“You are neither sick nor a patient, just a person whose spine got sheared”
I was busy in a physiotherapy session at the Indian spinal injury Centre in Delhi and Komal ma’am wheeled right next to me. She asked about my level of injury, how it happened and immediately shared practical tips that could help me lifelong. She was a peer counsellor and was driven to help others with similar spinal cord injuries. Every time she came into the physiotherapy hall, all newly injured people like me were bound to benefit from her vast experience. Komal ma’am has been at it for over 25 years and continues to be the go-to-person for advice on all things physical resulting from a spinal cord injury as well as matters of the mind.
Dr. Komal Kamra’s #LifeBeyondSCI
I was born into a family that had had a hit from the partition, as a second born. I guess there was not enough for us and my mother’s sister adopted me. I grew up with three siblings much older than me. Being brought up in a large Punjabi joint family I got a lot of love, but thanks to my mother I was never pampered. Our family had meagre means but we never felt deprivation as our desires were probably fewer back then. A chirpy family with multiple conversations going on simultaneously in a common courtyard, I developed a methodology of being a part of all, or none to be just by myself, to spend time with myself. For me, academics was a priority and dramatics an escape route. I did well in school and college and got a permanent faculty post at a University of Delhi College even before I turned 21!
I got married to an army officer who became my friend for life. Our togetherness lasted almost 20 years until God took him away. My two children make up my happy family now!
We were on a pilgrimage with my biological family and met with a road accident on a hilly terrain. This incident took away lives, gave broken bones to some, and left my mother and I with spinal cord injuries.
In 1993, for a middle class family, with lots of responsibilities, I never got a structured rehab. I learnt from friends which I made en route and my background in Biology came handy. My orthopedic surgeon at the army hospital was trained at the Paraplegic Rehabilitation Centre in Pune, but could offer me little. His tips nevertheless helped me to edge on. Needs necessitated that I join back college and I came back with a vengeance, as if to prove to myself that I was no less than others.
Life beyond spinal cord injury
Back to my teaching schedule and microbiology research activities, I decided to be a mainstream person. I set up my own research lab in the college to independently guide PhD students, conducted several seminal activities and projects not just for my lab but also my UG students.
Additionally, having had an insight into disability from close quarters, I decided to give a part of my life to giving back to society what it gave me. Thus came societal activities: helping in admission of students with disabilities, founder member of the Equal Opportunity Cell at my University, peer counselling at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, founder member of The Spinal Foundation, founder member of Ekatwam – a self help group for persons with epilepsy, working closely with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on a variety of projects, and also receiving a National Award from the then President Dr Abdul Kalam.
These activities took me to different parts of India and across the world, majorly for seminal events. But I love to pack a lot of fun when travelling to places before and after each event. Once I’m in my wheelchair, I find out ways and means to do things that a typical textbook-approach would term ‘the undoable’. Wherever I needed assistance, I got it, Just needed to extend my hand. The world is beautiful and people are very humane.
A memorable holiday was a trip to Kashmir just 2 years ago, no conference, just a fun outing, visiting the Dal Lake in a Shikara and the trolley ride up from Sonmerg. And the trip to Rome last year; both seem so improbable in the COVID-19 onslaught times.
In future, I would love to go to places which challenge life on a wheelchair! A sail boat ride to the untouched Pacific Islands, live among the inhabitants and communicate with them to learn more about them! A sleigh ride on the Andes! And a lot more…..
Message for people who are newly injured
You are not sick, therefore not a patient, just a person whose spine got sheared.
Life is beautiful, savour it, you are still you, never allow anyone to take decisions for you, have fun, live life king-size!
Make sure you watch Dr. Komal Kamra’s TED Talk below where she speaks about living life to the fullest with an identity that is not defined by one’s physical ability. She believes relationships with the rest of the world, and most importantly, with herself is the key to happiness.