Sunday, February 17, 2008

Living in Hope

Almost three and a half years ago on a stormy monsoonal night in the middle of July, my younger sister M woke me up at about 2 in the morning saying our tenants below had called to say our other sister P had fallen down onto their yard. Disbelievingly I checked P's room and found a window flapping wide open to the wind and our dogs who slept in her room (we had 8 at that time) were sitting quietly but alertly. M and I rushed out in the steadily falling rain and found P stretched out on a long chair in our tenants' sitting room, babbling incoherently about not being able to feel her legs. Our tenants took over, calling a cab and rushing us to hospital where doctors found that P had sustained severe injuries to her spinal cord, T6 and 11, to be precise, and effectively become a paraplegic from the waist down. That started a traumatic
nightmare where the hospital became our home for the next four months and I desperately hung onto "I can do all things through Him who gives me strength."

Two lengthy stretches of rehab at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in Delhi, which was started up by a military man Major Ahluwalia who'd also been reduced to life in a wheelchair after being injured while in the line of duty, taught us many invaluable things. Most importantly for P, it opened her eyes to the fact that she wasn't alone. There were literally dozens, even hundreds of other people in wheelchairs, some more seriously injured than she was, literally unable to move from the neck downwards. We learned the importance of physiotheraphy, of social interaction and having a solid routine for everything especially toilet activities. We were encouraged to go out shopping, sightseeing, mingle around; in short, live as normally as possible. The biggest mantra was independence - don't be dependent on the help of other people, do as much as you can on your own, by yourself.

It's been rough, unbelievably and unspeakably rough. P is not the easiest of patients. She can be maddeningly irascible, testy and pigheaded. (And no comments about how hard it must be for her etc etc puleeze) Often I wish my mother was still around to ease the situation with the wisdom that all mothers seem to have instinctively. Sometimes I wish we were a larger family and not just M and me so the caregiving duties could be spread out a bit. With careers of our own to attend to and things to deal with daily, we have had to resort to getting a daytime attendant for P to take care of her physio routine among other things and be her general dogsbody. Every morning I get up at 6.30 for a 15 to 30 minute spot of physio and then get her transferred to her chair where she then takes over on her own with a morning bathroom session. Sometimes I wish I could luxuriate in bed a little longer but other than that early morning call I don't really need to chip in anymore. At least not till the day caregiver goes home. And Sundays.

Despite many ups and downs my sister has come to accept her lot, aided by a new-found faith in God. Just recently M's ex-colleague who had also turned paraplegic after a freak accident contacted her in near hysterics and P was able to counsel her soothingly through her own experiences.We don't know when or if she'll ever walk again but we live in hope. Just a few months after her accident and while we were at ISIC, the papers carried a story of a South Korean professor's success with stem cell procedures on a long term spinal cord injury patient. It later didn't quite turn out to be the big dramatic breakthrough hoped for by all SCI patients but all over the world, research on SCI stem cell therapy continues with hopeful stories coming up all the time. We wait and watch with hope. And above all, we put our faith in the good Lord.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Winter Daze

Hmmm... been a month exactly since my last blogpost. I try to update at least a couple of times a month but January went by in a daze of ├╝ber cold, frequent disruptions to my little old archaic dial-up connection, and attending one funeral after the other of elderly relatives. Now I don't know much about global warming or the Greenhouse Effect or all that environment in-talk but I do know that monsoon-like weather in January is miserably and wretchedly cold. All that rain and fog is bad enough during the monsoon but in frigid January when the walls take on a new emptiness after all the Christmas trimmings have gone back to their boxes, it's major horribilus.

This winter I discovered the joy of something that I've long associated with the sick and the old, especially my grandmother. Namely, the hot-water bag. A good friend of mine, a much much younger friend in fact, often texts me that it's so cold she can't get warm enough even with two hot-water bags. Maybe her immune system's kicked in to it but for me, nothing warms me up faster than a hot bag nestling at my feet beneath the blankets. And no innuendos please. 10 minutes and I'm kicking off my socks and pushing the water bag aside. Mmmm pure bliss.

Of course, what I call cold may be relatively warm compared to other places and temperatures. The pictures on TV of China the last few weeks have been reminding me how lucky I am, and never mind the West because it's always cold there anyway. Always so cold they have Central heating and the works which isn't the case out here. All we have to ward off a shiverfest are woollies, hot-water bags and sigris. But much as I gripe, and much as I love waking up to a beautiful sunny morning, I love winter. Up here in these mountains especially, winter means days of perfect blue skies and warm bright sunshine, and cozy early nights. Now that's magic.

Picture credit: Nell Khiangte