An Evening Gathering of the Lady Docs

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October 26, 2014

Last Sunday, our boot camp had our second annual get together.  During this past year, we had a few fun gatherings such as an evening at the Washington Post’s “Top Docs” event, an afternoon cooking with Joe Yonan, the vegetarian chef and chief editor of the Washington Post’s Food and Travel section, watching the documentary film “Talking Stories” by film producer Marie Rose Phan-Le about the alternative healers around the world, our boot camper Dr. Nadia Hashimi’s book signing after her first novel “The Pearl that Broke its Shell” was released by Harper Collins in May, and a big going away to Boston party for our boot camper Dr. Libby Adams, an HIV researcher at NIH, combined with a bridal shower for our cardiology boot camper Dr. Geetha Pinto.  Since then, Dr. Hashimi’s first novel has made it to Canada’s best seller list, a great achievement for our friend and colleague who still practices pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Center.  Some Vietnamese boot campers also went together to see the premier of Rory Kennedy’s documentary “The Last Days in Vietnam” in the E Street theater in Washington D.C. It was such a fun year for us Lady Docs boot campers.

This gathering last week, however, was the important one, as we all love to eat and decided we will pick an ethnic restaurant yearly to experience our taste buds.  Many of us came from different parts of the world, and most of us have traveled extensively and are familiar with ethnic cuisines.  We had wonderful Indian food last year, and decided to go for Vietnamese food this year, as several members in our group, including me, are Vietnamese.  We picked Saigon Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant across from Eden Center in Falls Church, Northern Virginia, for our gathering.  Eden Center is the well known Vietnamese mall where authentic Vietnamese foods have been widely written in national food magazines and newspapers.  Anthony Bourdain, the food guru of CNN featured Eden Center on one of his shows.  There are many shops making the famous Vietnamese baguettes called Banh Mi, tucked between the restaurants.  There’s even a Tofu shop where you can get fried and baked tofu in different flavors and forms. Outside the mall, you can see the old Vietnamese flag flying against the sky, showing how anti-communist this community has remained for almost forty years since the fall of South Vietnam to the communists.  

Bella, the owner of Saigon Cafe and cousin of Dr. Mylene Huynh, closed the restaurant to serve our group.  Last year we had close to forty people for the occasion.  This year, more than sixty of us showed up with our spouses and children for the feast. We dined on Vietnamese summer rolls dipped in peanut sauce, crispy egg rolls stuffed with vermicelli, pork and mushrooms, Vietnamese rice cakes and crepes stuffed with yellow mung beans and shrimp or vegetables, seafood and chicken salads, tamarind and dill grilled fish, caramelized cat fish cooked in a clay pot, grilled pork and beef in lemongrass, and similar dishes in vegetarian styles for the vegetarians in our group.

Dr. Marsha Seidelman reminded our group how it has grown in such a brief time.  Our friendship has flourished and many good things, including our “Lady Docs Corner Cafe” website, has blossomed into so many stories and blogs about our lives, your lives and wellness.  We started with just three writers who, with their full time jobs, read medical articles at night and tried to blog on relevant health issues for our patients.  We now have more than twenty writers and more who want to write, with many readers privately emailing us to ask questions or suggesting topics for us to explore.  I can’t even tell you how heart warming it is to get so many private emails to encourage us to write, tell us how we have helped them understand the health news using lay men’s terms, and how they feel as if they belong to a sisterhood as they follow our blogs.  Even men read our blogs now.  Maybe, I jokingly told my husband who also follows our website, men want to see how women think through our writing.

We are glad we do not appear to be nerdy to the world.  Our readers can tell we have a busy life, but an ordinary or extraordinary one like everyone else by juggling the many roles in our life without falling.  We are the ultimate jugglers who recognize you can’t have it all, but just a little bit of each slice of the cake of life! 

Dr. Jattu Senesie, a young, retired obstetrician who’s now a life coach for health providers like us, gave us a brief lecture on how to live a balanced life.  Jattu reminded us that wellness is more than just nutrition and physical fitness.  Wellness is to live a life of balance, emotionally and physically.  To do so, we have to take care of ourselves in addition to taking care of our family.  Our physical activity should be balanced with our spirituality and our emotional well being.  She gave us some useful tips on how to live a balanced life.

Dr. Mylene Huynh, a retired Air Force colonel and family practitioner who’s now teaching Acupuncture at the Uniformed Services School, told the group how she just came back from a conference on healing where she learned healing is beyond prescribing or using medication.  Healing, Mylene stated, means working also on the emotional being of a patient as it greatly helps the patient to reach the ultimate state of wellness.

Dr. Nisha Money, a U.S. Air Force flight surgeon and Medical Commander of Homeland Security and Initial Disaster Response team, and currently the Director of the Global Healing Initiatives Institute, gave us a brief summary of what she witnessed at “the border,” at the camp where the children crossing from Honduras have been staying.  She talked about the dangerous trips these children had endured and the horrendous life they had been leading at home which had forced them to flee without their parents.  Having a teenage son who goes to an elite private school and whose meals are served with the nutrition of each ingredient carefully picked out, it is difficult for me to imagine how some mothers have to give their 12 year-old sons and daughters their last embrace before sending them to possibly a death trap, in the name of love and yearning for a better future.  Whichever political side you are on, it is heart breaking to hear the hardship these children had to face so early in life.  In the safe and comfortable environment of our homes in the U.S., it is sometimes challenging to comprehend and be sympathetic toward these children.  We have to walk in the shoes of their parents and the shoes of the children themselves to understand more completely the tough world around them before their escape. 

The evening went by so quickly.  We all had a great time.  We plan to perform some medical missions together.  We have so many specialists in our group, including four dentists, that we will be able to cover a wide range of healthcare issues.  We also plan to perform some local community services, including a garden project where we hope to grow vegetables from our backyards and harvest them for the inner city neighborhoods in Washington D.C. Some of us visited a church in Bethesda this weekend to see the award winning documentary “Growing Cities” about urban gardening to prepare for this upcoming project.  We don’t know where we will find the time for these projects but we will manage, as we have always done for years.  As Dr. Senesie said, a life of wellness is beyond exercise and diet.  To give to our community, many of us have recognized, is an important part of our emotional wellness. 

This week, a barrage of email exchange showed all of us how much we enjoyed each other’s company last Sunday.  Dr. Holly Gross, our ophthalmologist boot camper summed it up in such a moving way, as we were wishing each other a Happy Diwali or “festival of lights” in India .  We have quite a few South Asians in our boot camp and website.  Holly wrote to the group:

“Happy Diwali to all who celebrate it. Chanukah, in Judaism, is also the Festival of Lights. My Hebrew name is Ora, which means Light. Do you eat fried foods on this holiday like we do at Chanukah? If so Troy will have to work everyone a bit harder!

I agree that we are sisters. I also think we are a microcosm of what the world SHOULD be!  We come from so many different backgrounds yet we celebrate those differences and learn from each other!  I never knew about Eden Center yet it’s an important part of Thu’s, Ann’s, Quyen’s and Kim’s lives! The Indians and Jews have a Festival of Lights!  We bring our families together to meet each other and socialize and form friendships.  What in God’s name is going on in Syria, Israel and Palestine, Iran, even Canada now! People are killing each other over religious differences! And, at the core, all those religions really are about peace. Maybe if our group gets big enough we can take over the world and show them how things should be and how to live together.”

It turned out that several women in our group have names meaning “lights,” Holly in Hebrew, Ann the gastroenterologist whose Vietnamese name is Anh, and Dee the pediatric dentist whose Indian name is Deepali.  All three names, in different languages, have the same meaning!

Holly was right.  If only the world could live like us.  It has been such an amazing journey for our group to have grown so quickly into a community of sisters.  We value each other’s culture and way of life.  We recognize each other’s intelligence, whether we are a higher paid specialist or a lower compensated generalist.  Some of us are the “VIPs” in public medicine, such as Dr. Mary Marovich, head of the HIV vaccine division of NIH, or Dr. Quyen Ngo-Metzger, scientific director of the U.S. Preventive Task Force Service, Dr. Rebecca Katz, a world expert in Bioterrorism, and Dr. Nisha Money the Air Force Flight Surgeon.  In our group, however, there is no such hierarchy, as we know each one of us plays an important role in medicine, whether in private practice or in public health or academia, as each of us follows a different passion.  We show each other our vulnerabilities and our uncertainties, our courage and endurance, as any working woman faces in her daily life.  We see each other from each other’s shoes!  If only the many countries in conflict could learn from our lesson that, from afar, everybody seems to be different, but when we come up close and open ourselves up to each other, we are all the same in the human race.  With understanding, forgiving becomes an easier action.  With the “eye for an eye” philosophy, both sides will go blind!  

We are looking forward to another group event in November.  The Turkey Chase, a run on Thanksgiving Day in Bethesda, is our next group’s activity.  This run will fund some local charities and organizations.  Some of us will walk, while others will run.  We each will be running or walking at our own unique pace but all of us with the same destination.  I hope some of you can join us on that day!  We plan to wear running shirts bearing our logo.  As sisters in spirit, we are getting stronger every day.