Saturday, October 25, 2008

Silver Lining Behind Every Dark Cloud

Uncertainties of life are not recognized until unexpected calamities strike us. We can not predict tomorrow - in fact even the next moment is unknown to us. We have no choices!

We were always thinking that life will be as we had planned until that fateful moment when we were in a serious road accident on 18th July 2005 around midday. One second - one blink of an eye was enough to change all our tomorrows. Our future took a steep turn before we even knew it.

We were returning by car from Cochin- my husband, my elder son Subhash, and our three year old grand son Siddarth. Our journey was smooth till we reached the toll gate near Coimbatore. When we entered one toll gate it did not open. We were asked by the gate attendant to enter through another gate. We had to reverse back and enter through the other gate without knowing what awaits us a few minutes ahead.

Siddarth wanted to use the restroom so we had to take a break soon after we entered the L&T highway. We resumed our journey and must have traveled about a mile. Just then I noticed one fully loaded truck coming haphazardly towards us from the opposite direction. I told my son Subhash who was driving the car, “Why is that truck swaying like that?’’ We were on a bridge. There was no room to steer the car to the side. Next moment everything was blank.

I do not remember what happened next except for one moment when Subhash was telling me in a choked voice ‘Amma try to breathe deeply’. For one second I opened my eyes and saw my husband lying still motionless on the front seat with wreckage all over him. With my left hand I searched for my grand son. That is the last I remember. When I opened my eyes again we were in the ICU of a hospital with excruciating pain all over my body.

The days after the accident were horrible. I was lying with multiple fractures to five ribs, pelvic bone and a crushed hip bone. My husband had suffered a head injury and multiple fractures to his left thigh and left arm bones. I got to know the details of the traumatic incident and the sufferings thereafter from my children. It was almost a fatal road accident. Our brand new Honda city car was completely smashed. Looking at the wreckage of the car nobody believed that the passengers made it out alive. It was some miracle that Subhash was not injured much. He had deep bruises on his forehead and had crushed two of his toes. Due to the impact of the collision, the steering wheel was pushed back to within a couple of inches from his chest and he somehow managed to squeeze out of the wreckage. His first thought was that everyone inside the car was dead. There was an eerie silence all over. He peeped inside the car and he could see my husband and me lying unconscious but his son was no where at sight. I cannot imagine what must have gone through his head at that time. He thought his son must have been thrown out of the car. He looked every where but could not find Siddarth. When he looked inside the car again, he could see Siddarth’s bare feet under the front seat which was pushed back due to the massive impact. Father was on the front seat lying unconscious with the wreckage all over him. He opened the back door and pulled Siddarth out from under the seat fearing the worst. By the grace of God nothing happened to his son except one long bruise on the neck. But the child was under severe shock. Seeing us lying motionless and his papa’s bleeding forehead he started crying ‘Papa, Ajja died, Ajji died, you please don’t die.’ He was clinging to Subhash. It was a lonely road. There was no help available immediately. Subhash was not sure whether we were alive or not. I cannot imagine the mental trauma Subhash must have undergone at that moment.

One lady driving on that road saw the accident and stopped to offer help. She took the crying child and put him in her car. The front door on the left where my husband was sitting was completely jammed. Subhash could not open it. He could open the right side door at the back where I was sitting. My body was completely twisted it seems as if all the bones below the hip were broken. I was unconscious but breathing slowly. That gave him some hope and he asked me to breathe deeply. That was the few seconds I opened my eyes. Subhash pulled me out of the car and laid me down on the road. By that time some people gathered. It took more than half an hour to open the front door and pull my husband out. He was also breathing. Somebody had called an ambulance and we were lifted into the ambulance. Subhash told them to drive to the nearest hospital. He then informed his in laws in Cochin about the accident.

The ambulance took us to Abhirami Hospital in Coimbatore. Subhash did not like the atmosphere of that hospital but there was no time to choose and we needed immediate treatment. First aid was given; x-rays were taken. They found the areas of fractures but they were not able to tell whether we will survive or not. My husband was unconscious. Breathing was difficult for me because of the fractures in six of my ribs. The pain was unbearable. I was responding whenever somebody called out. I was diabetic, asthmatic and suffering from hyper tension. That was serious cause for concern. By evening Subhash’s in-laws arrived. When they took the crying child from Subhash’s hands, Subhash broke down it seems. Till then he had held back his emotions. Being a doctor, he could understand the sufferings we were under going. He was helpless. He had little hopes about our survival. The odds were stacked against us. He could not shift us to any other better hospital because of our serious condition.

We were fighting death. Subhash called my sisters in Bangalore. At night he called Sathwik, our second son who was in the US. It was a very tough phone call to make. He could not say much except ‘I think I have caused our parents death’ and broke down. He could just say that it was a serious road accident. Hearing this Sathwik was in utter disbelief. It was shocking news to digest because just the previous day he had a long lively chat with his parents. His manager was very understanding and permitted him to take off to India immediately.

By next morning all my sisters and brothers were in Coimbatore. Luckily by the second day at about 9 pm Dr. Dinakar Rai and his uncle Sri K.S.Hegde came in search of us. Mr. Krishnaraj Rai, (Aishwarya Rai’s father) informed them about the accident. Subhash requested Dr. Dinakar Rai to shift us to a better hospital. They made all arrangements to shift us to PSG Hospital where Dr. Dinakar Rai was the chief orthopedic surgeon and by evening we were shifted to PSG hospital, which was a renowned hospital. Looking back, I think we were destined to survive though no one imagined at that time that we would pull through. It was the wish of the Almighty.

Because of the head injury my husband was in a coma for four days. Doctors were planning on doing a head surgery before operating him for his other injuries. But Subhash was not prepared for this till Sathwik’s arrival. Luckily on the fourth day he gained consciousness and faintly recognized a few people and started asking for me. They had to pull his bed near my bed to show him that I am alive. Both the children said that was a very touching moment. Only tears spoke.

Sathwik reached Coimbatore on the fourth day. Though he was calling every now and then he had no idea of the exact condition till he landed in India. He was prepared for the worst. Subhash was much tensed to face him. When he brought Sathwik to us he just uttered, ‘‘This is because of me, I should have died.’’ Hearing this I started crying. I told him in a weak voice, ‘‘Its better that we are injured. If something had happened to you or Appu (grandson) how could we ever have faced it? We are old. It’s alright if something happens to us. Please don’t say that. God is kind enough to save you and your son.’’
All our relatives had come to see us thinking that we were living our last days. After my husband came out of the concussion he was operated and his thigh and arm fractures were set with steel plates and bolts. But his behavior was very unpredictable because of his head injury. He was angry, depressed and violent at times. He would try to get out of his bed. It was very difficult to control him when he was awake.

Next day I was operated to set my hips with steel plates. There was no fix for my fractured pelvic bone and broken ribs. They had to heal with time and proper care. I could not move even an inch on the bed. There were tubes all over me, one for passing urine, one for draining the fluid collecting around my lungs because of pneumonia, one for injecting glucose and there was an oxygen mask for my asthma. My legs were like wooden logs, heavy and swollen. I was suffering from acute pain but I tried my best not to show it. That is my nature. Sometimes tears rolled off my eyes when I could not bear the pain. The doctor had expressed doubts about my walking. My sisters were very upset and I believe they even prayed that if I can not walk it is better I donot survive. They could not imagine me in an immobile state for the rest of my life because I was a very active person.

My husband was shifted to the ward from the ICU a few days after his operation. His health condition was better except for his mood swings. I was kept in the ICU for some more days because my left lung was failing. It had almost stopped functioning. Breathing was difficult. Lying down straight all day like a corpse was very depressing. Mentally I was loosing hope and I was sinking. I wanted to die instead of suffering like this. Seeing my condition, doctors shifted me to the ward so that I could be among my people.

We were kept in two separate rooms and I was unaware of my husband’s mood swings for many days. Later my children told me about it. Sometimes he was not able to recognize even his children. He would get angry with everybody. All the time two of our close relatives took turns and stayed with us. That is the advantage of a big family. We may not see each other regularly when everything is fine. But during times of trouble all lend hands. Family support is the essence of our culture.

Every morning x-rays of my lungs were taken to check for any improvement. I was put on a special cot with many hooks hanging from top so that I could pull my upper body with the help of my hands while the x-rays were being taken. My sister was finding it difficult to lift my swollen legs all by herself. Two people were needed to lift my legs while giving me the bedpan. When my husband could sit on a wheel chair, he was brought to my room. But we both were blank. It was the first time we were seeing each other eye to eye after several days. We could not speak and we both broke down seeing each others miserable condition.

We were in PSG hospital for over a month. My sister Sudha was with me throughout. My lungs showed some improvement before we left for our home in Bangalore. Before leaving my husband could sit up with the help of the physiotherapists. But I could not even turn on the bed without help.

Shifting us to Bangalore by plane was another ordeal. Heavy doses of pain killers were given to us so that we could bear the pain. We were lifted along with the bed sheets into the plane and on to our seats. It was an hour’s journey but an extremely difficult one. My uncle, Dr K.S Shekar, Chairman of Bangalore Hospital, along with Dr, Hemichandra Shetty, orthopedic Surgeon, came to the airport with an ambulance. We were brought to Bangalore Hospital as two helpless suffering bodies.

In Bangalore Hospital, we underwent a lot of physiotherapy. Our other health conditions had improved. Except for regular medications there was no other treatment. But the trauma of the accident had a toll on my husband more than me. He went into depression. We were in Bangalore Hospital for fifteen days. At that time my husband and I were in the same room and I witnessed my husband’s mood swings for the first time and cried death would have been better. Thinking of those days is still a nightmare.

We had left our house on 15th July and had planned on returning on 17th July. Life was absolutely normal and we were a couple lot of people admired because of how socially active we were even after retirement. Life had changed so rapidly. We were brought back to our house after 45 days like two useless bodies fully dependent on others. Two nurses were appointed to look after us. Everybody was happy that we survived. But I was questioning God – Why this kind of life? What have we done for such a big punishment? I was longing for death. Both our children were struggling hard to make us comfortable. They wanted us to live.

We were confined to our beds.The days were longer. The ordeal seemed unending. Our children were with us lending all the mental and physical support. Subhash could not return to his job in the Gulf in time and he lost his job. He had to stay back to look after us. Sathwik stayed back for some more time and was unwilling to leave us in that state. He was trying to induce confidence in us. Our grandson Siddarth was in Cochin with his other grand parents. Subhash brought him back to us. The child’s presence, his plays and laughter infused some life into the house.

A Physiotherapist came home daily and made us do some exercises. When I was finally able to turn to the other side on my own, I was very happy. But walking was still a distant dream for me. My husband could go to the toilet with the help of the nurse. But his depressive moods caused anxiety for everyone. Two and half months passed without any hope for future. I was also feeling depressed. Slowly I was able to sit up on the bed. Subhash bought a laptop and persuaded me to resume my writing. But I was blank. Nothing was coming to my mind except the pain we have undergone and were still undergoing. My confidence had been shattered.

Seeing our children struggling, one day I realized, ‘God has saved us from such a bad accident. It is our second life. I must come out of this trauma. I must get back my confidence and smile. I must stand up and start walking. I must help my husband to come out of his depression.’ This feeling became stronger and stronger and mentally I developed a positive desire to stand up and walk. About fifteen days after taking this decision I stood up with some support and started learning to take small steps just like a small child learning to walk for the first time. I experienced a strange sense of jubilation inside me. Yes, I can walk! It was a great experience- learning to walk at the age of sixty! Gradually I could sit for 15-20 minutes every day. Then Sathwik kept a canvas, some brushes and paints in front of me and started persuading me to start painting. Painting had been my passion before the accident. But at that time I refused to paint because of the pain I was experiencing in my left leg and the difficulty I was having in sitting up. I was not able to concentrate. But I knew I needed some form of outlet to forget everything and come out of the trauma completely. I could not sit idle all day and wallow in my pain. Luckily my hands were not hurt. I could use them freely. God is never that cruel I thought. Sathwik’s employers were very considerate and allowed him to work from home so that he could stay with us nearly for three months. When Sathwik left for the US we had just learnt how to walk a few steps without tripping. He left with a heavy heart.

Two months before the accident I met artist Nimi Ravindranath in Bangalore Club where she had started offering painting classes. I joined her classes. But I never thought I will pursue it or I will do achieve some success with paintings at this late stage of my life. I was the eldest student and though the teacher was young we shared a very good rapport. I was her favorite student. From her I learnt the techniques of fabric painting, glass painting and oil painting. In two months I made three paintings. Then this accident put a full break to all my activities. At the time of the accident I was the president of Karnataka Women Writers Association and I was very active in the literary field. I was also involved with a few social service organizations.

After 6 months I was out of the wheel chair and could go to the bathroom on my own. That was the biggest relief. We were walking with walking sticks inside the house. With the support of the railings we could climb the steps. Then my teacher friend, Nimi persuaded me to attend her painting classes again and start painting. I was reluctant. But she was persistent. Someone had to take me there. I could not drive around like before. Subhash hired a driver. With a walking stick in my hand I started going to the classes. That was the turning point. I immersed myself in colors. Colors of confidence started spreading inside me. I forgot everything even the pain. I came out of the trauma of the accident completely. I got back my confidence. I painted and painted. Nimi was encouraging me. I really got immense mental peace. My husband could not come out of the trauma like me. His head injury had a tremendous impact on him. He had lost interest in everything. He was unwilling to even write which he had been so passionate about.

For the next two years I spent my time with paints and brushes. Our house was full of paintings. Seeing my work my children and my teacher persuaded me to have an exhibition. I never ever dreamt that one day I will have a painting exhibition of my own. I had only started painting seriously at the age of sixty to over come the trauma and depression caused by the accident. Sathwik had put images of my paintings on two websites. I was getting a lot of appreciation and comments from art lovers all over the world. It encouraged me and I decided to have an exhibition. I wanted to tell the world that if we make up our mind we can do anything at any age and in any adverse situation. My story is a tiny example of that. I am sure there are many who have passed through tougher situations. They might not have told the world their story. But I want to tell people that there is a silver lining behind every dark cloud. We have to brighten up our life with that thin light. My painting exhibition was a success and it is the greatest success in my life. It was possible only because of my children and my teacher Nimi Ravidranath.

It’s been two years and seven months now since the accident. Though it was extremely traumatic, it taught me the toughest lessons of life. As all of us know life is no bed of roses. It is difficult and there is always uncertainty. It’s a challenge. We have to accept the challenge. We must live for the present moment instead of brooding over the past or dreaming of the future. Life has its own ways. Now I am more confident though physically I cannot do all the things which I was able to before. I had to step into my husband’s shoes and take on a lot of his responsibilities since he was under depression and was still recovering. Life had to go on. God has blessed us with two very good sons who looked after us with great love and patience. Our grand son brought us happiness when we were passing through a very difficult phase of our life. All our relatives and friends prayed for our recovery and stood by us. What else could we have asked for? The accident even brought out an artist in me which would never have happened if everything had been normal.

We have no choices but surely we can choose the way how we can make use of the chances given to us.

K. Usha P. Rai,
345, Samrudha, Laxmi Road, Shanthinagar, Bangalore-560027

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