Published in The Weekend Independent Magazine, May 2010
On 4 September 2008, three friends were returning to Dhaka from Gazipur in a taxi. It was around 9.30pm and the streets were deserted. The young men had spent the day visiting a site where they planned to build a factory.
Their conversation naturally turned to discussing how much money they had so far spent, and how much remained. Then the cab driver stopped the car abruptly, complaining of a mechanical fault. The motor had been running normally, so the friends immediately became suspicious. But before they had time to further assess the situation, they were attacked by a mob. Of the three, Rony was the most dressed up. He believes that the mob assumed he was the wealthiest, and that is why he was attacked the most severely. “They beat me for a lifetime,” he said.
Unfortunately, the mob’s prediction was correct – Rony was carrying Tk 85,000. Such was the thieves’ callousness and greed that they even stole his shoes along with his life savings. He said, “After the incident I noticed that my belt buckle was open – they had tried to take my trousers. And my shirt was ripped apart.”
Sadly, newspapers report such terrifying incidents on almost a daily basis. Readers are provided with all the nasty details – but only up to the point when the victims reach hospital and whether any arrests were made. But what happens after that? How do victims such as Rony cope with their injuries psychologically and financially? And what happens when complications – such as those I am about to describe—produce unforeseen and shocking consequences?
By the time Rony arrived at the nearest hospital he had turned blue. The doctors administered painkillers, but they were unaware of the blood clots that were preventing his kidneys from functioning.
His body filled up with ammonium and he suffered a severe reaction to the painkillers. His entire body swelled to such a degree that he could see his own cheeks. He would subsequently be drained of five kilogrammes of toxins.
After tests revealed serious kidney malfunctioning, Rony was transferred to Bangladesh Medical College in Dhanmondi. He was given three sessions of dialysis. Despite being in pain, he said, “Everything was fine – I was confident that I was getting better and I had a good relationship with the doctors. But the hardship had not started at that point. It was just the trailer for what was to come next.” After having spent around 20 days in hospital, Rony woke one night, needing to go to the toilet. He said, “When I tried to walk I suddenly felt that I couldn’t feel my legs. I fell to the ground. That was when I lost my ability to walk.”
The blood clots had blocked Rony’s deep veins, which prevented his cells from getting enough oxygen and fresh blood, which resulted in a condition called deep vein thrombosis. Rony described what happened succinctly, saying, “My muscles vaporized.”
After a few days, Rony tried to walk again. This time he twisted his ankle as he fell to the ground. He was forced to call the nurses to ask for a wheelchair. He said, “Sitting in the wheelchair for the first time was a scary moment.
And when I got back from the toilet, I saw my mother watching me.” At this point, Rony starts to weep as he recalls the memory. It was to take him six months of intensive physiotherapy before he was capable of walking three metres.
Rony’s kidneys resumed normal functioning and he was discharged from the hospital. He spent the next 20 days at home in his bed before he attempted to stand again.
“It was an open prison for me,” he said matter-of-factly. He described being able to stand for a few seconds as a “great moment.” But learning to walk for the second time in his life was more difficult than it had been the first time, as he explains, “Learning to walk as an adult was a whole different story. I had a lot more body weight and the chances of severely injuring myself from a fall were much higher. Fear bottled up inside me and I couldn’t stop it.”
Before the incident, Rony was a keen sportsmen, playing basketball, badminton, football and cricket. He was a confident, strong and energetic young man. He said, “This accident gave me a completely different look on life. There were things that I was proud of, there were things which I boasted about, and then when I lost those things, the world became completely different. I became depressed and frustrated. I am still lacking in confidence now, though I am getting it back.”
When Rony’s father passed away in 2000, he became the breadwinner for his family. Each day in hospital had cost at least Tk 10,000 and the total bill came to a whopping Tk 3.5 lakh. His relatives deserted the family, having offered no financial support whatsoever.
Rony’s medical bills and the family expenses were paid for by a friend, whom Rony can only describe in the highest possible terms. He said, “During that time I came to know my near ones. And I came to know that your relatives are not necessarily the persons on whom you can always rely. Sometimes there are far better people around you.”
After many months, Rony decided it was time to return to work. Through the help of his best friend Robin, he was offered an interview at a leading English newspaper. His friend assisted him up the office’s staircase and Rony walked over to the chief news editor. He was limping severely, and as he gripped a desk to support himself, his hands shook uncontrollably— another effect of the deep vein thrombosis. The editor took one look at his fragile state and said, ‘Take some more time to rest. Come back when you can.” But Rony wasn’t to be deterred. He returned one week later, despite being in no better shape than he was the first time. He said to his future boss, “When I’m working I’ll be sitting – I won’t be walking. So please just give me a desk.” Rony went on to become the fastest person in that newspaper to be offered a permanent contract of employment.
Rony’s attributes his mental strength to a belief in God. It was so strong that he describes it as an “interaction.” He also developed a higher appreciation for life itself. He said, “While I was sitting on my sofa or bed, I realised that life is beautiful. Since I could not move physically, I developed an extra gift, enabling me to be outside my body. And every little movement I witnessed around me felt like a miracle. People felt nicer too. I forgot about those bastards who did this to me.”
I asked Rony whether he still thinks about the people who caused him such great suffering. “No,” he says simply. Then he added, “I feel pity for them. But ‘forgiveness’ is too strong a word. I don’t know whether they are accountable to me or to God anyway.”
However Rony is not fatalistic about what happened to him—nor is he about the future. He said, “At the end of the day, I believe we choose our future. The roads ahead are like spiderwebs and we must choose where to go. On the day I was attacked, I had chosen to do something that may have had a happy ending, but I shouldn’t have talked about money inside that cab. We should have just got in, had chats, and gotten out.”
Rony urges others who are recovering from injuries not to lose hope. He said, “After some time, you will experience some sort of growth. If that is mental growth rather than physical growth, you are still doing fine. Keep believing.”