MY MOTTO IS TO NEVER GIVE UP -Dr. Usha Benjamin
Lessons for living with life’s adversities….
Nothing prepares you to be struck by severe pain and inability to walk when you are 42 years old.
Life was perfect with a successful career, a very talented surgeon for a husband, and two young boys in school doing very well. I wouldn’t have believed if anyone remarked “do not take life for granted.”
It all started with a simple back pain.
It was a simple disc prolapsed with weakness of the foot. Unfortunately, wrong disc was removed, and I developed disc space infection and was bedridden for 3months and housebound for another year.
How did I cope?
1) Support of family and friends. Husband, children, parents and very kind friends who nursed me round the clock, caring for every physical need. It is a very humiliating position to be in.
2) Determination to get better even when everything looked hopeless.
3) Acceptance of my limitations under the circumstances without being stubborn.
4) Receiving advice and medications with grace. There were times the urge to resist was great.
With loving care from my family and friends, and my determination I eventually managed to walk unassisted after eighteen months.
Did it end there? NO
Once a back problem starts, it stays with you for the rest of your life. An acute problem becomes a chronic one.
I had to get back to work, bring in some sort of normality in our lives. I walked everyday, started doing a block and eventually did 3 rounds of the hockey stadium near my house!
My good days lasted 12 years when it hit back. Sudden pain and inability to walk struck back. I was in a wheel chair. The result of my two operations on my spine resulted in scarring within the spine. This gave rise to bizarre symptoms and pain.
Over the past 20 years, I have been on wheelchairs a couple times, on and off on crutches and in bed with pain over several days.
I have diabetes type 2 and angina both controlled with medications for the past 16 years!. Not sure if that is relevant.
How do I face these problems?
Life becomes unpredictable.
Here again acceptance plays a big part. But it is not easy at all.
One has to have a few coping skills.
• I take one day at a time. Not that I do not plan vacations or visits with family and friends. I do plan ahead with the knowledge that these plans may vanish at the drop of a hat with pain.
• I make use of all the available resources.
Example : I have a physiotherapist who is fully aware of my problems and is able to help when needed and eases the spasms and hence the pain.I use an Acupuncturist when needed.Pain relief in the form of Brufen, Paracetamol, even Diazepam to relieve pain and muscle spasms.
Prevention is always better than expecting a cure.
I try to keep myself as fit as possible.
As a result of my spinal surgeries, as I mentioned earlier,I have muscle wasting of both my legs but more on the right.
I always remember what my surgeon said after my third spine surgery, quote “even if you hold a gun to my head I will not operate on your spine again! Get your core muscle strength back to hold your spine in place.
Therefore, this is what I do.
Walk I walk almost everyday. I belong to a walking group, once a week we walk longer distances 4/5 miles.
Yoga I attend a class twice a week. Its Hatha yoga which stretches and strengthens muscles by holding different asanas. I also practice a few yoga asanas which are specific for spine everyday for just 20 minutes.
Aquaaerobics The exercises you do under water improves the muscle tone and strength. Though I cant swim just walking in water is very good. The resistance provided by water, gently strengthens the muscle without pain.
Keep busy It was very easy when in pain to talk about my problems to everybody and their sympathy gave me a boost. But in the long run it isn’t of any help. I realised I had to help myself.
Involvement with group activities has helped me enormously. I do bird watching, do nature walks ( walking early mornings in Lalbagh does me a lot of good!) I have also taken up photography. Its meeting people from outside my usual circle of friends that has opened my eyes and horizon. Chatting and sharing our life stories is a balm.
Meditation. My life would not be the same without daily practice of meditation. I do fall short of this discipline quite often. There is always something else to do. A life of mindfulness has given me a lot of peace and healing to my body and soul.
TRAVEL: Simple tools that travel with me wherever I go.
A tennis ball and a rolling pin.
They are ordinary tools but great for relieving muscle spasms. Since I had to use the tennis ball last night I remembered.!It can go under use whatever you can get hold of to help yourself with the pain.
It is not always smooth sailing. I have big dips. Pain and inability to walk and move hits me unexpectedly.
Always I return to quietness, mindfulness in addition to all other forms of support.
With determination and persistence, look where I am! I have hiked in Antarctica and Machu Pichu (last bit only) at the age of 70.
Usha, a classmate of my undergraduate days at C.M.C.Vellore(1964-1971),
Her life is a remarkable journey.
It teaches that none of us are unique in the challenges we face, unique in the way we can master the challenging situation and more importantly there is life in all circumstances.
USHA-MY MOTTO IS TO NEVER GIVE UP.
She gifted this book of mindfulness in 2015.