Moments of Truth

That every day we face. And being honest about it!

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Location: Monroe Twp, New Jersey, United States

TeeBee for many, Manthru for some, Sunny for a few, Myna for selected, Suresh for record. Hailing from Thrissur of Kerala and now lives (read survives) in Monroe Twp, NJ with wife and daughter.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Ride of a lifetime

What would you do when you get a health condition that force you to undergo three major operations in a row within the span of 4 months? What would be the inspiration for you to move forward when you are out of your best health and education for many many months? What psychological motivation will make you stay calm and focussed when you are in extreme physical pain not to mention the deep mental strain? What kind of hope would you need to overcome the financial burden and to look for years beyond? And what can you do when you can't do much about something? You just accept it and hope for the best?

Not long ago, I was in such a state where dreams were behind an operation table. Hopes were waiting outside and prayers travelling at a speed more than that of light. Help was limited but just enough to keep sailing. A healthy man who looked good to go miles was lying helpless and wishing for better times. You can reduce some of your mental strain by talking. But you cannot do much with physical pain particularly when even the pain killers are not helping. The world around him had shrunk as it happens mostly when there are difficult situations. You smile and a thousand people join you; you cry and you cry alone. I did.

My friends and relatives used to visit. Some of them fainted. I did not look the way as I used to be. I was lying on the table of a general ward in one of the hospitals in Thrissur. Without pillows. There was a heavy bandage around my abdomen that virtually separated my waist and legs from my chest. Under the bandage, my stomach had stitches that counted 8, 12 and 15 respectively for each of the operation I had undergone on May 3rd, June 14th and August 29th. There was a long tube that was running from my nose pumping a brown liquid in irregular intervals to a plastic bag that was clipped to the side of the table. There was a cut on the lower right side of my stomach without any stitches which again was running a tube to pump a similar brownish and black liquid off the inner side of my abdomen. This too was attached to a plastic bag to collect the liquid which will be disposed. There was continous drip, heavy anti biotics and glucose alternatively or combined, that had made both my hands swollen. One more plastic tube came out of my urinal organ to pass urine as it seemed that the connection to my lower side was cut off. It could have made a good caricature but a real life situation is much more than pure imagination and beyond sympathy.

I knew that life went normal beyond the hospital corridors. Still some of my friends took the pain to write class notes for me or visit once in a while to inquire about my condition and to wish me better days. Some teachers too joined with whom I never had personal conversations and some of them even offered financial help. My mother refused it at my request. We were happy that at least there were people who cared. An unexpected set of people from my village came forward to donate blood and some of my classmates found blood donors from the college. There was a large set of people who were expected but did not appear at all. Some of my friends suggested a money pool from college; we thanked their efforts but refused fearing that there might be worst times ahead. Some of my relatives took shifts to take care of me. To help me move or sit up. To clean me up with wet clothes.

No food and no drinks for days. There was nothing much to do than reading, ifI could, and sleep, If I could. I watched the ceiling fans. I watched new patients coming and old ones leaving. Some of them died in front of me. I waited for white dresses of the caring nurses who go by and begged for pain killers although I knew that it is of no use. I longed for somebody to take me out, to breathe the fresh air, to jump out of the multi-storied building and commit suicide. Then I knew that challenge always lies in facing it, not escaping from it. Its easy to do the latter and requires much courage and will to do the first. There were a lot of people who were spending time and energy for me, to see me in shape. I had to do justice to them.

During the period from May beginning to August end of 1993, I had visited four hospitals, admitted seven times, advised tube through nose and enema 5 times, taken numerous X-rays, allowed more than 200 bottles of glucose and medicine through my veins, saved more than a handful of bills just to remind myself later, punctured my body with needles, slept and ate very little, attended classes and written exams whenever I could, between three surgeries. Pain was a regular visitor followed by late night car rentals to reach a doctor or hospital. The regularity of the life was shattered, debts neck high and future bleak.

Perforated appendix, an extreme condition of appendicitis, is a medical emergency and a life threatening situation if not taken care of properly. My first visit to Thrissur Medical College Hospital on May 3rd, 1993 was with this emergency. It was the day after famous Thrissur Pooram. I had gone to enjoy it with my friends when I found that I was not well and decided to stay in my relative's house in the town. The next day, I visited a doctor, and told about the symptoms which were fever, diarrhoea, head ache, abdominal pain and vomiting. He had given some medicines but the real cause was never found. Only when I collapsed next day morning, I was taken to the hospital. I stayed there till evening before the diagnosis was made, by a two inch or more size needle long enough to pierce my stomach and reach the depths to pull out some puss, and the doctors decided to do surgery. If I had not died by the abdominal pain, this exercise almost made it happen. Why they gave pain killers and waited till the evening is still a question that surprises me. Regular doctors were on leave and two new doctors, one of them a house surgeon, did the surgery but I still believe that they did not do their job properly as such a case should have been carried out a little more carefully.

Thrissur medical college hospital was a hell. The nurses did not seem to care unless you pass some bucks under the table. The ward assistants eyes will blink with the shining of fresh bills and they might help you to get a stretcher. Doctors or house surgeons were as much indifferent as the over enthusiasm of the regularly visiting medical students who would become tomorrow's doctors. The fact that I was also a professional engineering college student did not matter.The general wards portrayed a picture not to forget. Rusted bed frames, torn spongy mattresses, broken glass windows, extremely spoiled toilets with water and human waste(I am sorry but it was damn bad and I can't resist speaking about the condition) running to the nearest bed outside the cabin, smell of rotten flesh from injured or diabetic patients fighting flies with plastic covers, smell of waste from outside the building. I experienced that there was no respect for people without money. Taxes were useless. Ministers and governments least bothered. Then why did I chose to go there? First of all, I did not know it. I was never there before. Second, the post man was supposed to deliver a cheque or money order or a bank statement to my home only years later.

On my second visit to Thrissur medical college hospital, again on severe pain and gas formation in the stomach that virtually made impossible for me to move, we decided to get a room in pay ward. The room was too small with no bulbs and wires were hanging down. Did not see many around. At least the bad smell was gone. We wanted to show the regular doctor that we were capable of money that he can tap if he wanted. We did not want to go to a different place where we had to start from the beginning. But all our hopes vanished when he suggested for a second surgery. We did not want to do it there. With some promises on money from neighbours and relatives, we moved to Thrissur West Fort hospital.

Life was much much better in West Fort hospital. I found a god in Dr.Francis, a retired medical college professor. Nurses were angels. Wards were clean and fresh, toilets were neat, environment was healthy. Money mattered. Money is not everything and there are some things that cannot be bought with money. Still, money was power. I received good attention and better treatment. I was promised medicines instead of surgery. But the joy did not last long. I had to return to the hospital for a second surgery on June 14th. The doctor should have got an idea of the situation only then. I went back and forth and was almost about to attend my 4th semester final semester exams, I had managed to attend all my internal exams in these struggles, when bad luck struck again by the end of August. I had gone to a gatroenterologist of Elite hospital hoping that he would be able to guide me through my after surgery period. On August 29th, I got admitted in Elite hospital but after learning that a surgery will be must, decided to stick with my surgeon, Dr.Francis, of West Fort hospital.

People were celebrating Onam, the most celebrated festival of Kerala, the next day. I was waiting for the only assistant to come and shave my chest and lower abdomen through knees, which was a regular thing before all surgery. I lied there, as if there is nothing worst that could happen, and allowed a lady nurse to shave almost everything except my private parts. A 20 year old man had reasons to be embarrassed but could not help it. For the third time in four months, I was taken to an operation room, leaving my parents and brother in tears and little hope, to undergo anesthesia followed by a 15 stitch operation. The knives would have been happy to find a known territory and this time the stitches were done with a thread that would not dissolve, the knot of which I can feel under my skin even today. It pains when I stretches, the skin is itchy, the thought of the days scary.

For a complete year, I survived on idly, food prepared from rice and urad dal, alone. I depended on two spoonfuls of a white liquid medicine everyday night to have easy stools in the morning before slowly changing and mixing with small bananas on a gradual transition to completely get rid of it. I was 100 percent vegetarian during these days. I protected my abdomen during heavy rush on buses, walked slowly, ate light and studied hard to catch up for an entire year. I ate long grain rice in the feast associated with the yearly festival being held in Pavaratty church, sometime in April or May of 1994.

It definitely was a tough time that taught me more than one lesson. On relations, friendship, love, money, support and much more. It was hell of a journey that demanded a lot. I wanted to believe that there was no God or a super power. What did I do to receive such a harsh test in my life? Later I was told by a nun, who visited me in the hospital, that God gives tests to those who can handle it. And only to make them strong. I complained in my mind that God was never with me. Later in IIT, one of my friend showed me a poster on footprints and I learned that when I thought that I was alone, when I thought that I saw only my footprints on the sand, there was God with me and that he was carrying me. When I look back now, after almost a dozen years, I find out that the tests had indeed made me a better person.

These days, when I take my shirt off, my two and half year old daughter will come to me and ask pointing to the scar on my right hand side which did not have any stitches: "Dad, is this your belly button?". I just laugh seeing her innocent face and tell her: "No my dear, it is not". One day I will tell her the lessons I have learned, but only if she is willing to listen.


Blogger R.Nandakumar said...

must admit i never knew the depth of your suffering and the depth of your faith which won the day!

wish you health and even more importantly, everlasting faith!

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is appalling.. but from all bad things something good has to come, has to do something to better the conditions of the hopsitals for the common man..

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh God. this of course is a difficult am not so strong at heart to read the entire doc

1:58 AM  

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