Monday, May 7, 2012

A dystonic tonic

It's been almost three months since I last blogged. For once, there is a technical reason. After two very enjoyable months in Cambridge, about which I wrote occasionally on this blog, I woke up one morning in early March to find my tongue swollen, or so I thought. When I spoke, I had a lisp. Not the end of the world, of course, and I thought it would just go away.

To cut a long story short, I had acquired lingual or oromandibular dystonia - a neurological disorder in which the tongue keeps popping out of the mouth when one speaks, causing one to mumble and lisp. The tongue was not swollen at all and the GP in Cambridge (despite helping herself to 60 pounds for each of two 10-minute visits) could not figure it out. So I came back to Bombay and underwent the usual battery of tests. Thankfully these ruled out a number of delightful possibilities ranging across tumours, strokes, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, muscular dystrophy, myasthenia gravis, Parkinson's etc. When it doesn't arise from these other sources, dystonia by itself is largely harmless - apart from the inconvenience. So here I am, alive and well but mumbling.

Three neurologists and two months later, there's no improvement. The diagnosis can be summarised by saying that either (i) it came on due to stress, physical or mental or both, including viral infections, in which case it should go away on its own on a timescale of months, or (ii) it is a genetic disorder which was expressed late in life, in which case it can be managed by medications that have a 50% success rate (these have been tried and I seem to fall in the wrong 50%) or botox injections, which I haven't yet tried.

The point of this blog is not to whine about my problem but to try and highlight a few things I've learned in the process (other than that a GP in the UK costs 60 pounds for 10 minutes!!). Just about everyone I know - friends, relatives, colleagues - have been extremely supportive. But in the course of accepting their kind words, I've often out of habit asked them back "and how are you"? And in the process, learned that I'd been ignoring, or was merely unaware of, multiple tragedies that were generally much worse than my own. In the aforementioned circle of friends, relatives and colleagues and their own dear ones, I've discovered a rich variety of neurological, cardiac, psychiatric, physiological, you-name-it, disorders. Some I knew about, but perhaps didn't heed carefully enough. Others came as news to me. Many of these problems are crushing, virtually incurable, sometimes they've led to bereavement, and often they have wrecked peoples' family lives and professional activities. People bear them with fortitude and even find the time to phone me and ask how my mumbling is doing.

The above is meant to indicate that I realise how lucky I am, but it also appears to paint an excessively tragic picture of the world. In reality, the same people who are facing all these problems have, in the past, had wonderful times, relationships, experiences, all that. And so indeed have I. So it comes down to the trite observation that we all experience good times and bad times.

A story from the annals of Buddhist philosophy recounts that a young woman goes to a priest, distraught at the loss of her child. He refers her to the Buddha, who asks her to drop in on her various neighbours and find one household that has not been visited by death. On doing this, she is enlightened. Of course she could have insisted that her tragedy was upsetting no matter what was happening to others. But we all know that, as a protagonist in a Buddhist tale, this option was not open to her! These tales always, and quite rightly, have to end with enlightenment.

I haven't managed to be thus enlightened yet, and am handling my problem with my own personal combination of acceptance, gloom, practicality and disappointment. It's nice not to be stuck inside a Buddhist tale with the obligation to achieve instant illumination! And yet... when I get solicitous mails from people I don't know, or get told that my blog is sorely missed, or get a call from someone whose own problems are far worse, I feel I'm being offered a golden opportunity for enlightenment. Sooner or later I intend to take it.

1 comment:

B. SUNDER said...

Bravo! I was wondering, where is Dr. Mukhi. Reading your blog is such a delight for the past two years, that I got inspired not to scribble in my own blog. I felt, what I write is pretty lame and I must upgrade to your level of deep insight. But this posting has taken me to another level of deep thought. I mean, you are really a Man of Peculiar Words at Peculiar Times. Going through an ailment which apparently is causing a hindrance that is manageable but still unworthy of, and still keeping a cheerful spirit to write about it, takes one hell of a mind. Saying that, I salute you and admire you etc, is such an understatement. All I would like to say is I will keep reading your blog. Simplicity is the best potion at all times, I imbibe it and you have it as second nature.