A beautiful mind
A personal account by Abbas Nasir
What goes through the mind of a two-and-a-half-year-old whose tiny world has been stood upside down, I don’t know. What I do know is that you have almost no memory of how you felt at what happened or even when it happened or why.
My earliest recollection, albeit hazy with the passage of so many years, is more of my mother’s and father’s faces. They tried, yes tried so hard, never to be around me with moist eyes but somehow I could sense their profound sadness behind their smiling faces.
At my insistence, many, many years later I was told I wanted to be in the swimming pool all the time and run and kick the ball: an active little boy with an irrepressible spirit and boundless energy to accompany every little dart, sprint, prank.
My own flashback is that of sitting, propped up, on the physiotherapist’s table and, despite breaking out in sweat at the effort, being unable to lift/straighten my leg when asked. Also I can never forget being fed-up with the therapist telling me to try one more time. My mum’s smiling, nodded encouragement was perhaps the only reason I still tried when even my young mind knew there was no point.
Yes, before my third birthday, I had been struck by the polio virus when few in Pakistan would have heard of its name or its vaccine. In fact, paediatricians diagnosed it as, and treated me for, typhoid, I was told, for several weeks before my mother pointed out that though the fever had broken, I couldn’t balance myself and stand up normally; that my leg trembled and shook as if going under the weight of my body before she’d reach out to steady me, to keep me from falling.
Eventually, they realised what it was. Even had they rightly called the virus in the first instance, it would have been too late.
Unlike a host of other, perhaps more lethal and life-threatening, diseases polio cannot be treated. It can only be prevented.
I had an amazingly remarkable and supportive family. And was equally blessed in terms of the friends I have had. Without them I may have grown up with greater damage rather than someone with a mere disability, who feels physically a tad more challenged than them.
Whereas as a child I was forced to sit and watch each athletics meet, football, hockey or cricket match when all I wanted to do was to be in the midst of the action, where even today I close my eyes and imagine bolting past Bolt in the hundred metres sprint, I also know a challenge my life may be but a tear-jerker it isn’t. I was able to get a decent education, work hard and also get lucky breaks and had a dream career until recently.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t reminders. As a parent you can’t pick up or run around with your children, have a fun day in the park. In my case, my wife Carmen has been so amazing and takes care of everything as if it was the most natural thing for her to do my share as well. My two daughters help without a fuss also. I do worry though that one day they’ll catch on that my reluctance to do the simplest things has nothing to do with my disability but a result of my lethargy.
I wonder what if I had been born to a very deprived family; into a situation, where neither education is taken for granted, nor the resources for physios and orthoses. What then except to be condemned to a life of begging or having to rely on others who may be struggling to feed themselves? As it is I feel exhausted sometimes such is the grind of limited mobility. I am grateful bigger issues are merely hypothetical for me? And nobody need face them today. Not on account of polio at least. It’s that simple. Trust us to complicate everything.