Survivor's Story: Dr Satendra Singh’s Journey [World Polio Day Special]
Today, on World Polio Day 2011, we should pledge to eradicate polio through spreading awareness, and supporting those working actively to fight polio, with whichever means are available to us. Until two decades ago, polio used to claim nearly 35,000 young lives a year. But thanks to science and the unrelenting work of several healthcare researchers and practitioners, today, polio is a preventable disease. However, although developed nations can boast of a polio-free environment, a developing country like India continues to face the challenge of polio unawareness and lack of adequate disease prevention support. To understand polio better, we had a heart to heart chat with Dr Satendra Singh, a polio survivor. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Dr Satendra Singh is a medical doctor at UCMS & GTB Hospital, Delhi. He is the Coordinator of the Enabling Unit catering for the needs of disabled medical students & founder of Infinite Ability - a platform to celebrate disability with creativity. He has overcome steady struggles, and confronted adversities while moving forward in life. His Never Say Die attitude, despite disability, lead to his name being nominated for the ‘Rising Star’ category in the Life Changers award 2011.
How old were you when you contracted polio?
I was nine months old when I contracted polio in my native village at Rewari, Haryana. I was too little to understand what happened at that time but it was the start of a unique journey. When I look back in hindsight, it was a journey of pain and hope, challenges and opportunities, motivation and destiny.
How did your family support and encourage you to fight this condition? What were your set of beliefs that helped you through this tough phase?
Since I was affected at an early age, I never realized what it is to be different or should I say normal. I grew up wearing iron-rod calipers with a pelvic belt. Later on I managed to walk without the pelvic belt but with calipers on. At home I used crutches. After the 12th standard, I was introduced to light weight KFO (Knee foot orthosis) and now I use auto-lock calipers. My family was a constant support throughout my roller-coaster life. My mother was my constant source of motivation and I am what I am only because of her unending care and attention. My father (being an army officer) taught me time management. I remember vividly my elder brother holding my hands and taking me off to school, teaching me something new every day. The central school life gave me new friends, took me to new places and made me part of different Indian cultures.
How did you manage treatment alongside your regular life?
Treatment was part and parcel of my daily life in the early days. Frequent visits to the clinic, physiotherapy, acupuncture, brought little hope for cure but instilled a hunger to achieve something. I am thankful to all my three brothers who guided me and made me sports-savvy, career orientated and a nature lover.
What re-constructive surgeries and procedures did you go through?
I was operated for lengthening, tendon release at Base hospital, Delhi, and rehabilated for foot drop. There was not much improvement as I fractured my femur later.
What reactions did you get from friends and extended family with regard to your condition? Did you face a lot of unawareness in their behaviour toward you?
I am blessed in the sense that I had great friends in school, seniors in college and now mentors in professional life. Society at large is still unaware of problems with PwD’s. I too, faced tough times but was strong enough to move on. Professionally, I consider my case as a blessing in disguise as I am both the patient as well as the doctor. I can fit easily in both the roles with ease. No wonder, I have developed interest in Medical Humanities and trying my best to inculcate compassion among my students (future doctors). As Hippocrates said, “Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”
What do you still need in order to observe and maintain a healthy lifestyle?
Being a doctor, it’s easy for me to preach than to practice. I am a workaholic and despite my willingness, I am hard pressed for morning exercises. I compensate that by interacting lot with my students and prescribing laughter therapy. They are my biggest strength. I love teaching and learning from them. I like swimming and it’s my policy to leave the station in summer and winter breaks when I run away with my travel-freak family to explore nature, mountains and lakes. It rejuvenates me.
What advice would you give to someone in a similar situation as yours?
The change begins from within. Nobody will change themselves for you so it’s best to have no expectations from anyone. I am an eternal optimistic and believe in staying longer with the problem to find solutions. I advise people to develop an appreciative eye. After all, 'life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.'
*Image courtesy: © Dr Satendra Singh