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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