When life kicks you in the back

“So, how many months?”

My spine arched backwards, my left hand supporting my lower back, I inched forward and into the physiotherapist’s clinic, wincing with every slow step.

“Oh no! I’m not pregnant!” I replied.

A little embarrassed, the doctor apologised and asked me about my backache.

Four-five years?! Why on earth did you not get yourself treated all this time?” Her response was a mixture of surprise, sympathy and anger.

‘Coz I didn’t have the time

I had consulted a GP, an internal medicine specialist, an orthopaedic, a super specialist spine surgeon, an Ayurvedic physician, a Kalari gurukkal, no less than four homeopathic advisors (two of whom are family members) and got three x-rays, an MRI and countless blood tests spanning over six years.

The Ortho told me to visit a physio, the spine surgeon prescribed some exercises and the ayurvedic doctor advised a massage. My Kalari guru diagnosed my problem by just looking at my foot many years ago and scolded me several times for not getting the treatment done at his clinic.

But I followed none of their recommendations. Why? Because I had no time. It was as simple, common and pathetic an excuse as there could be. Every time my lower back protested against me, I took a day or two off from work. And things would be back to normal – or as close to normal as they could be. 

And even now, I probably wouldn’t have been sitting in front of the physio, had another consulting doctor not referred me to her when I limped, in extra slow-motion, on top of the examination table.

“Well, atleast you’re here now. It’ll take time. And a lot of effort on your part if you want to lead a normal life. But it is not impossible,” said my doctor, calming down, having overcome her initial surprise.

The able-bodied cripple

My muscles had lost all strength. There was inflammation in my joints. My nerve was getting compressed. The painkillers were of no use, and added to my problems with their side effects. I could not sit, stand, walk or lie down without excruciating pain.

Funny how I always complained of not having time. Two weeks was what my Kalari Guru had asked of me. And now, I had taken three full weeks of medical leave from work. It appeared that my body was teaching me a lesson.

During those three weeks that I was at the rock bottom of my life – physically, mentally, and emotionally – my support system stood rock solid.

I stayed with my convalescing parents – my mother was still recovering from chikungunya and my father had been afflicted by dengue less than a month before. My husband managed our household single-handedly despite his insane work schedule. Setting aside their own inconveniences, they supported me unflinchingly.

The startup I work in, allowed me the leave of absence. Any other company would have let go of me like a depreciated machine (humans are, after all just another replaceable resource).

I took a hard look at what got me in this place. I looked for something to put the blame on. But deep within, I knew I was the culprit. And something had to change. I needed to change.

My boss had been telling me to relax and loosen up for months. And even as I complained of my pain, he said “it’s largely psycho somatic you know.” It hurt. It hurt a lot. I knew my pain wasn’t made up in my head. But this statement struck deep within – not because it was a false accusation but because it was partly true. As I browsed through the Materia Medica, I found that frustration and anger were also likely to cause back aches.

This breakdown was a warning. And if I didn’t mend my was, I won’t get another chance. The workaholic, always-available, Kasturika had to go.

I told myself: If it isn’t going to kill anyone, then work, no matter how exciting or pressing, can wait. My life and health are now my priority.

I decided to give up, albeit temporarily, that which I loved most – writing. Health first, I told myself. My bestselling book will come. Have patience.

It has been three months since my medical crisis, and I am in many ways a different individual than the one who crawled in to the doctor’s clinic tenderly. I have followed my physio’s advice as closely as I can – my muscles are slowly regaining their strength. But these are just baby steps. My joint still flares up every now and then when I strain myself too much, or skip a day’s exercise. My family and company have continued to support me in this duration and if it weren’t for them, I’d be in shambles.

I now have hope that I may be able to practice Kalari again. My physio says it’s unlikely. But the hope is there. In this roller-coaster of a journey, the worst days are definitely over.

Keep chipping away, one day at a time, my muscles tellme; take good care of yourself, the ride is just beginning.


Injecting sunshine?

Three hectic months. Two people*. One project.**

We stumbled, fumbled, messed up, and from being way behind schedule, made a last minute dash towards the finish line. The hangover from our project took a month to get over, and our hard work paid off in the form of a third place award for 2D animation.

Things were beginning to return to normal – I was catching up on my assignments, and my team member picked up a job.

But that’s when it all really started.

A shooting pain went down the left side of my lower back. It must have been a sprain I picked up while running to catch a bus last winter. It had troubled me a lot at the time, but had disappeared in the summer. I went out for a walk, and the pain subsided. I began walking regularly, expecting that it would heal over time.

Then, on a cold December morning, the pain increased exponentially. I mustered up courage to take a walk with my mother. Holding on to her shoulder, I limped at a snail’s pace. Ten minutes later, she said, “That’s enough – we’re going to the doctor”.

Four days, three blood tests, two X-rays, one diagnosis. Blood sugar – normal. Blood count – normal. Bones, muscles – no issues detected. Vitamin D3 – negligible!

The doctor wasn’t amused. Heavy dosage of vitamin supplements daily, extra heavy dosage weekly, and rather painful injections monthly. And of course, a long lecture on the importance of Vitamin D3, and sunshine. Once word got out, in came a flurry of forwarded emails, and anecdotes about lots of people suffering from the same condition.

‘Oh! These days everyone seems to having that. You must spend time outdoors, you know.’

‘My colleague fell down and broke her bone’

‘I wanted to change my work timings so that I could spend some time outdoors. My boss wasn’t happy. He told me to go get injections. His wife is doing that’

The television and newspaper joined the party, and began informing me about it too.

I learnt a lot… The deficiency of this vitamin is apparently linked to obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. It also inhibits the body from fixing itself. Perhaps that was the reason I never recovered properly from injuries. Although Vitamin supplements are available, the one produced naturally is the best.

Sunlight is required to assimilate Vitamin D. And so it is dubbed the ‘sunshine vitamin’. As it turns out, the phrase has a figurative meaning too. Being exposed to the sun also affects our mood.

Living in the tropical region, I always wondered why sunny days were ‘happy’, and the month of May was considered ‘merry’. Personally, I prefer a cloudy day. But science has confirmed that sunshine makes us happy, and a lack of it, gloomy and irritable.

I began spending more time in the local park. One day, after walking, I stepped off the jogging track, and took off my shoes. The damp grass tickled my feet, and invited me to stay a little longer. I obliged by lingering on… I lay down on my back and looked up at the sky, and I wondered, when was the last time I felt this good…

Our lifestyles have changed drastically over the past few decades. And it is leading to an increasingly large number of problems. We live in an artificially created environment, barely move our limbs, and are married to gadgets.

We are not computers, we were created by nature. That is how we have survived for so long on this planet, and no matter how far science progresses, we cannot create a sun, and definitely cannot inject sunshine.

* * *

* The People : my partner-in-crime – together, we’re guilty of creating a monster! He’s recently started blogging.

**The Project : I’d like to think the project was responsible for several of my problems, but it probably just aggravated something that has existed for years. I’ll explain all about it in the next post!

Related Post – Interview In A Dungeon


Interview In A Dungeon

A few weeks back, I went for an interview conducted by a super secret unidentified company. Since I am still studying, and will probably want a job soon, I shall refrain from mentioning the name or location of the company.

The interview was short – just a few questions like why I would want to work there, and whether I knew what kind of work was being done. The rest of the day was spent in giving the ‘test’ – and it was really enjoyable. I was given a storyboard, character and background graphics and voice over. I had to string them together into an animated clip.

The office was located in an obscure location – locating it was an adventure by itself. And when I entered it, I took an instant dislike to it. Although it looked large from the outside, it seemed to lack space inside. The windows were covered with black paper and there were millions of lights on the roof. This got me thinking, why were the windows constructed at all, if they had to be covered up. And what’s the point of covering up natural light, and installing so many artificial lights?

But despite my initial dislike, I loved the work that they did. As I mentioned earlier, I actually enjoyed what was supposed to be a test!

I requested a lunch break, and was readily given one. There was a small grocery shop just next to the office and I enquired whether there was any place where I could get a decent meal. The lady said, well, if you have some packed lunch, you can eat with me… otherwise, there isn’t any such place around here. I accepted her offer of company and bought whatever she could offer by way of food. I casually enquired about the company and her opinion of the people who worked there. Satisfied with her response, and the ‘meal’ of juice and cake, I resumed my test.

My interviewer shared her concerns regarding the fact that I lived far off and the working hours were not fixed. But I had a much bigger concern.

Working for long hours in an environment that provides absolutely no natural light is disastrous. After personally experiencing consequences of working in such an environment for just three months, I can testify that the employees’ health will deteriorate without them even knowing about it.*

I understand that this is the case practically everywhere on the planet, and for some technical reasons, shutting out real light and living in an artificially created environment is justified. But an organisation should allow (or maybe force) employees to leave the office premises and enjoy some fresh air and good old sunshine.

If the lovely lady and gentleman who interviewed me are reading this, I hope you will still welcome me to your office, should I come begging for a job (I love the work!). But I also hope you will consider that the poor work environment is perhaps the reason why you have such a high turnover in the first place.

Healthy employees = Happy employees = Low turnover + Better Output

* * *

* I will leave the explanation for another post!