I was diagnosed to be G6PD positive, essentially meaning that there was an enzyme not present in my blood. A very rare case, but then again with the permutations of the human gene, a little deformity is expected, given the individualistic nature of each human being.
To explain it further, this enzyme, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, or G6PD, helps the red blood cells function normally. Its absence or deficiency can cause hemolytic anemia, usually after exposure to certain medications, foods, or even infections. Obviously, I was totally ignorant of either the fact that I had this condition or that it could prove to be fatal.
It started with a dose of some pain reliever we normally pop in for everyday ailments like headache. The reactions it triggered in me were very mild at first. Pain in the lower abdomen area and shooting pain in the groin region. Coming from a relatively close knit family, I didn’t want to cause unnecessary stress to my parents and siblings, and thus foolishly tolerated the pain through sleepless nights.
And then it got really bad.
On the 4th night, I was urinating very dark red fluid, with a burning sensation. I put myself through that night. The whole day was lost, writhing in agony and trying to eat and drink, only to throw up. I was on liquids. Three nights of this red urine later, could not bear the pain anymore and asked my folks to take me to the hospital right away. It was in the middle of the night.
The next early morning, we rushed to our family doctor, an hour’s drive away. The entire journey I can remember trying to remain conscious through unbearable pain. As soon as we reached the hospital, I could hear the doctor give some urgent orders around while I was moved hurriedly to an enclosed ward. A long pipe was inserted in through my mouth, leading the other end in a transparent plastic bottle. I was asked to pump my stomach by myself and try to push as much as liquid I could out through the pipe. All this with unbearable shooting pain and trying to remain conscious. I pushed my insides, with all the force and saw green gooey stuff rush through the pipe into the bottle. The pain lessened a wee bit. I was encouraged to push harder. To what seemed like forever I kept flushing my guts out, to fill nearly a litre of toxic formation. A few hours more, and maybe one of my kidneys would have to be taken off. It was a very close call.
Seeing the green gooey toxic liquid, was making me want to puke more. Only my entire body was drained of fluid. The danger was not yet over. I was rushed to an A-grade hospital facility in Bombay, Hinduja Hospital. From the time, I was whisked in through to the emergency ward, I could feel some of myself feeling hopeful about my survival. I was immediately given a bed in the ICCU. My RBC count had fallen to all all-time low and very dangerously so. Four bottles of blood, and some 20 saline bottles in two days finally got me back to some normalcy. Funnily, it was my sense of humor and the inherent flirt in me which kept my spirits alive, and in turn my body.
I had a sleep, wake, eat, clean schedule. And I had procured a pen and a paper pad to doodle. No visitors were allowed, so my family and friends only could see me through the glass window in the door. I was recuperating well, compared to the semi-conscious patients around me. In those 3 days, one of them passed away. It was a very real, wake up call. It is strange, how even with the inevitability of it, we are never prepared for it. Even it’s a someone whom you didn’t know. But the act of hearing the beeps on the monitor go off, and the nurse taking off all the plugs and pipes poking through the body, makes one realize the frailty of life and also the uncertainty of it.
I was thankful to be alive and well. There were constant monitoring of my state and I didn’t mind being the ‘case study’. These were days when G6PD deficiency was not all that common and there weren’t too many live cases to study on. I was shifted to the general ward, where the monitoring continued. They tested my blood for every damn chemical and that’s when they came across this deficiency in mine. Seeing my averseness to allopathic medicines and popping pills, I was more comfortable with the needle pricks. Some people just have a different set of pain resisting profile.
During this entire phase, there was a very senior doctor who was taking care of me. Dr.F.D.Dastoor. He was curious and patient and extraordinarily caring. He didn’t force me to take my pills, only the vitamins, and was okay with me skipping my sleeping pills in case I fell asleep reading. On my way to recovery, I had the fortune to talk to him on many an occasion. “70 percent disease, starts in the mind” these wise words stuck with me forever. From then on, and this is back in 1994, I have time and again, reinstated this magic mantra and it has worked.
Twenty days later, I was discharged with a clean chit. I had successfully recuperated to my usual health, and as long as I stayed away from a list of medicines and pear (yes, the fruit) there seemed to be no reason for any kind off relapse on this anemic attack. In my final trips to the doctor, he gave me another simple wellness measure. “If, you are urinating clean and clear, your digestive system is in top condition and there is nothing wrong with your system”. On occasion, when I have due to lack of time, or just plain neglect, not had enough quantity of water, the yellowish coloration of the urine rings the warning bells loud in my head. And I hydrate myself, immediately. These two very simple and very basic rules, have kept me away from hospitals, except for a couple of fractures, (mild osteoporosis ).
So, living isn’t all that difficult, if we can manage to keep the disease out of our head. To be healthy, stay happy and hydrated.