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I hurt my back at 16 and everyone dismissed the pain until I had to get surgery…

Updated on:21 July 2020, 11:32am IST
A small incident in high school reaped unbearable consequences which ultimately led to surgery for me at 16. This is what
Chetna Pattnaik
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Meet, Chetna who battled her back pain like a pro.
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“It’s purely psychological. You know how kids can get as soon as the exams arrive, right?” That’s what the doctor told my mother after examining me. I had been complaining of having a backache for over a month now and had painfully learnt that when a 16-year-old high schooler complains of having back issues, nobody takes them seriously. Well not at first at least. 

What went wrong?
It all started with me picking up a mini refrigerator (that I had made for a science exhibition at school) and climbing four flights of stairs all by myself. And since the cooling system was traditionally made, it was really heavy; so much so that by the time I kept it on my allotted spot and rose, my back made a cracking noise. I was bed ridden for the next two days. 

Painkillers would do their magic and the pain would ebb away for a few hours, only to come back again and again. Like every other Indian mother, my mother started treating me with home remedies. She would give me hot water bags and back massages and along with them lessons to mentally fight with the pain and not succumb to it. 

My back pain was really very severe. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

But we should have taken a hint
All of this convinced me that I had to go back to my normal routine again, and not let the pain stop me. So, I would go to school, to coaching classes, and do my half of my daily chores, with the pain and without much complaint.

One of these days, as I was riding to school, a puppy appeared in front of me out of nowhere. The only way to save it from getting killed under my wheels was to ram my bike against a huge tree on my immediate side and go flying from the edge of the road, towards the deep end. With no time to think, my reflexes went for it, and instead of going to school, I came back home, soaked in blood, looking like a red riding hood but feeling a superman. 

While the bruises and dents healed over time, I realized that my backache had only worsened. We consulted family doctors and all of them in unanimity concluded that the reason my pain persisted could be because of my obesity. 

The final strike
My mother is an extremely health conscious woman. So ever since she realized that her really chubby daughter was going to manifest into an obese individual, she had been after my life. And with the series of incidents that had happened she ensured that I started working out even more rigorously than ever before. Everyday I would cycle for 15 to 20 kms, do 108 rounds of Surya Namaskar, and my study breaks were basically going out for brisk walks with my mother. 

I showed my trust in yoga.

Not only that but even my sister made sure that all the chores that involved physical labour were allotted to me, like cleaning the house and moving the furniture around. 

But by this time, I had started complaining again. My back wasn’t getting any better. In fact, over the time I had developed a shooting pain that felt like current passed through the length of my body every time I moved. But when I was finally taken for my first check-up in our home town, the doctor declared that my pain was psychological and could have been instigated by my approaching exams. 

With my exams due in three days we left our home town. Our train was running early, giving me a bonus of two hours to reach our apartment, and take rest before I could go to school.

I took a really nice nap before my mom woke me up to start getting ready for school. And as I got up, I realized I couldn’t move my legs anymore, at all. Even with the movement of a finger there was this shooting, numbing pain that passed down my spine like a flow of current. They asked me twice if it was really that bad or if I was exaggerating and in response all I could do was let those tears of utmost pain and fear roll down my eyes.

I was immediately taken to the supposedly best hospital in the city where I was prescribed to get an MRI. As somebody who faced difficulty staying in closed spaces for a long time, it was a nightmare. But that was only the beginning. The radiologists asked us to wait, processed my report in minutes (something they usually take a day to do) and asked us to rush to the doctor’s exit door behind the hospital and show him the reports before he left. 

The roller-coaster ride
“Damage in the lower back also known as lumbar region of the spine, the L3-L4 and L4-L5 (L – Lumbar) discs of the patient have a 95% compression and the L5-L6 disc has suffered a minor compression. Unless an immediate surgery is done, the patient will irrevocably go into complete paralysis of the lower body.” 

A few days and some twenty doctors later we had realised that surgery was indeed the only option we had. It was hard to register because I was only 16! And as every doctor we went to told us that even post-op I would not be able to do basic things like travelling long distance, dancing, or even bending forward for that matter, it only made it harder to register and process. 

Around this time my aunt told us that her friend, a neurosurgeon from Delhi,  was visiting one of the hospitals in a nearby city for a day and that we should go see him before going ahead with anything.

We went to the said hospital, and were told that the doctor was too busy and that they couldn’t assure if we would be able to see him but suggested that we waited. After hours of waiting as I sat there with the tiniest amount of hope that was left in me, the nurse announced what sounded like words of gold, “Chetna Pattnaik! Dr. Shankar Acharya will now be seeing you”. I think that one moment changed everything. 

Unlike the rest of my check-ups that told me that my condition was a rare and critical one, he explained to me why I was going through the pain and what was going to happen in the surgery. He didn’t make it look like a huge deal and most importantly when I told him that I didn’t want to get operated because of all the things that I would not be able to do post op, he responded saying “That’s nonsense. You would just be as good as new”. 

The surgery…
My condition didn’t allow me to fly, so within two weeks, we prepared ourselves to take a 24-hour-long train journey to Delhi, where we awaited an ambulance to take me directly to the hospital. Two days of medicines, injections, IVs and endless medical studies later, I was finally taken for the surgery. I watched my mother and my sister watch me go into the operation theatre with a smile. With so many things going on inside me, drugged and exhausted, I passed out even before Dr. Acharya entered the OT. 

neck or backache
Suryanamaskar has also rescued me. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

“You were very brave”, he said as I opened my eyes. I realized my surgery was now done. I was starting to recover and that phase wasn’t as merry as I had imagined. With so much tension around me to see what the results are like, with constantly being fed tasteless food and seeing my sister change my diapers time and again without complaining, I was starting to feel like a burden and I was scared to imagine a life like that. But that was only a matter of time and it demanded patience. 

With the help of support, I started walking again in a week and by the end of the month I was walking again all by myself. I started doing Yoga in three months and playing cricket in eight. And to celebrate the one year of a successful surgery, I joined swimming classes.

Of course, all of it had it to be done with utmost care and precaution. It’s been six years now and at today’s date I can do things that I had never imagined I would be able to. My sister and my coach (Subhadeep Ray Choudhury), train me in animal flow and compound movements. Dumb-bells and bar-bells are my best friends and Yoga has become my muse. 

It has taken me a lifestyle change to be able to love my body again and I have been privileged to have the kind of support system that I have. But if there’s one thing that this experience has taught me it is the fact that, taking our health for granted is the one thing we should never do and that to love yourself is a constant process of working on yourself.

1 Comment

  1. Truly an inspiring journey!
    What is commendable is how your journey makes it clear that apart from proper information, it is the will to Not give up and keep on going on that really pays off. Hats off to your courage and resilience!

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Chetna Pattnaik Chetna Pattnaik

Understanding fitness the hard way, Chetna has finally learnt to strike a balance between her protein shake and her beer and making room for her writing desk and her gym at the same time.