The TBM Chapter of My Life

Tuberculosis Meningitis is one of the more serious forms of TB. Typically, TB bacteria are spread through air droplets; once you inhale them they enter the lungs (which is also the most common site of infection). In individuals with low immunity the bacteria can either cause lung infection or spread through blood to various organs of the body. In my case it affected my brain. The symptoms of TB meningitis range from fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss to the more severe forms like convulsions, loss of eyesight, paralysis and even coma. Even worse is that paralysis can occur in spite of on-going successful treatment.

When I was 32, I was working out to lose weight and in fact I did lose a lot, dipping the scales from 80kgs to 58kgs. It is during the same period that I was confined to bed due to my sciatica pain. It was so bad that I could barely move and working out was not at all possible. This got me paranoid as I was afraid that lying inactive on bed would zero my weight loss efforts and to counter that, I ate only ‘Watermelon and Marie biscuit’ at all meal times, nothing else but this. After my recovery from sciatica pain, when I started moving again, I developed severe headaches within a week. I noticed, that as the day passed these headaches worsened. It not only caused piercing pain in my eyes and head but I suffered chronic neck pain too. The doctor asked me to get some tests done because now it was difficult to even bear the sunlight. There were black papers put up on every window and blackout curtains used to keep the light away from me. Even the bulbs were covered by paper to help me avoid direct light.

Looking at my plight my grandfather suggested that I see a neurologist immediately. It was a Sunday when Dr. Singhal came home at 8 a.m. to see me. My condition was getting worse. I was totally delirious at that time, as my mind and body were not in sync. I was rushed to Breach Candy Hospital that very minute, because my condition deteriorated and I could not even recognise my own family. When the doctor asked me questions, I could not remember anything or anyone and I gave answers that made no sense at all. This got my parents and brother worried and they panicked not knowing where it was all leading to. I was taken in for a CT Scan, as I was petrified of going in for a MRI. The reports showed tuberculosis in my lungs and with that further investigations started.

I had to go through a Lumbar puncture (LP), also known as a spinal tap, which is a medical procedure in which a needle is inserted into the spinal canal, most commonly to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for diagnostic testing. The process was extremely painful. The main reason for a lumbar puncture is to help diagnose diseases of the central nervous system, including the brain and spine. In my case, it was done to diagnose meningitis because the doctor suspected that I had developed Tuberculosis Meningitis. When the reports came, it only confirmed what the doctors feared and proved them right.

I was delirious for the first 2-3 days. I would have no clue of what was going on. My mind and body were absolutely out of sync. Looking at the way it was going my doctor, TB specialist Dr. Farokh E. Udwadia, told my parents and my brother that there were bleak chances of my survival. Even if I did survive, there were chances of paralysis or drifting into coma. Best possible treatment was on, however, they could give no assurance, as the next 72 hours were critical. The doctor said that only if I woke up and asked for food, they would know that I had fought it out. My parents and my brother sat there throughout, praying and waiting for a miracle to happen. God indeed was kind to them and me.

I was frail, weak and fragile with very low immunity. That was one of the reasons that for about first 10 days no one was allowed to meet me except my parents and brother, even my daughter was not permitted, as there was a high possibility of me catching infection. My veins had collapsed, and in spite of multiple pricks the IV lines could not be secured easily. IV was important to keep me away from infection as a part of my treatment for TBM. I was put on a central line, which is a big IV line that’s attached from the neck veins. I was also given intra muscular injections for TBM daily for 2 months and these were extremely painful. I was put on 3 bottles of drips everyday, needle pierced in my hand day and night for my speedy recovery. TBM had rattled my family and their routine, my dad would visit me every morning and evening, no matter how busy his day would be. He would ensure that the light bulbs in my hospital room were covered with paper as required, in fact he would do it himself, so that the lights didn’t trouble me while I was recuperating. Duggu rescheduled his outdoor shoot just to be around and in Mumbai, till he was convinced I was healing and getting better.

The restrictions during treatment (dietary and otherwise) were not limited till the hospital; it was to be followed at home too. After being discharged from the hospital, I was agitated and restless all the time ultimately requiring physical restraint. I was confined within the four walls of my house for about six months, to avoid any possibility of a relapse, which would cause me my life. For a year, I had to undergo many lumbar punctures (once in every two months) to see how much fluid was left and take necessary steps to make sure that I was recovering well and even if the spine was numbed this process would still pain a lot. I was on life drugs however; it was also my will to survive for the sake of my daughter (who was living with me at that point in time) that actually got me out of the fangs of death.

Being in bed would often stress me out, thinking about the struggle I would have to go through all over again to lose weight, but I came to terms with it and I didn’t give up even for a moment. I had decided that I would take each step at a time, and get into workout schedule over a period, but no dieting no more starving for vanity. After all, I had got TBM because of the extreme food habits I had taken to lose weight.

I was surprised when Mom had told me earlier (after my release) that there were 8 other TBM cases on the same floor as mine, and each of the girls had been going through weight loss diets, at the cost of causing them their lives. It is sad; this race to be size zero gets us to extremities, all because a large size is usually shamed by one and all, including our own self. My advice to all the people out there is to please learn the art of balancing. Don’t starve yourselves, but eat intelligently. Choose the right things to eat and in moderate amounts. Also workout every day, any kind of exercise is fine as long as you are active. Give yourself those 30-40 minutes daily to move your body and be thankful that you are still mobile. The starvation diets do jeopardise the immune system and can lead to the most drastic of diseases like I got TBM. It was a wake-up call for me; hope you agree to it too. When you see others around, especially young girls taking these steps, please talk them out of it for their own good. They and their loved ones will bless you always.

I wanted to continue the beautiful journey of my life for my parents, for my brother and my daughter and most importantly for my own self. Remember, that no matter how much your family and cousins and friends support you, you won’t win unless you have the inner will and positivity to live for the purpose and people who love you. As I always say that everything happens for our highest good. Life is as we want it to be. Love yourself and Love your life :).

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