Let me begin with a disclaimer. I am not writing this neither to boast. Nor to stick a fist into the air jubilantly. And not to hand out a high-five!
I am a General Surgeon, trained to be a Surgical Gastroenterologist- as a surgeon dealing with surgical diseases of the abdomen is known as. After qualifying in General Surgery, my passion for Surgical Gastroenterology had me train under a nationally and internationally acclaimed surgeon of the same specialty. This uncompromising taskmaster who proctored me carved a ‘not a bad gastrointestinal surgeon’ out of a toddler in that specialty of surgery.
Life was a breeze until January 2005. I was 39 then. A massive stroke out of the blue felled me. My left side was considerably weakened. I became a ‘hemiplegic’- as the neurologists would term, in a matter of seconds. Fragility and uncertainty of life hit me at that instant. I was operating when this happened. The stroke had me prematurely hang up my surgical scrubs. A magnanimous management of the hospital I work in rehabilitated me professionally by having me work in the ICU where post-operative patients are being cared for. This was after a surgery on my head, few days on the ventilator, intense physiotherapy and Ayurveda following the stroke. I had to leave the operating theatre-the place I was involved in passionately with a heavy heart. Never to look back. Looking back would have been an exercise in vain. I realized.
Life hasn’t been a ‘breeze’ on physical, emotional, mental and professional planes since then. I must admit that spiritual bolstering instilled in me by my maternal grandparents helped me surmount those challenges. They had through example taught me to take on life’s setbacks by clinging on to Providential grace-a commodity that was omnipresent and omnipotent. Their influence stood me in good stead when I was rendered a mere onlooker by the ringside. As the world around me revolved on its axis ‘normally’.
The bolt from the blue had me adopt ‘three commandments’, which have since helped me live out 24 hours daily:
I ‘THOU SHALT BE THANKFUL FOR SILVER LININGS, AND NOT BROOD OVER THY LOSS’
I had lots to be thankful for. The stroke happened while I was working in the safe environs of a hospital. Not when I was driving as I had planned to, later that day. Instead of the blood clot choking off the artery to my brain, it could very well have blocked one of my coronaries, killing me instantly. Instead of my left side, the stroke could have affected my dominant right side. The stroke could have happened on a weekend when the specialists who treated me and planned my treatment meticulously could have been out of town. I was lucky to have a family, siblings and colleagues. All of them supportive and helpful in every possible way. I had God beside me uninvited- ‘uninvited’ because I wasn’t conscious even to pray. It was prayers of a whole lot of dear and near which has brought me thus far.
II ‘THOU SHALT NOT TAKE YOURSELF SERIOUSLY’
The adversity at 39 that wreaked me in numerous aspects had taken away a lot of things from me. My health, surgical career, involvement as a family man. My income. I am stopping short. It was often heartbreaking to watch the world go by ‘normally’ around me. There was no point in considering myself immune to misfortune. Taking myself seriously would have invited expectations- often unreachable. When many patients much younger than me succumbed before me to cancer, trauma and infections, how could I ask ‘why me?’. I decided to consider myself vulnerable to life’s bad patches, and ask myself ‘Why not me?’ in humility.
III ‘THOU SHALT NOT LET GO OF HUMOUR’
When disaster strikes, there’s no point in shedding tears. In panicking. It is human to do thusly. It’s often said, ‘laughter is the best medicine’. I laughed at myself. I taught myself to laugh at myself along with others. I laughed in the process of teaching myself to live as a ‘half-man’. I had to care for people sicker than me in the ICU. I had no room to look sullen, depressed and morose. Patients have confided that my positiveness despite the odds have inspired them. This has made life worth living, despite the odds.