She describes herself as an above knee amputee, mum to a lovely growing boy and someone who can challenge the odds in life.
Due to an accident she lost her leg and since then it hasn’t been easy being a one legged individual. But a meeting with her makes one realize that she doesn’t let you feel anything that has been remotely odd in her physical presence.
In fact she has been inspiring several others to carry on life with zest and enthusiasm. This is one of our strongest stories and we are glad to feature Hema Subhash from One Step at a Time.
“I am 31 years now. I was born in Cochin, Kerala as the second child to a scientist and a housewife. Growing up, I was quite a creative child, always making my own dolls and doll houses, and dolls clothes, baking and making model houses. I loved to create. I used to like my alone time and solitude and time to write in my diary and to think, as much as I liked being with friends and goofing around with them. After college I did my engineering in Computer Science.
The issue was that I was never interested in Computer Science. I was more inclined towards doing something creative and design oriented like architecture, but unfortunately I did quite well in Science and Math, which led my dad to decide on my behalf, the choice of studying Computer Science.
So when I began work, I grudgingly worked in an IT company for a year and a half, as a Programmer, then left it for a seemingly interesting Market Research Analyst job, which I again left in 1.5 years, because that became monotonous in a while. I was in between IT jobs for the early part of my career.
On the evening of 3rd February, 2010, as I was coming back home from my office in ITPL, Bangalore, I was hurrying to get into a Volvo bus and get back home. I still wish I had walked a little slower or met a friend of mine on the way somewhere. Yet, I boarded that bus, I still remember what I was wearing a yellow long kurta and off white churidar, with flip flops. I was seated opposite the doors in the middle of the bus. As the bus reached my stop, there were many others teeming to get out before me, so I waited my turn at the end in line. And just as I was stepping out, the driver abruptly started closing the door and moving the bus at the same time. I was pushed out while I was stepping out, and in a flash I fell out on to the road. I still remember fthat or a fraction of a second I was embarrassed, then that embarrassment turned into pure horror and an excruciatingly unimaginable pain when the bus’s rear tyre went over my left knee crushing it to the bone.
I was moved from the road onto the dusty pavement, where I held on to an onlooker’s legs and pleaded him to take me to the hospital and telling him that I wanted to live. Amidst my wails I could hear all the gasps and worried conversations people around me were having. I was very quickly losing blood and I was aware of what was to happen to me, if I hadn’t received medical care on time.
Then from somewhere, I heard a woman saying “Hey let us take her to the hospital”. A lady and a complete stranger by the name Linda came forward to help me. She was a God sent angel and she persuaded onlookers to lift me to the other side of the road that led to the nearest hospital, Vydehi, where I got some basic first aid. The car in which I was taken to the hospital was a brand new i10, with it’s plastic covers still on.
When I lay there in the car, with my head on Linda’s lap, I couldn’t believe what was happening to me; is it just a shock, I kept wondering, or is this really happening to me? Then I managed to share my parents’ numbers with the people who were in the car and they were contacted. Linda kept telling me that it was a small wound and that I would be fine soon. But for a moment I managed to look up, at the mangled mess that my leg had turned into. I saw my own bones and my flesh, limp and hanging out. My knee cap was hanging off my bones by a thread of tissue. I saw my own flesh devoid of any skin. I saw blood oozing out, it was everywhere.
At the hospital I was aware that I was pretty much on my own, so I kept giving instructions to those around me to make sure I took care of myself in the best way possible. After a while I saw that my cousin had reached the hospital and then I felt a little reassured that I wasn’t alone anymore. My parents were in Kerala and they were going to reach only the next day early morning. That night I was moved to Manipal, during my ambulance ride I remember telling my cousin, Devi, that I was tired and wanted to sleep for a while, and she said “yes Hema you can sleep now”. I slept, and I almost died when I reached Manipal. I was resuscitated back to life as my heart rate and BP were unreadable. Once I was a bit stable they tried to set my leg straight, the doctors pulled at the mangled remains of my leg to set the bones straight, without any sedation of any sort, which again was almost worse than the part where the bus ran over my leg.
Then I was taken for some x-rays and then to the surgery where they tried to save my leg, with some vein grafting. But it was quite apparent that it wasn’t going to help – the damage had been done.
It was when they gave me anesthesia that I finally lost consciousness fully and stayed that way for about a day. When I awakened the next day my leg was gone. That morning, my parents had reached and they were told that my leg could not be saved, and the gangrene was setting in quickly which would lead to multiple organ failure and death. So they decided to amputate.
When I regained consciousness, I saw my brother first, I was glad to be alive, and I looked down at my leg and saw that it was all gone, only left with about 7 inches bandaged up raw flesh on bone. And I told my brother, “It’s gone, but I”m here”. A large graft had to be performed at the Sparsh Hospital to cover the open wound. The next month or so was spent in the hospital with many memories of pain and a lot of uncertainties of what life ahead of me would be like. But I also found a sense of acceptance and felt like I would be ready to take on life going forward.
I met my husband Pranjal in April 2009, in Bangalore, we hit it off immediately like wildfire. He was working in Houston then and I was working in Bangalore and living with my friends in Koramangala. I traveled to the US in September that year, and on all my weekends I was flown from New Jersey to Houston to be with him. It was young love. Later he came to Bangalore on a work assignment and for a friend’s wedding. Then a few months later my accident happened. We were quite serious about out relationship by then and were planning to get engaged and take things forward.
After my accident, my then boyfriend came to Bangalore, and got his job transferred from the US to Bangalore. Probably he also had the dilemma of being unsure of whether he would be able to continue with the relationship given that I didn’t have a leg now. But then he proposed to me when I was in my hospital bed, and we got married a year later in 2011 January. His parents also advised him to stay with me then at the time of need.
Life after marriage was pretty straightforward, the usual ups and downs, with two people who were finding out more about each other. I rejoined work after about 8 months of my accident and I wasn’t confident about walking for many years to come. It was only after my son was born that I re-gained my physical independence. Life hasn’t been smooth. It takes a lot of conscious effort and adjustments to set out even a normal routine or with relationships.
Pregnancy as an amputee was also quite a different experience. First of all, because I was an amputee, I couldn’t walk as much or keep myself active for too long, since wearing the prosthesis for too long was uncomfortable, and there were no other reference points or other women who were amputees who I had known and who had been through pregnancy.
I relied on one article online about an amputee mommy from the US, it wasn’t easy to go through the pregnancy without any real reference points. I had to find my own way.
Due to insufficient exercise and the eating frenzy I went on, after an incorrect lower reading of my weight during one of the checkups, I gained a whopping 25 kgs during my pregnancy. I used to do some yoga while I was carrying and I would walk in my apartment’s corridor as much as I could with my walker. My son was positioned breech after full term and the doctor decided that we should opt for a C Section and Neil was born on the 18th of June, 2013.
Days after the birth of my son were a mix of pleasure and pain. Right from the time when I was pregnant with my son, I was so emotionally connected to that little life inside me that I did all that was in my power to just nurture and nourish him. Motherly instincts had taken over me entirely. The intensity of the pure and unconditional love that I felt towards my baby is the most precious emotion I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I did all that was possible within my means to take care of him, it did bother me that I couldn’t carry him and walk or bathe him for a while. I made up for all that with extra cuddles and snuggles with Neil while seated or in bed. Motherhood unlike anything else, takes away quite a lot from a woman. And also gives the most valuable and meaningful purpose to life. I have loved almost every bit of being a mom, and taking care of my son, and watching him grow (not just with my eyes) from a tiny speck to a young boy now.
I think it was the emotional intensity of becoming a mom, and the other stresses around motherhood that really moved me to start One Step at a Time. Being a mother isn’t an easy job at all, you let go of an otherwise engaging job, you meet people in office, you earn an income and earn respect from family. You let go of all of that to be there for your baby. Many mothers don’t do that, but everyone has their priorities and their needs. For me it was my son, I always felt that I could get a job a little later, those baby years of my son weren’t going to wait for me. If I missed them, I would miss them for life.
My son is an absolute joy, we all love him to bits, he’s a talker and loves to sing. He surprised us all by learning to sing the Jana Gana Mana at the age of 20 months. (1.5 years). I only wish him true happiness in life and wish him a life filled with love and learning.
After my son turned two, being at home the whole time, and taking care of my son alone felt like quite a repetitive task at times, and I wanted to do more with myself. For the first year after my son’s birth I took to gardening and pottery and created quite a lovely green space outside our home. After that I moved on to building the OSAAT community – which started as a support group for amputees and now has people with all forms of mobility impairment as a part of the group.
Over the last year, OSAAT has evolved from being a support group to a lot more, and we are now in the process of registering this body as a not for profit trust. There is still about 100 years of work to be done in the space of improving the life of people with disabilities in India, starting with changing unhealthy social attitudes many have towards people with disabilities. Over the course of last year, I’ve come across both good and bad stories of how people and their families have dealt with disability. Stories of girls whose parents were told to let the girl die without medical care, since living without a limb is worse than being dead.
There have been stories of some amazing people who are overcoming some extremely challenging odds to live a life of independence and joy. At OSAAT we aim to provide that support system to help people who are going through a challenging phase of their rehabilitation to get back to life and live it to its fullest again.”