in politics and asks Arun how racism affected him when he first got to America or because he was an immigrant? Arun expresses he felt exploited at the first American hospital he worked at and there were areas he was not invited to go into. While Arun was asked to finish his surgical training in that hospital, he told the doctor offering him this arrangement that he had spent most of his time in the library, not operating room and had travelled ten thousand miles to be here and learn surgery. His plan was to spend one year in Massachusetts and then seek admission into an American University hospital. The doctor laughed and said the residents in American university hospitals are American. That was in 1967. I don’t believe it is that way any longer. Arun declined the offer and later received a call from another friend, a doctor from India. Mohan said they were looking for a few residents at Columbia University Medical Center in New York so because Arun was not inclined to take a position at a hospital that was a dead end for him, he made the right choice to wait for an opportunity that was in alignment with his hopes and dreams which got him to New York. They did want Americans but many doctors were in the armed forces because of the Vietnam War.
Dr. Singh tells us of an inspiring relationship in his professional life. His mother’s father was an ENT physician and Arun as a boy spent a lot of time while he was attending to patients. His uncle Shivnandan was also a physician and so was your father’s father who was a surgeon and Arun’s father was a teacher. So he was surrounded by people who served the community and were influences for living a healthy lifestyle. As a student when you returned home to India to discover your father had a stroke and was in the local hospital you describe the very poor condition at that time in the hospital. Seeing your father paralyzed you realized that your dad had lived for a long time with tremendous guilt and never been allowed by his parents to forget the shame and stigma of marrying out of his caste. Arun’s father also carried a second serious emotional wound and could never forget the tragic death of his family from his first marriage. Arun realized that his father quite possibly suffered from depression which made him appear as cold, distant, inflexible and unloving. His father had a government job and there was no health insurance. There was no safety net. The extended family was expected to help. Arun’s father did recover and returned to work within a year’s time. I now understood how important it was for me to finish medical school and be able to help my family.
Dr. Arun Singh would most like readers to take away with them after reading Your Heart My Hands his belief that Miracles happen and dreams can become reality. Arun had decided to go to America to become part of a new crop of surgeons. In 1967 Rene Favaloro an immigrant from Argentina working at the Cleveland Clinic introduced the coronary artery bypass surgery for the relief of angina and to prolong the life of patients with blockage of the coronary arteries. This breakthrough procedure would offer hope to millions of people. Arun’s mentor Dr. Singh in India saw this as a way for medicine to be changed and suggested that Arun be part of the revolution and go to America. Having no money for the move to America something miraculously happened that made it possible. In 1970 Arun’s younger brother was the sole winner of the 1.5 million rupees lottery. It was a break for the family and freed Arun from the responsibility of sending most of his paycheck home. Arun had passed the ECFMG test and was accepted into a graduate medical program where they paid his room and board and also his plane ticket to Massachusetts. And as a surgical intern would be paid $4, 383 a year. The journey was hard and long both to America and past the restrictions of a caste system and the problems of his family and cultural restrictions but there were always helpers along the way and love and learning to know that the complications in life are only opportunities for the soul and spirit to soar and for personal achievement as well as serving society to emerge strong.
I want to thank Arun K. Singh M.D. author of Your Heart My Hands for a soul searching look at Self, life, and the human as well as divine experience. An immigrant’s remarkable journey to become one of America’s preeminent cardiac surgeons and also the story of trust in a Universal plan for living a purposeful and healthy life as written in a soul’s destiny is the fabric of this very interesting life story.
In summarizing today’s episode we have discovered that nothing is impossible when you have the love of a mother grandmother family and a strong family resolve to work cooperatively for the success and well being of all the members of the family. Such is the culture that Arun Singh M.D. was born into, along with the problems of his childhood which ultimately made him triumph over serious handicaps to become an accomplished cardiac surgeon. Tenacity, stubbornness and curiosity along with perseverance and trust all lead to the many successes personally for Dr. Singh and to the thousands of patients Dr. Singh was able to save during the course of his long professional life. While he observed that the men in his life were complicated and operated much differently than the compassionate women, he did benefit from their example of hard work and respect for a way of life that offered stability.
Dr. Singh writes, “Throughout my career I’d tried to focus on the thing I cared more about and the thing I did best: my patients and their treatment. I was never interested in becoming an administrator. I also tried to avoid getting caught up in the politics that are an inevitable part of any large organization. But change was coming to the medical field and nothing could keep me from being affected. The changes include the mergers, the demise of the solo practice, the rise of large physicians groups and networks as well as complex new billing systems and the increasing costs of the healthcare system.”
Dr.Singh and Sheryl would have you know though we are aware of the challenging and changing times for the medical field and the effects of political social economic and global changes we advise our listeners to remember the reason we have all chosen a physical life, and that is to remain steadfast to that wise inner voice or intuition that reminds you that you are indeed more than the physical world, and must strive for personal excellence resilience love of life family and spirit at all times.