My story from near fatal head injury to becoming Doctor, Mountaineer, Athlete, Yoga teacher, Writer,and Mindfulness Practitioner.
From Coma to Consciousness.
It was a foggy and sleepy morning one December many years ago. The place was Jammu, also known as the city of temples. The date was 15th. I was preparing for my medical entrance exam. I had to go for my chemistry tuition to prepare for my upcoming exam the next day. I set out in my Father’s van and drove to Bhagwan Gopinath (a renowned Kashmiri Mystic) ashram after my tuition. I had been visiting the ashram regularly since last one month.
It was a narrow stretch of road where I parked my van and alighted to cross over to reach the ashram. Right in the middle of the road, I felt a gentle lump in my feet. It was a tiny pebble and as fate would have it, I bent down right then and there to remove it from my shoe. The fog was so thick that I could barely see my hand. Next thing I knew, I was in an hospital covered in blood and having convulsions. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.
HIT AND RUN
While I was bent down in the middle of the road, a speeding truck slammed into me and sped away. Perhaps, he did not see me due to the dense fog. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been standing there in the middle of the road. The impact was so strong, I must have lost consciousness and thus have no memory of the accident (Retrograde amnesia). While my family was waiting for me at breakfast, I was lying in a pool of blood, unconscious and hanging between life and death.
As I found out later, a good Samaritan had tried to help me had hailed a matador to carry me to a hospital. The reply that came was that “We don’t take dead bodies.” after seeing me in a pool of blood. Then one uncle whom I shall be eternally grateful to, took me to the GMC Hospital, Jammu in his car. I can only imagine his car seats stained with my blood smelling of smashed dreams and hopes of a young girl.
Blessings of Kashmiri Saint and Mystic, Bhagwan Gopinath
I cannot thank enough Bhagwan Gopinath Ji and his devotees who helped me at every step and my extended family, relatives and total strangers who prayed for my recovery.
I owe it to Bhagwan Gopinath Ji who somehow intervened and changed the course of my destiny. His blessings saved my life when there was literally no chance of me surviving such a devastating accident. About a month after the accident as I laid in my bed at home, recovering, he appeared in my dream and told me that the accident was destined to happen. I vaguely remember his eyes turning deep blue and in his divine voice, he uttered, “henceforth I shall always protect you.” He mentioned that the reason I was alive was because of my mom’s devotion and intense meditation practices that forced the destiny to change its course and allow me to live. I also remember him giving me a new name, which I forgot, but the name’s meaning was Aradhana (worship).
Due to my good fortune, some passersby were able to locate my address and informed my parents about the hit and run accident. My parents were shocked. My father, in his stoic manner, initially asked them if I was alive! Phew! They rushed to the hospital and saw me screaming as doctors were stitching my scalp. I can imagine that I was quite a mess!
I was in coma for sometime and had fracture of temporal and ethmoid bone. My Trigeminal, Facial, Abducens and Vestibular cochlear nerve was badly damaged. I had Otorrhea, Rhinorrhea, Facial Palsy, Double Vision, Labored breathing, hearing loss with tinnitus and GCS of around 9 -10 (Glasgow coma scale and score of 9 to 12 is moderate brain injury)! I strangely escaped intubation and being put on a ventilator.
The diagnosis cast a pall of gloom on everyone. Due to facial paralysis and double vision, I was not able to stand up on my own, not able to close my eyes. I had severe balance issues, hearing loss, tinnitus and a burning sensation on my face amongst swollen face, brain and bruised emotions amongst lot more.
After aggressive treatment at the hospital and at Vimhans in Delhi, I finally went back home. I couldn’t have made this far in life without selfless love of my parents. My father had chanted some mantra of Saturn 30000 times when I met with accident to ward off my death as he was astrologer too. The first thing that my parents did was to take me to Bhagwan Gopinath Ji’s ashram to seek his blessings. I remember all of us cried our hearts out as we sat in front of his idol. At home, a long period of rehabilitation began. From helping me walk to bathing me to writing letters to reciting inspiring poems, my parents did everything to boost my morale. My sister helped me in everyway possible and so did my my two friends Supriya and Ameeta, who stood like a rock with me.
There is so much that transpired, I literally cannot put it all in words. From tending to my wounds to helping me walk to building back my confidence, my parents left no stone unturned. I was so focused on clearing my MBBS entrance exam (as it was my second attempt) that I motivated myself and continued to persevere till the time I started reading gradually in 2 months after the accident. I had diplopia (double vision) and I wore an eye patch like those Bandits from Old movies!
Many neurologists whom I meet tell me that it’s a miracle I survived after such a devastating accident. To the point that I bounced back to a normal life continues to boggle a lot of people.
Doctor and a Healer
I was bald, my eyes were red due to hemorrhage, I had facial paralysis and many other things and I looked a pale picture of who I once was. Doctor Sushil Razdan, a prominent neurologist, who treated me physically also rekindled self love in me. I wish there was something I could do to pay him back but there are subtle ends of life that lie beyond the boundaries of gratitude. Perhaps that’s what a human connection is that ultimately healed me despite getting the medical treatment. I have never met a more compassionate and knowledgeable Doctor doctor like him. I remember telling him how ugly I looked and he would tell me that I was the most beautiful child he had seen.
From Near Death to Clearing Medical Entrance!
Days passed and my condition started improving gradually. My anticonvulsants medications were finally stopped and I would like to share the most important piece of learning with everyone who has ever thought of giving up.
The thing about pain, suffering and tough times is that the more you wallow in them, more tragic they seem. More you can watch them as an impersonal observer, more understanding of them you become. And you gain better tools to navigate through them.
From my near death experience, I successfully bounced back to clearing my MBBS (Medical) Entrance EXAM and secured a seat in SKIMS Medical College, Srinagar. BELIEVE you me, it was nothing short of a MIRACLE. I can never forget how my father jumped with ecstasy upon hearing the result of my entrance exam.
I faced many challenges after my accident, which I wouldn’t like to get into but I have tried very hard to overcome them with the same fortitude that my father bestowed upon me when I was a child. The love for mountains that bloomed inside me from a very young age, thanks to my mountaineer father, has built the very core inside of me and it still carries me in life. It’s the same spirit that helped me deal with my knee injury that I suffered during an expedition to Mount Kolahoi in (Kashmir) in 2020(ligament tear). Through sheer grit and unshakeable determination, I recovered from a leg wrapped in braces to running 21 kms and finally complete my Advance Mountaineering Course (AMC) with A GRADE at NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering), Uttarkashi. With the blessings of my parents, loved ones and Bhagwan Gopinath Ji, I aim to keep climbing.
The Story Goes On..
Like a lot of us, I don’t claim to be perfect. Even after so many years since my accident, I have some remnants of facial palsy, which makes my right eye to appear slightly smaller than the left. I remember being bullied because of that. But when life gave me lemons, I made lemonade out of it. And I have enjoyed every sip of it!
I have rarely shared this story with anyone outside my family and a few close friends. Some of those so called friends have even joked about my injury and laughed at my features at times. I cannot help but wonder how tragic it is to live with limited consciousness.
Because my vestibulocochlear ( hearing and balance) nerve of right side was damaged, over years I had progressive hearing loss in my right ear. I have more than 80 percent hearing loss in my right Ear!
Phew my secret is out! That is why I don’t and I cant talk on phones, use headphones, be near loud noises or loud people and cannot hear trash talks! hahaha
Let me tell you an inside joke about my hearing! RIGHT IS WRONG AND LEFT IS RIGHT! If you’re wondering about that oxymoron, it just means that if you want to be heard, you best be on my left side!
There have been times when I have barely been able to make out what people are saying just because they were standing on my right hand side. Instead of correcting, I just smile at the conversation, which also get me bemused looks back from people! May be I don’t want everyone to know my little secret. But it’s not much of a secret now that I’ve spilled the beans!
The only thing I haven’t been able to get over in this life is my father’s loss. How I have dealt with it and continue to deal with is best left for another time. The vivid memory of that 14 hour ambulance ride from Jammu to Gurgaon where I was both his daughter and the attending Doctor remains etched in my mind. The ICU where I used to work had become the ICU where I was now seeing him dangle from life to death. Somehow the memory has stuck with me! With his passing, my ferociousness of being a Doctor, where I would just work away the hours without an understanding of loss and death further transgressed into finding the deeper meaning of life, with empathy taking new meaning and connecting with people on deeper levels. I particularly started developing a deep bond with head injury patients because beyond what we perceive, our mind and brain and everything that makes us what we are…there is something intangible that can neither be measured nor expressed, but only felt.
Some years down the road, I opened letters my father used to write for me and slid under my closed doors.
There is life in death
There is death in life..
You are there. It is God’s will. Strive to plane that is divine and providential.
- Being a survivor of such a life altering accident, I have learned that I am alive because random strangers helped me. I try to incorporate the same learning in my life to help people when I can, either in my capacity as a doctor or just as a human being.
- Never put a full stop where God has put a Comma not Coma 😉
- Life isn’t meant to be easy but how we handle when things go awry is real test of us. It is okay to fall in pieces, cry, be depressed but what is not okay is letting people manipulate your headspace or tell you that you are worthless. People do that to me even now all the time mostly behind my back and sometimes it gets to me!
- Help victims of Road accident. You might be saving someone’s life, someone’s father, child, brother or sister. If nothing take them to a hospital.
- These mountains that you’re carrying, you were only supposed to climb
Laws about Road traffic accident
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019, inserted a new section 134A, named “Protection of good Samaritans” which provides that a Good Samaritan shall not be liable for any civil or criminal action for any injury to or death of the victim of an accident. It would be optional for them to disclose their identity to the police or medical personnel.
Thank you for being a part of my story. I hope it inspires you and brings a smile on your face.
Dr. Varuna Raina
July 1, 2021