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Near-death experiences in Bengaluru

I first began to feel strange one day in mid-January 2015 in Bengaluru. I just felt like taking rest — my legs were refusing to work. It seemed such a silly symptom that I thought nothing of it.

The next day I went to stay the night with friends, but still all I wanted to do was rest. Back in my room, I just rested, and someone went to get medical attention. To my astonishment, I had a temperature of 101 or 102. But there were no ordinary flu symptoms, no serious headache, no runny nose, no coughing, no phlegm in the throat or the trachea or bronx; just the temperature and weakness in all the muscles. Climbing stairs and going down was virtually impossible.

Tests determined that I had a bacterial infection of the urinary tract, and possibly some unknown and unidentified viral infection. The only other symptom that I developed was a strange rash on the outer limbs — lines of red spots, together with lymphodema, or general swelling.

After four days of this, with no change in fever even with antibiotics, my doctor decided to send me to a large hospital a week after it had begun. As prolonged fever and sleep deprivation had made my speech a bit slurred, hesitant and vague, I was put in the neurological wing, and in the ‘Intensive Care’ Unit, at that.

My consultant was a very friendly and authoritative man, with whom I soon got along famously. He told me there are two kinds of viral disease — those that get diagnosed, which take seven days to cure, and those that remain undiagnosed, which take a week. When I told him I had already had the disorder for a week, he did a double take, which was quite amusing.

He told me that because of the interference with my speech, I should have a full MRI scan, which I thought would be an interesting experience. Being tired and short of sleep, I had very much hoped to rest, but I soon discovered that ‘Intensive Care’ in modern medical parlance has nothing to do with ‘care’ in the usual sense of the term, nor with what might be medically beneficial for the patient. Instead, it refers strictly to getting as much data as possible out of the patient, on as regular a basis as possible, no matter what the price in terms of convenience and so on. I now refer to the ICU as the ‘Intensive Monitoring Unit’, or ‘IMU’!

Technology at work

Despite my strong need for sleep, I was therefore scheduled to visit an MRI unit in the basement of the building that I was in (it was neurological, after all), at 11 that night. But first, I was given both an ultrasound scan and a chest X-ray. However, two emergency patients were admitted, both of whom required MRI, so instead of descending to the basement at 11 p.m., I was eventually wheeled down in my luxury, ICU, mobile bed at 2 a.m.

They warned me not to move, and said the MRI scan would take 40 minutes and perhaps five minutes or so extra. But I stayed stock still despite all the noise and vibrations, and when they finished, they said I had been ultra good, and completed the process in only 30 minutes.

I was then wheeled back upstairs, fully expecting to be allowed to sleep. But that was when the ‘data extraction’ began for real. I was subjected to an hour of continuous tests of different kinds.

At which point, the boy patient in the IMU single ward immediately to my left died, and we were subjected to an hour of inevitable, and inevitably unconsoled, grief. So there was to be no sleep until well after 5 a.m. In other words, my first night in the ‘Intensive Monitoring’ unit was, instead of being one of care and psycho-physiological nourishment, one of systematic sleep deprivation.

Just for the record, on the fourth night I was in the hospital, having been transferred to a semi-private ward with patients and their live-in companions, one of the patients in the semi-private ward immediately to my right died, again with the following hour or more of unconsoled grief. I concluded that hospitals, despite all their supposed life-saving equipment, are extremely dangerous places to be. Avoid them if at all possible. To have two patients pass on in adjacent wards in the course of only four nights in hospital seemed quite remarkable.

On my second day in the Intensive Monitoring Unit, I was, to my intense annoyance, subjected to a second chest X-ray. I really thought that was unforgivable: one is in itself enough. They are bad for one’s subtle energies. To subject a patient to a second one as if it is merely routine is outrageous. It shows how far out of contact with life’s real energies modern biology and medicine are.

However, after two days of intensive monitoring, the consultant decided I should be allowed to move out of ‘Intensive Monitoring’ into a semi-private ward — complete with patients and their attendants. A dear friend came to stay with me, and others came and visited.

The first evening and night were uneventful, except that I was still running a slight fever despite all the antibiotics I was being given. They decided the urinary tract infection had gone, and my still undiagnosed virus was the source of my remaining problems.

Recovery

All that cleared up within 24 hours, however, and I was then free of fever symptoms for the next 24 hours. So with the small incident in the neighbouring ward on the fourth night, I was otherwise comfortable and deemed to be recovering well.

As my temperature became fully normal for 24 hours, the consultant decided to let me out on the afternoon of my fourth day. I had been in for four days and nights, what a blessing to leave.

At the end of it all, following two further weeks of supervised recuperation away from the workplace, I was in normal health and back at work. 

(The author is an English scientist educated at Cambridge, with a Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from MIT. He is now at an Indian university supervising Ph.D. research, at age 67)


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Printable version | May 14, 2022 4:08:58 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/neardeath-experiences-in-bengaluru/article6920214.ece