A Hindu physician in a Christian hospital

As I enter the hospital in which I work, I am struck by a number of signs that denote that my place of employment is a Christian hospital, with Christian values, and a Christian “vision” of health care. I don’t have the vaguest clue as to what that means. And I don’t really  mind either, it’s not like they’re paying me with Jesus biscuits and Christmas ornaments, nor does it seem to impact the day-to-day routine of how I take care of patients.

As a child of immigrants, I was born and raised in this country. As someone of the Hindu faith, I am quite comfortable living and working in a world in which my viewpoint is usually in the minority. But as I make my way through the routine of my job amongst these often constant reminders, I can’t help but feel different, foreign. It’s a situation that often spurs the mental soundtrack of my workday to begin with Sting’s “Englishman in New York.”

I don’t drink coffee I take tea my dear, I like my toast done on one side.

You can hear it in my accent when I talk, I’m an Englishman in New York.           

It’s a situation that’s all the more strange as many, if not most, of the doctors that I work with from day to day are actually not Christian, and yet, it remains a largely taboo subject. Is this a tale of a quietly suffering minority? I don’t think so. But it does highlight the special kind of tolerance that it requires to be a foreigner, or perhaps any minority living in America. It’s the kind of humility required to have a proud family name reduced to one letter, or to use a smile and gentle correction as to your culinary habits. “Yes I’m supposed to be vegetarian, but I still eat meat anyway. Yes, I do eat pork. No I don’t worship cows.”

Situations like this play out often during my day at work, sometimes it feels like that Sting song is on perpetual repeat.

Cashier: “What’s the name on that order?”
Me: “Deep”  
Cashier: “Dean?”
Me: “No, Deep”
Cashier: “Steve?”
Me: “No, Deep.”
Cashier: “Dave?”
Me: “Yes. Dave.”

If manners maketh man as someone said, then he’s the hero of the day.

It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile, be yourself no matter what they say.

The question this brings me to is this, how far does this tolerance go on the other side? If the signs around my hospital instead espoused Hindu values of caring, would anybody mind? Probably, they would think we are all nuts. And yet, the strange duality of being accepted in America is intriguing. Because while any Hindu health center would  likely be laughed out of town, the space would promptly be rented out to a Yoga studio or an herbal homeopathic clinic, with those things being perceived as American.

So what’s the message here? Actually, I don’t really know. But when considering the question of how to navigate the murky channels of quasi-foreignness, I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Tropic Thunder. When Kirk Lazarus is telling Tugg Speedman how to successfully  portray a mentally challenged person on the big screen, his advice was this, “you never go full retard.”

And thus it could be that in that oyster of stupidity, we find perhaps the tiniest pearl of wisdom. Like the purveyor of the burgeoning yoga studio, is the answer to success in America to foster what it is that makes you different, yet never going “full foreign?”

I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York.

Deep Ramachandran is a pulmonary and critical care physician who blogs at CaduceusBlog.

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  • http://twitter.com/kimemiafred Fredrick Kimemia

    it really matters understanding some of these cultural/social differences. My understanding of especially religion role in treatment and healing is scientifically evident. I remember reading several studies on the role of spirituality and HIV treatment. Its evident that as much as its an attempt to explain the unexplainable, most of these faiths enhance health. For practitioners understanding the role of your patient faith in their healing is important. Science is never science if it doesnt impact on the client. In Kenya and to an extent Africa there is a saying that teh Doctor treats but God heals..Fredrick-www.healthsystemspartners.kbo.co.ke

    • caduceusblogger

      Thanks, I’ve heard that last statement about healing and God before, both in India and the U.S. I didnt realize that it was so widespread a sentiment.

  • sFord48

    Just stay away from the birth control pills and you’ll be fine.

  • Paper Dolls

    Thank you for your tolerance and respect. I enjoyed your post it reminded me of a story I heard about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters choosing to wear a sari instead of a traditional nuns habit. Mother Teresa picked a sari as her habit because she loved the people of India and wanted it reflected by her dress.

    • caduceusblogger

      Thanks, I did not know that. It’s interesting, that despite the political differences of different faiths, I find that faith in God in and of itself, tends to bind people together more than separate them, as least so far as the doctor-patient relationship is concerned.

    • Tracy Mc Manamon

      I believe Mother Teresa (Missionaries of Charity) was an unsung hero who left behind a legacy which is now dying out. She embraced all irrespective of age, creed or religion. For her, service to man was service to God. She wore a white Sari with blue border. It may not have meant much but people in Calcutta revered her and the sisters who stood for a cause.

  • hroseh

    Historically, hospitals in the US were founded and staffed by religious orders. I guess some of the trappings remain. 

    I’m a Buddhist who goes to a Catholic massage clinic. The life size statue of Jesus in the waiting room, and a Crucifix in the clinic rooms don’t bother me. I think of it as no different than going to an Indian restaurant and being surrounded by Krishnas, Rhadas, Shivas, and so on. 

     If it help to keep you from going “full foreign”, when I last called  my clinic for an appointment, (I always see residents who change annually), the receptionist asked if I would prefer a man or woman. I had no preference. When she gave me two names to pick from, I chose the doctor with the East Indian surname because I prefer a Hindu doctor when I can get one. She was a wonderful physician.   

    I’m for a local Hindu or Buddhist hospital.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/7OO6KB2A6N6CTIGKK7NQJIHN4U Allergy

    Completely resonate… doc.. I work in a christian hospital system .. and we are supposed to be part of the healing ministry of Jesus. When I first started working there and remarked how funny this is to another Hindu physician (who has also worked at the same place).. he said he just replaced the word Jesus with Krishna in his mind and did the right thing by his patents !! Anyway.. lately see much more diversity and cultural sensitivity training aimed at the Muslim faith.. wonder when we will become more of an issue.. also this culinary preference thing is irritating at best (I am a hindu vegetarian.. no mea.. )

    • caduceusblogger

      Thanks for that, it’s good to know that I am not the only person who has wondered about this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anirudh-Anumula/527381187 Anirudh Anumula

    Hi Doc,
    You have done an awesome job by posting this topic. It is such a common feeling for so many indian people yet nobody including myself have ever thought of writing about this. I hate to generalize but I feel in my opinion most indians are passive and complascent about expressing their feelings and bringing to notice something that is so evident or even borderline uncomfortable.
    Like you said, I think our ancestors  have given us a very strong DNA to suffer ignorance and still smile.

  • houriganterry

    Thanks. I was most moved by your humor. To laugh at this stuff seems like simple common sense.

    I wish I worked around your sense of humor every day.

    I have my own fun. Like being the only one in the neighborhood without a “Keep Christ In Christmas” sign.
    A Jewish salesman came to the door two days before Christmas. “Man I was scared to ring your bell!”

    Four months later we invited him to our twins’ 5th birthday party.
    “Can I be your token Jew?”
    Be our guest.

    “YES! I’ll teach those kids what a great rabbi Jesus was,”


    • caduceusblogger

      Thanks for that, Terry, it sounds like you do have fun, indeed! Even though I’m not Christian, we grew up celebrating the spirit of Christmas. My wife, who is catholic, does not understand why we would do that, because for her its a sacred holiday with a specific meaning. But like I said, it goes along with being a minority and being able to adopt beliefs that are not necessarily your own.

      • houriganterry

        Thanks for your note. If you have a personal email you wouldn’t mind sharing, Maybe we could be in touch in the future,

        Best to you,

        Terry Hourigan


        Subject: [kevinmd] Re: A Hindu physician in a Christian hospital

  • natsera

    I’m Jewish, but I used to do volunteer chaplain work at a Catholic hospital. There was a crucifix in every room. One Jewish patient actually climbed on a chair and took the crucifix down and put it in the drawer, and the hospital’s reaction was to be sure every crucifix was screwed into the wall. But when I was sick there myself, the lovely, spiritually broad-minded sister who was the head of the chaplaincy program covered the cross with paper.

    What I did when I visited Nepal, was to get small figurines of Ganesh and the Buddha, and when I had a Hindu or Buddhist patient on my list, I would give them a figurine to keep with them while they were in the hospital. Because I would much rather honor their faith than impose upon them the Catholic faith which I myself don’t believe in. For Jews and Muslims, there should be no physical symbols, because both faiths place their emphasis on their relationship with God, and do not use graphic or sculptural depictions.

    Most Christians in this country don’t even notice “Christian privilege” and don’t believe it exists if you mention it to them. But as you mention in your article, it certainly DOES exist, and those of us in the minority do have the right to keep our own traditions, and have them be as honored and respected as any Christian tradition. And I don’t celebrate Christmas.

  • Daniel Beegan

    I had a female Muslim pulmonologist and sleep specialist in Maine, working in a fine Catholic hospital. I am not Roman Catholic either. I don’t believe religion ever was an issue between her and her patients. The only reason I brought up religion is because I was writing a living will for myself. She was, and maybe still will be, my agent. I now live in Indiana and she’s not treating me any more.

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