“I am not a sweet person,” says Samiir Halady, denying that his kidney failure was caused by diabetes. It has been 11 years since both of Halady’s kidneys failed, when he was only 28. Since then, he has needed dialysis to survive. But still, Halady says proudly, he has managed to live life with few compromises.
An MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai, Halady now heads the marketing team of a digital agency, which manages advertisements on the internet. It was sheer courage, once his body started failing him, that kept him going. Halady’s condition means that he cannot ever cheat on his special diet, and has to undergo dialysis twice every week. He recognises the severity of his condition, but says he has learnt to live with it, and in spite of it. He says that 11 years ago, when life took this sudden turn, he made a promise to himself that he would not let his debilitating and life-threatening condition affect either his professional or private life. And it certainly has not stopped him from pursuing his first love—hiking. He has kept his promise to himself. But the going has certainly been tough.
Till 2001, Halady’s life had taken no strange trajectory. A bright boy, he was waiting for a brighter future. A habitual trekker, he would hike for days on end. Everything was as normal as could be till he injured his right thumb. He went to the doctor only when the injury took longer than usual to heal, and found that his pulse rate and blood pressure were very high. Concluding that this was due to work-related stress, the doctor advised him to take a break from his sales and marketing job.
However, Halady’s condition did not improve. His blood pressure continued to soar. After some more tests, he was diagnosed with a serious kidney malfunction—an end-stage renal disease by the name MPGN (Membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis), which affects the filters of the kidneys. His case was a rare one, idiopathic, or due to an unknown cause, known to generally affect people between the ages of eight and 30. Halady was told that his kidneys were on the verge of collapse; his kidney function was only 5 per cent of what it should be in a healthy body. Halady was prescribed a strictly regulated life and diet.
Halady tried naturopathy, which seemed to work well in his case, till he slipped on the stairs of a railway station and had a nasty fall that hurt his lower back. It was August 2002. He was bedridden for 20 days, but never really recovered. His kidneys stopped functioning altogether.
A complication in Halady’s case ruled out a kidney transplant. His blood urea (a waste generated by digestion of protein) level started shooting up. Since then, dialysis has become his lifeline.
Halady is a believer. He doesn’t complain, but seeks strength from different sources. His father, a retired Reserve Bank of India official, and his mother, a homemaker, are his constant support and source of courage. But in his worst moments, spiritualism came to his rescue. Daily yoga and pranayam keep him going. Life is tough, he says. But then adds with a smile, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” He finds huge inspiration in Swami Vivekananda’s words. “The solution to weakness is to think about strength,” he quotes.
However, he admits, this is far easier said than done. The weak moments come often. There are times when the toxic level in his body darts up. The body revolts, it aches severely, and Halady has little energy to spare. When this happens, Halady says, “I try to take it in my stride.”
There are mornings when he feels drained. He cannot get out of bed, let alone think of going to work. But he doesn’t let his spirit collapse. He forces himself to go to work. “I have made a commitment to myself. I will not let my health problems affect my professional responsibilities,” he reiterates.
Dialysis itself is an energy-sapping procedure, after which Halady needs at least three hours of rest before he can face the world. Therefore, so as not to miss out on any action, he gets the dialysis done very early in the morning, between 3:30 and 4 am, so that he is fit to go to work by 10.
The life-sustaining dialysis, too, can be an ordeal sometimes. He describes this on his blog, Adventuretourist.blogspot.in. ‘The moment they started dialysis, both sides of my chest and my lower back started hurting. I called out to the technician and nursing staff at the hospital. Luckily I called out to them just at the right time as by the time they reached my bed, I was totally out of breath. I was unable to talk. I had terrible pain in my lungs as if they were about to burst. Similarly with my lower back... this pain was in my kidney area... I was unable to communicate. I was [gasping] for breath. For life. I felt as if it was all over. Suddenly my visibility became poor.’
“These things do happen and are very scary,” he says of the treatment. So how does he get back in a positive frame of mind within hours of dialysis? “Well, I have never thought about it,” he pauses to think before saying, “I live in the present.” But isn’t the present traumatic? “Exactly. I live the trauma, experience it in full measure, so that when it is past, subsequent moments are nicer and [this] encourages me to fight back.” He adds as an afterthought, “The pain becomes a memory. So when I get ready to go to work, I do not think of what happened an hour ago.”
Halady has made a well-deliberated decision not to marry. “It will be unfair on my partner,” he reasons. He has never been in a relationship either. He pines for companionship. “This urge, like pain, will pass,” he placates himself, “it’s part of life.”
‘Life with renal failure and hemodialysis is not so bad, after all, there are ways to live king size,’ he asserts in his blog. And he does that while trekking. While he can no longer go for long treks, he is always game for a trip that takes a couple of days. But even when out in the wild, he takes care to stay constantly aware of his body. He has to make sure that he does not sweat away too much of his body salts. It can happen easily in this condition. So, he carries salt supplements with him. He knows the exact nature of pain caused when sugar or sodium or potassium levels go down. He has a fistula (a surgically inserted access created between the native artery and vein for dialysis) in his left arm. He cannot put weight on this arm, and even outdoors, has to be absolutely certain that his fistula remains infection free.
The philosophy of his life is reflected in his passion for trekking. He blogs: ‘Lots of newcomers drop out of treks only because it’s raining heavily. But we go on. The trek needs to be completed come what may. The thrill is more, the fun is more when we complete the trek. Life on dialysis can be compared to such a situation. Our aims and ambitions in life remain… the situation is suddenly so much more adverse. But the adventure remains. Life has in store for us so many more surprises… hence the uncertainty is much more…despite these odds, if I am able to fulfill my ambitions, I am sure I will feel so much more content and happy. And yes, truly complete!’
Halady does not like to think about his future, but he is not in denial. He insists that his life is as uncertain as anyone else’s. “In my short but full life, I have seen so much change, so much uncertainly, each incident introducing a totally new set of variables, making life a much more interesting and complete experience.”