The Monk who bought a Cycle

Not many of those who know Sachanand D will associate him with religion. But for many years, in the peak of winter, Sacha takes a 10 day holiday. He travels to the hills of Uttarakhand, sans his laptop and mobile phone. The laptop gets replaced by a kamandal – as Sacha lives the life of a sadhu for those 10 days. Many years ago, on one of his winterly sojourns in the mountains, he got caught in a snowstorm. He took shelter under a rock – and decided to stay there till the storm clears. By the time it cleared, everything around him looked a uniform white. And he realised that he had no idea of how to get back to the village that he had started off from. In any case, he had come to the mountains for meditation, so he decided to settle down under the rock – and meditate. The only difference – with very very limited food supply. The meditation turned out to be much longer than he expected. By the end of day 10, Sacha was too weak to move. The weather had improved slightly, but the stamina was zero. And that’s when he happened to hear the bells of some animals moving into pasture. With whatever little strength he had, Sacha pulled himself out and climbed the rock he had sheltered under. He grabbed the attention of the shepherd, who had got his sheep out for grazing. And he managed to live to tell this story to me. I wonder what I would have done if I were in Sacha’s situation. Probably take some Discovery channel inspired action. Wander along till you come across a stream. Start walking downstream – and you are sure to come across some form of civilisation soon enough.

Cut to September 2020, Sacha and his colleagues at Gestamp, encountered a viral agent, who dumped a fairly virulent load on to the top management. Sacha tested Corona positive. Soon his family was too. The family, like most of the people who get infected, bounced back in a matter of days. But for our primary carrier, the infection got deeper. Sacha had to get hospitalised. All the big hospitals in Pune were chock full of patients, so he had to get admitted to one in Chakan. The first week of hospitalisation was quite cool. No major troubles. On day 7, the discharge process started, and a last X ray was done. It was discovered that the lungs are all clammed up. The same day, breathing troubles started happening. Time for the ventilator to start. His viral count reached an alarming level of 800. His Gestamp colleague, who was admitted along with him, had also reached a very high level of viral load of 400. The colleague passed away within a few days of that level being reached.

On Day 12, Sacha’s oxygen saturation level dropped down to 65. His attending doctor was told of this – and drove down from his house in Pune at 2300 hrs – ostensibly to see his patient alive, maybe for the last time. In the bedside conversation that happened at 0030 hrs, Sacha assured the doc that he planned to recover quite early from this mess. By then Sacha was breathing 75 times a minute. What helped in the recovery was the pranayama and meditation that Sacha had been practising for many years. Sacha told himself to concentrate on the ventilator – and match his lung breathing with the rhythm of the ventilator. The situation then was so bad that even a short trip to the loo was akin to running a marathon. The doctors had him on 100% oxygen inflow. Antibiotics were being pumped in intravenously at a furious rate. The breathing was restricted only through the nose, and it was totally dried oxygen. The doc’s philosophy being that the dryness will help dry up Sacha’s clogged lungs. And help the faster transfer of the antibiotics from the blood to the lungs. 

Any disease is a battle that first and foremost has to be fought by the patient himself. Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ talks of this fight very well. What saved  our friend was his will power, and the past experiences with training himself in breathing. By Day 20, the ventilator was removed. And our friend was adventurous enough to cajole his daughter into taking him out for an unofficial ride to Chakan to sample some street food. He collapsed in the small distance that he had to walk from the lift to the car. And he realised that his body could not take in more than two spoonfuls of poha. He returned back to hospital – and was subjected to a court martial with participation from all ranks, starting from the nurse to the matron to the doctors. 

I have a personal philosophy about medical expenses. The law of diminishing marginal utility applies even to hospital bills. A hospital bill of Rs. 10 lakh +, and here I am assuming that one is not checking into a 5 star hospital, is a sign of the end being near. The low cost surefire remedies have all been tried out – and what the docs are now doing is taking expensive shots in the dark to try to prolong the agony and empty the purse of the patient. In such cases, it’s better to just accept that one’s time has come and move on. Of course, this decision is not the patient’s alone. I think an important part of parenting is to let the kids know when the plug has to be pulled. Sacha’s hospital bill came to Rs. 8 lakh – and I am happy that he passed my 1 million test. Sacha tells me that the mortality rate of hospitals in Chakan were much lower than the mortality rates of Pune’s leading hospitals.

One thing that near death experiences teach you, is the value of life. As Snoopy of Peanuts says: One day we must all die, but on the other days we must live. So Sacha continues to enjoy life to the fullest. He can walk 3 km now. He flew down to Hyderabad this month. His eldest daughter, the same one who was his conspirator in crime in the street food ride, saved money for the family, by only getting a one way ticket purchased to Hyderabad. She settles down now with her new family in Hyderabad, after getting married to her friend of many years. She also saved her dad some more money, as Corona restrictions ensured that there were only 7 people from Pune who attended the marriage. Sacha met me yesterday evening. He wants to recycle, ahem.. start cycling again. Managed to get him a Felidae electric cycle – and Sacha’s plan is to cycle the 28 km distance from his house in Pimpri to the factory in Chakan every Saturday. Welcome to the cycling gang, Sacha.  Look forward to many long rides with you!