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.