Friday, April 19, 2013

From airborne to chairborne


Ialways wanted to post “Airborne to Chairborne” written by my senior, MP AnilKumar (Roll No.1122). It is a sad tale, how an Indian Air Force Pilot with flyingcolors ended up in a paraplegic home. He and his writings inspire us all Kazaks(cadets from Sainik School Kazhakkuttom, Kerala). When I am really down,I read this and it keeps me motivated. This article is taught in some of thestate schools in India. Thank you Anil, for this wonderful, inspiring saga.



Airborne to Chairborne

All my attempts to move my limbs were futile. The pain in the neck was excruciating and it intensified by the second. I was stumped for a moment but quickly recovered to realise the seriousness and significance of my inability to get up. I do not remember whether I screamed involuntarily, then, in sheer desperation. On that abominable night, my mind was in a medley of intense frustration, utmost dejection and extreme disappointment. For some timeless moments, I wished I were dead.

On 28 June '88, at around 2300 hrs, whilst returning to the Officers Mess on my motorcycle after night flying, I drove onto a road barrier just ahead of the technical area gate, inside Air Force Station, Pathankot. The impact of the helmet on the wooden bar wrenched my neck and broke the cervical spine. Fifteen minutes after the accident, I was taken to the Station Sick Quarters in an unconscious state. While being carried, my head was left unsupported. The base of the helmet (rear side) which was resting against the nape of the neck pushed the fractured vertebrae into the cervical spinal cord. (The casualty must always be carried in a stretcher, after immobilising his/her neck with a cervical collar.) The resultant spinal injury completely paralysed me below the neck.

After overnight's stay in Military Hospital (MH), Pathankot, I was transferred to Army Hospital, Delhi (AHDC). Neck surgery failed to mitigate my predicament.Though I had brief spells of consciousness during the fortnight's hospitalisation in AHDC, my memory fails to recollect my fight for survival. On 12 July '88, I was transferred to the Spinal Cord Injury Centre of MH Kirkee, Pune.

Two weeks after my admission, I gathered my wits and eagerly inquired about the prognosis. The medical officer looked up and motioned his hands skywards; perhaps he wanted me to adjure divine intervention. This charade instantly deflated my hopes but it lucidly conveyed the enormity and helplessness of the incurable nature of the incapacitation. Inconsistencies of life have always bemused me but not even the wildest nightmare presaged that one day I would fall prey to such a quirk of fate. The modicum of faith I had in Providence got shattered when I failed to show even an iota of improvement.

The cervical spinal injury (quadriplegia) necessitated me to lead a totally dependent life, tethered to the bed and wheel chair. Now, I am like a man fettered for life; unable to use my hands and legs, incontinent and spoon‑fed. Ironically, the most painful aspect of quadriplegia is the painlessness! It isn’t mere loss of tactile inputs and outputs but absolute dependence on someone else to accomplish mundane necessities and domestic chores that yoked me; even for things like swabbing ears and swatting flies.

Disuse atrophy had set in within a couple of months and took its toll by altering the geometry of my torso and limbs. The mirror replicated the image of a human skeleton swathed in a layer of wizened skin. Two years' stay in MH Kirkee taught me how to battle the numerous encumbrances and how to conquer the bouts of depression. With a smile on my face, I managed to dissemble the pangs of the heart. The Indian Air Force (IAF) realised my uselessness and discharged me from the service on 12 April '90. The silly accident dealt coup de grace to my aspirations and terminated my fledgling career in the IAF. In August '90, at the young age of 26, I got admitted in Paraplegic Home, Park Road, Kirkee, Pune, as an inmate to begin the second phase of my life ‑ afresh.
 
I was born and brought up in a village by name Chirayinkil, 35 kms north of Trivandrum. At the age of nine, I entered Sainik School, Kazhakootam. A slow learner and an unobtrusive student by nature, I had excelled consistently in both academics and sports. Later on, I was found worthy enough to be adjudged as the best Air Force cadet of 65th course of National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakwasla, Pune and as the best in aerobatics of 134th Pilots Course of Air Force Academy, Secunderabad. In Dec '84, I was commissioned into the IAF as a fighter pilot. I had 700 hours of flying experience (including 500 hours offlying in a magnificent flying machine called MiG-21) during my truncated career in the IAF.
 
All my efforts to rationalise personal catastrophes have always mystified and at times stupefied me. To adapt to the new challenges posed by the debility, I had to unshackle myself from the self‑imposed stupor. Therefore, in Sep '90, I decided to learn the art of writing by holding a pen in my mouth (because of dysfunctional hands). I began scribbling illegibly but was chagrined to find little progress even after 3 weeks' laborious efforts. Then, I decided to change tactic and wrote a letter to Sheela George, the person who kept on chivvying to start mouth‑writing (earlier I had paid little attention to her exhortations). My joy knew no bounds when I completed the few lines that embodied my first mouth‑written letter. Initially, I found my hard work to be amere pie in the sky; but, 4 to 5 months' assiduous efforts resulted in attaining a readable style of writing. This modest achievement enabled me in reviving the chain of correspondence and begetting new friends.
 
In May 1991, I was presented with an electrically operated wheel chair, with chin controls for manoeuvring, thanks to the benevolence of the IAF. Motorised mobility, though only a poor substitute for natural one, has enlivened my lifestyle considerably.
 
It was Wing Commander PI Murlidharan, my former flight commander, who mooted the use of a personal computer (PC), as a writing tool. He added that it would assist me to utilise my mental faculty to the hilt. Hitherto unsuccessful attempts in procuring a keyboard (modified to suit my requirements) have somewhat emasculated my resolve. Nonetheless, my hope of acquiring a PC remains undiminished.
 
In the meantime, I toyed with the idea of teaching. For some untenable reasons, I kept on declining the offers by bringing one imaginary reason or another asan ad hoc excuse. Aforesaid setbacks not withstanding, I'm very hopeful of converting the second phase of my life into something as meaningful as the one I would have had from the confines of a cockpit.
 
Believe it or not, every dark cloud has a silver lining. To surmount even seemingly insuperable obstacles, one has to muster the remnant faculties and shun the thought of disability and then canalise one's dormant energies purposefully and whole‑heartedly. It isn't just physical ability and average intelligence but an insatiable appetite for success and an unflagging willpower that would texture the warp and woof of the fabric called human destiny. Greater the difficulty,  sweeter the victory.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Trip to Glacier National Park - Part 5 (GoingToTheSun Road)


The best experience in the trip was driving “Going To The Sun road”. This road was completed in 1932 and goes over the continental divide at Logan pass. The road, 53 miles long, is a National Historic landmark and Historic Civil Engineering landmark.

The road is one of the most difficult roads in North America to snowplow in the spring. Up to 80 feet (24 m) of snow can lie on top of Logan Pass, and more just east of the pass where the deepest snowfield has long been referred to as Big Drift. The road takes about ten weeks to plow, even with equipment that can move 4000 tons of snow in an hour. The snowplow crew can clear as little as 500 feet (150 m) of the road per day. On the east side of the continental divide, there are few guardrails due to heavy snows and the resultant late winter avalanches that have repeatedly destroyed every protective barrier ever constructed. The road is generally open from early June to mid October, with its latest ever opening on 13 July (in 2011).

Lake McDonald is approximately 10 miles (16 km) long, and over a mile (1.6 km) wide and 472 feet (130 m) deep with a surface area of 6,823 acres (27.6 km²).


 Views from both sides of the road
 
 














Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trip to Glacier National Park - Part 4 (Lake McDonald lodge and around)

Lake McDonald lodge is located next to Lake McDonald in Glacier national park. Some pictures from around that area.
The Lake McDonald Lodge, built in 1895, is a historic lodge located within Glacier National Park, on the southeast shore of Lake McDonald. The lodge is a 3-1/2-story structure built in a Swiss chalet style based on Kirtland Cutter's design. The foundation and first floor walls are built of stone, with a wood-frame superstructure. The lobby is a large, open space that extends to the third story. It has a massive fireplace and a concrete floor scored in a flagstone pattern, with messages in several Indian languages inscribed into it. The rustic lodge is a National Historic Landmark. (Info from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_McDonald_Lodge).


The lodge
 Bear grass flower
One of our friends had promised to take us in their Canoe. They lost everything in the “Waldo Canyon Fire”. We were talking about them when we saw a family canoeing in the lake. When we met the family later, we told our friend’s story. To our surprise, they were also from Colorado Springs and had lost their rental property in the same fire. It became a bigger surprise, when my daughter pointed out that, their daughter and mine kindergarten classmates. What a small world we live in! Next day we had a blast when they allowed us to borrow their canoe.
The Red tour buses

Monday, September 10, 2012

Trip to Glacier National Park - Part 3 (West Glacier & Waterton Lake)

Finally we reached West Glacier, Glacier National Park, MT. We camped in our popup for the next five days. The campground was next to McDonald Lake. What a beautiful place. First day we checked with the Canadian visitor center (West Glacier) to plan our trip to Waterton National Park across the border.  To take our 14 pound dog with us, we had to have his vaccination records which we didn’t take. The daycare also couldn’t take him. Our Vet, faxed the records to visitor center within an hour. We are thankful to the vet and people in the visitor center for all their help. 
West Glacier
My family
Canadian visitor center in West Glacier
“Waterton Lakes National Park” is a national park located in the southwest corner of Alberta, Canada, and borders Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. Waterton was Canada's fourth national park, formed in 1895 and named after Waterton Lake, in turn after the Victorian naturalist and conservationist Charles Waterton. The park contains 195 sq mi (505 sq.km ) of rugged mountains and wilderness. In 1932, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was formed from Waterton and Glacier. It was dedicated to world peace by Sir Charles Arthur Mander on behalf of Rotary International. Although the park has a lot of diversity for its size, the main highlight is the Waterton lakes—the deepest in the Canadian Rockies—overlooked by the historic Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site (Info taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterton_Lakes_National_Park).
Driving to Waterton National Park
Canadian border
Boat ramp, Waterton Lake
My kids, Nidhi & Ratna
Prince Wales Hotel
 Boat ride to US side
US-Canada Border
Goat Haunt - US side
 View from Prince Wales hotel
Wildlife in town
Cameron Lake