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  • Writer's pictureSruti Mohapatra

Yes. I can!

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

We use this phrase several times every day, but have we ever reflected on the enormity of this group of words?

I too had used this phrase several times but its immensity hit me when I became restricted to the wheel-chair. It all started when I met with an accident. My worst fears surfaced when doctors pronounced that the lower half of my body was dead for life. All that I could do was move my head, everything else was still and lacked mobility. My own body no more obeyed my commands.

At 7.30 PM on Tuesday I had been outgoing, confident, full of life; an hour later I was disabled, bound to a wheelchair and uncertain about my future. I cried, threatened to end my life and finally numb with pain and shock became uncommunicative. 

It was in this state that I arrived in the rehabilitation center in Vellore. “Rehab” the name evokes many memories, sad, happy, frustrating, encouraging, but above all a new beginning. However, the first sight of rehab was profoundly depressing. Dim lights barely brightened the dark corridors, people on wheelchairs sat with vacant expressions in grotesques postures, those who could not sit were lying on stretchers, attendants looked dejected and on the whole the atmosphere was disheartening. I wanted to run away. When all my requests, threats and shouts fell on deaf ears, I became rigid and despite the continued requests of the doctors and therapists did not budge out of my room. No exercises. No food. I wanted to go home.

Above all, for everything I was asked to do, I had this supreme weapon

“ No, a quadriplegic cannot”. 

The evening after I arrived, there was a gentle knock on the door. Mummy who had just gone through a deluge of my abuses was crying softly. A sweet voice said "Sruti, I am your neighbour Collette, can I come in?".

Before I could scream a scathing reply mummy hurried to the door and opened it wide welcoming her in. I turned my face to the other side and closed my eyes. Without giving mummy time to apologise for my rudeness she started chatting away. She could light a matchstick and eat with a fork. I wanted to laugh aloud. Here I was worried about walking and there she was jubilant over such trifle achievements! But there was something in her voice which forced me not only to keep quiet but also have a look at her. She was more deformed than any one I had seen in the corridor. She had probably shrunk into the wheelchair for all I could notice were a pair of bright red shorts and an equally bright T-shirt. Next were two flexed hands with curled fingers and a pair of bent legs. And then the face! The eyes held profound warmth and the smile overrode all her physical anomalies. I learnt many things from her, but the one which keeps me going is “The key to living is smiling and making an effort with a positive attitude”. 

I was a very ambitious and active girl. And lady luck too had showered her blessings on me. Be it studies, sports or cultural activities I had excelled in all. I was a gold medallist and topper, member of the University and State Basketball team and had won more than hundred prizes in various school, college, state and national level literary activities. I had been the first woman to be the literary champion of the university. My achievements reached a peak when I got through the civil services examination, the elite service in India, in my first attempt. I got engaged, life became a whirlwind of fun and excitement and then suddenly calamity struck. I was shocked, bewildered, angry and then became rude and sarcastic. I loved hurting my family and all those who cared for me. The only person with whom I was always sweet-tempered was my fiancé. I am still in search for an answer to this behavior of mine. Was it the fear of losing him or was it his charm that made me swoon and fall in his arms whenever he was around? All that I wanted was to be back on my feet at the earliest and get married. That was the only reason I had agreed to come to Vellore. It had the most advanced physiotherapy unit in India and there was a slim chance of walking. Nothing else mattered not even dad's swollen feet or mummy's sad eyes, I had become impervious to everything beyond me.

Now Collette showed me an entirely different world. Her parents lived in Malaysia and could not be near her as they had to work hard to pay for her therapies. She lived alone with her brother and was trying her best to live independently. Her fiancé, whose reckless driving had ended Collette on the wheel-chair, had deserted her within weeks of the accident and she had no regrets. All that she wanted was to be an asset to her family even on the wheel-chair. I felt ashamed of myself. How selfish and callous I had become!  

From the next day I started going out for my exercises Sitting with Collette every evening, watching her attack life with leonine zeal, trying to overcome the physical limitations and celebrating her smallest achievements gave me hope. Life was not just a pair of legs nor did it end with getting married, there was so much more to it. I was a different person the next week. The patients on wheelchairs and stretchers became people with names and then friends. There was Captain Subir, Sudha, Joy, Farida, Gembo and so many others. Religion, language, age and sex had no meaning. We were all on the same boat straining in our struggles to master our limited physical abilities. Then there were the doctors and the therapists. Each giving his best to his patient to pull them out from their self imposed cocoons and make them men and women again. In my case they were Dr. Suranjan, Ravi David and Vinod Rai. Suranjan always emphasised on my potential and the heights people had achieved on the wheel-chair. Vinod was shy and quiet. I wanted a newspaper and he unfailingly brought his copy for me daily. I wanted to watch "Mahabharat" and he brought me his television set. And Ravi, his loud voice and booming laughter echoed the rehab all through the day. In the evenings he always made it a point to visit his patients. And he had a never ending reservoir of jokes. The doctors and rehab staff always offered hope. 

It was here that the immensity of “I CAN” hit me. Each time I fell in my effort to sit straight, I repeated “Yes, I can, and this went on with each step I took towards a new life on the wheel-chair. When I had dinner holding the fork on my own, wrote a page without dropping the pen, counted a bundle of one rupee notes, all that I had to do was say “Yes, I Can”.  

The reckless driving of one man shattered many a lives.

My entire world crumbled around me, my dreams shattered and fragmented into such small pieces that I neither could nor can, ever complete the picture  again. I still remember the glare of lights, the loud honking, the crash and it was never light again. I entered a thoroughly alien world. A world so alien and frightening that many of my dear ones moved away. But cribbing over lost dreams will never light up our lives.

I think  the surest way to disability is to cripple oneself by the thought of disability and the burden of “ I CANNOT” and “ I LOST EVERYTHING” feeling.

The best way to get away from the vicious clutches of any physical and its concomitant mental limitations is to remind oneself that negative thoughts and actions are too worthless to be groped. " Joi de vivre " is the motto of living. Well, agreed, its not as easy as I project it to be, but it is almost as easy; for sure. This has been amply proved by Beethoven, who composed the " Ninth Symphony " one of the greatest musical compositions ever, after he had gone deaf, Milton's poetic genius was but heightened by his blindness, and Stephen Hawking one of the greatest theoretical physicists of our time is permanently tied to his wheel-chair because of ALS a motor neuron disease.

These and other instances of people achieving the greatest heights of excellence inspite of their physical hindrance owe to this phrase “I CAN”


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