By Shyamasundara Dasa
January – June 2008
Dear Maharajas, Prabhus and Matajis,
Please accept my humble obeisance. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. Bhakti-vighna-vinasa Narasimhadeva Bhagavan ki jaya!
Since our last update http://www.dandavats.com/?p=5091 January, 15, 2008 I have had many inquiries about our condition and so have decided to publish another update. It has taken me a long to do because of my own ill health.
If you recall last January our neurologist Dr. Sandeep Vaishya after studying the CT scans strongly suggested that Sundari Radika dd keep the “halo” on not for one but for two more months as he could see that it was a major austerity for her to come to the hospital every month. We all hoped that after two months the bones in her neck would have healed enough to warrant removing the “halo” and in this way save her a painful trip to the hospital for nothing.
The word “halo” conjures up images of holy illumination but in this case the halo is a hellish device, the patient’s personal prison with bars surrounding her head or as HH Kavichandra Svami put it: “is Sundari still wearing that birdcage?” While it is a hellish device the patient is willing to wear it because the other option (life long paralysis) is even worse. By direct experience we have both found out why patients are called so:
“Bearing or enduring (pain, affliction, trouble, or evil of any kind) with composure, without discontent or complaint; having the quality or capacity of so bearing; exercising or possessing patience.” OED
Sundari had been occupying her time by making clothes for our Gaura-Nitai Deities, last count was 23 outfits. But as the time approached for the next visit to the neurologist Sundari was in a lot of anxiety and asked me an astrological prasna “would she be healed enough to remove the halo?” I told her that for the most part everything looked good but not totally, there may be some trouble still but not enough to keep the halo on. That pacified her except that now she worried about what I meant by “not totally.” We didn’t have to wait long to find out what it meant.
On March 18th we went to Max Super Specialty Hospital for the CT scan. I brought several Hindi Gitas intending to leave them in waiting areas so that people could read them. Hospitals are great places for leaving sastra as people there have direct experience of material misery. But when Dr. Vaishya saw them he also asked for one so I gave him a 3 pack bundle. He then arranged for Sundari’s CT scan and we went down to the Radiology department. I placed the remaining Gita’s in their waiting room and watched as one doctor picked one up and started to look through it. Just then we were called in for our turn to use the CT scanner and then we returned to Dr. Vaishya’s office to wait while he went to view the images.
It seemed that he was gone longer than usual and Sundari was getting a bit nervous. She didn’t like being there because even though it was a hospital and out of the ordinary images were the norm, still her halo stood out and people could not help staring at her. When Dr. Vaishya finally returned we all went in his office; he told us “I have good news and bad news.” I immediately said “tell us the bad news first.” He told us that it seems that C5 (cervical vertebrae #5) still had fracture lines visible, but since it was not involved in supporting the neck (it is one of the lowest of the cervical vertebrae) that in his opinion he thought it was safe enough to remove the halo. This was the good news. We wanted it off then and there but unfortunately the man who had supplied the halo and who had the tools for removing it was not available. We all arranged to meet at Noon on March 20, the day before Gaurapurnima, to remove the halo. Before leaving the office I noticed that Dr. Vaishya had one Gita missing from the pack that I had given him. He explained that he had given one to a patient and was happy to do so as was obvious by the smile on his face. I told him that when we next meet I would give him a case of Gitas for distribution.
We arrived at the hospital a little early but the bio-mechanical technician with the tools was late so I gave Dr. Vaishya the case of Gitas I had promised and then we sat around waiting for over an hour. As I previously explained Sundari really disliked being stared at but this time she didn’t care who looked at her because she knew that in a short while she would be free of her personal prison. This gave me a realization about wearing devotional clothing in public. Often times when a person from a cool climate goes to vacation in a tropical country they wear their vacation clothes at the airport of the cold country. They do not care what other people think because they know that it is just fitting for their destination. So we should not mind or care what other people may think about our wearing devotional clothing but rather meditate on our ultimate destination where people wear eternal fashions in good taste that never goes out of style.
One group of waiting patients looked interesting as they were quite fair looking but obviously Muslims. I asked the leader of the group where he was from and almost rudely he said “Afghanistan,” a tough fellow for sure. The other younger man was limping as he walked while the two women in the group sat on the other side of the waiting room completely covered in black bhurkas that left only their eyes exposed. Even though completely covered one of the women kept fussing with her black shawl rearranging it on her body; I do not know what she was trying to accomplish as everything except her eyes were covered so her movements were futile and perhaps expressing her own anxiety.
Sundari was also in anxiety waiting because even though she looked forward to having the halo removed she remembered that putting the halo on was an extremely painful experience and she strongly suspected that taking it off would not come without pain. I urged her to chant her japa but she said she was feeling too nervous to do that. Just about this time the tough Afghani pulled out his prayer beads and began chanting the 99 names of Allah on them. I pointed to him and said if that tough guy can chant to ease his tension so could she.
It turns out that the Afghanis were also Dr. Vaishya’s patients, the young man and his father (a big Afghani war lord who had personally killed more than 1000 men) had their car blown up when they drove over a land mine. Both had spine injuries and the young man also lost his foot explaining why he was limping–the stump was causing him pain. You never know who you will meet in the hospital.
Finally Mr. Saxena the bio-technician arrived and we all went into one of the outpatient rooms. I held Sundari while Dr Vaishya and Mr. Saxena quickly went to work on the four titanium bolts fixed to her skull. At this point Sundari started to scream and cry out in incredible pain. From my vantage point I could see that after more than six months the skin had fused to the metal bolts and unscrewing the bolts was not only pulling the skin away but also twisting it hence her painful reaction. She said that she felt as if her head was going to burst into a hundred pieces as blood freely poured out of the holes in her head. I speculated that for 6 months the four bolts had been applying a lot of pressure on her skull and now that it was released the skull was reacting to the change in equilibrium. Fortunately it only took 2-3 minutes and then it was all over and the pain quickly subsided. Sundari apologized to the doctor for screaming, he just shrugged it off. I asked our doctor why he had not given her local anesthetic to ease the pain; he replied that the injections to deliver the anesthetic would have been more painful than the pain they were meant to stop.
I examined the “halo” that Sundari had been wearing for over 6 months. She could not take a bath wearing it because mushrooms would have literally started to grow on the inside. The back side which got a little damp when I tried to sooth her itching by rubbing her with a moist face cloth had gotten damp and was all black because of mold and had an unpleasant odor. I can only imagine what it would have been like if more water had gotten inside.
I donated the “halo” in charity (it cost $2850.00) we didn’t want to keep it as a souvenir, her wearing it for six months was more than enough. The hospital would clean it up so that some poor patient could use it. Though Sundari found it to be heavy at about 12-15 Kg, this was the most expensive and lightest model, others were much heavier.
The nurses then put a light support collar around her neck and dressed the wounds on her skull. (See photos.) Because she had not supported her head for over 6 months her neck muscles were very weak and she needed the collar, the doctor said she should wear it continuously for 4-5 days then take it off for a few hours everyday and gradually lengthen the time without the collar.
Sundari’s immediate reaction after the “halo” was removed was that she now felt so light with the 12-15 Kg removed from her head that she could almost fly. She kept repeating how light and free she now felt. We both appreciated what the reaction of the soul would be after being liberated from material bodily encagement. The sastras describe that a liberated soul has so much freedom and power almost to the level of Krsna excepting that he cannot create or destroy universes. Sundari got a glimpse of what that must be like in the days shortly after she got mukti from the “halo.”
From my own on going recovery experience I warned Sundari that she could expect various muscle pains in her neck because the muscles were now very tight and atrophied. It didn’t take long for spasms to begin. But though she felt pain she felt more relief at being free from the “halo” so she tolerated it well seeing it as part of the healing process. One thing that I learned was that just because some part of the body hurt it didn’t mean I should stop using it; rather the opposite should be done. I should be active until the pain reached a threshold of 40% and then I should stop; because if I stayed inactive and favored the painful part it would just get worse and worse.
The day after “halo-mukti” was Gaura-purnima I made an extra effort to get up earlier and got to the temple around 7 AM (that was early for me I get tired very quickly and need more rest). When I showed up I was asked to give a class along with Prahladananda Svami. When I came back to our room after giving the lecture I was shocked to see a strange woman in my room. When I looked again I saw that it was my wife wearing a sari for the first time in over six months (see photo). She looked happy as it was the first time she had taken a real bath since the accident. Just picture ladies, in your mind’s eye, what it is like to go for over 180 days and not wash your hair! Sundari was very distressed by this especially as she is very clean by nature. But now she was clean at last.
Holding on to my arm for support I lead her to the temple for darshan. It was only the second time since the accident that she had been in the temple because she felt extremely uncomfortable wearing the “halo” in public with the kind of “jaw- dropping” stares that she got. Several times when devotees came to visit us the guests would become very pale after looking at Sundari and would look at me instead unable to look in her direction. One lady broke out in a sweat and had to leave the room. Another very sensitive brahmacari when he saw pictures of us in the hospital and heard my explanation of what happened left the room and started to vomit. We have both become desensitized after some time but we are reminded of the enormity of our experience by how other people react when they see us or hear what happened. As one temple president said to me: “I thought I was a tough guy but after I saw you and your wife I had to politely excuse myself from the room.”
When we got out of the lift and started toward the temple the security staff and especially the female guards all had very big smiles on their faces as they now saw Sundari in a sari and minus the “halo.” They had previously seen her struggling in the “halo” on her way to visit doctors so they were all genuinely happy to see her well after such a long time.
On entering the temple many of the brahmacaris happily greeted us with big smiles on their faces happy to see us both so much recovered for they too remembered us coming to the temple in ambulances and carried to our rooms on stretchers wracked in pain. As soon as they noticed her my wife’s lady friends all surrounded her for ecstatic exchanges of love and affection. Gopal Krsna Gosvami also came over and greeted us being happy to see that wretched “halo” off of my wife’s body.
Sundari Radhika dd then started seeing the same doctor I was going to for dealing with the residual pain and rehabilitation. She is now much better but still has some sharp pain in her neck when she turns in certain directions. Gradually it is subsiding.
As for me from January onwards I continued to go for treatments as so many parts of my body had been severely injured. After working on my right foot (which is now completely normal) and getting to about 80% functionality I wanted my doctor to start focusing on other parts as I knew that the foot would continue to heal on its own.
We then worked on the nerve damage in the left hand which was extremely painful and were able to reduce it by about 80% so that I could use it. It is still painful and very sensitive to touch but at least I can type and do other things. Sometimes I do not even notice the pain. It has reached a plateau and from this point only time will heal it as treatments do not seem to help.
After the hand I wanted to work on the right shoulder and back. I could not lift my arm more than being parallel to the floor and my back had strong tingling sensations as if like electrical currents were passing through it when I turned in certain directions. If I sat in a chair and tried to read within 10 minutes I would feel discomfort between my shoulder blades and suddenly I would feel as if all energy had left my body forcing me to rest. We alternated working on my back and shoulder. My back seemed to respond much faster and I noticed marked improvements.
Physio-therapy for my shoulder was a very unpleasant and painful experience because I have what is called “frozen joint” syndrome. Several times a week I would go in for what I called my “torture” sessions where I paid people to hurt me. First they would apply hot melted wax to the area to relax the tight muscles, that wasn’t so bad. But then the therapist would move my arm in various directions that it didn’t want to go in. Bone scraping on bone is not fun I can assure you. (Bone rubbing on bone is technically called “impinging.”) I would be in very severe pain to the point of exhaustion such that after I returned to the temple I would just collapse and rest for 2-3 hours. My wife didn’t understand why I was tired when I came back from the doctors until she started going. One thing I realized is that pain is relative. If I had to go through this pain before the accident I would probably stop going for treatments. But compared to the seemingly endless agonies I experienced in the days and weeks after the accident 45 minutes of torture was nothing.
During the weeks I was going for therapy I would regularly distribute Gitas at the doctor’s office and any other opportunity that I got. One medical friend of mine is also an astrologer and teaches astrology. I distributed 150 Gitas to his students. All together so far I have been able to distribute about 250 Gitas via the different doctors I had to deal with.
At the end of January a legal emergency came up, Sundari Radhika dd was supposed to go to the FRO (Foreign Registration Office) in Bangalore, where we are registered. But she could not travel because of the “halo.” I sent all documents and photos with explanation to the Bangalore FRO but while they said they understood and would not arrest her (it is a 5 year jail sentence) her actual passport had to be presented to them along with other original documentation by her representative. As much as I didn’t want to travel in my sick condition I took a flight to Bangalore in the beginning of March to get Sundari’s FRO paperwork done.
I was picked up at the Bangalore airport by Madhusudana Hari Prabhu, the devotee who along with his wife had come to see us the day after the accident. He had seen us when we were in real horrible condition, for as bad as the photos are that I have published in previous updates, those showed us in improved condition after a week or so, thus just imagine how bad we looked when he saw us.
When he first saw me as I exited the airport Madhusudana Hari Prabhu laughed and said “you look better now that you did before the accident.” This is a common reaction of many devotees who think I am completely recovered. However the truth was much different. Even though my doctors had told me I would have a complete recovery after 90 days from the accident my experience was very different. The bones may have healed after 90 days but I was/am still a mess with many problems no matter how good I look externally and that was why I feared traveling. I was very concerned that the exertion of carrying luggage would hurt my back. But my fears seemed unfounded until I lay down to sleep on the first night in Bangalore. Just the touch of the soft mattress on my back was extremely painful and even with strong painkillers I had a rough night. I figured that since the bones themselves didn’t hurt that it must be soft tissue damage that was the cause. Fortunately after a few days it went away. Later I had my doctor work on my back and it is now significantly better. His treatments along with exercise and stretching has done a lot to improve my back, it is now about 85% normal.
On my return to Delhi my doctor and I re-evaluated my shoulder and he decided that since there was no improvement after several weeks of conservative treatment that it was time to use “hydro-cortisone.” I was a little nervous because “cortisone” has a bad reputation. But he assured me that he only used cortisone on rare occasions and in a responsible way. Cortisone got a bad name because of doctors using it as a panacea instead of more conventional treatment. But for the correct situation cortisone was a wonder drug. He gave me 5-6 injections of cortisone mixed with a local anesthetic. The purpose of the local anesthetic was to determine if he had hit the right spot. And indeed he did because when he asked me to lift my arm there was significantly less pain and a much greater range of motion but still far from perfect but still a big improvement from before.
About this time we got a call from my landlord. To make a long story short he basically said that he had found someone who was willing to pay a lot more than we were paying but if we were willing to pay 50% more rent we could stay. The very last thing in the world that I wanted to do was move from one place to another. We were both still very sick and just needing to rest. But being locked into a contract to pay 50% more rent for a place we had not even seen for 8 months did sit well with us either. We had to find a new place by the end of May or our stuff would be on the street. So I flew to Bangalore on April 22 to find a new flat and move.
Even if one is healthy moving is an ordeal so one can imagine what I was going through. I didn’t want to waste time so after looking at a few places I chose a place 5 minutes walking distance from the temple and only 30 seconds walk from an Apollo hospital, we will probably need it. After I had moved and gotten things basically sorted out I flew back to Delhi on May 17 and just collapsed in bed and got up for prasadam and then went back to bed till 8 AM the next day. For weeks I needed 11-12 hours of sleep after the exertion of moving and am just starting to feel better. This is one of the reasons this update has taken me so long to write.
My shoulder was still giving me a problem as there was still significant impingement (bone grinding) so my doctor sent me to get the opinion of a famous orthopedic surgeon to see if he recommended surgery. After examining the MRIs the orthopedic surgeon opined that the head of the joint had multiple fractures and that the bones had been displaced. They could have been fixed right after the accident but because I had so many other more serious injuries they were given priority and not my shoulder. He recommended arthroscopic assisted surgery to “decompress” the joint. That means they would make a small incision in my shoulder and insert a camera to see what was going on inside. Then through another incision they would use surgical instruments to shave down the bones on the inside of the joint so there would be enough room for the joint to move freely. But the surgeon said that there is only so much bone to work with and if you scrape off too much bone one is left with a “paper” shoulder. So he said that if in his estimation “decompressing” the joint would not work then the next choice would be to re-break my shoulder. The first option would take about 10 days to heal from the surgery and 3-4 weeks of therapy. The second option would be much more invasive taking 3 months to heal and many weeks of therapy.
I didn’t like the sound of this not because I was afraid of the pain, I wasn’t, it would be minor compared to what I had already been through. I didn’t like the idea of more lost time. I had already spent 9 months in a hospital bed and three more months was unacceptable. I resigned myself to my fate and prepared for surgery. Fortunately I got a call from an astrologer friend of mine and he suggested that we do prasna to find out of I should undergo the surgery. I agreed and the result indicated that I should wait and not do surgery. I got a second opinion from a doctor recommended by my neurosurgeon. He recommended that instead of surgery I get two more injections of cortisone and then proceed on a two week course of intense physio-therapy to naturally decompress the joint and then re-evaluate. This sounded a lot better to me than surgery. I have been going daily, it is very painful but getting less so as the therapist and I work together to figure out creative ways of pulling my upper right arm bone down so there is more room in the joint. It seems to be working. Next week we will meet with my doctor to re-evaluate the situation. If he thinks it is working then we will leave for Bangalore before the end of June to continue therapy there.
The most outrageous thing that happened was the following. The only reason we came to Delhi and were almost killed in the process was to get my wife a visa to go to Canada. We were unable to attend our interview because we were in the ICU. So before returning to Bangalore I wanted to reschedule the interview. I called the embassy and was instructed to send an email, I did so. I can not even begin to describe how I felt when I got the response. The Canadian embassy said that Sundari Radhika dd’s visa application had been rejected and there was no question of an interview, no reasons were given. I responded by registered letter but no response so far.
Several devotees have asked us about the realizations that we have gotten from this whole experience. Here are a few of the more prominent ones that really stick in my mind.
Tamal Krsna Gosvami was the lucky one, he actually died. The Mataji from New Zealand who had terrible injuries in that accident and died a painful death in the arms of her husband was also lucky because she too died after only a few hours.
Why do I say they were lucky?
Because this body that we are in can generate so much pain that it is indescribable and not understandable to anyone who has not suffered serious physical trauma. The pain your body can generate can become so great that death looks like your friend. I was not afraid to die because death would have brought me relief from intense agony. My only fear was that I would forget Krsna at the time of death.
No one has ever heard of anyone who enjoyed physical pleasure hour after hour, day after day, or week after week. But I can assure you by my direct experience that it is possible to experience indescribable pain hour after hour, day after day, and week after week. That is why I say that Tamal Krsna Gosvami and that Mataji were lucky. His was an instant death and she only had to experience a few hours worth of agony.
In the hospital they were giving us continuous doses of Fentanyl which is 80 times more powerful than morphine but we were still in agony. We only noticed its effect after they stopped giving it to us, then it was worse.
As bad as a situation is it can always be worse.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the material body is designed to cause suffering.
This material world is NOT our home.
I am so sinful that even though I was in the Holy dham and chanting the best japa I have ever chanted I did not die. Instead I went through untold suffering for months and in the end I will still have to die.
I can assure you that for most people (the vast majority) death is going to be a very unpleasant experience.
And to repeat what Srila Prabhupada said: “don’t think this won’t happen to you.”
AT THE TIME OF DEATH THE HOLY NAME OF KRSNA IS YOUR ONLY FRIEND. So you should make acquaintance with Him NOW.
Every morning we say after the 10th offence “it is also offensive to be inattentive while chanting” all I can say to all of you is to be as attentive and focused on the Holy Name as you possible can because this world is a dangerous place and like me you may suddenly find yourself face down in the dirt, covered in blood, unable to move, blinded by your own blood, body smashed and broken, in pain beyond description, struggling to breath and in that condition you have to chant. It was not easy. Just thinking about it is disturbing (I re-live it). So practice now for the inevitable.
Sundari Radhika dd told me that before she used to be afraid of having children because of the pain of child birth. But after what she experienced she said that she could have 100 children no problem, childbirth is after all natural and the pain no matter how intense lasts a few hours at most. Now if a woman had to go through intense labor pains for 6 weeks or more she would beat her husband unconscious with a cricket bat if he approached her for sex.
Krsna saved us for some purpose so when we recover fully we both want to engage a lot more intensely in His devotional service while we still have time.
The power of prayer; we survived by the prayers of so many devotees all over the world.
Though I am not self-realized just the knowledge that I am not this body was of immeasurable aid in passing through this terrible time.
Some times devotees ask me “are you not angry with Krsna because He let this happen to you?” It seems that they were the ones who were confused thinking “how Krsna could allow this horrible thing to happen? We are also His devotees and the same could happen to us.” My response is: What does Krsna have to do with this? Krsna didn’t tell me to come to the material world. I can assure you that I am not a nityasiddha who came here on a Vaikuntha airplane. Incredibly stupid and foolish as I am I became envious of Krsna and was forced to come to this material world. I am suffering my just deserts. When Lord Krsna says that this material world is a temporary place full of suffering He was not kidding. This is a world full of incredible suffering and death; we should make no mistake about it. The material world is designed by Lord Krsna to be perfectly imperfect so that we will never want to come back here again. Bhaktisiddhanta said “that as soon as one takes up spiritual life one’s path is strewn with thorns.”
And now a few words from Sundari Radhika devi dasi regarding her realizations:
“The whole experience was very sobering. Srila Prabhupada’s words came true, and were not exaggerated when he repeats on almost every page that in the material world there is danger on every step, we do not have enough time, and should take seriously Krsna Consciousness.
“The outstanding realization is that we should get out of this bodily, material consciousness ASAP. We disobeyed and envied Krsna, so He gave us an opportunity to create our own illusion, and be whatever we want to be, to be in our world of illusions, called the material world. And we can play here independently life after life, foolishly forgetting our real home, our real family, our real identity, forgetting Krsna.
“Unfortunately we are not always conscious that this material world can be described just in one word – pain. This is a world of pain, physical, mental, emotional, it hurts wherever we touch it: body hurts, false ego hurts, mind hurts. Some people would say, “oh, do not be morbid or pessimistic, there are so many wonderful things in this material world!” Yes, sure there are, but it is the ultimate humiliation for the spiritual soul to get material body (proof of our sinful misbehavior, actually showing that we are criminals). Any noble man and woman would not be proud to get material body. It is our own creation, created by perverted desires to enjoy independently from Krsna and His pure devotees. It is our shame, and we look even more ridiculous and insane when we become proud of anything related to this temporary body. There is nothing in our material existence that we should be proud of. Our only success will be if we will use this little faith and intelligence to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and by his and Krsna’s mercy get out of this unending illusion.”
Several devotees responded to our request for calcium supplements to speed both of our healing process including Madhusudan Prabhu and his wife Kanchanbala Mataji (San Diego), Hari-kirtana Prabhu (Washington, DC), Devaprastha Prabhu (Dallas), H.H. Guru Prasada Svami, Bhaktin Camille Scipioni http://www.dandavats.com/?p=3818 (New York), Tina Dickey (Canada) and Mahatattva Prabhu a brahmacari in San Diego who literally spent his last dollar to help us and Bhakta Ole Alstrup who helped us find the necessary supplements that others provided. Mahapurana Prabhu and his wife Bhadra Mataji (Atlanta) were very helpful by sending a large box of whey protein and supplements. Dr. Tammy Bennet (Florida) kindly sent all kinds of Chinese Medicines, whey protein and supplements. We thank all these kind souls for thinking of us in our time of need. Also many thanks to some of Sundari Radhika’s friends from Croatia and England who were keeping in touch with her through all those months of recovery.
We would be remiss if we did not give our deepest thanks to HH Gopal Krsna Gosvami and the devotees of Sri Sri Radha Parthasarathi Mandira who all personified the mercy and compassion of the Lord. Maharaja was always inquiring about our welfare and had his disciples wait on us hand and foot in our helpless condition. It is no exaggeration to say that our survival and recovery is largely due to their loving care for us. And it was not short term care but it went on for months, we came to Delhi for a 9 day trip and stayed for 10 months in their care. Never once were we made to feel that we were a burden or inconvenience to them which would have made us feel depressed. Rather we always felt lucky to be in the association of so many genuinely kind souls. It is impossible to repay this debt but we will try as best we can.
Your humble servant