Growing up, a pre-teen, in a building where most boys were in full teenage bloom, all deep voices, blue jeans, denim jackets, sixteen-year-old-sang-froid seeping from every pore of lithe, languid bodies, I was a painfully shy pubescent, who traversed this testosterone-charged territory with lowered eyes. This habit stayed with me all through teenagedom to adulthood, bolstered probably by the all-girls convent institutions I studied at, during those formative years.
Thereafter, with my stepping out into professional territory, first with teaching and then the corporate arena, those lowered eyes graduated to direct gazes in the company of men, women and children alike. Old habits die hard, so I would look down, but only to ascertain where I was walking, and not because of any male proximity.
One would think, that such caution (unwitting or not) would stand me in good stead, as I negotiated my walks in everyday life. Well, life sometimes, lets you down, literally.
There I was, walking towards a tailor’s shop with my school-going niece, looking up to identify the shop which I was visiting for the first time, had barely registered the name, the window dressing, when I flailed and flopped on the ground in excruciating, consciousness-numbing agony. As I looked at my splayed legs, while waves of darkness threatened to engulf my consciousness, the sight of my left ankle, displaced bones bunched up under loose, hanging skin, spelt of something more sinister than a sprain.
In the next few minutes I was stretched out in an ambulance and then the Emergency Room of a well-known hospital close to the ‘incident’ and close to home (Gratitude Factor #2, will get to #1 in a bit), X-Rayed, and within the hour the Orthopaedics Head was examining the ankle and the X-Rays. As he pronounced ‘this is a case of multiple fractures and dislocation’ I simultaneously urged “Doctor, will you fix a cast and send me home?” And he smiled and said, “I will put a cast, send you upstairs; we will operate on your ankle tomorrow morning. No going home for a week. Bed rest for 2 months.” My neck threatened to snap as I almost yanked my face up and yelped “Two months!?” And the good doctor clarified, “You can be up with a walker and place your weight only on the right leg. Left leg doesn’t rest on the ground for 2 months.” My mind hurtled ahead, and I asked again, in orthopaedic naivete, “when can I start yoga?”, and back came a gentle, “Let’s get you walking first.” Why did I ask about yoga: I had undergone a surgery in April 2017 (a freak incidence) which necessitated abjuring yoga for 3 months, and I had just resumed practice 3 days ago, when the ground greeted me and grounded my mobility.
Not a stranger to hospitalisation, I was a stranger to emergency hospitalisation. An emergency meant unplanned disruption (this is NOT any oxymoron, I assure you!). In the family. In expenses. At work. The family — both immediate and extended — would again (they had already done hospital duty for the same patient 3 months ago) have to mark time (day/night) at the hospital. Schedules had to be reorganised, including business travel. Money had to be made available. Given my earlier surgery, my work had not resumed in full force, and whatever I had on my plate could be delivered a couple of weeks later.
Those two months and more propelled a paradigm shift in consciousness. And a profound appreciation of instinctive and everyday humanity which made my days and nights as normal as peaceful as it could possibly be with a shattered ankle.
I had mentioned Gratitude Factor # 1 without getting into the details, earlier. As narrated by my niece later, I would have probably ended up with an injured skull, along with the ankle, if not for the instinctive gesture by a stranger who saw me flailing and instinctively held my arm and guided me to a sitting posture. I have no memory of this, as at that point I was consumed with PAIN that threatened to engulf my consciousness, and I remember willing my mind to retain control, and not let me black out. Later, on hearing about the stranger’s providential intervention, I sent out a heartfelt Gratitude vibe to that Angel.
Angels were all around me in my days ahead. The surgeon and his team worked on what was a ‘complicated’ diagnosis ( I was on spinal anaesthesia, insomniac, and mindful of everything going on around me) towards an eventually successful surgery. The nursing staff were competent and caring. The food was agreeable. Members of my families — immediate and extended — took turns to be my side by day and by night, adjusting their schedules, to ensure I was never alone. Friends visited with good wishes, and prasad (temple offerings) and prayers. I practised walking (hopping) on one leg with the walker. A week passed by. It was time to recuperate at home.
While home was a few minutes away, the journey from the ambulance to the flat felt like an eternity. The lift was malfunctioning and I had to be carried up three floors on a wheelchair. I am not exactly of ‘light’ weight, whereas the two paramedics/wheelchair handlers were. Or so it appeared. With a prayer on my lips, I let myself and chair be carried up. Stopping to catch their breath on every floor, the magnificent men finally wheeled me into the flat, and I was home. And this chair-carried me was to be repeated a dozen times over in the course of the following two months, as I kept up with my doctor appointments. The personnel were not always the same two men. But each one was redoubtable, and I was deeply Grateful.
At home, the ‘helplessness’ of my condition was underscored by every gesture of help extended by people around me. From independence of body to being waited on hand and foot. (I tried to ensure everything I needed was in my vicinity — medicines, water, laptop, book, newspapers etc. etc. — so that I wouldn’t have to keep calling for help, but I am not omniscient.) From having the maid stay longer in the mornings (to giving me a bath later when I was allowed to have one), after my mother-in-law’s departure to run her errands, my cousin-in-law coming over to be with me till my mother-in-law returned in the afternoon, my husband giving my bone-repair injection every night, making sure I am otherwise comfortable, being the backbone, never allowing dispiritedness to creep in, staying strong, my mother-in-law, the anchor, managing the home and hearth, my niece motivating me and doing a series of leg movements to ensure blood flow is not constricted, to looking at my dead cells on the left foot and deciding to give me a gentle scrubbing till the ‘healthy and alive’ look was back, my brother and his wife visiting me with concoctions from Mamma’s kitchen (till the fall, I would visit her and them every weekend — Mom, with her knee problem could not climb up 3 flights of stairs) and offering prayers in the temple on my behalf, my sister and brother-in-law and nephew, visiting every weekend also with prasad from the temple and more, my sister and her husband in US calling every other day, friends. acquaintances dropping in, calling. I was SO grateful for, first of all, the people around me, and their unconditional and uncomplaining assistance — strong moral, emotional, physical and spiritual support that they proffered without a second thought. This was buttressed by the material support, via the Health Insurance which came through without much delay.
Those were days of 35 pills daily, 5–6 painful bathroom visits, diminished appetite, insomnia; they were also the days when I took to colouring, caught up on my reading, discovered ‘Just Add Magic’ courtesy my niece and more movies and web series on Amazon Prime, met people I hadn’t met for a while; those were the days when two facts took centre-stage — 1/nothing in life can be taken for granted 2/the human condition rests on the bedrock of humanity, of fellow-feeling, of looking out for one another in the smallest of ways upon which the bigger things evolve.
After 2 months, I was pronounced fit to walk. Pain and gratitude coursed through my veins as I gingerly lowered my left foot on the floor and inched forward, holding on to husband, and then the walker. My first instinct was to lift the leg back — as pain shot through my moribund foot, but the good doctor made a pronouncement which was stark in its meaning and needed heeding. He simply said — ‘Only if you walk, will you walk. There is no other way. Use the walker for support, and walk.’ And that’s what I did. After meeting the doctor, I wanted to go the temple. With my husband’s support, I managed to pray and circumambulate very, very, very slowly. I was sensitive to every bit of the ground I stepped on — a pebble, sand, damp patch, a bump , slightly uneven flooring— distinct sensations, that I was never ever conscious about prior to this incident. A fellow devotee glanced at my ankle and told me I must take it very easy, and be super cautious for some time. I took his advice seriously and didn’t venture out for a few days. Walked with the walker through the length of the flat, then the corridor, and then slowly began climbing stairs, holding on to both sides for support, and began walking on the terrace. Not alone — my teenage niece, and occasionally my mother-in-law were my companions, as I slowly and steadily renewed my walking skills.
Another 2 weeks, and it was time to attend the birthday party of the 1 year old son of a good friend. That was the first day I ventured out of home and comfort zones (corridor, terrace), without the walker. It helped that the hotel surfaces were easy to navigate, and I was confident enough to walk to the buffet and fill my plate, and return to my seat. It was just the fillip I needed to lift my spirits up a few notches higher — the occasion, the company, the vibes, the camaraderie, the food, the games, and winning a fun game. Another week, and the Mother of all Festivals (for us Bengalis) — Durga Puja — was upon us. This to me, was a benediction — that I would be able to walk and come before the Goddess and her children, and join my hands in prayer. With the walker, with my dear sister-in-law’s help, and others in the vicinity, I attended Puja (prayers) every day, and sat for the Prasad and Bhog (consecrated food given to devotees, after being offered to the Goddess) and also some evening cultural programmes. Blessed.
Blessed. While my karma was responsible for my fall, my karma, and that of my families’ was also responsible for all-round support — family, staff, friends, acquaintances, clients, vendors, strangers who all stepped in to help — some, self-deprecatingly smiled away their help of opening a door, holding out a hand, giving me a chair to rest my ankle, parking the car somewhere else, as ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘it’s ok’ etc. For me EACH and EVERY gesture and act were imbued with deep significance, as each one of them helped me to move forward, literally and figuratively. Each act validated the largesse of humanity, of being human. Each gesture reminded me of the uncertainty of one’s condition, of the inescapable idiom ‘never take anything for granted’.
And each time, as the recipient of goodness and kindness and consideration, Gratitude bubbled up within.