“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was in my beginning days in Lahore, Pakistan, where I was ready to step into the practical field, just after graduating from SZABIST (a top class business school), when one Friday evening in January, I suddenly started feeling a hint of tingling in my legs. We have been purposelessly roaming in the historical Anarkali Bazar that evening and when I started feeling uneasy I announced the cold weather was affecting me and with that we left. I came home that night thinking it might have been because of the cold weather or the lengthy cricket matches that we have been playing during the last few days. The next morning, on Saturday, I woke up and while going upstairs to the roof to feel the fresh morning air, suddenly collapsed in the stairs but stood up and made it to the roof. While standing there I suddenly collapsed again but stood up easy. I felt nothing freaky about that and came down after spending some time on the roof top.
Soon after breakfast I noticed my feet felt numb and were tingling, my hands were also beginning to feel the same way. By afternoon I was feeling considerable weakness in my left leg, and while moving around I started using the wall as a support for my left leg. My legs, particularly my thigh muscles of the left leg, were weak, which made walking difficult.
I kept moving around with the same numbness and tingling. By evening, while trying to zip up my jeans, I struggled and had to ask for help. Still there were no alarms ringing in my head and I went to bed, feeling nothing serious about what was happening. My legs ached. Nothing serious, I thought, this is just stiff muscles as I have played cricket after so many days. I was used to such pain which I had experienced many times, especially when we used to trek into the high mountains back home in Chitral and after 10 hours of trekking when back home we used to spend at least a day relaxing and the pain would be gone completely in two days or so. I had also experienced such pain after intense leg exercises in a body building gym. But the difference this time was that I had collapsed but then I remembered a day almost a year ago when I had collapsed in the same manner while standing in some religious ritual. Forget it.
I am not sure for how long I slept and if I had a good sleep or not, but early in the morning when I woke up, I literally freaked out. I couldn’t get up, nor could I move sideways. My reflexes were off, I couldn’t move my limbs, couldn’t even properly breath and my eyesight blurred when I tried to move my head. That Sunday I was feeling worse – my deterioration was so rapid I noticed a substantial decrease of strength after those few hours of sleep and I was helped by two people to get up and wash my face. At the breakfast table, I nervously tried to pick up a piece of bread but couldn’t because I couldn't feel where my fingers were. Even worse, when I was fed with bread and butter, I couldn’t chew it. The bread in my mouth was too hard for me to chew. Later in the day when I tried to eat banana, it felt like there was not enough strength in my jaws to chew even that.
My family contacted a number of doctors whom we knew and all of them said it could most probably be ‘pulled muscles’ but all of them advised we must see a doctor. By noon, we decided to go to a local hospital with a substantial neurology department. That night we stayed in the hospital and there were several medical tests taken. And that night in the general ward was perhaps one of the worst nights of my life where I hardly had any sleep and could see a freaking decrease in strength- by morning all my limbs had ceased moving and I was having serious problem in talking as well.
Monday morning, the doctor arrived late in the day, accompanied by a number of his students. After checking the test results the doctor came to the conclusion I might have Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) – an autoimmune disease that causes rapid paralysis – or possibly multiple sclerosis. The examining doctor and his students finally agreed it was GBS. The doctor was furious at the staff saying they should have realized this was a very serious case and should have told him earlier about it, because when I was asked to count I could only count up to three. That meant the diaphragm was deteriorating very fast and I could stop breathing any moment. I was whisked out of the examination room before they finished filling out my paperwork – at this point my family and I realized how seriously everyone was treating my case and almost all my relatives who accompanied me, I was later told, had burst into tears. Oxygen mask was kept ready and a struggle to manage a room in the ICU started from there. Realizing how dangerous the situation could be, we asked about the possibility of getting on a plane and move to better hospital in Karachi. The doctor said he'd seen people with GBS walking easily one day and on a respirator the next and here I was; ready to be put on a respirator. It didn't seem like the right time to take a 2-hour journey.
Anyways, it took them an hour to finally arrange a bed in the ICU, courtesy several phone calls from a number of government and army officers whom my family and relatives had managed to contact. That meant that I was going to need no more tests and they began treating me. I was sent to the ICU because people with GBS have the potential to deteriorate very rapidly and in my case it was quite a rapid deterioration. In the ICU they hooked me up to several monitors and inserted ports in my arm.
It was when the storm finally abated, peace in the mind restored, and life back to a zone where there was some sort of comfort that I had time to consciously reflect on the prevailing situation in my life. The last few days had changed everything, and inside I struggled to accept the harsh reality, I struggled to absorb the fact that it was not a nightmare, that my real physical being has become stunningly static. Frozen. That is who we are, I thought then, absolutely helpless in the face of adversity. When you do not have the strength and authority to even blink your eye you understand it all. Because that is literally how it was, I couldn’t even blink my eyes. That is when I was convinced that the true miracle is not to fly but to walk, eat and relax whenever you feel like. But we take all that for granted, don’t we? You know what the greatest miracle is when you are, deep in your heart praying for nothing but only one functioning limb, a left hand that, to mention the least, helps you save your dignity. When you are helpless to the extent that a mosquito biting at your face does it at will and you can only watch it feeling the mental pain increase a hundred times, when the muscular pain is such that you could sleep for only three hours daily, consecutively for 120 days and when you are unable to eat, drink, blink your eye, whistle, and smile or even chew or swallow the food; you understand how insignificant we human beings are, how vulnerable subject to the nature’s fury. I remember a day when I was sitting in the front seat of a car, with the seat belt making sure I do not fall over and a person behind me making sure my head was kept still against the seat because there was no control in my neck and the head may down and hurt it. The car stopped and a person greeting us from my side of the car extended his hand to shake hands with me, while I just kept looking at him, seemingly unperturbed, with my head still against the seat. The situation was handled courtesy the people sitting with me who shook hands with the person one after another and greeted him but said nothing beyond that before we left the scene and moved forward.
I was witnessing a heartbreaking difference in a matter of days. Imagine a day when you are playing game after game of cricket, all day long, running after the ball, hitting sixes, jumping over walls and ascending to the roof to fetch the ball. And just 36 hours after that day, you wake up from sleep, unable to move your limbs or even turn around lying on the bed. Even more to it, imagine a day sitting in front of an interview panel, being offered a job but leaving the scene without accepting it- and only a week later you find yourself unable to move and struggling to talk, with your body crippled with a viral attack. Imagine a day when you are being presented with a gold medal in front of a grand audience and just a month after that being taken to the washroom, helped by three people as less than three are unable to hold your body properly. Just forty five days ago I was with my family in Abbottabad and was awarded my Masters degree the same week and now, here I was remembering all those moments over and over again, thinking that was a sweet dream or maybe this was a nightmare that I was going through.
The muscular pain was unbearable but it was the mental pain that had the better of me, leaving me stunned with surprise, uncertainty and almost to the extent of a breakdown of the thinking process. The pills, red, blue and green could finally alleviate the muscular pain momentarily; the mental state was to take some time before it could get any better.
There are several moments that I could quote from the 5 months that I spent on bed, completely motionless and the 17 months that it took me to finally be able to walk again, on my own. There are several people, including my father, my sisters, my brothers, my friends and other relatives whom I owe a lot and I sincerely believe without them I may not have survived this.
I had a plan about studies and making a career, which went along successfully and consistently until this incident happened. So, I had my plans revised and moving forward I got a job and got an experience of more than four years. But reflecting upon my experiences and thinking about the situation prevalent in our world, the miserable condition of the millions of people, the brain drain from the underdeveloped countries and the fact that I have myself been away from my home for 14 years - I started realizing I needed to step up for myself, my community and my country.
Now I sincerely believe that there is more to life than just finding a job, getting married and raising kids. The best possible way to help raise the living standard of a community or a nation is by providing them with opportunities and building their capacity to fully capitalize on those.
I have already started working towards this. In 2010, with the help of some friends, I established a youth forum, Ispru Youth Forum Chitral (IYFC). The IYFC brings together students from over 45 leading universities of Pakistan and from outside of Pakistan, who work to create opportunities for the youth through awareness activities. The youth forum has so far carried out more than 35 major activities in Chitral.
Submitted by Anonymous
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