When a doc gets a health scare

/ / News / July 14, 2017

By Prof B M Hegde  |  Published: 21st July 2017 04:00 AM  |
Last Updated: 20th July 2017 11:29 PM  |

Recently I had a stroke due to a small speck of bleeding in the right thalamus of the brain. God has been very kind to me in that the onset did not hit me  with a bang. It started with a small whimper and gradually crept on me. I shall remain ever grateful to God for all his kindness.

I was in Ujire (70 km from Mangalore) where I had gone to inaugurate a national conference. After the function, I had gone for a darshan at the nearby Dharmasthala temple. After having lunch at the temple, when I was washing my hands, I felt that my left leg and left hand were becoming slightly weaker. I could not independently manage my movements accurately.

The driver of the taxi that took me to the temple was an able bodied young man who helped me into the car. He brought me back home, from where my family took me to the hospital and rightly so. There, the doctors concerned were all my old students and the best ones in the field. The leader of the team, Dr Muralidhar Pai, was not only an excellent neurosurgeon but also one of the leading placebo doctors. His positive feedback put me back on my feet without any delay.

When I was feeling doubtful if I would ever be able to walk again, he gave me so much courage and assured me in no uncertain terms that I would definitely walk within a week; after all it is our own mind and immune system that heal the body.

I am also grateful to God that the lesion was a speck of haemorrhage and not an infarct—a small area of dead tissue resulting from failure of blood supply—thus resulting in faster recovery and sparing my higher cognitive functions such as thinking and comprehending.

So much so that I did not have to be in the ICU on a ventilator. Although the facial nerve was involved partially, it resolved relatively quickly, thanks to the speech therapist Dr Jayashree Bhat, who implemented novel methods of speech therapy using tongue twisting words from ancient Sanskrit texts like the Bhagavad Gita and Vishnu Sahasranama.

This facilitated faster facial nerve recovery and helped ease my swallowing as well. The backbone of managing a stroke like this is physiotherapy. I was lucky to have one of the best teams of physiotherapists, all our students, who worked on me diligently, conscientiously and altruistically. The team was led by Dr Akshatha Nayak of genial temperament, who was too good to be true. Here I am, thank God, back on my feet doing most of what I want to do independently.

Many of my unreasonable critics say I should not have resorted to western medicine but should have opted for alternative treatment. That is unfair criticism. I have always advocated for an integrated medical system for the future wherein emergency care and diagnosis shall be done using modern medicine taking all other systems into the picture for management. There are others who criticise me for getting this disease as they say since I was following a healthy lifestyle I shouldn’t have been affected in the first place. The fact is that they have not been following my teachings.

While a healthy lifestyle brings down the frequency of diseases, there is no guarantee that diseases will never affect anybody. Diseases are accidents, they can strike at any time, but if one is following a healthy lifestyle, the recovery is faster. I am also grateful to God for taking the heat out of my stroke—it could have been worse.
with complications.

It is very comforting to know that, but the best part of the whole story is the collective team of healers who look after me—all humane, full of compassion. This makes life much easier. I am beholden to all of them: starting from the ward attender to the head nurse; and the medical and paramedical staff. May God bless all of them. Physician, heal thyself, goes an ancient phrase.

The phrase alludes to the readiness and ability of physicians to heal sickness in others while sometimes not being able or willing to heal themselves. This suggests something similar to ‘the cobbler always wears the worst shoes’, that is, cobblers are too busy to attend to their own footwear. It also suggests that physicians, while often being able to help the sick, cannot always do so and, when sick themselves, are no better placed than anyone else.

But I was lucky. The one essential lesson I have learned from this experience is to have abundant patience for smooth recovery from illness. This has also given me a ringside view of the patient’s perspective in a hospital environment and I am sure this will make me a more compassionate doctor.

I have also learned that we should befriend our illnesses and not hate them. Physiotherapy is hard work for both the patient and therapist; and the patient’s cooperation is an essential part of that. An understanding therapist could be a boon and a cooperative patient an asset.

Unless the patient cooperates one hundred percent, recovery will not be fast. I hope that by sharing my experience, anxious stroke patients can would acquire confidence to recover faster. A perfect example is not one of the many ways of influencing people. The only way of influencing people—true education. Now, eight weeks on, by the grace of God, I am almost fully functional—status quo ante.

Prof B M Hegde

Cardiologist and former vice chancellor of Manipal University

Email: hegdebm@gmail.com