Sunday, December 27, 2009

Strangling fig

In Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins describes strangling figs:
The story of the strangling figs is worth telling. The forest floor is a dark place, starved of solar energy. It is the goal of every tree in the forest to reach the open sky and the sun. Tree trunks are leaf-elevators, devices for lifting solar panels - leaves- above the shade of rival trees. Most trees are fated to die as saplings. Only when an adult tree in the immediate vicinity crashes down, overcome by gales and years, does a young sapling have its chance. At any one point in the forest, this lucky event may happen just once in a hundred years. When it does, there is a gold rush to the sun. All the saplings in the area, drawn from many species, enter a headlong race to be the one to fill the precious gap in the canopy.

But the strangling figs have discovered their own sinister short cut and their story would upstage the serpent of Genesis. Instead of waiting for an existing tree to die, they contrive the event. A strangling fig tree begins life as a climber. It wraps itself around an existing tree of another species and grows like a clematis or rambling rose. But, unlike a clematis, the strangling fig's tendrils continue to grow stouter and stronger. It relentlessly tightens its grip on the unfortunate host tree, preventing it growing and eventually achieving the botanical equivalent of throttling it to death. The fig tree has by now grown to a respectable height, and it easily wins the race to the patch of light vacated by the stifled tree. The banyan tree is a kind of strangling fig with an added, remarkable, feature. Having smothered its original host, it sends out aerial roots which, when they hit ground, become proper, absorbing roots but, above ground, serve as additional trunks. So the single tree becomes an entire wood which may be 1,,000 Feet in diameter and can provide shelter for a medium-sized covered market in India.
When someone mentions anything about MRI (even if it does not have anything to do with me) I am reminded of strangling figs. Thinking of lying in the narrow space inside an MRI machine makes me feel like the tree being smothered by a strangling fig.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Who would believe that so small a space could contain all the images of the universe? – Leonardo da Vinci, on the eye.

I was reading about the discovery of the Chauvet caves, which has wall paintings dated at about 32,000 years old, in Evolution : The Triumph of an Idea.
Chauvet's team followed a mule path through the oaks and boxtrees until they reached a cliff, and there they found a hole. The hole was barely big enough for them to stoop their way inside, and they soon found themselves in a downward-sloping passageway a few yards long. It might well have been a dead end, but among the rubble at the end of the passageway they felt a slight draft.

The three of them took turns pulling the rocks away from the passageway, lying on their stomachs, heads downward. Finally they cleared a way through, and Deschamps, the smallest of the three, wriggled her way forward 10 feet. She found that the passageway opened at its end. When she cast her flashlight ahead, the beam soared out into a giant gallery, its floor 30 feet below.
I suddenly felt nervous and my heart started racing. I felt as if I was trapped in a narrow passage, unable to see anybody or to wriggle out. The feeling was inexplicable because I had watched programmes on spelunking on TV without any problems. I think that it happened because I have become so reliant on my eyes to communicate that the thought of not being able to see anything made me nervous. Sometimes a cloth accidentally covers my eyes and I feel more helpless than a shorn Samson.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What you see is not the whole story

For a few years after the stroke people used to suggest that I be taken to some hospital where some doctor will cure me in a few months. When asked whether there was a bed with railings and adjustable upper half (which is required for giving feeding), we will be told not to worry about such small things. When asked if there are facilities for attenders to stay, we will be told that it can be arranged. When Jaya will wonder about where to leave Sujit, the refrain will be that it should not be a problem. For everything there will be some such vague answer. But as usual, the devil lies in the details and it will be for Jaya to worry about them.

I think watching me sitting relaxed in the front hall for an hour or two, they perhaps did not realise that Jaya and the nurse had to put in some hours of hard work to make me presentable. If I have to travel at 10 a.m., they will probably have to get up around 5 a.m. in order to get me ready. I myself will not have to do anything more taxing than lying quietly watching TV while I am being pulled this way and that (and getting worried about what all could go wrong).

Once Jaya had to attend her cousin's wedding. The nurse was on leave at the time and was to return on the morning of the wedding. Jaya decided that she will go for the wedding if the nurse returned otherwise she will skip it. One person said that she should not skip the wedding and that if the nurse doesn't return he will stay back. After all, he reasoned, it should not be too difficult to take care of me - I will just be lying on the bed watching TV and giving feeds is easy. Jaya asked him what he will do if I wanted to pass urine or motion. He uttered an 'Oh!' It was the first time it had occurred to him that such unpleasant things were involved. I could see his hitherto 'can do' expression becoming sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.

Probably, after interacting with me for a brief while, it does not occur to some that looking after me may be a bit like what is often said about legislation and sausages- the outcome is more pleasant to contemplate than the process that went into making it .

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My homebody disposition

Any suggestion that would require me to travel gives me a daymare. Occasionally, family members will ask me to accompany them to somebody's house. I will balk at all such suggestions but very occasionally I will succumb to the entreaties and agree to travel. Such instances would have caused Jeeves to observe, 'A somewhat sharp crisis in your affairs would appear to have been precipitated, sir.' I would be beset by all sorts of anxieties - Would my gastrostomy leak and cause pain (as it sometimes does) making me want to lie down? Would I suddenly want to pass motion? would Jaya have to attend to some phone call leaving me with no means of communication?

People around me are always willing to help but it is not much use if they cannot understand what I am telling. Some famous neurologist whose name I forget said,'When I point look at where I point not at my finger'. Many people have the habit of looking at my face instead of looking at where I am looking with the result that they remain baffled about what I am indicating.

I think the biggest reason for my reluctance to travel is the perception of loss of control, however illusory, of my surroundings. In my room I know what is kept where, where the switches for the fan and lights are, etc. Folks at home can easily make out what I want . If I want to suddenly pass motion or urine, the appropriate steps can be taken immediately. This is not easy when I am out of my home. In Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, Robert M. Sapolsky says:
Place two people in adjoining rooms, and expose both to intermittent noxious, loud noises; the person who has a button and believes that pressing it decreases the likelihood of more noise is less hypertensive. In one variant on this experiment, subjects with the button who did not bother to press it did just as well as those who actually pressed the button. Thus, the exercise of control is not critical; rather, it is the belief that you have it. An everyday example: airplanes are safer than cars, yet more of us are phobic about flying. Why? Because your average driver believes that he is a better-than-average driver, thus more in control. In an airplane, we have no control at all.
Another reason for my reluctance to roam the countryside is that I may not find the conversations gripping. I was not a social butterfly before my stroke so I am not likely to be a party animal now. An inability to speak is not the best aid for charming conviviality. I will keep thinking wistfully about how I could have spent the time reading something interesting. I will be relieved when I finally return home. By that time I will have a backache and a headache after inhaling all that smoke at traffic jams. (I am getting a bit long in the tooth, you know!) I am happiest when comfortably ensconced in my wheelchair in my cozy little room quietly poring over a book or perusing an interesting blog post.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The perils of binary communication

'There are two kinds of people in this world - those who divide everything into two and those who don't', said Robert Benchley. The latter category of people will have a tough time getting some information out of me.

There are two broad strategies to get an answer from me:
  1. Divide the universe of possible answers into two groups and ask me to choose one. Divide the chosen group into two and ask me to choose one and so on till you reach the correct answer.
  2. For all the possible alternatives, ask me a question with a yes/no answer and I will blink yes for the correct alternative.
But what happens if I am not given all the alternatives? For instance, someone once asked me how many wickets India had lost that day. He then gave me the choices: 1,2,3....10. I did not blink for anything so he became confused. The problem was that India had not lost wickets that day. How was I to indicate it if I was not given the alternative 'zero'? Hamstrung by Jaya's absence, I had no option but to wait patiently and hope that the person realised that he had missed something.

There may be some occasions when somebody will be adventurous enough to try to find out my answer by dictating the letters. But most probably, he will be unaware of all the intricacies involved in communicating with me and will soon encounter some roadblock. He will be successful only 'so far as his labors extended' as Dupin said in The Purloined Letter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For want of quotation marks the meaning was lost

In The Game of Words, Willard R. Espy writes :

Misplaced commas have resulted in curious misunderstandings. It is said that an ancient Greek, consulting the oracle at Delphi as to whether he should go a-warring, was told:

Thou shalt go thou shalt return
never by war shalt thou perish.

Optimistically adding commas after 'go' and 'return', the Greek took up arms, and was promptly slain. He should have put that second comma after 'never'.

Punctuation errors have not caused me such an existential crisis but there have been occasions when my dictation has caused raised eyebrows. For instance, Jaya wrote the title for my first post and looked at me with the quizzical expression that I had when I first saw a report from a management consultancy firm having the legend 'This page is intentionally left blank'. I looked at what she had written - 'Why I do?' I told her that 'I do' is within quotation marks. Now I didn't look so illiterate.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

More communication snafus

At first I used to dictate long sentences which used to lead to some problems. There will be some interruptions and by the time we resumed Jaya would have forgotten what I had dictated earlier and I would have to start again. Sometimes just as I had finished a sentence and was telling myself 'mission accomplished', I will realise like George Bush that I had counted my chickens too early. A misplaced comma or a word with multiple meanings would have caused Jaya to misinterpret the sentence.

Nowadays before starting the dictation I try to think if I can break the sentence into smaller bits. I also try to iron out any thinkos which might mislead Jaya. It is different for this blog because Jaya writes what I dictate so even if there is some interruption, I can continue later from where we had stopped.

Some people are confident of interpreting my blinks correctly so they will recite the letters of the alphabet in order to find out something from me. But the problem will be that they will not know the division of the alphabet into four rows. This meant that each time they started from 'a' which meant that I had to stare unblinkingly till they reached the correct letter. This was often difficult for letters towards the end of the alphabet and the problem was exacerbated by the fact that many people said the letters slowly. For example, if I wanted to dictate 'w' and the person starts from 'a', I might be forced to blink by the time he reaches 's' which will create a lot of confusion.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Dictating alphanumeric characters was a problem. For instance, I will dictate 'fone' and Jaya will look at me in bewilderment. After we developed the convention for spacebar, I started saying
'f one' which was easy to interpret as F1. In most cases Jaya will guess from the context that I mean the car race and not the key on the keyboard.

It is now easy to dictate something like H5N1. Of course, this is only when dictating to Jaya. People less schooled in the subtleties of communicating with me will write 'hfivenone' (assuming they get this far), which will lead to a lot of hair tugging in vain attempts to solve the conundrum before they throw in the towel with a 'let Jaya come'.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Enhancing the communication process

The serendipitous discovery of the method of communication was the key event that prevented my relegation to the realm of the undead. (I must qualify it by saying that the discovery was 'almost serendipitous' because talk of some means of communicating with me was 'in the air'. Jaya and the doctors were discussing various methods of eliciting my thoughts.) Although the basic structure has remained the same over the years, there were some roadblocks which necessitated a few additions.

Initially, I used to be stymied by the problem of how to indicate to Jaya that I wanted to dictate something. I would stare at a table nearby on which a book was kept and eventually Jaya guessed that I wanted to say something. But that was in the hospital. When I was discharged and came back home, I did not know where to look in order to give Jaya the same indication. I stared in the same direction in which I remembered the table position in the hospital room. After some trials and errors Jaya finally managed to guess what I meant. When this happened a few times, we developed a convention - if I opened and closed my mouth like a fish, it meant I wanted to convey something.

In order to avoid 'on epi' type errors (of course that was a different type of error- a space was inserted where there was none) we had to develop something for spacebar.I took to shaking my head from side to side to indicate a space. By this Jaya understood that the next letter was the beginning of the next word. I did not have to do this everytime because in many instances the word will be apparent after I dictate a few letters.

Another problem was that of punctuations. There were a few instances when the meaning of the sentence was changed because of the lack of punctuation. I started nodding up and down after dictating a letter. Jaya will guess that there is some punctuation mark there and will start guessing - full stop, comma, brackets, single quotes, double quotes, semicolon etc and I will blink for the correct alternative. This was much better than dictating 'sonapostrophes' for "son's" which would have been a mess.

For pronunciations I relied on rhyming words. For instances, if Sujit, wanted to know the pronunciation of 'coelom' I will say that the first half is pronounced as 'see' and the second half rhymes with 'come'. Of course, if I was sitting I will take the easy option of checking the audio link of an online dictionary.

For diagrams I will give a verbal description and hope that Jaya will understand how to draw it. As Sujit goes to higher classes and the drawings become more complicated, I don't know how successful I will be.

With experience, we are much quicker than suggested by the description. Still it is tedious and I am always glad when Jaya or someone else guesses a word after I have dictated a few letters.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sweet are the uses of adversity

Sometimes I will be listening to conversations that P.G.Wodehouse would not have described as 'calculated to interest, elevate or amuse'. For example, there will be some banal conversation of the he-said-she-said variety where I will only have a vague idea of who the 'he' or 'she' was. (I have not stayed much in my home state of Kerala and I have only a fuzzy idea of many people and places that form the subject of these discussions.) Or there will be some talks about a temple festival or a puja that is to be held somewhere. I am not a religious person and my interest in these matters can be described as rather lukewarm. Or there may be some polite chit-chat with people who I have never met.

On such occasions my mind disengages itself from the happenings around me and floats away into another world. I will ponder over something that puzzled me in some book that I had been reading. Or I will think about how to explain some topics better to Sujit than what is given in his textbook. Or I will be at the centre court at Wimbledon executing some magical forehands to stun Federer. Sometimes I will remember a funny incident or a quote by P.G.Wodehouse like 'He was so fat that his wife was in danger of being sued for committing bigamy' which will make me laugh loudly.

The problem with this is that everyone thinks that I had laughed because of something that they said and will want to know what it was that I had found funny. Startled out of my reverie, I will look around with the dazed expression that Watson often had when Sherlock Holmes, after a minute inspection of the crime scene with his magnifying glass, tells him something like the murderer was six feet tall, had a cut on his right cheek, was left handed, wore a grey coat, has a pet dachshund and had recently visited Brazil.

It is said that to a man who has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. My hammer is silence and it is a useful tool to have in many circumstances. I just have to keep quiet and smile and eventually everyone will get bored. After all how long do you talk to a wall? Even a smiling wall? Before my stroke, my reticence may have been mistaken for arrogance but now it does not invite any adverse comment. Soon everyone will resume their interrupted conversation leaving me free to drift back to my Walter Mitty mode.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Excess sympathy is problematic

After my stroke, as was to be expected, many people made suggestions about how to treat me. But the problem was that most of them were not sure what exactly had happened to me.

Some assumed that all strokes are the same. So whenever they heard that some stroke patients had recovered completely, they would insist that we meet the particular Doctor. I think some did not know that a stroke happened in the brain. The doctors they recommended turned out to be someone other than a neurologist. One guy said we should consult the doctor who had cured a wound on his son's neck which other doctors could not cure. Some ayurvedic doctors will say their medicines are only effective if taken orally and not through the feeding tube. Why should this make any difference?

Some people will hear that a paralysis patient had recovered and pester Jaya to meet the concerned doctor. That paralysis can be due to a variety of reasons was a minor matter that was always ignored. And there were constant recommendations of various quacks and godmen, about whom the less said the better. (Although I will have more to say about them later. Hope breeds irrationality and there is no dearth of charlatans bearing fairly tale palliatives to provide succour to suckers. I increasingly agreed with Mark Twain - 'Man is a Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute.')

At the end of the day, handling them was a difficult task. On the one hand we knew that their suggestions were made in order to help me in whatever way they could. On the other hand we could see that there were huge holes in their understanding of what had happened to me.

After many wild goose chases, when Jaya expressed reservations about yet another tall tale, some of these folks had the gall to insinuate that her reluctance was because she was not concerned enough about my plight. Of course, these snide comments will not be made face to face. We will hear about them sometime later from another source and we will never be sure whether and how much noise has distorted the signal.

When solicitousness is in measured doses it is gratifying but if it results in a constant stream of spurious "cures" it becomes irritating. Giving a blow by blow account of the various incidents is not possible because most of them happened a very long time ago and I don't remember the details. Suffice it to say that they were wearyingly repetitive. If we had listened to all these suggestions that we had received then we would have been on the streets by now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


George Bush is supposed to have said that one of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures. I do like many of the pictures but that is not the main reason for my love of books.

Buying a book as a gift for somebody is a problematic affair. You are not sure if he has already read the book. You are not sure if it is according to his taste. You are not sure if his taste has changed since you last met him. I always tell people not to buy me any book unless I specify the title. My reading habits have changed greatly over the last decade and I don't want them to waste their money.

I was always a keen reader and I used to read all kinds of books except those on religion/spirituality (they remind me of forty-two) and self-help books (the kinds that have titles like 'Ten Ways to be a Better Something-or-the-other'). But the genre of books that I read now is very different. I had my epiphany when I read A Short History of Nearly Everything. It was the book that I never had in school. In Seeing in the Dark, Timothy Ferris says:
Visions like this one produced a sensation that I did not know how to express until, years later, I read what Einstein had to say about the lesson he'd learned from his encounter with geometry, which, he recalled, provided a way "to free myself from the chains of the 'merely-personal', from an existence which is dominated by wishes, hopes, and primitive feelings. Out yonder there was this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking. The contemplation of this world beckoned like a liberation."
I had the same reaction when I read 'Brief History...'. By the time I finished it I was sure that I will now read mostly popular science books. With my brother-in-law and my friends ready to humour my whims, I have always had a constant supply of books that most of my acquaintances will not touch with a bargepole.

I read a post on Mind Hacks which links to an article on NYT on anxiety which has the following lines:
Two people can experience the same level of anxiety, he said, but one who has interesting work to distract her from the jittery feelings might do fine, while another who has just lost his job spends all day at home fretting and might be quicker to reach a point where the thrum becomes overwhelming. It’s all in the context, the interpretation, the ability to divert your attention from the knot in your gut.
There is no doubt that reading has helped me immensely in dealing with the changed realities after my stroke.

One of my neighbours, on learning that I have a few books, wanted to borrow something for a light read. She must have expected Alistair Mclean, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham and other usual suspects. When she saw the kind of books that I read, she left rather quickly. No doubt she would have been thinking of me as, in the words of Alexander Pope, 'The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, / With loads of learned lumber in his head.'

I don't like to read books online because of what psychologists call "constant partial attention.". There will be the constant temptation to click somewhere and read something else.

I have not tried any e-book reader. I don't think it will be suitable for me. I read by clipping books on to a pillow kept before me. I don't know how an e-book reader can be fixed in front of me. Also I sometimes cough so violently that I disturb the pillows and the book falls to the ground. If an e-book reader is treated with such indignity it will soon become junk. The recent Kindle-Orwell brouhaha has also reinforced my preference for normal books. So that makes me an environmentally unfriendly troglodyte in the age of the Kindle who likes the printed word on dead trees.

When I get more than one book at a time I have the delicious problem, of deciding which book to read first. Quite often I read two books simultaneously. I read a few pages of one book, then read few pages of another book, then switch back to the first book and so on. The more different the two books are the better. For instance, I am currently reading Bully for Brontosaurus and India After Gandhi - two books on subjects that could not be more different.

Bibliophiles will attest to the thrill of the sight, smell and touch of new books. I can't hold a book, neither can I smell it (I breathe through the tracheostomy and very little air passes into my nose so I can smell an odour only if it is strong), but I will admit to getting a frisson of excitement when I see a book I had asked for. In The Boilerplate Rhino, David Quammen says:
Of course anyone who truly loves books buys more of them than he or she can hope to read in one fleeting lifetime. A good book, resting unopened in its slot on a shelf,full of majestic potentiality, is the most comforting sort of intellectual wallpaper. For instance, I own a two-volume set of Da Vinci's noteooks, an Encyclopedia of Papua and New Guinea, and a biography of Attila the Hun. These are valuable assets just as they sit, making no peremptory claims for my attention. But in my mental card catalog there's another group of books, a small and exclusive group, each of which is tagged: HIGH INTEREST/READ IMMEDIATELY. New books enter that category rarely, and some old ones seem never to get out. I have a volume of Roussseau's Emile that's been classified HI/RI since 1976. Jacob Burckhardt's The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy and a severe, intriguing volume called Scientists Under Hitler are others. Life is too short for an earnest plodder like me, who reads only as fast as his lips can mime the syntax. Bernd Heinrich's Bumblebee Economics falls in the same category. I had never stopped intending to read it-soon, any week now-and meanwhile six years had gone by in a blink.
(Quoting a passage from a book is convenient for me because I can cover a lot of ground in ten minutes which otherwise will take me a couple of hours. In fact, the thought of the tedium involved would probably have dissuaded me from pursuing the idea. Jaya is also happy that she can quickly type a whole paragraph without numerous intervening pauses.)

Before readers latch on to the idea that I keep esoteric titles on my bookshelf in order to impress visitors, I must hasten to add that like Hilaire Belloc, 'When I am dead, I hope it may be said: / His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.'

Monday, September 28, 2009

A very close call

One evening, almost exactly one year after my stroke, someone informed us that Sujit had fallen and got hurt. Jaya and her father rushed out to see what had happened. I assumed that it must be a minor fall that kids often have while playing. My father-in-law came later in the night, informed me about the happenings in the hospital and there did not seem to be anything to worry. I had a few visitors from far off places which gave me pause but from every one's demeanour I got the impression that everything was fine.

It was only after three days that I came to know exactly what had happened. I assumed that Sujit had to stay in the hospital for precaution but I was not sure what was the reason. It was only after Sujit returned home and I saw his face swollen grotesquely that I realised that it was not as small a fall as I had assumed.

Apparently, Sujit was playing on the landing outside our house, which was on the 2nd floor. He lost his balance and before anyone could catch him he fell down a narrow gap between a wall and the staircase. He landed on the ground floor where a neighbour saw him and alerted us. Jaya and her father took him to the hospital where the neurologist examined him and said he had a skull fracture which would heal by itself. The scan report showed there were no internal injuries but the doctor said he has to be kept under observation for a couple of days.

For months after the fall we kept observing Sujit to make sure that there were no lasting effects. It was easily the luckiest we have ever been in our lives.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The upside of down

While not being able to speak is frustrating at most times, there are some times when keeping quiet is advantageous.

Sometimes I get angry about something and think of making some cutting comment but the thought of the tedium involved in calling Jaya and dictating the comment will cool my temper and I will satisfy myself by giving a baleful glare. Anyway the retort will not have the expected impact because of the absence of non-verbal cues. Five minutes later I realise how stupid I would have been if I had actually dictated what I had intended to say. My forced silence often saved me from making a priceless ass of myself.

Many people in this neighbourhood know that I am from IIMA. That meant that I am only interested in business matters. People will talk about inflation or the gyrations of the sensex. They will talk about some articles in Business India or Business World. As I wrote earlier, I don't have any interest in these matters nowadays. But I can't let down my alma mater so I sit silently and nod sagely.

Once I had a visitor who unfortunately taught some management courses somewhere. He found out that I am from IIMA and started telling me about a new book on Human Resources Management which was much better than the books that he had previously been using. He waxed eloquent about the new material in the book. I sat silently, smiled broadly and
blinked strategically, hoping that he will conclude that we were on the same wavelength. On such occasions I safeguard the prestige of IIMA by maintaining a studious silence. A closed mouth gathers no foot - old Zen saying.

Ask not what you can do with speech, ask what lack of speech can do for you is a useful motto for me to follow.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The unkindest cut of all

Most stroke victims will admit that the most debilitating handicap that they face is loss of speech. Being cut off from the world is a frightening experience. I was lucky that I was saved from the feeling of being buried alive by the communication system that Jaya devised.

But saying the words alone without any non-verbal accompaniment sometimes doesn't convey the exact meaning that I had in mind. Although the role of non-verbal communication is not as great as it was thought earlier, it is undeniable that it plays a major role in enhancing the efficacy of the verbal channel. Gestures convey important information and it is also suggested that it might help us think.

My lack of voluntary hand movements and absence of cues like tone and stress hamper my efforts to convey the exact meaning of some sentences. "Bring the book" can be said casually, with anger, with urgency or with some other emotion but these are not possible for me.

I do have a sort of non-verbal communication. When I get angry or excited, my muscles get stiff, my limbs start shivering and I get paroxysms of cough. Onlookers think I am having some medical problem and wonder why folks at home are not worried. My reactions for both anger and excitement are quite similar so some people think I am getting angry when I am really excited.

I also find it difficult to immediately change my expressions so, for example, if someone has cracked a joke and shifted to talking about some serious matter, I will still be laughing about the joke when a serious expression would have been more appropriate for the matter currently being discussed. He will wonder why I am laughing when he is talking about a bereavement.

These reactions are invlountary and can be controlled only if I sit quietly without saying anything. A person who is not familiar with my quirks is likely to be misled by them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The best laid plans go often astray

In the last decade, I have learnt that Murphy's law is not just confined to joke books. You will be surprised how often Murphy's law comes into the picture. Just as Jaya and I sit before the P.C. some interruptions will happen - someone will call Jaya, power will go, physiotherapist will come, guests will come etc. Jaya will have to attend some marriages or have some other outside work. It is uncanny how often Jaya will get a phone call just as she is about to shift me from the bed to the wheelchair. Sujit might ask some doubts related to his school work which might take some time to clarify. So what I think will take one hour will take five days (like this post).

Earlier, I used to expend a lot of emotional energy glaring at the screen savers when Jaya left for some reason. Now I am more patient and relaxed. (According to The Devil's Dictionary, PATIENCE, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.) This has been aided by the fact that the nurse has learnt to move the cursor around the screen and click at the required place following the cues from my head and eye movements. So I can read my favourite blogs during Jaya's absence.

Delays could also happen because of my physical problems. I might get a coughing fit which will take some time to subside. I might suddenly feel like passing motion and will have to be shifted to the bed. It might be an hour or two before I am back in front of the PC. So I am reluctant to accept any deadlines. Any number of known and unknown events could disrupt my schedule.

Then there is my laziness. It is fun to think of what to write but not so much fun to dictate letter by letter. But I cannot have one without the other. If there is a choice between dictation and watching a Federer-Nadal match, there are no points for guessing which one I will choose.

That completes the list of excuses for my erratic postings. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. It was also the reason why I was hesitant to start blogging.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The patient must minister to himself

After I returned home and settled down to the new routine, I had the problem of deciding how to spend my time. I am not very interested in watching movies and TV programmes. I used to watch news headlines, some live sporting events and some programmes on Discovery and National Geographic channels. The other channels were not of much interest to me. The prospect of vegetating in front of the idiot box watching prolefeed for the rest of my life was not a cheerful thought. While I did not get depressed, I did feel a Macbeth-like despair:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

Like Rajesh Khanna, I did not want to get into an analysis-paralysis (pun unintended) loop of self-pity. Moping around the whole day wearing a 'Death, where is thy sting?' look on my face was not going to help either me or my family. But suppressing negative thoughts is a doomed endeavour. (Unless I had access to some futuristic drug.) You can only spend so much time thinking about whether a zebra is a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes.

At that time my physiotherapist was a lady named Kamala who used to stay with us. My escape from boredom was facilitated by her suggestion that I should spend more time sitting rather than just lying on the bed. Pillows were kept in front of me and the reading material was clipped onto it. I found that the letters were easier to see because no one was holding the material and so there was no blur due to constant shaking. I read the newspaper in some detail after many months. I read some magazines and books that were with me. My brother-in-law and some friends gave me new books which I enjoyed reading. Like the humorist Robert Benchley, “I do most of my work sitting down; that's where I shine."

I read a lot about evolution and astronomy both of which were new subjects for me. I enjoyed reading and trying to understand topics about which I knew next to nothing. For perhaps the first time in my life I was reading a lot of non-fiction books without any specific goal: I was not preparing for any exam, I was not appearing for any interview, I was not going to show-off my new found knowledge to anyone. There is a book of short works of Richard Feynman called The Pleasure of Finding Things Out. The title expresses clearly the reason why I enjoyed reading about these things. There was another benefit: during the long hours that I had to spend lying on the bed I used to think about the various things that I had read. My mind was no longer idle and the devil had one less workshop to fool around in.

Some years after my stroke, Jaya decided to do MBA by correspondence and asked me to help her in some areas so that she did not have to attend contact classes. She completed the course in the required time in spite of having many other things to do. That was the only time after my stroke that I seriously read any management books. Now I am not interested in business matters. Occasionally I read some things about it but soon my interest wanes and I start reading about transitional whale fossils.

Once Sujit started getting into higher classes and had subjects with a little more meat in them I used to think of how to explain some concepts more clearly than what was given in the textbook. And now I am writing this blog, so I spend some time thinking about what to bore you with next.

So I have a lot more things to do now than in the months following my stroke. Thanks to family (especially Jaya) and friends, it looks as if I have managed to survive the stress tests without major mental damage.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who was Jessica Lall?

One name used to crop up in many TV programmes - Jessica Lall. If there was a programme on criminal justice system in India, Jessica Lall was mentioned. If there was a programme on how the rich and powerful can subvert the law, Jessica Lall figured in the discussion. If there was a talk show on the rising crime graph in cities, the Jessica Lall incident was mentioned.

If she was so famous why had I never heard about her before? I could make out that she had met some violent end. I don't remember asking Jaya about it.

When we purchased a computer with an Internet connection about a couple of years after my stroke I googled 'Jessica Lall' and learnt about the horrible crime. No wonder I did not know about it -it had happened on April 29, 1999 which was the day after my stroke when I was lying unconscious in the ICU.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Visitor reactions - II

Sometimes, somebody who does not know the extent of my disabilities, will offer his hand. Then he will suddenly realise that he has committed a faux pas and will hesitate, not knowing how to bail out. At that time Jaya will crack some joke. Recognising an opportunity (and knowing that it has a reputation for being coy about knocking twice) he will latch on to the joke. Jaya has caused several such potentially awkward situations to disappear through timely intervention.

Small kids seemed to think that I enjoy having children for breakfast. They will hide behind their mothers, peeping occasionally to check if the apparition was remaining at a safe distance. They could not be blamed for thinking that it is better to be safe than to be sorry because at that time I used to look more hideous than I do now, what with the feeding tube protruding out of my nose.

'Deaf and Dumb' always go together. When people saw that I can't speak, they automatically assumed that I was also hard of hearing and would speak loudly. Folks at home will tell them that my hearing is alright, so they will start speaking normally. But after some time their volume will again rise unconsciously.

Some people will act out what they say in order to make me understand what they mean. It took a while for everybody to know that (apart from the fact that I can’t eat,can’t walk,can’t talk!) I was quite normal.

Actually even now when people see me for the first time, they will ask questions like 'Can he hear?' or 'Can he understand what we speak?' which will make me laugh. The problem is that when I start laughing, I find it difficult to stop. Also, since my facial muscles are not very mobile, my expressions may be a bit different from what you would normally expect. As it says in this article :
Platt’s studies of gelotophobes’ emotions show that they may also have problems picking up on the social cues related to smiling and laughter. Fake laughs, belly laughs, malicious laughs and chuckles all come with their own set of cues — such as vocal tones and facial expressions — that signal whether you’re being laughed at or laughed with.

Not picking up on these cues may lead some people with gelotophobia to misinterpret playful laughter as something much more menacing, Platt says.

“If all the cues are all there, the over-exaggeration and the facial mannerisms, to say ‘I’m only playing with you and this is fun,’ then it may be fine,” Platt says. “But there’s a danger that those cues might be misunderstood by someone who fears being ridiculed, and they will say that they’re being bullied when they’re just being teased.”
I hope I did not have too many visitors with gelotophobia. My idiosyncrasies would not have pleased them at all. I had a nurse with this problem. Whenever I laughed about something she would think that I was laughing at her.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Visitor reactions - I

People find it impossible not to stare at someone who looks different from what they normally expect. P. T. Barnum made a lot of money by exploiting this normal human tendency. Initially, I used to be disconcerted by the stares but now I am quite blasé about them.

When people see me for the first time, they are not sure how to interact with me. Perhaps they had thoughts similar to that of Bertie Wooster when he escaped from some disaster. ("There, but for the grace of god, goes Bertram.") Old people will stand some distance away from my bed and stare silently at me. Many of them would have dandled me when I was a child and would not have expected a situation like this.

In "Last Chance to See", Douglas Adams describes the aye-aye of Madagasar :

The aye-aye is a nocturnal lemur. It is a very strange-looking creature that seems to have been assembled from bits of other animals. It looks a little like a large cat with a bat's ears, a beaver's teeth, a tail like a large ostrich feather, a middle finger like a long dead twig and enormous eyes that seem to peer past you into a totally different world which exists just over your left shoulder.

Some people adopted the aye-aye strategy when they met me and carried on a conversation with someone behind me. Looking directly at me will mean asking me some questions for which they will not understand my reply. So how do you look at me without looking at me? Imitate the aye-aye!

You don't exactly become an unperson when you can't move or speak but you tend to become part of the décor while conversion flows about you. At first I used to feel uncomfortable but nowadays I prefer to be ignored because I won't have the hassle of having to think of how to respond without being misinterpreted.

Sometimes people will come into my room and stare silently at me without speaking to me or to anybody else. I will wish someone will say something but I will only be met with silence of the sort which I have seen being described as deafening.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Misinterprentation of blinks

Many people used to think that when I blinked it meant 'no' which was the exact opposite of the convention that had been established in the hospital. Problem was that they will not tell me what I should do for 'yes'. I will stare for some time and they will wait till I blink and they will interpret the answer to their question to be 'no'. By the time Jaya comes into the room everything will be a mess. I will explain the whole story to her and she will clear the confusion.

A friend of mine used to say that if two people are understanding each other they are said to be 'connecting'. And what do you say when people are not 'connecting'? Connecticut, of course!

Visitors and I being 'connecticut' resulted in some unforeseen consequences. If the misunderstanding was not material, I will leave the error uncorrected thinking that it will be too tedious to correct it. This slightly distorted story will come back sometime later with a small mutation. Again I will let it go. This process will continue till I suddenly realise that the story had changed considerably from its original version but by now it will be too late to change it. The process was somewhat similar to what in military parlance is known as 'salami tactics'.

After several such incidents, I thought it prudent to rein in my 'loquaciousness' and decided to maintain the eye equivalent of the stiff upper lip in front of visitors who may not be familiar with my communication codes. There is a lot of truth in the old saying that "it is better to keep your mouth closed and have people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Otherwise fine!

Once a friend of mine rang up and asked Jaya, "Kesu (that is my nickname) can't walk, can't eat, can't talk, otherwise how is he?" Jaya was taken aback at first, then assured him that otherwise I was fine.

We had a good laugh about it later.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I return home

There were suggestions that I can be discharged. The doctors also said that there should be no problem in taking me home and physiotherapy can be continued at home. (Read : don't waste your money.)

I had been admitted to the hospital for six months. Before my stroke, I had never stayed in a hospital, so I sure had made up for lost time. At first I was enthusiastic about returning home but as the date of discharge drew closer, I began to worry whether Jaya and a new nurse will be able to handle any problems that may arise. (What problems? I don't know.)

The journey home was uncomfortable. Having stayed inside a hospital for so long, the road travel got on my nerves- the noise, smoke, ambulance siren, etc made me nervous. When we reached home and my stretcher was brought out of the ambulance, I could see some heads peeping out of various balconies. I kept my eyes firmly fixed on the blue sky above. It helped that I was not wearing my glasses so I could not see anybody clearly. I was relieved when I finally disappeared inside the building.

Our house was on the second floor and the building had no lift. My stretcher was carried up by four people. It was the most harrowing journey I have ever had. With every pitch and roll of the stretcher I felt as if I would roll off into an abyss. I cried out. No sound came. I was afraid of putting more effort into producing sound because it might have caused severe cough which might have been hazardous on an unstable stretcher. I don't know why I did not get a few heart attacks by the time I reached the second floor.

It was an emotional entry into the house. The walls seemed much darker than what I remembered. Perhaps I had got used to a lighter shade at the hospital. The first thing I did when I entered my room was to inspect the railings on my bed. My heart was still racing after my frightening journey up the stairs.

Over the next few days I slowly got used to my new old surroundings.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Sujit turns eleven.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

When it rains it pours

When I was admitted in the hospital, many family members developed some medical problem or the other. Of course, before my stroke Jaya and Sujit were away in Hyderabad because Jaya's mom had to undergo a surgery.

My sister developed a growth on her abdomen. The doctor said that it may not be malignant but advised her to get it removed nevertheless. This necessitated a minor surgery.

My brother-in-law was in Coimbatore on leave because of my stroke. When he was coming to the hospital one day on his scooter, a dog decided to explore the terrain in the middle of the road and he had to apply the brakes suddenly in order to avoid it. The dog escaped but he skidded and fell down. His injury required him to put an arm in a sling for a few days. (One doctor said this was why he considered two wheelers dangerous and advised his patients to drive only cars!)

My father-in-law decided to go to Hyderabad for a few days in order to tie up a few loose ends which he had left pending because of his hurried departure to Coimbatore following my stroke. The night before he was to travel, he developed some chest pain. He was admitted to K.G.Hospital where the doctors said that he had suffered a heart attack. They advised him to undergo bypass surgery as soon as possible because he had multiple blocks in his arteries. He underwent the surgery a couple of months after I was discharged.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Nurse who mistook 'one' for 'on'

The pillows in K.G.Hospital were very thin and in order to feel comfortable I needed two pillows under my head. Once, I thought I will try using one pillow and see how I feel. At that time only the nurse was in the room.

I looked up to indicate the pillow. The nurse started guessing: ceiling, fan, light, head, hair... everything except pillow. She had seen Jaya using our communication system (we call it 'pad') and decided to use it to crack the puzzle. She did not know the distribution of the letters and had to start every time from 'a' but that was only a minor inconvenience. I was delighted that she had got this idea. Archimedes was not so ecstatic when he jumped out of his bathtub.

I wanted to dictate 'one pillow'. She got 'o', then 'n'. She was thrilled that she had got the first word 'on' and thought that the next letter was the beginning of the second word.

I knew this was trouble. I had the sinking feeling that those folks of the Light Brigade must have had when they suddenly saw cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them and cannon in front of them that volley'd and thunder'd. (At least that is the way P.G. Woodhouse would have described my predicament.)

I continued nevertheless. I was sure that she would soon spot her error and then it would be plain sailing. Bigger miracles have happened before. But hopes are dupes, say old-timers (but they balance it out by saying that fears are liars).

The next letter was 'e', then 'p', then 'i'. By now the nurse was in a panic. 'On epi...'? What the hell was this guy thinking about? There was a baffled expression on her face as she considered and rejected various alternatives. Nothing seemed to fit. Luckily, her English was not strong enough for her to speculate on 'on epistemology' or 'on epicurianism' or 'on epigenetics', otherwise it would have been a very long day. She decided that the wise thing to do was to throw in the towel and wait for Jaya to come. Recognizing that we were at a dead-end, I acquiesced in her decision.

When Jaya came an hour later, I couldn't wait to tell her the story. After I was through, everyone started laughing. The nurse did not know where to hide. We lived on that incident for days. Everyone who came to our room heard the story. Inevitably, the nurse had a new nickname - 'on epi'. I may forget her real name but 'on epi' is etched indelibly in my memory.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Jean-Dominique Bauby and Julia Tavalaro

I read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby just over a year ago. What impressed me most about the book was that Bauby managed to write it within two years after his stroke. During that time I was still groggy from what Bertie Wooster would have called "a sock on the jaw by the fist of Fate" and thought of writing anything was far from my mind.

When I was in the hospital I remember a friend telling me that somebody had written a book by using only his eye movements. Perhaps he was talking about this book. I don't remember anything more about the conversation so I cannot be sure.

Another famous case of a patient with locked-in syndrome was Julia Tavalaro. She was thought to be in a vegetative state for six years before someone realised that she could understand what was happening around her and started communicating with her. Six years? I don't know how she survived that hellish period.

Sometime after I started communicating, I told about how I felt giddy in the bathroom. Till then everyone had thought that I had fallen and hit my head somewhere. I don't know why they thought that because I did not have any external injuries. Although the recent death of Natasha Richardson from a seemingly innocuous fall seems to suggest that they were not entirely unjustified in thinking along those lines.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Jaya thinks therefore I am

Eyes are vocal, tears have tongues,/ And there are words not made with lungs. -Richard Crashaw, poet

I was asked some question which could not be structured into a form for which I could give a yes/no answer. Jaya saw a notebook nearby and got an idea. She quickly wrote down the letters of the alphabet thus:

This became the Rosetta Stone for interpreting my dumb charades. She pointed to different letters and I blinked at the required letters. She joined them to form words and joined the words to form a sentence. In this way she managed to get the correct answer.

In order to quicken the process, Jaya would first ask me the line in which the letter will occur. For example: If I wanted to dictate "The", she will first ascertain the line in which the letter falls by saying 1,2,3,4. I will blink for line 3. Then she will start from "Q" and I will blink at 'T" and so on.

Eventually, we memorised the positions of the letters so she did not have to write them down. For most common words, if I dictate the first two or three letters, she will guess the word and if I dictate the first few words she might guess the sentence.

If you are wondering why the letters are distributed as above, stop wasting your time. Jaya just wrote down the letters on a sheet of paper and that is the way they turned out.

I didn't think of this method of communication. Even if I had thought of it first, I would not have been able to tell anyone about it. Someone else had to think of it and tell me the rules. Fortunately for me, Jaya thought of it and it has ultimately resulted in this blog. So if you are wasting too much of your time, you know who to blame!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I heard many people talking about "Cargill". I wondered why everyone was so interested in an American food company. The conversations were out of my earshot but I picked up words like India, Pakistan, Clinton, casualty. I couldn't understand how these words could be related to "Cargill".

Someone showed me the news paper but I couldn't see it clearly. A doctor mentioned that "crores had been collected for Cargill". I was puzzled about why Indians were collecting money for an American company.

It was many days before I realised that there was some war going on between India and Pakistan at a place called "Kargil". I don't know why I didn't realise this earlier. There was a T.V. in my room and I remember some people listening to the news sometimes. Guess I had other things on my mind at that time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cricket World Cup

Some time after I regained my consciousness, the  Cricket World Cup started.  In normal times I will know the dates of all important matches but now I was not even sure of the month, leave alone what was going on in the world.

The doctors suggested that it would be a good idea to let me watch the matches.  Accordingly, a television was fitted in my room.  When I was asked if I could see clearly, I replied in the negative.  So the colour, contrast, position etc were adjusted but I still couldn't see clearly. I knew what the problem was but I couldn't convey it.  After a while  somebody realised what the problem was - I was not wearing my glasses!

After I got my glasses it was much better. Although I had some problems because I still had double vision. Watching two Tendulkars essaying a cover drive was not as satisfying as watching one but it was much better than watching nothing. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Double vision

When I recovered consiousness,  I found that my eyeballs were fixed in their sockets.  Each eye formed a separate image and thus I could not see clearly.  If I had to look at something on my side, I had to turn my head in that direction in order to see it.

Each day the doctor will place a finger some distance above my head, move it in different directions and ask me to follow the movements with my eyes without moving my head. He asked Jaya to make me do this exercise as many times as possible.  

Slowly over many days I regained full movements of my eyeballs. Again, I don't remember how long this took.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Phantom arm

I first heard about phantom limbs when I read the splendid Phantoms in the Brain by V. S. Ramachandran a couple of years back.  (If you are as jobless as me and have a couple of hours to spare, you can listen to this 2006 interview with Dr.Ramachandran. He is an engaging speaker.) It was then that I realised that I also had a phantom arm when I regained consiousness. But my phantom was different from the ones that I had read about - it was not that of a missing arm but of an extra right arm on which I was lying.  

I used to wonder why I was being made to sleep on my right arm but when I looked at my right side I could see my right arm lying freely.  I did not know what to make of it.  Anyway I could not tell anyone anything. I thought it might be because the sheet had got crumpled and it would be rectified when the sheet was changed. But it was the same story even after that.

Fortunately I did not experience any pain, just the discomfort of sleeping on some thick object. It disappeared after a few days - I don't remember how many days it lasted. In fact, I don't remember much about it - how thick it was, whether it was complete, what happened to it when  I was turned to the sides...

When I learnt to communicate, I did not mention anything about this.  People had just about accepted the fact that I was ok mentally.  If I had told them about a non existant arm they would have quickly concluded that the poor guy had an addled brain after all. I had forgotten all about it and remembered it only when I read Ramachandran's book and realised that it was a real phenomenon.      

I have since learnt that a phantom of an extra limb is called a supernumerary phantom limb. People seem to develop phantoms of all sorts of body parts. The most bizzare case I read about was of a guy having delusions of a second jaw. It must have been really disconcerting to think that you are turning into a moray eel.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I am sane

Sorry for the delay.  Some painting and cleaning work was going on in our house and Jaya was roaming around holding a mop and broom in her hands - not the ideal implements for blogging, you will agree. You can expect such excuses from me once in a while. The work is still pending so don't be surprised if the next post also gets delayed. There, I have given you my excuse in advance!

Continuing from where we had left last,  when I was recovering consciousness no one knew what mental state I would be in.  So the first item on everyone's agenda when I became sufficiently alert was to determine whether I was nuts or not.

A doctor told me to blink once if the answer to his question was Yes and to stare unblinkingly if the answer was No. Then they started quizzing me.  

- Are you able to understand what we speak? One blink - Yes
- Is your name Suresh? One blink -> Yes
- Is this your wife? One blink  ->  Yes
- Can you feel the sensations? (A few pokes) One blink -> Yes
- Are you feeling cold? No blink -> No
- Are you working in Indian Bank?  I did not know how to answer this question because I was working in Indbank which was a subsidary of Indian Bank and many people used to refer to it also as Indian Bank.  Fortunately someone asked if I was working in Indbank. One blink -> Yes. 
Soon it became clear that I did not belong to the realm of the living dead.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The fog lifts

I was unconscious for about 2 weeks.  I am told that I had all sorts of tubes connected to me.  But when I regained consciousness I only had the tracheostomy, the ryles tube and urine catheter. 

Unlike Rip Van Winkle, I did not wake up suddenly one day and wonder what I was doing in a hospital.  I surfaced slowly and gradually everything around me became clearer.  I don't know how long this took.  At that time I did not know how long it had been since I had fainted in the bathroom. After a few days, I  learnt that I had suffered a brain stem stroke.  I knew only vaguely about strokes and knew nothing about the brain stem. 

At this time I used to look frequently at a rectangular patch on the wall opposite to me trying to figure out what it was.  Each day it will became a bit more clear but I could not understand what it was.  One day it suddenly clicked into focus: it was just an ordinary electrical board!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jaya returns to Coimbatore

Jaya got a call from my sister saying that I had been taken to the hospital. She contacted my office to find out what had happened. They had not heard about the incident and promised to get back to her after they had enquired about it. They found out all the details and informed her about the situation.

It being vacation time, there was no transport available out of Hyderabad. Finally a taxi agreed to bring Jaya, Sujit and her parents to Coimbatore. They kept checking with the hospital for updates and were told that all tests were normal.

Obviously, the car developed some mechanical problem about 60kms from Coimbatore at a place where nothing was available including phones. (At that time, mobile phones were not as ubiquitous as they are now.) Folks in the hospital were worried when the car was delayed and checked with the police to find out if there were any accidents reported on the route. They heaved a sigh of relief when the car finally arrived about six hours late.

For the sake of brevity, I have skipped all the drama and stuck to the bare facts.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

I lose consciousness

I saw a lot of people around asking me various questions but could not respond. Next thing I know I was in a car being taken somewhere. I closed my eyes.

When I opened them, I was lying on a stretcher (I think) and a nurse was taking my blood pressure. I again closed my eyes and when I opened them I found myself in a car (I am told it was an ambulance) and I heard, "K.G.Hospital".

On the way, I distinctly felt four snaps in quick succession which seemed to detach my four limbs from my body. It was as if I was a puppet to which four limbs were attached with strings, each of which were cut one after another.

I must have passed out again because when I opened my eyes I saw doctors and nurses around me shouting instructions. One doctor used a tongue depressor to examine my mouth. I bit it so hard that two teeth broke off and I saw somebody holding them up. That was the last thing I remember before I lost consciousness.

The time from when the bathroom door was broken open to when I reached K.G.Hospital was about three hours but it seemed to me like half an hour. I must have been drifting in and out of consciousness.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The worst is often true

So mused Miss Marple in one Agatha Christie novel. As usual, she was right.

April 28th 1999. I got up that morning after an uncomfortable night. I had had a slight headache throughout the night. It was not the normal type of headache where you think that someone is sitting inside your head and hammering away at your temple with a blunt instrument. It was more like a discomfort which refused to go away and I did not know what to do about it.

I had a cup of tea and browsed quickly through the newspaper. Then I decided that if after a shower I did not feel better, I will skip office.

Soon after I entered the bathroom, I started feeling giddy. I sat down slowly, then I lay down on the floor thinking that the coldness will make me feel better. I think I reached for the door but I don't know whether I moved or not.

Next thing I know is that some hands were pulling me out. My sister had heard some gasping sounds and alerted some neighbours who broke open the door and pulled me out. Jaya and Sujit (My son, who was then 9 months old) were away in Hyderabad because Jaya's mom had to undergo a surgery. My mother and sister were with me at the time.

Monday, April 20, 2009

To blog or not to blog

That was the question for a long time. I was thinking of writing a blog about my life with locked-in syndrome but I always kept postponing it thinking that it will take too much time and effort. But my wife, Jaya was keen on it so I finally decided to take the plunge and see how it goes.

Chance favours the prepared mind, said Pasteur. The implication was clear: If I had to be lucky enough to have a couple of readers for my blog, I had to do some homework. My stroke had happened ten years ago and I could not remember many incidents. Then I saw this post which gave me pause. After all ten years is a long time.

I reread The Diving Bell And The Butterfly and some blogs on brain and behaviour like Frontal Cortex and Mind Hacks, hoping that they will help stimulate some memories. When I remembered something, I noted it down ( to be precise, as Thomson and Thompson would have corrected me, Jaya noted it down). When I had a tentative list of topics ready, I tried to arrange them in some order. Then I tried to break them into small bits so that I (and Jaya!) don't get exasperated by my dumb charades.

The King of Alice in Wonderland tells me to begin at the beginning and go on till I come to the end, and that is what I propose to do from my next post.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why "I do"?

Ironically the name of my blog is from an author whose philosophy I don't like - Ayn Rand. It is from an incident in the only book of hers that I have read - The Fountainhead. I don't remember the details of the book but broadly the incident was as follows:

One of the major characters in the book, Gail Wynand, was a street kid in New York. He was once accosted by a gang and thrashed for some reason. The gang leader told him, "You don't run things around here."

When he grew up he became a powerful newspaper magnate and bought up the area where he was thrashed. He then bought a yacht and named it "I do" as an answer to the leader of the gang that had thrashed him.

Similarly, if someone asked me whether I have a life after suffering a brain stem stroke, I will reply "I do".