Friday, October 6, 2017

When the Bell's tolled

Pic Credit: Huffington Post
To the person who’s reading this: If you’re going through Bell’s, I hope my journal below gives you some relatable comfort. Remember you’re strong. Much stronger than what you’re going through. Stay patient and stay positive. And now that what was to happen has happened, take this time to slow down a bit and appreciate people and life around you. Trust me, it’s beautiful! Not every change feels positive in the beginning! More strength to you! Get well soon!

6th September, 2017. A normal Wednesday afternoon, 30 days ago. It starts out as a normal throat infection, or so she thinks. The pain just behind her right ear bothers her a lot. So she trots out to the nearest ENT. Armed with an illegible handwritten doctor’s note and a handful of medicines including the obvious course of antibiotics, she comes back home. Over the next two days, the throat pain is all but gone. The ear is another story altogether. She feels an inflammation behind the ear, a nerve pull that tugs at the top right portion of her head. Friday morning, she can take it no more and her husband drives her over to the general physician. On the way ‘Channa Mereya’ plays on the radio, a song she has heard hundreds of times. She cannot figure out whether the lead singer is singing or if it’s just music, whether it’s a remix version or the original. Her husband is taken aback by her questions. The song is playing at the usual volume. Her hearing’s gone for a toss. 

The GP does his checks. He tells her he suspects Bell’s palsy. She has no clue what he’s talking about. He tells her it’s a temporary neurological ailment where the virus (anything simple like the flu) affects the facial nerve that causes temporary facial paralysis. Read here for more. It does not sink in. Or maybe her splitting neural headache is too much for her to bear and focus on what he’s saying. Because it’s not confirmed yet, he cannot recommend medicines. And if it’s indeed Bell’s, there’s no stopping it. It can only be treated, not prevented. He tells her a couple of face exercises (blowing cheeks, whistling) to be done every couple of hours and sends her on her way. She’s told to call as soon as she feels a hint of facial weakness.

She spends the weekend away with family. Saturday goes by in a painful stupor. Sunday morning, she sits on the bed trying to do her exercises and she can do them no more. The right side of her face slumps. She breaks down. She thinks she could just say goodbye to the folks she’s with and leave. But then someone cracks a joke and they all laugh. And she sees the shock and confusion on their faces. And she breaks down yet again. Her husband calls the doctor immediately who gets her started on a dosage of steroids. These are to continue for a month, dosages tapering every 5 days. They return on Sunday night. She’s told to start with current induced stimulations on Monday. By now, their families are shaken.

Over the next week and a half, she cannot blink. Her right eye stays open, and waters continuously. Unable to find a pirate patch at the medical stores, an old Qatar airlines overnight sleep patch comes to her rescue so that she can get some sleep. Her speech is slurred, drawn out in slow long drawling words. Chewing, food and water intake are tough. Her smile and boisterous laughter skew her face. Expressions do not cause any kind of movement on the right side of the face.

During this time, she sees those closest to her break down at various times. People she has always seen as strong, steadfast, sane heads. She is usually the emotionally weak one. And then one fine day, right out of nowhere, she feels stronger. Just like that, the roles are reversed. The consolee becomes the consoler. Her family and her dearest friends come through for her, always being there for her – painstakingly tolerating her quirks, doing odd jobs, reading to her, gifting her a spa session, taking time off to be with her and her heart swells at the love and care she witnesses.

Her initial sessions of physiotherapy are painful. They start with 35 spurts each of surged faradic current for 15 motor points on the face. She learns about the frontalis, buxinator, mentalis and orbicularis oculi facial muscles. She learns about the number of expressions controlled by the 7th cranial nerve – surprise, frown, nose lift, cheek blow, whistling, pout, smile, grin, eye closure and so on. She learns about Grade I palsy – recovery in a month and Grade II palsy – recovery within 6 months. The first couple of times, the current on her nose feels like it would saw it through. Several times she feels her teeth gnash and she wonders if she will need to see a dentist next. But her pain tolerance is up several notches. Only twice in 23 continuous days of physiotherapy does she break down – neither time due to physical pain. She re-learns to say the A-E-I-O-U – the O first coming out as Awww because the mouth wouldn’t close. She blows balloons, blows out candles, blows air and sucks through a straw as part of the exercise regimen. And sometimes she giggles at the absurdity of it all.

To manage the weight gain side-effect of steroids, she takes to walking like a fish to water. She tries to read to keep herself busy. The first week she can barely manage 10 minute sessions. It improves significantly over the next three weeks. She solves a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle – patiently working through it in intervals. She shops online like there’s no tomorrow. Her family and closest circle of friends become her lifeline – those who cannot visit check in on her continuously – their concern apparent in their care and enquiries. She makes ‘getting on my nerves’ kind of crass jokes which they make faces at, but she laughs at her own sense of humour. Several times over the month, she feels overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude – of this much love and care and the feeling of being taken care of.

She shares a great rapport with the physiotherapist, Dr. Shwetali Sachdev, who’s a smart, driven woman, passionate about her work. During her sessions, they talk about a number of things ranging from politics to shopping, travel and more. It must not be easy treating patients with the same stimulations over and over, counting 1-15 for 15 exercises and 35-45 stimulations for 15 motor muscles every single day, day after day. Yet, the doctor does it with the same amount of dedication without breaking a sweat.

She meets a 9th standard student who’s been coming for six months. The girl has Grade II palsy and not once does she see her complain. She hears of an IT guy from Amsterdam who contracts Bell’s just before his return and starts physio here. People at work are supportive, understanding her need for having taken a whole month off. They juggle the additional workload and call in from time to time. Through the month she’s greeted with simple acts of kindness from random strangers, even strangers who do not realize that she has an ailment and are just being nice. Deeds that bolster her faith in humanity even more. Not that it ever needed any support. Her faith in grass root humanity has always superseded her helpless frustration with some degenerate ones from the human race.

Days turn to weeks, weeks to a month. It’s been 30 days and the recovery has been tremendous. The last week has been more a rejuvenation vacation complete with TLC from every nook and corner. Her exercises are still to continue for a while but she feels amazing and stronger than ever. Her BIL thinks she’s such a fighter – well he hasn’t seen the cribber in her! Her sister is surprised with the sudden positivity. She does not know if it will last, but she sure hopes it does. Some tell her it could have happened owing to an evil eye and tell her to ward it off. And she looks around and wonders – even if that were to be true, she has unimaginable love, care and strength coming to her from her near and dear ones, faith and oneness with life coursing through her, and a feeling of gratefulness despite it all. Or maybe, because of it all. What does she really have to fear then? Life is still good and will continue to be good. Sure, there will be ups and down, but hey – we get through it. And sometimes, we even come out shining!

Note: Bell’s Palsy affects over a million people in India every year, that’s 1% of the population. But it is getting more common. Grade I and Grade II are dependent on the severity of infection – Grade II being more severe. There is no algorithm to the way it affects people, it is just pure luck. Because the virus is airborne and more prone to spread during colder climate, it’s best to take precautions during the rainy and winter seasons and at colder places – making sure that ears are covered as one steps out. Having a strong immunity is obviously recommended. The good thing is Bell’s is 100% recoverable, all one needs is patience and endurance. Needless to say, TLC always helps!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Who is She?

I hear the rhythmic sounds, muted screeches of metal on metal, spaced a second apart. The mind takes slightly more than that to register the source of the sounds. I walk over to the balcony and lean down to look. Fourteen floors below, I see the swing in motion, swaying up and down – the rider a tiny apparition in the distance. It is dark all around; the setting sun has long since surrendered to the starry skies. I only catch blotches of white; I believe it to be her skirt billowing in the soft breeze - the same breeze that rushes up to meet me as well.

It’s always a ‘her’. It has to be a she. The mind refuses to conjure otherwise. I see her hair flying haywire with every drop and getting whipped up with every climb. I hear her giggles echoing through the night. She’s played a hilarious prank on her colleagues today, one that they’re going to remember forever. She’s acquired lifetime bragging rights over her acting skills as well. They tell her it was Oscar worthy.

Or maybe it isn’t that. She is there because she needs a break. Her sobs make her way up to me. Her five-year old has thrown yet another tantrum and overturned everyone's dinner. His doctors want him to be labeled as an autism case and she is fighting them tooth and nail. Her husband would rather have his child committed to a nursing center than bear the burden. But she would be damned, if she lets anyone brand her son. Her cell phone resounds in the pitch of the dark, a shrill tone piercing the silence of the night. If only she could get a few more minutes of quiet, but sigh.

Or maybe, she just is. No high flying incidents. No saddening moments that pull her down. Just another day. A light jog in the morning, some rushed words with her loved ones, a hectic day at work, catching up with friends. There’s nothing particular she has achieved, yet there’s a sense of accomplishment. A day well delivered. And so she swings, up and down, catching up on moments through the day, pondering over snatches of conversations, feeling one with herself, recognizing her own self grow with the world around her. That’s probably it. She probably is; she just is. Nothing more; nothing less.

And as the cadence continues to make music, I wonder if it’s just the flowing breeze that binds us or if there is more in common between all these women and I, invisible intertwining threads that weave in and out binding person to person, differing combinations of snippets of life stolen from a huge master list and assembled to make us whole? Most days she swings, on some days she doesn’t. Those are the days she’s lost, but then she always comes back. Every day is a new day; every day will be a new ‘her’ and the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Age No Bar

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I see her standing at the other door of the compartment. She watches me from all the way across. Mentally, I give her thirty seconds to come stand by my side. In thirty more, she will probably flash me an alluring smile.

I underestimate her. She has done all that and much more within twenty seconds. She’s staring at me now – her unyielding gaze making me squirm under its effect. I feel paralyzed. I do not smile back. Her hand slides down to my cheeks and I blush. The tip of her thumb grazes my brow and I flick my hair aside. Around us, people start giggling.

There’s electricity in the air. The ladies in our compartment seem charged, some of them on their toes as if trying to witness a spectacle. How shameless. Some point their fingers at us as if we are on display. Well, in a way we are – what with her public display of affection reaching new heights every minute. She doesn’t miss a beat. Reaching around my neck, she pulls me close to her.

And then laughter erupts peppered with phrases like “Awww”, “How cute!”, “So sweet”, and “How adorable!”

“How old is he?” The lady holding her hand asks my Mom.
“Thirteen months.” Mom quips as I look up at her. “Yours?”
“Just eleven months. And she’s already going on eighteen years,” the lady chuckles.

I look at her standing next to me. She just winks.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Two Sides of the Same Coin

He hefts the overweight bags onto his right shoulder. Walks ten steps. Pauses for fifteen seconds. Shifts one of the bags onto the other shoulder. Walks twelve more steps. Lowers the bags to the ground. The contents shift treacherously, threatening to spill over on the street. Hurriedly, he picks them up again. Mentally curses himself for having forgotten his cell phone at home. His son would have come running to help had he known. With a long deep sigh, he puts one step in front of the other and starts walking again.

She whooshes past him leaving a strong flowery fragrance in her wake. For a second, he is reminded of the Rajdhani Express that his mother used to tell him stories about. There one second, gone the next. But then she stops and turns around. Looks at him and squints. Like there are gears turning in her head. Silently contemplating. She comes running towards him and asks “Is it okay if I help you carry this to your house?”


“Kids of today, they are so ignorant!” he exclaims heatedly.
“What happened, Aniruddha? What is making you grumble even as you enter the house?”
“This generation, Baba. They know nothing about our culture and religion,” Aniruddha replies as he downs a glass of water and shuffles around in the kitchen.
“What are you looking for?” He asks, following his son around the house.
“The matchbox. I think we ran out.”
“I got us some. I went to the market. Had to buy the monthly stock of groceries.”
Baba, how many times do I tell you to not go alone? Why carry such heavy bags home?”
“It’s ok, Aniruddha. Bless the girl."
"What girl, Baba? You really need to stop talking to strangers."
"She was a kid, Aniruddha. Must be all of twelve. But she saw me struggling with those bags and offered to carry them for me. Now, what were you griping about?”
“Nothing, Baba. It’s not important. Just call me next time. Now, did you take your medicines?”


Dear Diary,
That old man reminded me of my Grandpa. I wonder if he has any grandchildren. They say what goes around comes around. I hope someone helps my Grandpa the way I helped this man.

I got chastised today. Severely. How was I to know that while going around Shiva’s idol I am not supposed to cross over the channel? We go around idols all the time. It’s called circumambulation – the going around. Daddy spelled it out for me. Might be helpful for my spell bee, he said. I hope my good deed for the day does not get nullified by this religious infraction. That would be bad for Grandpa.

PS: (It means Post script): I used 2 medium and 2 complex words in today’s entry. That makes the total so far – 47 new words for the bee.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Boy On the Train

I slump down in my seat after a long day that never seemed to end, rest my head on the cushioned backrest and let my tired eyelids droop for all of ten seconds. Then I hear laughter. Loud, boisterous laughter. And I instantly look up.
I see him through the bars. Gleaming, stainless steel horizontal ones that seem to slice through his face. The setting sun casts shadows that dance along his shirt. I see the sparkle in his eyes, an obvious joyous excitement in them. He’s in the midst of an animated conversation, I can sense by the grin on his face.  I cannot see the boy he’s talking to, he has his back turned towards me.  But I can still hear him laugh.
As I look on, he throws his head back, does a flick of his mane and winks at his friend. They break into peals of laughter again and this time unwittingly, I smile. It is infectious. And then he signs. His hands move with amazing dexterity, the expressions on his face changing with every action of his. I watch mesmerised as the friend replies with signs of his own. And suddenly the world around me fades away as I get drawn into their conversation. A perfectly normal teenage conversation playing out before me – with all the typical ingredients – friends, laughter, ribbing, recollection and some more laughter.  I don’t understand most of it, there are no words and yet I hear the music.
Then his eyes meet mine through the bars and suddenly I feel like an intruder. My cheeks burn red as I struggle to look away, my smile still pasted on my face. A deer caught in the headlights. He nudges his friend and he turns to look at me too. I wonder if they will yell at me, knowing but not realising at that very minute that they unfortunately cannot do that, even if they would have wanted to. In that moment, I worry about getting chastised by two kids less than half my age; I would realize later how baseless the thought was.   
And then he sends a smile my way. A heart warming one. His friend looks at me and actions a bigger grin. And I cannot help but smile back. They flick me a mock salute and wave a goodbye, grinning at me as I alight. I wave back, still smiling, feeling as if I have just been part of an inside joke between friends, one that takes away the fatigue of the day.  

I walk home lost in thought, still a little in awe. I might have a hundred different problems, 99% of them imaginary, but then these are the light moments that remind me, no – humble me, and drive home the point – no matter what, life’s still alright.  

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