Memory loss and never give up attitude

For me, my husband’s story has been very inspirational. It is a little longish, bear with me. Here it is…

An Inspirational Story

This is a real life story to inspire many. It is a story of indomitable courage and never-give-up spirit. It is the story of recovery through Yoga and Reiki. It is story of an achievement against all adversities, not because one hasto but because one wants to.

On 14th August, 2004 night, my husband, Mr. Madhukar Dayal, who had joined the FPM program at IIM, Ahmedabad, suffered brain stroke. Two days later, MRI scan of the brain was done and it showed an infarct in his left brain, due to which his right body was partially paralyzed. The damage done on his brain was more mental than physical since he had lost his memory completely. He could not recall any of his friends’ names. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as he jokes about it now) he remembered me all the time. He had lost both – the long term as well as short term memory. So much so that he could not identify even alphabets. It was as if his computer had been formatted – devoid of all programs and all data!

He was hospitalized for 10 days during which various tests were done to identify the cause of stroke. Since he had forgotten everything, he kept saying that he had not fallen down and hurt his head prior to it. He was put on blood thinners – aspirin and Clopidogrel for life. But his spirit had not lowered. Even in hospital, trying to boost my morale, he once said to me, “Don’t worry, even with my half a brain, I will be a handful for this world.” All through this time, faculty members and Administration Officer of IIM were very helpful and caring. They reassured and supported me throughout our stay in the hospital. Later too, they were very accommodating and understanding of our predicament.

Next 6 months tested his mental stamina. Recovery was painfully slow. Though he had few physical problems, living with his loss of memory was a great challenge. It was difficult for him to conduct even routine activities. He would get up to take medicine and forget to actually take it or he would have it and forget that he has already taken it; he would go out for a walk and forget his way back; he would watch TV but could not understand anything – his vocabulary had become very limited and he would forget previous scene/dialogue when the next one started; he would start to talk and forget what he wanted to say; he could not find anything that he needed since he would not recall where it was kept ! We all learned to help him out. I was his memory. I had to remember everything for him and remind him of everything.

He started doing yoga regularly and religiously. One of our family friend who was a avid fan of Yoga, taught him 3 Step Rhythmic Breathing (3 SRB) Pranayam of Shri S. N. Tavaria. My husband started doing them regularly. He was habituated to do everything that he did with vigor, discipline and full gusto. This aspect of his personality was still there with him. And he attacked current problem with the same vigor.

Once his physical condition had stabilized, he shifted his focus on improving his mental abilities. He started with going through the text books of my younger son, who was studying in UKG then. Starting from identifying alphabets and small 3-4 letter words, he started his schooling from scratch! It was a real challenge because his short-term memory loss was still prominent. If he learned something on a day, he would forget it next day or even an hour later. But he did not give up and kept his fight to become literate once again. Over the next 6 months, he studied English, Mathematics and Science text books of all standards from class 1 to 12. Fortunately due to Yoga and Pranayam, God’s grace and the blessings of elders, his long term memory had started recovering slowly. In a complicated process that symbolizes working of the brain, his study became easier with time, though his short-term memory was still a problem.

Since he had missed over a semester of his academics, IIM requested him to join back next year. Madhukar took that as his target to accomplish as much as he could by May 2005. But life was not easy for him. I can only now understand, that too maybe not completely, the struggle that he must have gone through. Over years he has shared some instances which show how tough it was for him to live each day.

The first time he went for a walk, he forgot his way back. Having no idea about his location or about his address, he was forced to sit down by the road, hoping for someone to find him. When he did not return home for half an hour, my family members and I started getting worried. We started searching for him. Finally my brother found him another hour later sitting by the road side. After that, we ensured that he always carried a paper with our address, names and contact numbers written on it, with him all the time, especially if he ever ventured out.

One other time, he went out on a bicycle to buy a shaving kit. He forgot the cycle at the shop and returned home walking. By the time he realized that he had left his bicycle at the shop, he had forgotten which shop he had been to and why. So, he bought a new cycle.

Thinking that studying for fellowship would strain his brain, everybody in our family, especially his and my parents wanted him to give up on the idea of pursuing the FPM program. But he refused to do so. He once told me, “At least you do not tell me to give up my studies. I would like to try it till IIM tells me that I am not capable of doing it and they chuck me out”. I never once asked him to give it up. Like the shepherd of the Alchemist, he had a dream and I wanted him to follow it – come heaven or hell.

At IIM, next year in 2005, his struggles multiplied. The academic work for the first two years of FPM program at IIMA, is taxing for even the toppers and academic elite which join the institute. For Madhukar, it was hell! Like all students, he was expected to read more than 200 pages of text, understand it, go through the case study, understand that too, try to solve it – on a daily basis. Can you imagine what a struggle it must have been for a person who would forget the first sentence by the time he read the next? But he did not give up. It just meant that he had to make copious notes on the margins of his books and in his notebooks; he had to re-read everything several times over to make some sense out of it; and even then he would recall only fraction of what others did! It was frustrating, to say the least. All this time, our sons and I were staying at Gandhinagar with my parents. He felt that he needed to focus and devote all his energy on his studies without us hindering it in any way.

Slowly but steadily, undamaged cells of his brain adapted to the brain’s requirement and a sentence became a paragraph and then a page. He could now recall sentences, then paragraphs and then pages of material that he studied. But he still depended a lot on his notes. They were his life-lines. He had also developed strategies to overcome his memory loss – like noting down everything that he did. His soft board at his room was covered with reminders like – list of things to get from market; list of tasks to be completed; telephone numbers of friends, family members; my contact numbers; money spent, loaned or borrowed; time for classes; schedule for visits; To discuss with guide; research ideas; etc. He was a lot like the protagonist in the movie Gajini! Actually I really felt the intensity of his problems only after watching that movie with him. And I cried…

But this was not the end. He had to continue his struggle. Thankfully, our sons and I shifted with him in the family quarters provided by IIMA, after his second year. Things became easier and tougher after that. Easier because I was now with him and tougher because now he had more things to deal with – me, our children and all that goes with them. He would forget to be at home when children arrived from school; he would invite people for dinner and forget to inform me; or a dinner would be canceled and he would forget to inform me; etc. But we were living in the safe heaven of the IIM campus. Our friends – all understood his problem and were more than helpful. They all formed a security net around him with their love and understanding. They would make light of the situation – we would all joke about Madhukar’s memory loss. I recall one such incident. A friend, who had borrowed money from Madhukar came to return it. Madhukar thanked him and said, “Good of you to return it, I had forgotten that you had borrowed this amount from me.” And the friend promptly took the money back and said, “I will return this amount to Tripti. What if you forget that I have returned the money and ask for it again?”.

He had chosen CISG (Computers and Information Systems Group) as his area of research. This was definitely a more challenging area compared to some other areas. Contrary to all expectations, Madhukar cleared all his tests and exams in a single go. He did well in his comprehensive exam (at the end of second year) too. This re-enforced his belief in himself.

Then, after a due literature review, he chose to work on developing an algorithm – which required detailed technical knowledge too! But then that’s Madhukar – never taking an easy way out.

Once, he started working on his research, he methodically kept notes on ideas, tasks to be done, editing required and done, etc. This has, to this day, become an integral part of his working style. He had wonderful person, Dr. Sanjay Verma as his guide, who understood his problem, encouraged him and was with him on his journey all the way.

By and large, Madhukar was very self-motivated person. He needed our understanding and cooperation, but never motivation. He was determined to complete his research and thesis. He neatly divided his task into smaller units which he can manage on a daily basis, whenever possible. He would then work till late night and even whole nights on them – because he feared that if he went to sleep mid-way through his work/module, he would forget most of the things, loose his chain of thoughts and will have to start all over again. A day would have been lost then!

Then Reiki came into our lives. It was a great blessing. Its healing touch affected his work and attitude to a great extent apart from healing his right part of the body which was perpetually stiff, if not in pain. He has not taken his medicines since 2008. Our experience of Reiki has been so profound that we both are now Reiki master healers and teachers.

Eight years later, in 2012, after all the struggles and tests, Madhukar Dayal was one of the only four persons who have successfully completed their doctoral program from IIM, Ahmedabad and was being awarded their diplomas during IIMA’s yearly convocation. It has been a long and arduous journey but one which was an enlightening process, and the journey continued. He still had several milestones to reach! This was just the beginning of another phase in life. He took voluntary retirement from his Indian Railways job and became associate professor (so that he would then have right to be forgetful!!!) at IIM-Indore.