The high cost of the rut

Life has its own ways of reminding you when your priorities have gone awry

Man running inside the clock / concept of being stuck in a rut

8th June 2013. A day I look back as a milestone that was not meant to be. The outcomes could have varied, and in ways that are wildly contrasting. Indulge me as I take you on a flashback to bring out the significance of the day.

On the morning of 8th June, I was out for a jog. 40 minutes into my run, I experienced a sudden exhaustion that compelled me to pull up and stop where I was. This was followed by a bout of electrical twitching in the left side of my body—mainly around the hip and downwards. This made me so weak that I had to sit down on the side of the road and ask my wife Urvi to come over and pick me up—something I had never done before. The weakness and twitching subsided after a few minutes and I was able to get up and walk a few steps. After Urvi picked me up, we went to a garden centre where I had an energy drink to hydrate my system and also get some essential salts.

Feeling better, I decided to run home for the remaining two miles of the distance, completely oblivious of what had actually happened to me.

Life goes on

I was working throughout the rest of the week with a busy travel schedule and an ever busier work schedule—as if nothing had happened. Through the week, I could feel numbing and weakness progressively increasing on the left side but I continued to neglect it—attributing it to this freak incident, which I reasoned must be due to physical exhaustion or lack of hydration.

Strangely, I somehow could not correlate this development with another phenomenon that I was lately experiencing. Over the previous 6 – 8 weeks, I was finding it difficult to drive my car properly due to poor clutch control [left leg!]. I used to grope for the clutch and often could not locate it. And when I was able to find it, I didn’t know how much I had pressed or had to press.

I live in London and I was scheduled to travel on a trip to India in the week of 17th June for an important business engagement. Through the week, I was waiting for some improvement in my condition, to feel comfortable enough for the hectic trip ahead. But things did not improve. I waited until the weekend and found that the condition was getting worse. I had now begun limping and dragging my left foot around several times a day, and was carrying on through sheer willpower.

Through the week, I was waiting for some improvement in my condition, to feel comfortable enough for the hectic trip ahead

On 17th June, I once again experienced two bouts of electrical twitching on my left side, each lasting 2 – 3 minutes, where I could not control my hands/feet and was reduced to a mute spectator. I ignored it once again. When we are in the flow of life and work, we tend to cast aside such incidents as routine—trivial matters, which do not need to be given too much attention.

My wife’s ultimatum

By now, Urvi was seriously concerned and gave me an ultimatum: I would be allowed to travel to India only if I went to see a doctor. Having no choice, I agreed and we landed up at an urgent care centre, where a nurse on duty told me that I probably had a trapped nerve. She suggested that I see a GP. The same night, we went to A&E [accident and emergency] for a check-up. After an initial examination, the attendant doctor called in back-up doctors to further investigations. These new doctors were a bit more animated and went about performing a thorough check, which quickly led them to detect a big weakness throughout the left side of my body. For the first time, I too grasped a big difference between the two sides of my very own being and was quite flustered.

Now things began moving quite swiftly and decisively. I was admitted to the hospital and was inspected in the morning by an expert neurologist, who promptly dismissed all conjecture about exhaustion or trapped nerves. He strongly suspected some imbalance in the brain function, which had to be investigated on priority. An MRI scan on 19th June disclosed a mind-numbing 52mm cyst in the right top side of my brain. Since this discovery, my perspective of life has changed completely.

Different possibilities

My scan was referred to Queen’s Hospital [National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery] right away and they immediately accepted my case. On 21st June, I was moved to the best hospital that specialised in treating my condition.

We ignore our body signals until we are brought down to our knees in one sudden and swift chop

At this point, I contemplated what would have happened if

  1. I had paid attention to my left leg/clutch problem and got it checked a couple of months ago
  2. I had realised on the 8th June that my sudden experience of exhaustion was actually a mini-seizure and worth a check-up
  3. I had actually forced myself to fly out to India overruling the condition set by Urvi—I have been known to take such liberties with my health all my life. I shudder to think of the eventual outcome this could have lead to and I was so close to taking that decision!

We all tend to take our health and life for granted. We push ourselves through pain barriers, health warnings and common sense. We ignore our body signals until we are brought down to our knees in one sudden and swift chop.

A changed world

The discovery of a cyst in my brain had changed my world. Having spent a few days in the hospital, the first step out was special. I felt that I was setting out on a unique journey. I wanted to savour each and every moment of this. I could feel the gentle breeze. I could see the sun rays filtering through the green surroundings. I watched the clouds float around lazily and smile back at me. The day was wonderful and the scene looked divine. I was going back to where I belonged!

I could scarcely wait to reach home and get back to my life... the same life, which I was living so mechanically until only a few days back. The same house, the same footsteps the same door—but when it opened this time, the only thing different was me. I now realised how important it is to have this sanctuary that I call home within this vast world, where I can be myself in the presence of a loving family that surrounds me all the time.

I wanted to go and see each part of the house—the garden, the flowers and the vegetables

Everywhere I looked around, it seemed magical and wonderful. I wanted to go and see each part of the house—the garden, the flowers and the vegetables. Just like an excited little child, I enjoyed this second coming to a place that, until recently, I had taken for granted and was just using as a boarding home.

Reordering priorities

What I learnt on that day is that life can take us into multiple directions and we end up mixing our priorities and perspectives. The busy schedules that we create are often not important or urgent. Days turn to weeks, then months and years... we get into a rut even as we take the most important people in our lives for granted, ignoring their needs and importance in order to achieve our ambitions.

Before the fateful day, I had been neglecting my family, paying them little attention, under the pretext of being busy. I spent all my time, energy and efforts on other seemingly immediate and urgent deadlines, deals, risks, issues and pursuits of work and life. Even a beep of a new email would distract me from what might have been the most important conversation and I just couldn’t do anything else until I had finished dealing with the interruption, irrespective of the time of the day.

Since I wasn’t paying heed to the signs, life decided to pick me, put me in the washing machine and then through a tumble dryer...before squarely depositing me in the front seat of a humongous rollercoaster—without a seat belt! In hindsight, this has been an eye opening experience for me. How I decide my priorities from here onwards has changed forever. One thing is clear to me—my family, my home, my friends... can't be anywhere except at the top of the list. Work is, and will remain, important but it cannot replace everything else... otherwise I am living a lie instead of a genuine life.

Before the fateful day, I had been neglecting my family, paying them little attention, under the pretext of being busy

Lucky to be alive

In spite of everything that has happened over those two weeks, and the uncertainty associated with the future, I feel I am lucky to be alive. There is no other way of looking at it, considering my complete disinterest in maintaining the natural balance of life.

As I settle down in my new world, I have begun asking myself few questions:

  1. When was the last time I sat down with my wife to spend quality time or just held her hands in mine? How often do I tell her that I love her dearly and how much she means to me? Have I asked her if she is happy with how we are living our life together?
  2. When did I last tell my parents or the immediate family how much I love them? Have I asked them if there was something I could do to make them happier?
  3. Have I done anything for a social cause recently?
  4. Have I compared the time I spend on my gadgets [TV, iPad, phone, Facebook, WhatsApp] with the time I devote to in-person conversations and bonding with family and friends?

This introspection can go on. The essence is to understand our real priorities. I leave it to the readers to draw their own parallels from my story. All I can say is: if you drift too far away from the balance in life, nature will take its own drastic course correction on your behalf!


A version of this was first published in the August 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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