Right from riding Bollywood's multi-billion dollar industry to riding high as entrepreneurs and professionals, today's women are walking the talk and leaving their mark for many to follow. When we were planning to interview somebody for today’s Women’s Day Special, many names popped up - women who have changed our worlds and societies with their sheer will and determination. But, one name stood out - a survivor in the true sense - Mrs. Neera Duggal; a woman who has had 56 surgeries till date. Through her sheer determination and optimism, Mrs Duggal is an inspiration to all of us. A woman who manages to live her life in a small flat in Delhi with not much but a lot of hope. She is a strong willed lady with a killer instinct. Partially bed-ridden, she has not stepped out of her home for almost 10 years.
Today, to celebrate the spirit of Women’s Day we give you our insightful conversation with a real woman of substance, Neera Duggal.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Mansi Kohli: How old were you when you went through your first surgery?
Neera Duggal: I was 21 years old when I underwent C-section surgery during the birth of my eldest daughter in the year 1973. Consecutively, C-section was performed for the birth of my second and third daughter during 1974 and 1975 respectively.
Two years after my youngest daughter’s birth, I suffered from appendiceal rupture i.e. a burst appendix. I was critical and chances of survival were minimal. At the same time my husband suffered a heart attack and was admitted in the hospital. Our children were living with their class teachers and neighbours at the Army Unit. Although I recovered, post this, a series of surgeries started as I also suffered from reccurring ovary cyst and underwent various surgeries – 4 surgeries to be precise. Then I suffered an ectopic pregnancy in the early 80s and my fallopian tube was ruptured. The doctor removed my fallopian tube and ovaries during the surgery but I suffered severe internal bleeding for good three months. Post which, the doctor performed another surgery and removed my uterus.
I underwent D&C surgeries for next couple of months - Dilation (or dilatation) and curettage (D&C) for surgical removal of part of the lining of the uterus and/or contents of the uterus by scraping and scooping (curettage). It is a diagnostic gynecological procedure. Meanwhile, I developed reoccurring severe ear infection which damaged my ear drums. I underwent close to 12 surgeries to rectify ear infection. Alongside since my uterus was removed and the doctor didn’t put me on hormones, I suffered a paralytic attack on the legs. For over one year, I underwent physiotherapy and arthroscopy on both the knees as my condition was deteriorating. During this time frame, I had a fall where my nose was crushed badly and had to be reconstructed. In early 90s, I developed severe osteoporosis and underwent several knee replacement surgeries – atleast 3 due to severe infection. In the year 2000, I again underwent full knee surgery for both my legs but due to a fall my bones were broken into several pieces and I was hospitalized for a year where I underwent 5 more knee surgeries. Overall my right knee has been operated 16 times and the left knee has been operated 3 times. I have undergone approximately 56 surgeries till date.
Mansi Kohli: How did your family support and encourage you to fight this condition?
Neera Duggal: My husband was always very supportive. He stood by me through the most difficult phases when my health was deteriorating. In the year 2000, he passed away in a road accident and my daughters supported me through my health condition. I am a pretty optimistic and strong willed person. I do not get bogged down easily. I always believe that ‘You can do anything if you just believe you can.'
Mansi Kohli: How did you manage treatment alongside your regular life?
Neera Duggal: Even though I underwent so many surgeries, I took active interest in day-to-day house work and later was an active businesswoman. Post my husband’s second heart attack, I took over his printing business and worked for close to 15 years. I dissolved my business in the year 1995 owing to ill health.
Mansi Kohli: What do you still need to observe to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Neera Duggal: I live alone given that all my daughters are married. I walk with the help of a walker and cannot stand for long hours. But I enjoy keeping myself busy with something or another. I spend most part of my day playing music, painting and writing short stories. My daughters encouraged me to develop my hobbies and have been asking me to take up painting full time for a living. But I take a lot of time to paint as my hands too don’t work properly due to severe osteoporosis and I can’t hold a brush for long. As for food, I try to eat a balanced diet comprising of protein and calcium since I am partially bed ridden.
Mansi Kohli: What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation as yours?
Neera Duggal: I would summarize this in one line by saying ‘Tu Zinda Hai, Tu Zindagi Ki Jeet Par Yakeen Kar.' ('You are alive. You must believe in the victory of life.')
Mansi Kohli: Your message on Women’s Day...
Neera Duggal: I would like to say that you must always believe in yourself; adversity and prosperity are part and parcel of our life. In times of adversity, be positive, optimistic and confident as we all learn a lot more from adversity than prosperity.
Neera Duggal is 60 years old and currently resides in New Delhi. In 1972, she married Major Ashok Kumar Duggal, an army officer, who took pre-mature retirement from the Indian Armed Forces to take care of her. She has three daughters, who are all married. Two of her daughters live in Delhi and visit her often while her youngest daughter moved to Mumbai in 2004. Mrs Neera Duggal lives by herself in her home in New Delhi.
*Image courtesy: © Neera Duggal
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