Sunday, June 25, 2017, a day that will live in infamy. After an unusually stressful month, I finally decided to go for an early morning outing with my dogs, Potato and Pi. Pi is an Indian Doberman, He’s clever, patient, and loves the sun. Potato is supposed to be a black Labrador Retriever, but for some reason he’s the size of a bear. He loves food, swimming, food, sleeping, and food. We drove past the Bangalore city limits, to a peaceful, open field bordering a lake. We ran, we chased we fetched; the perfect reward after a hard few weeks. Suddenly, Potato decided to enter nearby lake. And by suddenly, I mean he got a running start and jumped as far and deep as he could. I was annoyed but I couldn’t fault him; the bear loves water.
Then my dog started to panic, barking and splashing.
What’s happening? Is he stuck? Is he drowning? My dog needs me, stop thinking and do something!
I dove into the lake.
I swam to Potato and grabbed my dog with my right arm, and navigated with my left.
I felt a nerve-wrenching pain as a fully-grown, adult crocodile bit into my left forearm.
He pulled me to the deeps. I struggled to release my arm but he tightened his grip. His teeth dug deeper into my flesh and with a wet crunch, I knew a bone was gone. And he was just getting started. The croc kept pulling down, and now we were almost a metre underwater.
Let’s take a quick break.
When I was in school, one of my favourite shows was “I Shouldn’t be Alive”, a reality/documentary series by the Discovery Network. Just like it sounds, it was a show about people finding themselves in impossible, fatal situations and through sheer will and tenacity, survive to tell the tale. Plane crashes in the African desert, avalanches, shark attacks… you get the idea. I watched that show every day. Really. I have every episode memorized. All 6 seasons.
Now, I’m not saying that television saved my life, but…
And now, back to our story.
As my chances for survival were dwindling, I had to make the impossible choice: my arm, or my life. I had to break the other bone in my forearm myself if I wanted to have a chance to survive.
I rolled forward, underwater, almost like a somersault, to apply a brutal bending load on the remaining bone, forcing it to bend and finally break. The crocodile continued without me, my left arm still wedged in his jaws.
But I still wasn’t in safe waters. My vision was murky by the muddy water, but my barking dogs gave me a sense of direction. I oriented myself the best I could, and frantically swam towards land, following their voices. I hit land and ran to safety.
What they say about ordinary people in extraordinary situations is true: time does seem to freeze, or at least slow down, letting your brain cycle through scenarios at a blistering pace. I was able to think the problem through, balancing my life experience with my television habits, and instinctively know which solution to try.
Hey, if it seems stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.
Back to the story.
There I was, on dry land, blood was leaking from my stump like an open tap. I tied my shirt tight on the my arm, an inch above the injury (just like on the survival show). It stopped the blood-loss. To an extent. Now I’m merely hours away from the city, far from most of the developed areas, and have no clue where the nearest hospital is. On top of that, I don’t know if crocodiles return for second helpings or if they have friends. I needed to get out of the lake area and into a hospital. Knowing what you have to do and actually doing it are completely different beasts. I focused on my breathing, steeled myself, and did what I’ve done my whole life: work the problem, step by step, and not worry about what you can’t change. With the nearest ambulance 2 hours away, it would mean I wouldn’t get to a hospital for another 4 to 5 hours. I didn’t have that sort of time. My lucky streak continued, as some people passed by, ostensibly to enjoy their day out by the lake as well. I convinced them to walk the 3 kilometers to my car, pick me up, and drive my dogs and I to the city. They took almost 45 minutes to get the car. The adrenaline had started to wear off, and in its place, there was excruciating pain. It became a battle of wills, me against myself. All my body wanted to do was sleep. Just rest, you’ll feel better when you wake up. My brain knew this is how people die. It was a merciless struggle to stay conscious and calm. Every passing second felt like a lifetime.
It was a race against time and I was starting to fall behind.
The two and a half hour drive took us to a hospital. During the drive, I distracted myself by humming songs from old Hindi movies. It’s strange what we find comfort in. I decided to make the phone call to my parents, telling them about the accident. It was a difficult decision, but I didn’t want them to hear about this from any news channel; I knew how much the news distorts and dramatizes facts to appear glamourous. They were shocked at first, but eventually calmed down, once they accepted that I was in control of the situation. I have to salute them for their Vibranium resolve and being the source of my strength.
At the hospital, my friends were already waiting, and ready to help in any way they could. Finally, almost four hours after I went for a swim, I was examined by physicians, received proper first aid and, most importantly, morphine. They shifted me to Hosmat Hospital, a specialized healthcare centre, for the best possible chance at treatment and surgery. After what felt like years, I could finally relax. My thoughts drifted to the morning. Surreal to think that this morning was the last time I would ever have breakfast with two hands.
I knew how hard it this would be for my friends and family. The only way I could placate them was if they truly believed I was alright, and everything was going to be okay. I had to present myself as calm, composed, and cheerful, at all times. In a way, this was literally a job I was born for. Mudit means “One with a smile”. And it worked. As I smiled through the pain and treatment, I was able to pacify my worried supporters. And as they calmed down, and started joking, I felt comforted that this isn’t the end of my story; it’s the start of the next chapter. I stumbled upon a quote that summed up my feelings at the time: “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.” I chose to survive. I choose to thrive. To hell with that croc.
I was discharged a few days later, and my rehabilitation began in earnest. I embraced my new life and freedom with the zeal of a schoolboy who finished his exams. I had to re-learn every aspect of daily life: tying my shoes, pulling my pants up, typing, opening bottles…everything had to be taught to me again. But I tackled the challenge with all my soul. I’m not one to waste a second chance. Within a week I was back at work.
I realize that may seem drastic to others, returning to work less than a week after wrestling a small dinosaur. But I love my job. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have created it.
I started Dozee with a friend because we discovered a new method to monitor health and detect diseases. Our idea led to more research and development, which led to very talented people joining me which resulted in a full-fledged biotech company. In less than three years, Dozee now has dozens of employees, several international patents and awards from all over the world. But what I’m most proud of is how my little device has changed and saved lives. Our users are taking better care of their health and finding latent diseases months before they felt any symptoms. I even used Dozee to monitor my recovery, saving me from a possible septic infection.
It’s been one year since I took my dogs on a walk that changed my life. Potato and Pi are still eating all my food and barking at birds. I now wear a custom myoelectric arm. It’s carbon-fibre, of course, just like the car I used to race. Now and then I get an attack of phantom limb pain; my brain reliving the moment it lost its connection to my left arm. My surgeon told me only 1 in 100 victims survive a crocodile attack. It’s a number I think about often. Imagine how rare a crocodile attack must be, then realizing that after you lost that lottery, you only had a 1% chance of living to tell the tale. And even if you survive the physical attack, the psychological damage and recovery can claim its own sobering amount of lives. Every day, no matter how bad, is still a gift. This has not been and will not be a normal life, and for that, I’m still smiling.