Thursday, March 31, 2016

Endometriosis: How I survived it

The stabbing pain of Endometriosis (photo credit)
It all started in June 2008. My periods became unbearably painful. I literally had to stop whatever I was doing and clench my teeth to bear the waves of cramps that came every few minutes. This was definitely unusual for me and a cause for worry. Plus it was crippling to not be able to work for a few days a month. I went to see a gynaec - someone I had just started seeing since I had moved to Mumbai only a few months ago. Her first reaction was to do a pregnancy test which was negative. On further discussion, she suspected endometriosis because of the pain pattern I described to her. Endometriosis pain is not like usual cramps that’s mostly around the lower abdomen and the back. It spreads across the rectal area, back, thighs and down the legs too and comes in waves of stabbing pain. 

I came back home and looked up online. Endometriosis is the growth of uterine tissue outside the uterus. The most common cause is known as retrograde menstruation - where some of the the blood that should flow outside the body starts flowing inwards. And this leads to the formation of the tissue around the fallopian tubes, ovaries and sometimes even the intestines. I think the description itself is scary enough. And with debilitating pain, it’s a deadly assault on the body and mind. To make things worse, my online research revealed that this condition has no cure. It’s either painkillers with lifestyle changes or an occasional surgery when the growth gets out of hand. I was rapidly plunging into depression thinking about going through that pain for the rest of my life.

Meanwhile, the doctor prescribed a laparoscopy for further diagnosis and pain killers for the time being. I couldn’t go through with the invasive laparoscopy because I was too scared and had an ultrasound done instead. The reports were normal and the doctor said that the endometrial lesions were probably not too big to be detected. And I was surprised to know that since the pain I went through felt like I was going to die. The funny thing is that the extent of endometriosis (stage 1 to 4) has nothing to do with the severity of the pain experienced. 

The pain killers she put me on - Spasmo proxyvon - an opiate analgesic which can get you addicted in 5 days straight! It almost amounted to being drugged! All it did was make me numb and put me to sleep pretty much all day. I did not want to sit up or eat or do anything else. The other alternative she gave me was to get pregnant asap - a common solution that allopathy offers Endometriosis patients. Pregnancy means no periods for a few months and time for the lesions to heal. What they overlook or don’t tell you is that once your periods are back, Endometriosis is back too! I did not want to have a child as a temporary solution to a medical problem (and I wasn’t even married for a year at that time). So she put me on oral contraceptives to suppress ovulation and bleed less. 

I dreaded the pain all month. It was like a full stop to quality life and the pain was like a punishment. I have no clue who cooked meals or run the house on those days. I recall an incident where my spouse went out to buy bread at 11 in the night to fix some dinner for me and himself after he finished his work. And he had to force me to sit up and have something since all I wanted to do was sleep. 

Life painfully went on like this - despite pain killers and contraceptives - for about 6 months. I was due to visit my husband’s family in Kerala in December 2008. He suggested that we speak to one of his cousins who is a practicing doctor in Ayurveda. That seemed like a ray of hope. I did not even have to explain to her since she herself had gone through this. She prescribed some medicines in Ayurveda and asked me to take them in the right proportion for 6 months. I cannot describe my relief and happiness when I had no pain the first time I got my periods about a month after I started the new medicines. After all the no-cure stories, this definitely seemed like a miracle. (I did have Endometriosis like pain a year later ironically after I had consumed contraceptives for a month to delay periods. I repeated the 6 month course again just to make sure). I have been pain free and healthy since 2009. I went through a series of unrelated tests last year which showed no trace of Endometriosis. Even if the lesions where too small to be detected by ultrasound earlier, they have disappeared now. 

Once the medicines worked for me, it set me thinking about how the world thinks there is no cure to endometriosis and the internet is flooded with articles about managing the pain better. And yet here I was with these set of medicines with visible results in just a month! It’s not a rare condition. A few million women across the world suffer from this. Katrina Kaif went through a surgery for this very condition in 2009. Celina Jaitley, after being diagnosed with it, has been an actively spreading awareness about it. International personalities like Susan Sarandan and Padma Lakshmi have openly talked about it. We need to continue the dialogue. 

I regret not sharing my story with the world for all these years. But #EndometriosisAwarenessMonth seems like the best chance to do it. There’s a lot to be done to spread awareness about the cure to this dreadful condition to women who are going through this dreadful pain month after month. My blog post is my little contribution to getting that word out. Do share this in your network so that people can become aware and find freedom from pain through the miraculous cure that gave me my life back. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Why Vacations Can Be More Stressful Than Everyday Life

Vacations are a great way to take a break! (Photo credit)

How many times do we wish, on a stressful day, that we were on a nice vacation, sipping a drink and maybe curled up with a book? Ah! The thought itself is so soothing, right? But actually start planning that vacation and most of the times, I just want to go back to work. In my experience, planning a vacation and sometimes even being on one is more stressful. I know I sound weird. I mean mostly with vacations to new places which involve lots of research and planning. And then there’s a whole lot of site seeing - which is tiring if you do and guilty inducing if you travel all the way and don’t. 

I’ve always been iffy about elaborate vacation plans since they require quite a bit of time to plan. Vacations are meant to be times away from our usual routine involving work and home. Most of us are busy in our stressful lives and get to breathe easy during weekends. Taking a break by going to some nice place is a great way of having a long break and de-stress ourselves. Most photos I see of people on travel, sometimes with kids in tow, are about exotic places, adventure sports, landmarks - and pretty much in any season. I so admire their adventurous spirit. They really know how to take a break and live it up too! And I think to myself - the only kind of break I want is to check in to a hotel and go to sleep and order only in-room dining. I don’t want to get up early and look at places because, Hell yeah! I am on vacation! 

We haven’t planned an elaborate vacation to a new place in the last few years. That requires giving up our precious weekend time to planning and booking. And I’ve been okay with a quick weekend getaway to some familiar place where we can just ‘be’ and take it easy. But then we decided to take the plunge and take a vacation in the US this year. Half a weekend was spent in deciding the places we wanted to visit. And once that got done, it was the pressure of finding the time to look up suitable flights and hotels that fit our budget. And when we were finally on our vacation, we were torn between just sleeping in and actually having a day out. (I won't shock you by revealing which city we were in and yet ended up lying around in our room chomping on room service!) We paced it well with enough lying around time but with different timezones and covering 3 cities, it was exhausting. And this set me thinking about how people look at vacations. 

I ran a twitter poll to see what kind of things people like to do. I don't claim that the results of this poll represent the real divide. But I was relieved to see that a majority like to take it easy.

After our vacation this time, I realised that it's best to go with the times and succumb to some new fangled concepts sometimes - the staycation. I just checked and it's already in the dictionary too! Although a twist should be good to ensure we indeed distance ourselves from our humdrum surroundings. Probably check into a hotel in the same city. This essentially eliminates the door bells, the landline phone calls and the temptation to get some work done while I am in my comfort zone at home. This also ensures that one doesn't need elaborate planning or site seeing and also sounds like a real vacation (from planning etc)

What kind of an outing describes your vacation? While I feel I still have some adventure left in me, I still like to take it layer it with easy going time. I am keen to know how others plan their time out. Do tell me in the comments and share with the readers too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why The US Is A Strange Country For An Indian Like Me

The first time one lands in the US of A from India, one is enthralled by the super straight roads, tall buildings, traffic signals - that are actually followed - everywhere, the sheer variety in every single thing available on earth, the huge portions of food (indicating abundance as opposed to shortage in our country), smiling strangers greeting you in elevators... Great!! But to me, a few days into this country and I realized what a pain-in-the-ass living here would be.

Before I go any further, I should also mention that I am highly partial when it comes to my country. I love it to bits - all the noise, dirt, pollution, stereotypes, prejudices included - and would never exchange it to live in any - even far better - country. I have travelled to a lot of foreign countries and never felt at home anywhere. Though this was my second trip to the US, I surprisingly don’t seem to remember the same impressions from the last time. Probably, because I was so overwhelmed, it being my first time. Or I had just started traveling and did have much of an opinion about places. 

So here is why the best country in the world failed to impress me:

1. Indian Stretchable Time: This is the first thing on my list and any Indian will understand where I am going with this. It’s nice to be punctual and all but I’m sorry, Indians are not on-the-dot punctual. Period. A buffer of 10-15 minutes is a given for us. And having to follow exact schedules is plain regimental. And a crime on a vacation! But guess what! If the ticket counter closes at half past five, it closes at half past five! 

2. Time zones: For someone used to the same time in Mumbai and Chennai, this seems one fucked up concept. I know this has more to do with geography but I still cannot wrap my head around it. When we started our drive for the Grand Canyon, we were a little short on time. But we’d still make it. Except for a little hitch - our clocks suddenly went an hour ahead on our way. Oh! Nevada to Arizona - two contiguous states - have a time difference of an hour. And remember, the ticket counter closes at half past five! Another time, I woke up nice and early for our flight to Mumbai to finish packing. Just as I got done, I realised that the clock on my phone is an hour ahead of my wrist watch. The auto setting feature on the phone picked up on the daylight saving and it was 10 am instead of 9 am and out of nowhere I lost an hour of my life! (Which is nothing compared to losing 3 hours between Vegas to Orlando!!)

The time zones in the US itself are so varying (Photo credit)
3. The levels of courtesy: I was, and still appreciate to a large extent, the courteous behavior people generally have here. Nodding, greeting, wishing people a great day definitely makes the place more cheerful. Plus, in deference to someone’s personal space ensures that people queue up with 4 ft between each other! Great! But by the end of a week, I had enough of apologising just because I got within 2 inches of people. I mean I don’t have a contagious disease I should be sorry for! Stop queuing up for change! (I always thought queuing up was too goody goody in any city) It’s ok to mind your own business sometimes and leave strangers alone!  

4. Driving hell: I know that we constantly complain about the lack of lane discipline and incessant honking in our country. And we all wish that we’d behave a little more on the roads. Driving in the US is just the opposite - it is like military rule. Yes, after you honk, scream, maneuver your way through the roads of India, driving in the US is like Taliban regime. The lanes are laid out, the speed limit carved in stone and there is absolutely no scope for making a mistake! I shudder to think of how people in the US make it through their learning phase!! While we were stuck in a 45 min traffic jam in Orlando, the first thought that came to my mind was how our ingenious country would have used the side lane, covered up the 4 feet gap between every vehicle and reduced the jam to half!! 

5. Automation heaven?: While I am inspired by the level of automation in the US - where most payments can be made with one swipe of a card - it does go a bit too far, if you ask me. I went through different hues of feeling strange, annoying and intimidating when the lady at an airport cafe told me to pick what I want and scan codes on my own. And at the end of it, I could swipe the card and generate the bill. That is like finding a new profession in my country! It might be a great thing for people living here, but I'm used to someone doing that for me back home. Spoilt, am I? Yes!! Checking in at airline kiosks is a great thing but quite intimidating for a first timer. Filling in petrol in your car on your own should come with a manual of instructions. 

6. Domestic travel: As if time zones and punctuality isn’t enough of a kill joy, try traveling to different cities within the country. I travelled to 3 cities and observed the same things and I think it’s safe for me to confirm them. Security in the US is a pain. Shoes and belts need to come off too. The security personnel are outright scary and eye everyone as if we are all guilty of some crime. There is no buy-all-the-food-you-want hospitality on the planes. So, each time it was - grab a bite at the airport and pick something to eat on the flight. Each checked in baggage costs!! (about 20-25 dollars per bag). The result - people try to pile on all their luggage into the cabin, the overhead storage is crammed, the boarding process crawls because people are trying to cram all the bags they have. (Plus food bags for the journey) I totally feel like a queen traveling in my country!

I think it’s pretty natural to be hit by the almost robotic, rule following lives that people there live after being in a free-in-every-sense country like India. Some sign boards made me want to yell, “How dumb are you! Isn’t it obvious!” So in conclusion, I think they need to become a bit of badasses and we need to straighten up a bit. Both the countries are like extremes of a spectrum. We can meet somewhere midway where they loosen up and we become more stringent. What do you think?