PET

 

When you think of a pet, you think of a cute cuddly dog or cat or fishes in a tank or pond… my younger son had even asked for a pet elephant at a point. However, the only thing I could see were fishes on the ceiling. The pictures of the fishes looked almost alive trapped in colourful glass, perhaps an attempt to cheer patients undergoing the scan.

The full form of the PET in medical parlance is Positron Emission Tomography. One goes through this scan to check for various diseases in the body or the absence of thereof if you have already completed your treatment/ surgery as I had…what they called a follow up scan. It sounds like an intimidating procedure as it involves injecting a radioactive substance into your body and then doing a scan inside a machine, much like a futuristic gizmo. Perhaps, it could be a thing for putting the human body to cold freeze and storing it for posterity like they do in Star Wars! But currently it functions only as a scanner.

When I was called in for the procedure, a pink shirted radiologist (all of them wore pink shirts) came and explained the process to me in a PET suite, a little cupboard of a room with an austere bed and medicine trolley filled with needles, gauze and stuff. The radiologist told me about the radioactive stuff and then I asked him if it was similar to carbon dating… you know the stuff they do to unearth the age of Egyptian mummies and Neanderthal men…he seemed a little nonplussed and told me it was nothing like that!

The most intimidating thing for me was the insertion of the cannula (the plastic needle that is used for multiple injections or drips). They could not find the veins in my hands! It took nearly half-an-hour and a few nurses to complete the procedure. After that, I was given the medication and told to relax… again a hard task as I was also told not to move or turn or sing or read or talk. I was told to sleep. I could twitch my muscles and my mind had the freedom to swing. The nurse offered to turn off the light for me. No, I said, I wanted the light. I tried to rest as I felt the radioactive stuff course through my veins. It would have been nice to have some attractive pictures or tiles on the walls and ceiling to assist in making the atmosphere more relaxed, I thought.

Then there was the explosion of the matter and antimatter in my veins… I was drifting… my sons had told me there was anti-matter in the radioactive stuff… but here I was praying for a long life to the Creator of energy, matter and anti-matter.

I could actually feel the stuff coursing through my body while I lay like a stiffened mummy of the Egyptian genre, my stomach rumbled and grumbled. I had been instructed to starve over night for the scan. This time it was for the radioactive glucose to react exactly to the sugar absorption levels in ones body. Presence of sugars would distract the readings.

After half-an-hour, they toddled me off to the scan as the medicine has a short life of only a couple of hours. The medicine chose or chose not to light up during the process, bright lights indicated a concentration of sugar. The lighted-up part could be cancerous.

I had been thinking of going into the machine with my hands crossed like an Egyptian mummy and pretending to be Cleopatra, instead I went with my hands above my head, trapped by straps with Velcro like a captive prisoner… my turn to be nonplussed! I felt like a princess in harem pants or perhaps princess Leia of Star Wars fame, imprisoned by Jaba the Hutt. I tend to analogize with anecdotes from Star Wars and Harry Potter as my sons are addicted to these. But, then, I think that is a good thing as they have positive messages of hope. In Harry Potter, we are taught to dispel our worst fears (embodied in the form taken by creatures called bogarts) with ‘riddikulus’   and in the original Star Wars, the good always wins in addition to John Williams’s upbeat music. Despite all that, I was a little zapped (or taken aback) to have my hands tied above my head.

And then I noticed the ceiling in the room was like an underwater scenario… as much as it could be. So, perhaps, one could dream of being a prisoner in Nemo’s submarine hold! Or, princess Leia captive during an adventure to JaJa Binks underwater world… a new idea for another Star Wars episode, take note Disney films. Actually, I thought of neither. I just looked around because everything was so strange, so different from what I imagined. I was just very glad thinking this might prove to be the end of my medical journey battling with tumours and rumours.

My imagination could have taken flight across the Egyptian desserts and across vibrant blue skies. But wanting really to live, I prayed, I waited, I sighed… hoping this would be my last ride to realms of futuristic fancy under the influence of medication.

Once I was through with it and the radiologist came to free me, one look at him smiling and I knew I was free of cancer. Earlier, before my surgery, the radiologist who did the Contrast Dye CT Scan had looked so sad when she came to release me from my strapping.

It all happened so fast and I was cleansed off the deadly growth in a jiffy. I found that the journey back was not as daunting as I had feared. It was a matter of how you addressed your fears. I have learnt that the best way to overcome anything is a vivid imagination, laughter and support from family and friends. If one gives in to fear as one does to bullying, one crumbles to ashes. You just have to stand up to it, pray very hard and suddenly you are back to enjoying the sunshine, bird calls, children and life in general. It does take time to recuperate fully, but that is not so bad as long as you have hope, friends, love and happiness.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review

Title: Me and I

(ISBN 978-93-5195-188-9)

Author: Nabendu Ghosh (written in Bengali in 2003)

Translator: Devottam Sengupta ( translated in 2017)

 

Me and I is a science fiction set in Calcutta, exploring the concept of Earth’s twin in the universe. It was written by Nabendu Ghosh for his two grandsons in Bengali, and then translated by one of them as part of his centenary celebrations. The translator, Devottam Ghosh, is a lawyer by profession.

I enjoyed the book. It is an ideal read from eight to eighty, a story well told. The protagonist Mukul has a twin in the planet that is Earth’s mirror image. His parallel is known as Lukum and Earth is spelt as Threa.

The explanation is given by an eccentric gentleman, Professor Noni Gopal Sinha,who is Mukul’s friend and mentor on Earth.

“They’re both, opposite yet identical. Mirror images, really. Just as there are a couple of hundred twins among a million people, similarly I’m sure you can find a twin — identical yet opposite — planets among the billions that exist out there.”

So, it is an inverse parallel universe which is dwelt on briefly as the story unfolds.

The story has multiple layers. On the surface, it is a story for children… a nineteen-year-old boy’s adventure with an alien in outer space. It has been woven very well into the fabric of Indian life. Perspectives on religion, science, society, countries and cultures are layered into the folds of the story. It explores the environment that leads to creativity and the environment that does not. An ideal needs to be somewhere in the middle… perhaps… a point for the reader to ponder…

The book has well-researched scientific facts… on different theories of the universe. Though the author, Nabendu Ghosh, says that he would like “to classify this flight of imagination as a ‘modern(or contemporary) fairy tale’”, it touches upon Einstien’s ideas on gravitational waves and theory of relativity. It dwells upon travel at the speed of light and it’s impact on humans.

A surprising novel from a writer of stories linked to social reforms…but then, one wonders at the end that has the author not made you think again of larger issues that are relevant even in the twenty first century…

Perhaps, because Nabendu Ghosh was into writing for films, this book is very visual and would make for an excellent movie. I can visualise the whole scenario as I read the book…

May we then expect a Tollywood(Bengali movie) version of Me and I in the near future?

The Human Dilemma

Prologue

The other day I was sitting in an open space, watching white clouds float in a vibrant blue sky… It was so relaxing…almost therapeutic. Like the erstwhile Wordsworth who felt gleeful when he saw the daffodils, my mood swung to an all time high. I decided to stock up the happy feelings for times when I feel vacant and pensive like good old William did two hundred years ago. Then as I gazed, I saw the clouds float into and away from each other. Watching them change shapes and shadows, I started thinking of the fluidity of all beings and existence.

I suppose currently, we are all perceived to be loose conglomerates of small dots, which scientists like to refer to as atoms, as is a table or a chair…theoretical physics… While we cannot see the molecules, they pretty much behave like the clouds in the sky, except for longer durations…just stay adrift, held together by neutrons…all particles … Do we exist or don’t we? Are we real or aren’t we?

The other day in a TV show, some intellectuals were proposing that we all were a part of a computer game for some kind of creatures we might refer to as aliens in our present state of existence as earthly humans. Our world is the grid they created. So, are we dots or holographs or computer images?

Are we all a part of some game? Omar Khayyam, more than a thousand years ago, had also seen mankind as part of a game. Perhaps, in those days chess would have been equivalent of a computer game.

‘Tis all a chequered board of Nights and Days,
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays.
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays
And one by one in the Closet lays.(translated by Edward Fitzgerald)

Humankind as chess pieces in Destiny’s grip and the chess board being our grid or world…perhaps he was being fatalistic but, on the other hand, Destiny could be a gamer…who knows what the wise old poet-astronomer felt exactly. Perhaps, he was in touch with the game players and helping them develop algorithms. Perhaps, he was telepathic or one of the gamers disguised as us…who knows!?!

In Hinduism, they say mankind is maya or illusion. None of us exist except as a part of Brahma’s dream or as a figment of his imagination…So, is Brahma a creator of games…the Master Creator? Was he created by someone else to cater to the Hindu population of Gods, which amounts to 330 million? Mind you there are those in Hinduism that will say that there is only one God and the vast pantheon are projections of the human imagination so that man can focus better, a form being easier to focus on than an abstraction. Or, is Brahma the only Creator, the only manipulator of divine energy? Now, I have really ended up confusing myself… Is all creation divine? What is divinity? Who is our maker? And if we are projections or part of a game plan, then who are the players and who created them?

One of the latest theory talks of man originating in Africa as clones of giant extra-terrestrials. Adam is seen as the first clone in the Garden of Eden, which is supposed to be somewhere in Zimbabwe, and our creators are projected as gold-hungry tyrants and separate from God. God, they say, is the good one. These aliens are not. They say that groups of aliens came to different parts of the world and created clones that were much smaller in size and not as powerful as them to resolve their labor issues. They needed miners for routine work. So, the first humans were miners and people they saw as God who came with flashes of light were the extra-terrestrials. These are the Gods recorded in ancient Mesopotamian, Mayan, Egyptian, Hindu and other myths, according to this school of thought. They are even trying to build the biblical myth into their proposal. I wonder if these terrifying extra-terrestrials would also have followed or follow our laws of physics and be a loose conglomeration of atoms in motion?

The Christian myth has also been disproven by many as the timeline proposed is perceived as unrealistic among other arguments. Earlier, man turned to religion to figure out the reason for his existence and annihilation. Now, he is extending his frontiers to probe the unknown. In the process, some are rejecting the older myths as hogwash and proposing newer ones which seem more exciting.

The new God is Science. Now there are people who believe in Science and not in God. They are trying to explain our being and existence through science. I myself harbour scientific nerds in my home. However, they believe in God too. They belong to the category that believe in both Science and God. Ultimately, nerds, non-nerds, theists, atheists, gnostics and agnostics, all get stuck at the same question.

How did the energy which was the focal point of all creation come into being? And then how did it all evolve into us…Darwin, metaphysics, physics, astrophysics, history, aliens, religion…

When my confusion is at its utmost, I try to quench it by reading Arthur C Clarke’s science fiction, which does try to make room for divinity in its own ways. My father turns to Upanishads. Isabel turns to the Bible. Steven Hawking turns to Science. Eric Von Daniken turns to alienology. Spencer Wells turns to our DNAs and genomes. Yet, our quests seem to be unending…like the white clouds that keep adrift on vibrant blue skies all over the world. And we will continue probing for answers as will the outer space probes that reach out to places untouched by us earthlings…among the star-studded galaxies.