Writing his own fairy tale

How a worldly-wise teenager, who overcame every health failure with fortitude, taught a resident doctor to believe in the impossible.

Once upon a time, there was a boy name Arkojjwal. He was unlike any 13-year-old with a brain tumour that I have ever seen. In 2008, when I was an exhausted resident doctor training to be a neurosurgeon in Vellore, he was admitted to the pediatric ward that I was assigned to look after. He had a curly mop of hair that sat off-centre on his head, and wore a pair of thick glasses gingerly balanced on the tip of his nose, giving him the quintessential professor look.

“One day, whilst I was sitting in class, I suddenly noticed double-vision,” he said in his chaste Bengali-English as I noted down his history meticulously. “And when I reached home, my mother saw a squint in my eye.” His MRI showed a craniopharyngioma – a tumour that is hard to pronounce but even harder to remove. It arises from the pituitary stalk, and in his case, had ensconced the right optic nerve with chunks of calcium encircling important arteries of the brain. Not only that, it pressed firmly against the hypothalamus – the seat of consciousness.

It was unfathomable to imagine a monstrosity like this sitting inside one of the brightest minds I had ever seen. At the end of each day, way past midnight, when I used to sit down at the computer in the ward to type out discharge summaries of patients, send off investigations for the next day, and pore through progress notes, Arkojjwal would pull up a chair and come sit next to me for an hour or two. “Did you know Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion in the word?” he questioned, after having known that I was Parsi. I nodded, slightly befuddled. Each day, he would educate me with some trivia that broadened my worldly knowledge, and in return, I taught him to read MRI scans. He helped me file paper work and write up lab tests for other patients. I indulged him with the anatomy of the brain. We were a team. He was 13 and I, 26. He wrote me a poem every day to read out to me when we met on our midnight rendezvous.

A few days later I assisted my mentor with Arkojjwal’s operation. The brain was softly dancing to the beat of the heart as we opened. This gentle rhythmic bouncing that the brain does connects you directly to the cosmos. I watched in awe under the microscope as my mentor peeled off the tumour digging its heels into the optic nerve. I nimbly assisted as he removed small glistening pieces of calcium, almost like a miner unearths diamonds floating in fluid that looked like molten gold. The more we dug, the more jewels we found, until all that was left was the cyst wall stuck to the hypothalamus. As he peeled that off with the sleight of a magician, I found myself praying that Arkojjwal would awaken after surgery. Every bit of tumour visible to the naked eye under the magnification of the microscope was eventually removed. I was lucky to have witnessed such symphonic mastery.

Arkojjwal woke up just fine, reciting Shakespeare on the evening of the operation as he was tethered to tubes preventing him from writing poetry. These patients, in whom such tumours are resected aggressively from the pituitary stalk (which is responsible for the transportation of hormones), develop sodium and water imbalances that can be laborious to treat, requiring the monitoring vital parameters every hour. After fairly tight control of his electrolytes, on the 8th postoperative day, his sodium levels saw a swift swing from rock bottom to sky high and he slipped into a coma with alacrity, remaining in this state for over a month. The entire team was despondent, but we kept fighting on reminded of something I had read a long time ago: “In taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.”

When he seemed to awaken 56 days later, he couldn’t move at all, except for an involuntary tremor in all his limbs. Owing to the rapid fluctuation in his sodium levels, he had sustained damage to his brain stem and the basal ganglia responsible for movement. After about 3 months of intense rehabilitation, which included his mother physically flexing him 8 hours a day and talking to him about his past for another 8 hours, there came about some semblance of an ability to walk and regaining of his lost memory. He was finally discharged on a great many hormonal replacement and growth hormone injections, as his body was no longer secreting hormones on its own.

He followed up with us in Vellore each year, walking a little better, shaking a little less, seeming a little sharper. Over the course of a few years, he underwent a hip replacement, as the steroids he was taking had affected his hip joint. His school allowed him to have writers so that he could complete his ICSE, and he passed giving his exams lying down because he could not yet sit up. He had to replace 10 teeth in each jaw as the enamel had decayed from the side effects of the medication he was on. And then he developed a second brain tumour in his cerebellum, at the back of his head, which we also removed successfully. He was family to every staff member and every doctor in the hospital. He overcame every ineluctable failure inexorably with a fortitude worth emulating.

I had left Vellore in 2014 and hadn’t heard from him for a few years, until a few weeks ago, when he messaged me with a poem:

Dear Dr. Turel,

You are always present in my mind to the extent that none can reach,

The memories with which you teach,

How to overcome any problem,

And claim happiness by God’s grace,

Sweeping away each and every sorrow,

Thus you’ve become to me an influencing hero.

Your beloved,

Arkoj

I was just a resident doctor at the time and not befitting of such praise, nor could I take credit for any medical outcomes or successes, but I was so excited to hear from him! I began reminiscing about all the wonderful times we had in the four months we had spent together in the hospital, two of which he spent oblivious. I picked up the phone and called him. “Hieee!” I bloviated, allowing for the time we had spent apart to collapse into a capsule, much like the ones he swallowed on a daily basis.

“I’ve completed my MA in English at Jadavpur University,” he said, in slightly more refined Bengali-English this time.

“Wow,” I exclaimed. “What next?”

“I’m doing my PhD now,” he said with sated joy.

“In what?” I enquired, as that is the first question you ask anyone who tells you that they are doing their doctorate.

With a tender note in his voice backed by the certainty of a brighter future, he proclaimed, “Fairy tales.”

 

 

44 Comments on “Writing his own fairy tale
  • Meena Kothari says:

    His fortitude is inspiring!

    Reply
  • Samina Khorakiwala says:

    Brillantly written article…one can relive what you must have experienced as a doctor and more so the vocabulary is well chosen.

    Reply
  • Dr. Neepa says:

    The boy is a survivor and a fighter. Best wishes to him..

    Reply
  • Natwar Panchal says:

    Great Sir, This type of tumour reoccur or not?

    Reply
  • Avan Eruch Patel says:

    The young man’s extreme courage and grace under pressure is to be lauded!
    May he and you be blessed with Good Health in abundance!

    Reply
  • Mrs Sunaina Naresh Saraf says:

    Dr mazda,
    Hello!
    Very inspiring & heartwarming!
    It leaves u spellbound & believe in miracles!
    Personally ive met u & u are a gem of a person
    God bless u always!
    Regards
    Sunaina Naresh Saraf

    Reply
  • Mrs Sunaina Naresh Saraf says:

    Hello sir,
    Very inspiring & heart touching!
    It leaves u spell bound & makes u firmly believe in almighty & miracles
    U r a gem of a person & an asset to medical profession
    God bless u always!
    Regards ,
    Sunaina Naresh Saraf

    Reply
  • Sona says:

    Fresh read and a gentle flowing conversation about the past looking to the future rather than a story, Mazda..

    …the thought which comes to my mind everytime I read about someone with extraordinary courage..is that would I ever have so much courage and grace to face such hardships and remain victorious…in mind and deeds…

    Reply
  • Mrs Sunaina Naresh Saraf says:

    Hello sir,
    Very inspiring & heartwarming
    Makes u firmly believe in miracles do happen & faith in your dr & almighty!
    U are an asset to medical profession
    God bless u always!
    Regards
    Sunaina Naresh Saraf

    Reply
  • Dr. A. Kumarswamy says:

    Speechless… Stay blessed Maz.

    Reply
  • Gool Kotwal says:

    This was beautifully written of a fighter who survived it all to write his own fairytale.

    Reply
  • Gloria Msampha says:

    His fairy tale had a good ending. Glad that you were there to help him “carry his cross”. There is a God out there who is our guardian Angel and he used you and the other surgeons to save this young man. Otherwise this fairy tale would not have had such a happy ending. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • Rita singh says:

    A fairytale indeed..!!Dr.Mazda the boy indeed is a fighter but u r the good fairy who helps all his patients to fly.God bless you and all medical professionals. like u.

    Reply
  • Cecilia Modise says:

    I can’t help writing my comments with tears running down my chicks as I get encouraged and empowered on my situation having gone through 2nd surgery of lumber spine…. Oh Lord of hosts continue blessing Dr Mazda and his mentors who managed to pull through to save the life of a genius

    Reply
  • Vinod Ahuja says:

    Fascinating article. You have a gift for discussing the cases in a truthful yet amusing ways . Thank you and keep the interesting articles coming.

    Reply
  • Vineeta goel says:

    Eyes are moist, heart is numb after reading this story. Thanks for sharing.

    May you always be blessed

    This story is a reflection of your own soft side.

    We as doctors are very fortunate that we come across such inspiring people everyday.

    Keep sharing your posts sir. I really enjoy reading all that you write

    It’s very inspiring

    Reply
  • Nilesh Mahale says:

    Brought tears in my eyes.
    Reminded me of my residency days at Tata memorial hospital ,similar bright chap having Thalamic glioma.
    Best wishes Dr Turel

    Reply
  • Martha Quaghe says:

    Great testimony
    Thank you very much Dr. Mazda

    Reply
  • Germaine Boatwala says:

    Such magnificent heroes rule our world and we complain of what is bad? These are souls of Light on their earthly journey and in journeying, teach us to travel too. Dr Turel is exceptional in his narrative abilities and his articles are never just medical. I’m amazed at his genial and humane wit and medical aplomb.

    Reply
  • Benifer Irani says:

    God bless and the boy is Survivor … continue interesting facts !!
    Love ya Mazda !!

    Reply
  • Tasneem says:

    A very heart touching story explained in a magnificent manner. Hats off to the 13 year old
    Dr. Mazda truly a Superhero. Truly Inspiring.
    .

    Reply
  • Goolu Gimi says:

    Dear Mazda, what a beautiful Fairy Tale. It indeed brought tears of happiness that God used you as a tool for this young child. I always enjoy your write ups as they are knowledgeable and witty. Proud that our little Mazda has grown into such a Lovely human being. Keep up the good work. Our community is proud and indeed thankful to have you amongst us. Good Luck and God Bless you Always. With Love and Best wishes Always. Mehar, Goolu, Navaz and Diana Gimi

    Reply
  • Hutoxi Doodhwala says:

    You write so well Mazda. I could visualise e you sitting late night with Arkoj next to you, the surgery that you explained gave me an excited rush making my heart beat faster, and then my heart sank when I read about his coma. What joy it was to read the poem he sent you.
    May God bless Arkoj with Good health, success (PHD) and happiness always.
    May you be blessed manifold as you help and heal mankind.

    Reply
  • Parvin says:

    Wonderful. Keep going

    Reply
  • T George Koshy says:

    Mazda..loved it..again u tugged at the heart strings and brought a tear to the eye..loved all the reminiscing..Neuro surgeons with a heart of gold like u and true stories like this make us believe in the basic good of human kind and in fairy tales and God’s Grace ..please keep writing more..

    Reply
  • Anjali Patki says:

    Sensitive story…and lived happily ever after in this fairytale thanks to a skillful doctor. Kudos

    Reply
  • Cashmira says:

    What a remarkable boy, and what a true…. fairytale
    Dr Mazda you are a gift to mankind.your humbleness with your intelligence is rare to find.

    Reply
  • Dr Sanjay Behari says:

    Outstanding write up of a brave soul. The article reflects your sensitivity as a writer as much as it reflects the patient’s resilience and strength. Keep it up Mazda

    Reply
  • Priyadarshan Pradhan says:

    Wonderful story doctor saheb thank you for sharing

    Reply
  • Rumy Ghoga says:

    Very inspirational article

    Reply
  • Lakshmi Nair says:

    Wow doc ! So inspirational

    Reply
  • Chanda says:

    A way to win a man’s heart ❤ is through his stomach but the way to win a woman’s heart is by reading Dr. Turel’s true incidents and fairytales. You truly know how to win hearts Dr.Mazda. You are making it a habit we look forward to. Thank you for the time and efforts to enlighten us.

    Reply
  • Anuradha karnik says:

    A compelling story of a teenager who courageously faced life’s difficulties and of a benevolent and determined doctor who gave him the support, both medically and mentally. I love the special connect between your patient Arkov and yourself Dr Turel. God bless you both

    Reply
  • Dr. Shubha Thatte says:

    Dear Mazda m
    Simply great ! You really write like a fairy tale ! & one starts believing in miracles after reading such account . Kudos to this special boy & you for being so empathic & treating him like an adult that time .
    Love ,
    Shubha ,

    Reply
  • Avinash says:

    Great story
    Inspiring

    Reply
  • Lucky Yashvant Singh says:

    Really it’s very inspirational u r great sir….
    Ur each article gives us knowledge about how to deal with problems…..it’s so.appreciable nd amazing..🔥

    Reply
  • Mehroo Karbhari. says:

    Heartfelt…..and happy to see Artej survive.
    Kudos to Dr. Mazda and the medical fraternity for saving people’s lives. May your tribe increase.
    Dr. Mazda’s narrative itself is like a fairy tale.
    May God bless you and yours.

    Reply
  • Di says:

    Superb article… got emotional while reading it and brought tears to my eyes… what a remarkable boy with unwavering fortitude! Miracles DO happen! Article ended beautifully 🙂 “fairy tales”… God bless him and you!

    Reply
  • Bikram says:

    Let’s live life to the fullest of our capacity…
    Cheers!!!

    Reply
  • CHANDAN SANJANA says:

    What a true soldier to fight through all these ordeals to be where he is today. Bless him.

    Reply
  • Arkojjwal Dasmahapatra says:

    Arkoj can be viewed if anyone types Arkojjwal Dasmahapatra at google search

    Reply
  • Azmin Vania says:

    You are a hero in so many ways Mazda. The softness, the optimism, the care and the sense of humour with the skilled genius that you are, you are a patient’s delight, a family’s hope, every doctor’s inspiration and the nation’s superstar! The boy’s grit cannot be undermined and he deserves a standing ovation for his performance on the stage of life but you can take a proud bow too! Both of you deserve it!

    Reply
  • Dr Shivkumar V Dalvi says:

    Extremely well-written, giving necessary anatomical details but the boy always remains in the centre.The magnitude of his sufferings is brought out very sensitively without any addl frills.We get involved so much with destiny of the boy n want him to come out unscathed.Almost when we have lost hope Dr Turel makes us overcome with joy by the news of his PhD.Grt story told by the master neurosurgeon!bravo!

    Reply
  • Cyrus Desai says:

    Wonderful!!! Happy that this narrative had a fairy tale ending. God bless the budding Ph.D. Do keep on narrating your experiences, there is much for us non doctors to learn. Your article on spina bifida revealed to me as to why GynObs prescribe Folic Acid during pregnancy. Keep well. Keep safe and God bless

    Reply

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