“You need to get on with life, rather than fixating on how this injury has ruined it”
My first memory of Jaskaran is a feeling of jaw-dropping wonder. A person with quadriplegia, who goes to the office every day, lives by himself and just a helper who assists with daily chores. At that time, I was in my second year of the spinal cord injury (SCI) and far from feeling independent about the same activities. I was working from home. When I traveled for work, my helper would accompany even me inside the meeting room, just in case something goes wrong (e.x. a sudden spasm due to spasticity). As most of his close friends call him, Jassi gave me serious goals, and I’ve come a long way since then. That’s the power of knowing peers who are on the same journey as you. He has also opened up a world of possibilities for fellow SCI to get higher education in a premier institute such as the Indian Institute of Management and set the foundation for a strong career and financial independence. Many with high-level SCI have followed his footsteps. Read on to see what makes this boy go on, and on, and on.
Jaskaran Singh’s #LifeBeyondSCI
I was born and brought up in a typical middle class family in Amritsar, Punjab. My dad had a small textiles business, my mother was a full time house wife and I had a brother who was 3 years younger to me. I’m not sure how my dad managed, but most of the time we got everything that we ever asked for, without having to compromise. Every silly demand of ours was always fulfilled.
I was good at studies and my parents gave a lot of importance to education, wanting me to do something good with my life. My mum wanted me to pursue engineering. I cracked IIT-JEE in my second attempt but couldn’t get through to any of the premiere IITs. Thankfully, I got admission at the Department of Civil Engineering at IT-BHU. My dad was always very happy and proud of my achievement but I could feel that my mother was a bit disappointed.
The first year in college was a different experience, I made new friends and we did all kinds of mischief. My grades weren’t that good for the first 3 semesters (1.5 years) and my parents were a little concerned but I managed to somehow talk them out of it. During my 2nd year, I was diagnosed with diabetes which was pretty serious. It was a case of undiagnosed diabetes which got so bad that doctors gave me a 50% chance of surviving and I had to be put on the ventilator for 2 days. My dad rushed to Varanasi overnight. My friends took turns to be there for night shifts at the hospital😊 I got discharged after roughly two weeks and came home to recover. I still remember my mother’s conditions when I got back, crying had drained the life out of her. My heart sank when I looked at her, my brother and dad. At that moment I thought to myself that there’s no one who can love me more than them and I ought to do better at being a good son.
This was the point in my life that shook me. I got a little more serious and started to think about all that my parents had dreamt for me. My grades started improving and to be honest all it required was a little more focus while I still had all the fun with my friends. I wrote the GATE exam during the final year of my Engineering as I wanted to pursue higher studies. I secured an All India Rank 7 and had offers from IIT Delhi and IISc Bangalore to pursue Masters in Civil Engg. I also had job offers from IOCL and Reliance through campus placements. I thought finally I had done something good to make my parents happy. I wanted to write the Indian Engineering Services (or ESE) post my Masters and join the Technical Services of the Government. But that was not to be.
In June 2011, just after completing my graduation, all of us went to the Gurudwara in Manikaran. We had a good darshan and were on our way back to Amritsar after stopping at Jalandhar for dinner. A few kilometres before Amritsar, a buffalo walked right in front of our car. In an effort to veer away and save its life, our car ended up overturning. I was conscious during the first turn, but blacked out by the second. It was in the emergency room that I heard a nurse saying my brother and mother had died. I was in too much pain to react and lost consciousness again. Initially I was in the ICU in Jalandhar and then got transferred to Chandigarh after 10 odd days for the surgery. In August when I came back home after fifty long days, from the accident to the surgery, I got to know about my father. A doctor mentioned in passing that he had died ten days after the accident. The enormity of the situation started dawning on me when I realised that in that life-changing incident, I had lost my entire family, my spinal cord was broken and I was paralyzed. For the first time in my life I found myself experiencing a sense of complete helplessness.
It was the time when I was getting ahead in life and perhaps could have taken care of my family. I had always thought that once I’m earning, my dad would need to slog less and my mother could finally think about getting stuff for herself which she had compromised on, given the limited means. Unfortunately, life had other plans and in a moment it was all taken away.
I’ve always believed that I am responsible for my own problems and need to work through them. Suddenly that was not an option anymore with the limited resources and abilities I had. I had no feeling and mobility below my chest, no bladder and bowel control; I can barely move my fingers, and I need to take push-ups in my wheelchair to prevent pressure sores. I started feeling like I was a liability to everyone around me. Without a family, my treatment and rehabilitation got delayed which led to complications.
It is only in the absence that you realize the value of something. I thought about my father, who worked tirelessly to give us whatever we wanted, which meant he did not have much saved. And here I was, not even financially independent. My maternal and paternal families used to bicker about bills and the latter even had discussions about property partition around my bedside.
Finally, my maternal family stood by me, my father’s ex-colleagues gave me some money, and my friends crowdfunded for my treatment. I went to Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), New Delhi for my rehabilitation after almost 9 months of the accident. Initially, I always thought I’d be fine soon, that I’d walk again but it never happened. It took a lot of time to get to know my own injury and accept it.
Though I taught myself to be mobile in a wheelchair, I was broken in spirit. That is when I met Divya ma’am (i.e. Dr Divya Parashar, head of the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology at ISIC). She arranged for another stint of rehab under Vikram Sir in Delhi the following year, where I also trained and participated in the National Para Sports Meet held in Bangalore in 2013.
Life beyond spinal cord injury
Divya taught me that even though I was in a wheelchair, I could be physically, psychologically, emotionally and financially independent. I started a job with a Real Estate firm where my degree in Civil Engineering could be helpful. Thanks to her, in 2014, on my 26th birthday, I received a book autographed by my idol Rahul Dravid which said, “Hope this book inspires you to dream big and chase those dreams”. The message had a huge impact on me and motivated me to pursue my dreams of doing an MBA.
Two years later, I wrote the CAT with the help of a scribe. I secured 99 percentile and was given admission in Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIMB), with a full scholarship, a motorized wheelchair to move around campus, an accessible accommodation, as well as full medical reimbursement. I graduated in 2018 and now work as an Analyst at Goldman Sachs. The new chapter in my life has finally started and I often wonder how happy my parents and brother would have been for me.
I am often asked what makes me go on. As I reflect back on this journey, I have realized the importance of friends who go on to become family. My carefree, rebellious bunch of friends suddenly grew up to be caring and responsible. They would juggle between their college, career, and personal lives, but ensured that they were always by my side. My girlfriend stood by me through thick and thin. Divya was an angel in disguise and then of course, there was Rahul Dravid, whose words in the worst of times gave me the courage to fight back.
I always enjoyed travelling to the mountains as a kid with my family and later with my friends. The opportunity to feel small amidst the enormity of the peaks, to understand that we’re just a small cog in the universe, is one humbling experience I think everyone should have. I feel it is important in life to not necessarily be weak or small, but to feel small, just like feeling strong at times, to have that humbling experience which motivates you to do more and not be proud and satisfied with what you have done up to that point. Ever since my injury I haven’t traveled much except a couple of trips and would love to explore more.
Message for people who are newly injured
A SCI is a tough pill to swallow, but, the key is to make peace with the fact that you have to live with it now. It might take you weeks, months or even years to come to terms with it but trust me, the sooner it is, the better. You need to get on with life, rather than just be fixated on how this injury has ruined it. It is essential to undergo quality rehabilitation which will help you lead an independent life while being on a wheelchair. It will equip you to do most of the things/activities you loved before the injury.
Obviously, this life is going to be tough and ugly but you ought to keep your chin up and take it head on. Sharing a dialogue from the movie, ‘The theory of everything’ that has always helped me, “However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. While there’s life, there’s hope.“
It’s really incredible and inspiring !