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TB Creeps Up On You When You’re Not Looking: The Story Of My Sickness And Recovery

It was 2011. I was a busy entrepreneur setting up my furniture and home store and a mother of two. I remember the days were long, filled with moments of stress and exhaustion. Yet, I pushed myself and kept going. We all do that thinking this is what is expected of us.

In all this stress, I didn’t realise that I had been coughing for over two months by then. I just thought it was a reaction to my damp and musty office. I thought of it as an allergy and that it would eventually go. But it didn’t.

When you have two kids, a home to run, a new business to set up it creates enough complications in life. You feel an allergy isn’t your top priority. You overlook the warning signs. When it was time to eat, I just ate when I needed to. I always thought of myself as healthy, otherwise. I was conscious of my fitness – doing power yoga four days a week and also doing other forms of exercises. I was careful about what I ate and usually ate well. I was a vegetarian with eggs in my diet. In truth, however, I had stopped listening to the signals my body was trying to give me. At that age, you eat well, exercise, look after yourself and think you are invincible – falling sick is the last thing on your mind.

When my cough spiralled out of control, I went to a General Physician (GP) near my apartment. I got pills for a minor chest infection. While my health didn’t improve, I was too busy to notice. And then one night I woke up with a searing pain in my chest. My husband had to call a cousin who was a doctor, in the middle of the night. Our cousin asked me to get an x-ray immediately.

What my x-ray revealed, shocked me. It showed a dense spread of TB and a perforated lung. My chest specialist said he hadn’t seen this much TB in a long time. And certainly not in the body of an educated, reasonably well-to-do person who was healthy, otherwise.

Ironically, like many others, up until then I thought TB was a disease that happened to those with poor nutrition and compromised, poor living conditions. I was shocked and confused about the diagnosis. Shock gave way to anger and anxiety – how could someone as aware as I, let things get this bad? Could I have infected my kids, family, staff and those around me? As a workaholic, I wondered if I could go back to work. My doctor told me, that I was about two days away from collapsing. That’s when it hit me. My weight had dropped to 42 kg. I looked like a ghost, gaunt and almost lifeless. I was seriously ill.

I looked around and weighed in my options. I was a mother with a fledgeling business. My husband looked like he would collapse if I did. I had to make things right. I had to get better. I decided to beat TB at any cost. I took the four drug combo and managed to hold it down. It took a good four months before my x-rays started showing the TB receding.

While I was determined, surviving TB was anything but easy. For two weeks I didn’t hug the kids, worked remotely and with a mask. I began to realise that fighting TB was more than just taking medicines. I was exhausted and nauseated all the time. I had no appetite, and all my clothes were stained yellow from the drugs that stained my perspiration. There were days when I could barely get out of bed. I just told people that I had a severe chest infection, as I was scared of how they would react if I told them. We don’t talk about it, but stigma and incorrect perceptions about TB continue to exist widely even among the so-called informed folks. I wondered if I would die. I felt very, very, alone during this time.

I asked my doctor if I should inform anyone or get anyone tested. He said that living in a city like Mumbai we were all exposed to TB antigens. And it was when our immune systems were compromised that active TB manifested. I remember feeling frustrated that I didn’t know enough about TB.

Once I was declared TB free, I had to work on increasing my lung capacity. I was breathing so shallow – almost like I was sipping breaths. I went back to yoga and worked out diligently. Then I undertook a fitness program that took me to almost athlete like fitness.

Today I work with the same company, . I now recognise the role of stress in my contracting the disease. Stress keeps your body in a constant fight or flight mode – the beta state. And, in retrospect, I’m not surprised, that stress weakened my immune system.

I learnt that good nutrition and wellness is necessary to prevent a plethora of lifestyle diseases. As women, we often forget to take care of ourselves. We are so concerned about taking care of others that we think nothing of skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, and of course, considering stress to be de rigueur in our lives. I am taking active steps to better my life, at a spiritual level too. I now recognise the things that once seemed important to me, no longer are. Every moment is precious. I’m learning how to enjoy this life of bounty and good health and how to just be.

The author is a member of Survivors Against TB. All pictures have been clicked by Ms Shampa Kabi.

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