The Battle for Survival Begins (1/2) – In Quest of the Last Victory

An Appointment with Destiny 51
whether I had met my end and whether this was heaven or the way
towards it. All I could see of me was the sides of my eye sockets and
my nose. Maybe I was dead. If I was alive where was my body? Why
couldn’t I feel it?
The Battle for Survival Begins
A bespectacled doctor in uniform and some medics came running
and knelt down beside me. I forced a whisper, ‘I cannot breathe,
I cannot move, I cannot feel anything. I cannot feel my body. Where
is my body?’ The doctor instantly, and very fortunately, knew what
had happened to me. His knowing what had happened was crucial as
he would be able to give me the right care, which was the fi rst crucial
factor for my survival. He knew what had happened to me. I didn’t.
My spinal cord had got fractured and dislocated at the neck and the
connection of my brain with my body had been severed. In com-
mon man’s language, my neck had broken and my body completely
paralyzed and, in all probability, forever. The stretcher was placed
next to me and on the doctor’s instructions, six people, on the count
of three, lifted me gently and very carefully to move me on to the
stretcher. Pillows were kept around my neck and body to keep my
neck from moving. I was taken to the ambulance. I was fi nding it
impossible to keep my senses. Random incidents from my life were
ashing through my mind at dizzying speed. At times I enquired
about my team’s performance and at times I asked to inform my
parents about the accident that I had met. I told my company com-
mander accompanying me, ‘Sir, please tell my parents not to worry’.
Inside I was very calm because I knew very strongly that only my
calm could get me out of this.
Nothing else mattered. There was only the fi ght for survival. From
my condition and the commotion outside among the doctor and the
52 In Quest of the Last Victory
other staff, I had fi gured that something potentially fatal had hap-
pened to me. My best buddy Kuldeep (who had not participated in
the event that day due to a sprained ankle) got into the ambulance
with me holding the pillows around my neck in place. The ambulance
moved and I could see the canopy of trees passing overhead. I was
losing breath and I needed to breathe badly but I couldn’t call out.
I couldn’t breathe. I decided to keep myself as calm as possible and to
keep my senses. Being a sportsman and a swimmer, I knew that the
more tense I got, the more breath I would require and I didn’t have
a breath, therefore, breath or no breath, remaining calm was the best
and the only option I had. That was my only hope.
The ambulance reached the small army hospital of this cantonment
town. I was lifted from the ambulance with absolute care by medics
and carried into a cubicle in the intensive care unit. I could sense a
urry of activities with the hospital staff running all around to fetch/
organize things as the doctor shouted out the instructions. I was care-
fully lifted off the stretcher and carried onto the bed. My body was
not to be moved at all. An oxygen pipe was inserted into my nasal
passage to assist me in breathing. But it irritated my nose badly from
inside making me want to sneeze, something I could not do because
of lack of air in my lungs. I was choking badly. I whispered to have the
oxygen pipe removed. Very little air was moving into my lungs and
I decided to manage somehow with that little air. My clothes were
to be removed. The doctor brought in a big set of scissors and, with
the help of the staff, very carefully cut off my dress. The dress was
cut off because removing it otherwise would have caused my body
to move and that could have complicated my injury further and
any error here could be catastrophic. A lot of different support
devices were connected to my body. I didn’t even know what all.
I could only see the drip on a stand next to me.
An Appointment with Destiny 53
Since I could not move my head at all, I could see only six tiles of
the roof right above me. I could make out the shape of the person
standing next to me but if I had to see the person, the person had
to bend over me. The doctor was in regular conversation with the
orthopaedic specialist doctor 600 kilometres away in the state cap-
ital, taking instructions on attending to me. The medical procedures
to be carried out were being explained over the telephone. Every
medical procedure that was performed on me and that caused my
body to move was a torture.
A portable x-ray machine was wheeled in and the doctor assisted
by the staff prepared to take the x-ray. A metal plate was pushed
below my neck. The pain made me shriek even without air in my
lungs. Two junior doctors pulled my shoulder down as the x-ray was
taken. My breath stopped. It was as if life would come out of me.
I wanted to tell them to stop or I would die but I couldn’t speak. The
procedure was repeated several times. At every procedure I hoped it
would be my last. But that was not to be and I survived all of them.
At the end of every procedure, the doctor would look at me and say
‘All well?’ I would reply with a casual smile ‘you nearly killed me’ and
every one would laugh. The tension would ease.
I tried to make myself comfortable. If anyone talked to me, I
smiled and responded. Most of them were amazed that I was able
to smile despite being in such a terrible condition. A traction weight
was tied around my neck; it hurt me bad. It was very uncomfortable
but I was told it was necessary to keep my neck and spinal cord
straight. The fl urry of medical activities and procedures continued.
The commotion in and around my room gradually died down
and I was left for the night. I lost track of time. Capt. Pankaj Kumar,
my instructor at the Academy and an ardent supporter of mine, sat
by my bedside and we talked about random topics into the night.
54 In Quest of the Last Victory
Once the topics exhausted, he dozed off in his chair. But I could
not sleep. Random scenes of my past life were moving in my mind at
dizzying speed like rolls of fi lm on a projector. The fi lm would get
stuck at times and then start rolling again. It was a haunting ex-
perience. I was enduring it. I closed my eyes and imagined myself
marching through the jungles and mountains and streams, step after
step after step. Every step appeared as if it would be my last but I kept
forcing myself to put step after step after step into the eerie silence
of the night.
It was the longest night ever. It felt like a lifetime of a dark night
that I had to walk through. I walked like a man drunk. I walked like a
man possessed. I kept walking. Finally, out of that darkness, the fi rst
glow of daylight and the feel of morning emerged. Activities around
me resumed. Doctors, staff and visitors kept moving in and out of
my room one after the other. My friends, course mates, staff from
the Academy kept visiting me to support and encourage. The wall
next to me got covered with ‘get well soon’ cards. A friend hung the
photograph of a majestic tiger and another stuck a life-size poster of
my favourite movie actress on the wall in front of me.
My parents arrived. They had got the message and had been
travelling overnight. My father broke down when he saw me and
he went out. My mother did not break down on seeing me. But
I knew well that my father had cried only in front of me and that
my mother had not cried only in front of me. The specialist doctor
arrived. He had travelled overnight by train. The uncomfortable
traction tied around my head and neck was removed. My head was
shaved off with an electric razor. The doctors then came in with a
traction device to be attached to my head. This traction device
appeared more like some kind of a torture device. Two holes were cut
and drilled into the skin on both sides of my rear skull and this clamp
An Appointment with Destiny 55
was screwed tight onto my skull bone. I groaned loudly through the
painful procedure. Once the clamp was in place, a weight was tied to
it and hung behind the bed. This would ensure that my neck didn’t
move at all.
The doctors were in regular discussion and instruction sessions.
The diagnosis was fracture dislocation of the C4, C5 and C6 vertebrae
of my neck, resulting in complete paralysis of my body. It meant that
I had no voluntary control over my body and that I had no sense
anywhere in my body. For me my body no longer existed. Fortunately
my vital organs, my brain, my lungs, my heart and all were working
ne. The doctor’s prediction, ‘The fi rst three days are crucial. If he
survives three days, he may live.’
During the years and years of playing sports and taking on chal-
lenges, I had trained my mind to focus only on ‘what can be done?’
and do that with complete energy, sincerity and discipline. I was
focused. I was going to make it. Failure was not even in the mind.
I closed my eyes and returned to my walk through the night. I was
walking with a load on my back, step after step after step. I kept
forcing myself to put one step in front of the other. My condition
gradually deteriorated. If I felt a sneeze or a cough building up I
could not do anything about it as I didn’t have the air in my lungs
to cough or sneeze. I managed by making a harsh groaning sound in
my throat which somewhat compensated for the cough and I moved
my nostrils in awkward ways to kill the feeling of sneeze. The back
of my head started hurting because of being continuously placed in
one spot and position without moving. Every two hours I was turned
a little on either side and talcum powder was applied on my back.
This was to prevent open pressure sores because of lying in the same
position continuously and not having any sense.
Almost anyone getting my kind of injury in those times used to
end up with these sores. The pressure sores could be and were fatal