December 11, 2010

UNFIT TO FIT…the story of Project Sadhana 2010

This post is dedicated to Rachna, who taught me to eat, breathe and walk.

The year 2009, as is evident in this blog, was one where I took on the project to develop and nurture the garden in my apartment complex. My project during 2010 was myself, and this is the story of my journey to wellness. I usually don't post personal issues in this blog. However, I write about this experience because it could help people who have similar problems and are at a loss how to deal with them.

The background: I always believed that to lead a comfortable and happy life, a person has to have three kinds of intelligence: academic, emotional and medical. I used to feel that I have academic and emotional intelligence, but was not savvy when it came to dealing with health issues. The reason I think, is that I belong to an in-between generation. My parents live the natural way…they never got periodic tests done, and only went to doctors when something went wrong…and it rarely did! The generation next to mine seems to be very smart about keeping a tab on their health; some even go and get tests done just because corporate hospitals offer discounts! But me...even though I wanted to be savvy too, I was terrified of doctors and medical tests, and every time I had to go for a diagnostic test, I tied myself in knots.

I have not been as fortunate as my parents. I have been fighting ill health ever since I was 17. Doctors have been walking alongside me through my life, and though they made me go through the trauma of all kinds of diagnostic tests during my teens and early twenties, they finally helped me overcome my endocrinal/gynaec problem. I am eternally grateful to the medical technology that enabled me to lead the kind of life I wanted to lead.

Around the time I got over these health problems, had children and a comfortable career going, and thought I could now travel, trek, climb rocks, learn to hang-glide (something I always wanted to do), I realized that something else had begun bothering me. My legs had begun giving me problems. The leg pain was periodical, so I attributed it to my hormones. My feet and ankles began to swell up and were very painful. I went to my GP and he treated me, but it never got completely cured. It took me a few years to realize that it was something that had come to stay.

2006 to 2009: My condition worsened. The leg pain was becoming unbearable. I had some good days but many bad ones. I even began to have pain in my feet…no footwear seemed right. I went from doctor to doctor, hoping that someone would help me. Each of them made me go through tests and gave different names to my problem. I went through a variety of treatments. Nothing worked. Over these 3 years:

- Doctor 1 (Allopath) gave me 4 pills for 5 days. Nothing happened.

- Doctor 2 (Homeopath) made me go through general blood tests to see if I had any cholesterol/sugar problems. Everything was normal. He then made a wrong diagnosis and gave me the wrong treatment.

- Doctor 3: (Homeopath) gave me the wrong treatment.

- Doctor 4: (Allopath) gave me 4 pills for 7 days and told me a lot of people had these pains and I just needed to go for regular walks (which I already did)…

During 2008, I had a minor fall and since then I started having a pain in the right knee. This added to my woes. I went to Doctor 5.

- Doctor 5: (Orthopedic) looked at the x-ray, and said nothing was wrong with the knee, and that he was not the right doc for me.

My suffering only increased. I began to find that my flexibility was slowly becoming restricted. First I discovered that I could no longer run, hop or skip (I needed to do all these with the children I worked with once a week). That’s okay, I told myself ruefully…maybe it’s the age I am at. Then I discovered that I was not too comfortable at sit-down lunches; my feet felt stiff and ached a lot. I had pain when I stood for a long time (as in the kitchen) and even when I sat working for long hours.

I went about my life bearing the pain. However, me being me, I pursued all my interests including trekking and going for rock walks with Hyderabad’s Society to Save Rocks. I travelled, I went to school every week to take the gardening class…

I was not ill.

But I slowly realized that I was not well, either.

Jan-June 2010: In January, I went to Pune for the Sawai Gandharva music festival. On the second day, I had fever for half a day and after that began the most terrible knee pain I ever experienced. I found that I could barely walk. I managed to attend the 4-day festival and returned to Hyderabad. I lost no time and went to two more doctors. My GP said some fevers come with leg pain and treated me for it. No relief.

- Doctor 6: (Homeopath) made me go through yet another test and gave my problem yet another label.

- Doctor 7: (another Orthopedic), made me go for a ride on an MRI machine, and declared that that there was a tear in my meniscus; that I had osteo-arthritis; and that I would (typically) have to undergo knee replacement 10 years from now.

I was totally disheartened. The supplements the Orthopaedic gave me did nothing to my pain. I went to him every month for 3 months, and he changed the medication each month. No change in pain levels, or in the level of my depression. He told me I needed to lose weight. “How?” I had asked him “Should I go to a gym, or sign up with take up a weight-reduction package somewhere?”. Having always been overweight, losing weight was something I could never do in my life. The doc said I should just go for walks. How could I lose weight just by walking? I knew it was not possible.

I seemed to have hit a wall. Me? Badminton player Sadhana? Osteo-arthritis? I was finding it difficult to walk, even? What added to my gloom was that in this day and age, I was not getting help. I was totally in the pits.

***

July 2010: Hope: That was when I read an article in Outlook magazine, about a nutrition therapist—Rachna Chhachhi—based in Delhi. She offered online consultancy. I looked at her website. The thing that convinced me most was her own story---about how, at 38, she had had rheumatoid arthritis, and how she battled with it, and won. I read every word on her website. Then I wrote to her.

Rachna’s prompt, detailed reply made me cry. Here was one person who understood what I was going through. She seemed to look at my problems holistically, and said she could help me. Her charges seemed steep; I had never spent that kind of money on myself. I discussed with my family and decided to invest in my health.

It turned out to be the best decision I had taken in 10 years. Rachna first made me go through blood tests, asked me to write a complete history of my problems, asked for my height-weight and other measurements I was not particularly proud of.

She then sent me my first diet chart.

‘Impossible’ was the word that came to my mind when I saw that chart, which also included nutrition supplements. I did not think I could follow that diet…but I decided to try. Towards evening of the the first day, I told my family I couldn’t do this. “To hell with the nutrition therapist”, I told them. “I want to eat and live normally”.

Rachna chased me. She called many times. She wrote emails. I did not want to talk to her. I told her to give me time to think about this. After 2 days I spoke to her. I said I would try. I knew that I did not have many choices.

It was a tough 2 months ahead of me. I started on Rachna’s diet in all earnest. We chatted on Yahoo almost every day. She was intelligent, knowledgeable, patient and inspiring. I liked her, and slowly began to believe in her. I did what she told me…about 90%, sometimes 80%. Upon her advice, I began Pranayama. Four difficult weeks passed. It was difficult. Some days when the pain was bad and I asked her what I should do, she would give me a solution that seemed tougher than the blasted diet chart. “I hate you, Rachna, for making my life so difficult”, I told her impolitely during one chat and added “…but one day, I hope to be a success story on your website. ” “Doesn’t matter if you hate me”, she told me sternly. “Just follow what I am telling you and you will be fine. You certainly will be on my website.”

Three weeks passed. One day I felt slightly better. It was a weekend. I decided to test myself, and drove 1 hour in peak traffic to Hyderabad University to attend an all-night concert. The next day was Independence Day. I had to organize a flag hoisting in my building and then a party in the evening. I therefore spent a very tiring day after the night without sleep. The result: I ended up in a very bad state. Rachna gave me a no holds barred scolding, and made a new rule: I take on activities only alternate days, and no more adventures till I became completely alright.

Surprise! It was around Week 5 that people began to ask me if I had lost weight. My pain levels had not reduced, but I did have a pain-free hour or two some days. After 5 weeks, I tried wearing a dress I could not get into earlier…and voila! I slipped in easily. I was delighted! Curious to see how much I had lost, I bought weighing scales—5 kg gone! Wow! My joy knew no bounds…this was something I had always thought I could never do.

I revelled in this, despite the pain. Rachna, during our regular email chats, kept telling me I would be 90% pain-free in 40 days. I soon reached Day 40. Yes, there seemed to be an improvement. It was the beginning of good times. The pain became less and less. I weighed myself again 2 weeks later. Two more kilos knocked off! My poor legs had less to carry and I felt happy I could do this for them.

My clothes were now loose and ill-fitting. I happily began to shop for new clothes…one size less. More and more compliments came my way. I enjoyed them and now have a huge collection of people’s reactions to the new me.

I had started the nutrition therapy end July. By October, I was 90% pain free and felt light and fit. But the stiffness in my legs was still there. Rachna said I should go on to Phase 2 of my treatment—Yoga. I found a teacher—Kamala, Ragini’s friend’s mother, and thus began another journey towards enlightenment.

On 12 November 2010, I wrote the following email to to Rachna:

_____

Hi Rachna...

I miss talking to you!

Yesterday, hurriedly wearing my churidar as I dressed to go out for dinner, I felt such a gladness envelope my heart. I could dress quickly, and without pain. Earlier, wearing a churidar had become a very painful affair for me...I could barely hold up my leg and couldn't balance properly. It used to depress me so much.

Another improvement ever since I started yoga is that I am able to sit astride on the scooter (pillion), which enables me to teach Ragini to drive the scooter. Oh, there are many many instances like this. Just now I spent 2 hrs in the kitchen and produced a good meal and am still happy. No need to sit with my legs stretched out on the beanbag.

This is a new life. Yes, it is.

Remember Rachna...during one of our chats I had told you I hated you for making me go on a seemingly impossible diet and lifestyle? In this email I would like to tell you how glad I am that I read about you and signed up for therapy from you. You made a huge, huge difference to my life. Thank you once again.

With affection,

Sadhana

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This writeup is neither criticism of doctors, nor an advertisement for Rachna. It is just an account of my journey to good health. But it also illustrates how doctors’ limited focus plays havoc with their patients’ lives. I hope and pray the next generation of doctors look at people’s problems in a more holistic manner. Specialization is not always good.

The new me: My lifestyle has changed from one where I didn’t think about what I ate and didn’t have the time or energy for exercise. In the last 6 months, I have learnt to eat right; I now do yoga and pranayama religiously for 45 minutes to 1 hour every morning at least 6 days a week. I respect my body and have promised myself that I will take care of it. I am now minus 9 kg in all, and that much happier.

It has been a long journey, and at the end of it, I am not tired. On the contrary, I am excited and looking forward to turning 50 in January 2011. Earlier this year, I was apprehensive about this milestone, and unsure of how I would handle the next decade of my life. At the end of this Project, I feel I have already learnt to hang-glide and am all set to land ever so gently on my birthday on 10 Jan, 2011.

Thank you, Rachna, for teaching me to eat, breathe and walk; and for showing me the way to wellness.

Thank you, Kamala, for teaching me the power of ‘Om’, and for putting me on the path to complete flexibility. I can see myself playing badminton, trekking and climbing rocks with confidence from 2011.

My family held my hand through this exercise…Vijay, Ragini, Malini, my parents, and my brother Gautham; they were with me during this journey and bore the brunt of tears, tantrums and bad cooking.

The last word…has to be my mother’s. She taught me the power of faith. All the while I was undergoing this treatment, she went to the temple once a week and did 21 pradakshinams each time, praying for me to recover quickly. I have no words to thank her. She understands.

___

PS: I have skipped the medical jargon and the details, because this is already a long post. If specifics will be of help, please write to me at sadhana_bluepencil@yahoo.com, and I will gladly share them with you.