It is not often that one gets a chance to express heartfelt gratitude but, I think I am lucky to have been given this chance. My parents always told me that one should be grateful for everything one receives in life but I don’t know what words to use to say thank you to this temple of healing that has given me and my family a new life, a new hope and new faith. I am an academic and pardon me if my letter begins to sound like a classroom lecture. Old habits die hard and I am all of forty five summers.
Before I came to SSSIHMS Whitefield, I was an atheist. I did not believe in God. I believed and still believe that man is the ultimate in the evolutionary cycle, but earlier did not believe in the existence of a power beyond. Everything that happens in the world we see must have a scientific explanation. Cause and effect, there cannot be an effect without a cause, there can be no smoke without a fire. Like wise, everything that happens in one's life is the result of one's actions.
Allow me first to explain why I was, what I was, before coming to the present. My logical reasoning was based on the four dimensions – three in space and the fourth in time. The physical world we see is a reflection of these four dimensions. Years of scientific research have revealed these and we have tonnes of information extracted from even more voluminous data telling us that life is not an accident and everything is part of a larger scheme of things. As it is said, you cannot move your finger without disturbing the stars. The laws of magnetism and gravitation hold the visible world together.
Going back to cause and effect, consider a rudimentary example. When we are children we are told not to put our hands into a flame since it will burn our hand. With inborn curiosity we don’t hesitate to disobey and that leads to many ‘first hand’ experiences through which we ‘realise’ what was ‘told’. Many such small experiences teach us to learn from the mistakes of others and grow. This is probably the origin of the aphorism ‘Don’t reinvent the wheel’. One may wonder why I have referred to this example. It is to reinforce the power of the concept of cause and effect.
Putting one's hand into fire is the cause – a burn wound is the effect. The results in this case are instantaneous. Fire is immediately associated with heat, it burns and wounds, and we immediately develop a respect for this element of the universe. But consider other ‘causes’ such as smoking tobacco, drinking alcoholic drinks and eating non-vegetarian food. The effects are spread over a long time. Though over time, research has proven that the above three are very much in the cause list for heart problems, diabetes, cancer and a host of other diseases – many of us prefer to ignore the signs because the effect is not immediate.
Sudden pains in his chest were precursers to a degenerative heart problem
My scientific bent of mind was similar. I looked for immediate results for all my actions. Being an extravert and a workaholic, I had no patience with things that ‘take time’. To me Karma, rebirth and such philosophical thought was just the rambling of a few men who preferred to lose their reality in some plane of consciousness that took them away from the misery of their existence. A way to attribute their current inadequacies to a past that they never knew even existed.
I could not accept such convenient ‘logic’. When someone would tell me, “There are no coincidences in life” I would reply, “Your life is a coincidence”. What with a million to one chance of conception and then uneventful gestation and uncomplicated child birth. There are always chances of things going awry anywhere down the path. Science was the answer to all my questions. Science always had the answer to any query that defied logic – it was just that man did not as yet find the answer.
But one day everything changed. Around my fortieth birthday I had a sudden pain in my chest. I immediately rested and it subsided. I didn’t have to go to a doctor to know what it meant. Every magazine I picked up had proclaimed India to have the largest number of coronary artery disease cases. I knew it was a heart attack or at least a prelude to worse damage. Prudently I approached a cardiologist and my ‘diagnosis’ was confirmed. Being educated has its advantages I suppose, but being educated did not help me in preventing my present condition.
I knew that coronary artery disease could be prevented; I also knew that my habits as regards diet and exercise were nothing to boast of. I enjoyed non-vegetarian diet and even learnt a few recipes knowing that I was filling up my arteries with fat.
His LAD (left anterior artery) was 90% blocked due to
bad eating habits and stress
I relished wine and prided myself on an iron stomach, knowing that my liver could only take so much. I was on the path to perdition but chose to look the other way, all this, because the Effect of the Cause was far away in the future.
The doctors gave me a very grim picture of my condition. I had what they called triple vessel disease and it was not rocket science for me to see the line diagram of my heart in my case file. It had an arrow pointing at a blood vessel called the LAD, a portion of which had been blackened showing the blockage; the alarming thing was it said “90%”.
I went on line to the internet and did some reading. I was shocked to know that the LAD, left anterior descending artery, was called “the widow maker”. Married with a wife and two sons, I had no right to do this to them. The boys are still studying and my better half is also an earning member of our family of four.
It was then that I looked back on my life wistfully. Surprising what scientific thinking had done to me. I had prided myself on the infallibility of scientific rational thinking and had ignored the loud and clear messages that they were shooting at me.
It is now more than six months since I emerged from the SSSIHMS Whitefield. My heart still beating, the titanium steel wires holding my sternum (breast bone) intact, nitro-glycerine tablets in my pocket, the number of my eldest son under the name “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) in my cell phone along with a card identifying my blood group and the number of local ambulance. Everything is the effect of a cause – Me. I have only myself to blame for my present condition. But everything that happened in SSSIHMS left me a changed man.
In the other hospital, along with the diagnosis, I also got a bill that told me that I need to be poorer by Rs.3,00,000/- if I wanted to continue living. And I was also informed that coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) was only a palliative procedure. The disease was progressive and could not be cured. The body that was used to a certain level of fat in the blood was not going to change in a hurry. Science could only do so much. I began to look for alternatives.
My elder son had just finished his 12th and being at the top of his class wanted to go abroad for higher studies. Consider the irony – he wanted to be a doctor. I had a home loan to pay and a car loan – both biting large chunks out of our salaries, my wife’s and mine. I needed the money for his education. He showed so much promise that to deny him the opportunity would be a crime. I did not know what to do.
I must confess here that for the first time in my life, I looked up and ‘prayed’ for a ‘miracle’. I had reached a point in my life where human action was at its end. Only a ‘power beyond’ could save me. “When the pupil is ready the master appears”. At around this time I met one of my childhood friends – I will not call it coincidence any more – he and I had studied in college together and had gone our separate ways. It could not have been coincidence that both of us had parked our cars in the same parking lot, next to each other on the same day, outside the same hospital.
It was he who recognised me, caught up as I was in my own sorrow. We fell into conversation and I told him of my predicament. He immediately invited me home – it could not have again been coincidence that he had recently shifted to Hyderabad and was just – hold your breath… 20 minutes driving distance from my house! I walked across the threshold of his house and right up on the wall, beautifully framed in gold bordered with crimson velvet was a huge larger than life photograph of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba! Here is where I first met God!
My friend is a member of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Samiti and he informed me of Swami’s super specialty hospitals at Prasanthi Nilayam and Whitefield. My sceptical scientific mind found it difficult to accept the truth that these hospitals offered medical care totally free of charge. But he was persuasive and subsequently both of us visited SSSIHMS, Prasanthigram. As there were many others ahead of me in the list at Prasanthigram, we were told to go to SSSIHMS Whitefield. I could not have a darshan of Swami on my first visit, but my mind was in too much of a whirl to think of any thing on these lines. The very place defied imagination, what with the hospital looking like a temple and the beautiful ashram, perfectly planned and executed timetables, the amenities. It was mind boggling. I came to Bangalore definitely a changed man.
The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Whitefield
At the SSSIHMS, Whitefield, I was once again amazed at the efficiency of operation. My friend accompanied me along with my wife but he had to wait outside the hospital since “one patient one attendant” rule was strictly enforced. I had no complaints. Things were moving too fast for me. Even before I knew it, I was photographed, registered and was holding an id card. In the Out Patient Department things moved smoothly and there was no delay – I had brought all my earlier records with me. The doctors repeated the tests and confirmed the diagnosis except that the situation was not as serious as had been portrayed to me in Hyderabad.
I refrain from mentioning the names of the institutions I visited since Swami does not appreciate us condemning others. I am now deeply into Sai Literature and sincerely regret why I did not go to Him earlier. Anyway, back to the story, I was told to come back when I received a call letter from the hospital and was put on ‘call’. The condition was to be medically managed till then. I returned to Hyderabad and sure enough the letter arrived in a few months.
Interior atrium under the central dome,
I came, was admitted, the preliminary tests were done, and I was found fit for surgery. Few days later I opened my eyes in the Intensive Care Unit surrounded by life support equipment, and a doctor loudly calling me by my name. The first thought that flashed through my mind, “Thank you Swami” the second thought “I am alive”. The rest is a blur; days in the ICU and the ward, physiotherapists pounding my back to get the phlegm out, the dieticians visiting and asking me what I would like to eat, honestly I don’t think this happens in all hospitals – but then I had never been hospitalised before.
In all this there was a group of ladies counselling me on my emotional plane. I was really impressed with the patience and genuine concern with which they drilled down to my deepest worries and helped me root them out. Then finally the day of discharge… my wife and I stood in the central dome that soared high above us and offered our prayers of gratitude to the Lord who had given me a fresh lease of life.
In one of Swami’s discourses in the collected volumes of “Sathya Sai Speaks” He has said, Science is only half the circle, spirituality completes the circle. I had lived two score and odd years satisfied with just half a circle of existence. But as a wise man once said, the road to oneself is long and we at times stray from the path, but God is merciful and has made U turns so that we may return to the source. I was an atheist, but am now a believer. I believe in God and to me God is Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Thank you Swami for this fresh lease of life, I pray that I live it in a way worthy of Your grace and mercy.