It took me three days to recover. When I woke up, the last three days were a blur, where I remember groaning, tossing and turning in between, and being woken up gently, to eat something. For everyone else around, I was alternating between being up and about and resting, but in my mind, I remember nothing. Thirteen steroid injections jabbed into my bones – my knuckles, wrists and two of my fingers, one elbow and one thumb. Okay, do the math. Four knuckles of each hand, two fingers, two wrists, one elbow… is thirteen. I’m not counting the thumb. My left thumb was so swollen that despite trying to shove the needle in thrice, the needle wouldn’t go in, so the rheumatologist gave up.
I sat up on the bed, remembering this as my last clear memory. My pillow was a mass of fallen hair. Hair unable to withstand the onslaught of a banned chemotherapy drug called methotrexate, which rheumatologists continue to prescribe to patients of auto immune disorders. Hair brittled by steroids prescribed to reduce inflammation in the bones, the same steroids that ironically, in the long run, weaken the already weakened bones. All this, whirring in my head as I got off, and limped into the living room.
Why such odds? Why is the treatment of an auto immune disorder so conflicting in medical science? Isn’t there a logical cure that goes to the root cause and roots it out? As I asked myself all these questions, my husband and daughter emerged, a concerned look on their face. My daughter, then ten years old, had an I’m-about-to-cry expression on her face. My husband’s look was more out of concern for my pain, and lack of food over the last three days. They both stood, waiting for me to say something.
“I want a coffee,” I whispered hoarsely.
“But you’re not allowed coffee,” my husband gently explained. A look of pure irritation and frustration crossed my face, and he sent the household help down to get some cappuccino.
“There has to be some other cure,” I muttered, as I sat down. My daughter by then, realizing that mom was going to be okay, came and huddled up next to be, being careful not to press too hard, in case I wince in pain . She was unsure of which parts of my body hurt, so always treaded carefully.
Two coffees later, my mind was clearer. Sharper. Faster. I saw the “problem” as a work issue, how we resolve stumbling blocks or a slowdown or losing business. Think alternative. Think innovative. Think lateral. Think creative. I opened my laptop with my swollen fingers and started researching, reading, trying to find people similar to me who had found a less painful, more permanent solution.
Over the next few days, my research hours stepped up. I visited bookstores, ordered books online, and was immersed in some serious rheumatoid arthritis (RA) reading. A new strength was beginning to seep in, a defiance I’m very comfortable with as a person. I was working as Vice President – Business Development in GE Money, an organisation so democratic and ethical, it pushed a history honours, Post Grad in journalism student like me to do corporate sales because they believed I could do it. Surrounded by MBA –Marketing and MBA – Finance tags as colleagues from the top global and Indian B-schools, I had used my defiance to prove that an arts student from a girls’ Christian college could outperform them. I had worked against the tide, against the norm, and proven that out of the box thinking and revenues were linked. And I had won one of their highest awards.
Today, I was going to use the same attitude towards finding a solution to my health problem. Equipped with my knowledge, and a foundation of understanding medical issues (I had written a health column with Business Today for ten years by then, researching on health concerns, interviewing doctors), I went to my rheumatologist. Surely he would help answer some of my questions. He had treated so many patients, he had specialized in the field, he knew me. He knew the side effects of the medications which he had told me about when I started them – that they would effect the liver and kidneys so every two months, I needed to get a blood test done to see if my liver and kidneys were ok. He and the medical community were still looking for a permanent cure to RA, and his experiences would help me find a solution.
“You will be bed ridden.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had been sitting for 45 minutes with this man, claiming to be a specialist, sharing my understanding of where the root cause of RA lay, and attacking it, and all he had to say was, “You will be bed ridden. And crippled.”
“How can you say that?”
“67% people with your aggression of RA never go back to a normal life. If you leave your medication, you will not be able to stop the deformities and pain,” he said, with the authority of God.
“But even after these medications, you have not been able to stop my finger, toes and wrist from deformities, so how can you say that?”
“Imagine what they will be if you don’t take the medicines,” he said haughtily.
“But I’m still in so much pain, I’m getting bald because of the chemo, and I can’t drink coffee…”
“You can either be bald or walking,” he informed me, a slight irritation setting into his voice. He glanced at his watch, and tapped his foot impatiently.
“Well, I don’t want to make a choice. I am limping right now, not walking. I want to walk and run like I used to, and I want my hair back. So I will not take these pills that are ruining my body and my organs.”
“The choice is yours. This is the treatment. If you don’t follow it, you will be bed ridden.” Announcing my sealed fate, he buzzed the nurse for the next patient. I had been dismissed as an uneducated, ranting, illogical patient with no brains and no option but to follow what he said. I was at his mercy.
His head jolted up. “What?”
“Screw you. I’m finding an answer. And if I cannot, these harmful pills are always there for me to go back to.”
“Your choice, it may be too late by then,” he said, going back to his patient files, shrugging his shoulders and my responsibility off his head.
“Sure, I’m willing to take that chance.” I said that, and walked out. I went straight to the rest room, and burst into tears. I sat on the pot for ten minutes and cried my heart out, lamenting the world, God and myself, pitying myself, feeling lost, feeling hopeless, feeling like ending my life . I had taken a drastic step to not follow what the medical world knew as a cure to my disease. I had so much pain that my 36-hour labour and childbirth seemed like a piece of cake in comparison.
And I had nowhere to go.
Maybe I would wither away. Maybe my proud body and good looks would fade to a crumpled piece of wangled bones and flesh. Maybe I would just give in to the pain one day. People die of pain, and I understood that now. Slowly, the tears and hiccups stopped. The clarity in the brain started emerging.
What are you doing? I asked myself. Why do you feel like a poor helpless victim? It happened, so it happened. Snap out of it. Gather your facts together. Find some method to the symptoms, connect some dots, use your bloody brain, for God’s sake. While I talked to myself, I washed my face, called for the car, and went to work.
Through the day, while number crunching at GE, my mind was whirring with pinning on to the logic of why and how this disease takes route, based on the millions of pages I had read and my own symptoms. And my first logic that came out was something like this:
RA is an inflammatory disease – inflammation is internal and external – medicines and treatment suppress the inflammation. So what causes inflammation?
And hence started my journey towards curing myself.
Over the next few months, I continued the immune suppressants as the doc had prescribed them, because I knew that leaving them could leave me completely bed ridden with pain. But I completely stopped methotrexate and steroids, because I knew they were doing more harm than good. Simultaneously, I started attacking my inflammation in other ways. I had researched on what caused inflammation, and I came across “inflammatory” foods and lifestyle on the internet and in the books I read . I then came across “Anti-inflammatory” foods and lifestyle. What if I eliminated inflammatory foods and replaced them with anti inflammatory foods? Surely that would bring the inflammation down.
Now, what you have to remember at this time is, that I was not a certified nutritional therapist then. So this revelation was treated like a miracle by my brain, my own eureka moment where I felt I had done what no one in the world had done – found a cure to RA, technically at least. But did it work? I would only know in a few months.
Hence I started the process of elimination. Out went carbohydrates, especially white flour, sugar, and processed foods. In came fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, green tea, red wine. I hired a yoga teacher at that point, Runvijay sir, who worked with my swollen, slow joints, and gently pushed me thrice a week, to regain my flexibility. He urged me to do breathing exercises, which I hated and found boring. He sat and rotated my wrists and ankles till they began to rotate themselves. On days I was too stiff to do the yoga, he cajoled me like a child to just do some spine rotations, knowing very well, that if my spine remained supple, I would be able to reverse the stiffness . He spoke to me about the benefits of each aasan on the body, its organs and the mind . He made me understand and absorb yoga, Vs using it as a form of exercise . God bless Runvijay sir .
During my heated discussion with my rheumatologist, he had shared with me that in mild cases of RA, ayurvedic treatment had shown some improvement, but my case was too aggressive for that. Now that I had conquered two “inflammation” points – food and exercise, it was time to start healing and strengthening my joints as well. So I signed up for a 14-day massage therapy specifically designed for RA patients at a local well known ayurvedic centre. For 7 days, they “opened” up your body with abhyangam, letting the oils seep in and the gentle massage getting rid of the stiffness. Then for the next 7 days, they perform potli massage, where they pound the affected joints with a small cloth bag full of herbs dipped in hot ayurvedic oil, to heal the joints. Post the 14 days, there’s a repeat of potli every 21 days.
I followed it religiously . A day after potli started, my pains returned very badly and my entire body couldn’t move. The ayurvedic doctor said that initially in potli, the pain will return before going away. I had already suffered so much, waiting around for 24-48 hours didn’t seem to daunt me. And sure enough, the pains began receding after 48 hours. After my 14- day ayurvedic treatment, I did feel better . But the pain remained.
I had started my hit and trial treatment in October. By Dec, my pains had reduced by 80%. I was eating a satvic diet, had given up lentils completely, since they contained proteins that flared up any pain, but had cheated with coffee. The only two things that have been proven to be harmful for RA, is coffee and cigarettes. A non smoker, I never had to worry about the latter . But giving up coffee for a year had been tough, and I restarted with complete pleasure.
By Jan, I began tapering off the immune suppressants, but my 20% pain levels remained . At that point, I decided to listen to Runvijay sir, and increased my prananyam to ten minutes . Within a week, I felt relief . I increased it a bit more, to 15 min the next week, and noticed the difference in pain . By Feb end, my pranayama was at 30 min, and my pain, at 3% . I was, for the first time since my RA, almost pain free . And that’s when I got my blood tests for RA done . And the reports were…
… negative. My RA had gone.
By: Rachna Chhachhi
Excerpted from the book RESTORE on how to fight lifestyle diseases by Nutritional Therapist Rachna Chhachhi, available on Kindle