Nine Hours from Krishna

This is a distant story of my life when I faced death without fear and preparation. It was like any other Sunday morning on January 21, 1996. My wife Margaret and I had a long-lie in bed. The party the night before had lasted into the early morning.By the afternoon all hell had broken loose. I was suddenly hit by celestial pin balls. My body went into spasms like terrestrial tidal waves. They were flu-like symptoms but severe. The profound feeling of illness, muscle pain and headache were hitting me like a ton of bricks. The alternating rigor and sweating were in overdrive. Margaret thought I had a hang-over and that I should try the ‘hair of the dog’ remedy for my intense nausea. A swollen right big toe was so painful that I could only hop to the bathroom on my left foot.

The gruesome symptoms went on tbr five days and nights. I was utterly jaded. Only my agonised cries of ‘Oh mother’ attached to every breath brought faint relief to my tortured body. The insomnia nudged me towards insanity.

On the fifth day of my incarceration it dawned on me that I had more than influenza:- perhaps a viral pneumonia as I began to cough up mucous sputum. I became so effete that I had difficulty in stringing together a sentence, let alone holding a conversation. Though I was insured for private hospitals I opted for a General hospital where one gets urgent investigations. The morning was equally depressing. The sky was spluttering huge flakes of snow, which gathered one foot deep on the ground. A mend kindly offered me a lift to the hospital in his four-wheel drive car.

Clinical examinations were negative. However, the x-ray of my chest showed ‘atypical’ pneumonia in my right lung. Blood tests indicated a non-specific infection and mild disturbance of my liver and kidneys. ECG tracings were normal. I was started on antibiotics and was advised to stay for 24 hours.

By the evening I became unsettled amidst the din and bustle of an acute ward. Besides, I had to hobble the whole length of the ward to use the lavatory. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an old lady in the next bed with her energetic snoring. I called a taxi and left for home just after midnight. I slept like a log for the first time.

A telephone call next morning from the Consultant in the hospital informed me that my blood culture was sterile. The viral studies would take six weeks. I was much heartened. But after three days I relapsed despite the antibiotics. The intense muscular pain returned with a vengeance. My mind began to wander. Possibly I had picked up an unknown virus from my recent holiday with my wife on the tropical island of Lakshadeep. Perhaps the sap of my life was seeping away.

I was readmitted the next day. The radiographic patch was resolving and the blood tests were returning to normal while my physical condition was deteriorating – an ironic situation. My life seemed to be hanging on by the skin of my teeth. I was doleful by the realisation that I had a mysterious disease with no angel to take the scales from my eyes. I had an indefatigable curiosity about my ailment and certainly an urge to live.

The next day I had difficulty in passing urine and by the evening I could not pass any at all. Soon after midnight my heart suddenly began to pound my chest. I rang for a nurse. As the doctor on call did not come immediately I lay in the darkened room hoping that my beats . would become normal on their own or I would drop dead, rather than ringing the bell for the nurse again. I calmly listened to my heart beating the funeral march to the cremation ground.

The muffled and idle beats of my heart after 45 minutes signalled that I was out of the woods.

I eased myself out of bed and staggered out to the toilet for the last waltz with my hugely inflated bladder. But I failed. On the way back I accosted a nurse to fjnd me a doctor, who came and catheterised my bladder at about 2 am.

The next morning I left by a private ambulance for a private hospital where I instantly felt rejuvenated with a fragile flicker of hope. I was under the care of my close doctor mends.

My catheter was removed but was re-introduced in the evening triggering of a severe bladder spasm. Despite the antibiotics my condition worsened fast. I felt like death warmed up. I had to summon nurse’s help even to raise myself off the bed. Taking a few steps to the attached” bathroom was like crossing the Sahara desert.

My metal-shuttered brain reacted in baffled wonder at the surreal riots of symptoms that did not gel together to print out a diagqbsis. The impasse brought soul-destroying thoughts with psychedelic images of something distant and ethereal. I wondered if I was having the last tango, with my life.

The catheter was removed a few days later. The bladder began to function. The pain dissipated, some appetite and vigour returned. All the tests were normal. I was on the mend except that I had intermittent pain in my eyes. I was discharged home one week later. I was so decrepit that climbing a flight of stairs to the bedroom was like scaling Mt Everest. By the evening of the third day the usual illumination in our lounge appeared much dimmer. I felt ghastly again. Next morning my wife took me to see an ophthalmologist who was at a loss for diagnosis. I saw my mend physician the following afternoon. He remained baffled. I asked him to refer me to a top London hospital. He did over the phone.

Margaret took me to London the next morning by train. At the Hospital for Tropical Medicine I saw the Queen’s ophthalmologist at 2 pm. I could not see anything with my left eye and the right eye could see only in the outer half. The Surgeon kindly took me and Margaret in his own car and admitted me to the Eye Ward of St Thomas’ Hospital. It was 4 pm. Clinical examination and several tests were carried out. Five Specialists in different parts of the eye put their heads together. Having come to a probable diagnosis I was infused with 19 of steroids at 11 pm. I was dog tired and fell sleep. At the crack of dawn a nurse woke me up with 80mgs of prednisolone tablets. I opened my eyes, first the left and then the right. There was some improvement. It was a tremendous relief.

Further investigations under different specialists were all negative. There was still no definite diagnosis though I was treated for vascular opthalmopathy as an immune reaction to an unknown respiratory pathology that knocked off all the systems in my body.

During the next few days I remained gutted and felt ready for the knacker’s yard. Sheer lack of stamina exacted a heavy emotional price. Although I was not frenzied I must have inwardly feared my illness without a diagnosis. I was looking death in the face. I began tempering enthusiasm with realism. Nonetheless, I did not let my fear descend into the bottomless mire. I did not shed a tear at the uncertainties of my life. I took one day at a time. My heart suffered but my mind soared and hovered beyond reality. Amidst the encircling gloom of my blindness I had only sadness lest I will never be able to see Manipur and my dear and near ones again. As I did not find comfortable with the existence of God prayer was thought a waste of time.

On the 5th morning I woke up feeling energetic and with my sight much improved. It harked back to the delightful memories of my childhood. It began to dawn on me that I had been oilly nine hours away from total blindness and perhaps death. May be, my dangerous liaison with destiny was at an end. By the 13th March my binocular vision was appreciably good and I was discharged on 14 March, still with no diagnosis, prognosis, and an uncertain future. Well! This is life.

The writer is based in the UK e-Mail:jrnsingh@onetel.comWebsite: