Saurabh Rane finished a 10 km run in Mumbai in 57 mins. This was while he was taking medicines for extensively drug-resistant Tuberculosis. Having promised himself that he would do insane things if he survived, Saurabh signed up for one of the most challenging treks in India after his recovery.
I used to be an ambitious young man before I was diagnosed with multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis. Life changed after that – with a slim chance of survival, I felt all my dreams slipping away. With many medical complications, my condition involved 24 months of extensive treatment. I was taking 20 tablets every day and had to go through six months of daily injections. Gradually, as I started to recover, I developed this desire to do something to prove to myself and to others that I had conquered TB. So I defied the odds and ran 10 km in less than 57 minutes while the still on treatment. This was something that helped me speak about my disease.
But it wasn’t enough. I had promised myself that if I survive the treatment, I would do insane things. That’s what happens when you stare mortality in the face. It makes you a little bit fearless and insane.
Soon after popping the last set of pills in May 2016, I signed up for one of the most challenging treks in India – to the Stok Kangri Summit located at 20,000 ft. It is one of India’s highest non-technical treks (meaning no climbing equipment is needed) with a challenging path to the top. I chose this to be my next step forward as a way to fight depression, to mock TB, and to attempt the impossible.
My decision was greeted with a combination of discouragement and concern. People told me that many have been severely affected due to mountain sickness on this path, while others have had to give up due to lack of fitness. Why would a boy with two half lungs attempt this? Was he crazy? Just a handful of people supported my insanity.
This was no ordinary trek in the local mountains. This was at 20,000 feet where the oxygen level is 40% lesser, the air is thin, and the weather isn’t always your friend. The days are hot and the nights are freezing. There are no washrooms, beds, or water purifiers and there is limited food. Moreover, one has to climb with a bag-pack weighing 10 kg.
But if I could defeat TB, was this dream too big?
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The preparation phase was tough. I suffered from a severe headache and dizziness the day I reached Leh. Fortunately, I had my brother who has been my strongest support all this while. We trained by climbing steps of the stupas and old palaces, slopes, and little mountains.
I was also fortunate to have a good trekking group with me. But the number of people in the group decreased as the days passed by. Finally, it was the summit day – perhaps one of the most challenging hours I have ever faced. We started at 9pm and got hit by a snowstorm at 3am midway on a 60-70 degree steep slope. Many returned while some stern heads like us waited for the experts to make a decision.
We decided to move forward and reached the summit at 9am. How did I feel? I wept. There is no feeling better than being able to breathe at that altitude and achieve the impossible. I owe my life to my mother, family, doctors, friends, and mentors.
It all flashed back in a fraction of a second – those pills, injections, side effects, bedridden days, and the helplessness.
For once I knew that I was absorbing and feeling the atmosphere and landscape more than anyone. I had tasted inspiration and the power it held. If I could do it, anyone could do it. There are so many others who need to believe they can overthrow their circumstances and not just survive but live the way they want to live.
One of my mentors, Chapal Mehra, taught me how I can and should reach out to people and amplify my learnings to help others affected by TB. We started an initiative called Survivors against TB, which is led by TB survivors like me. Our objective is to identify the issues faced by TB patients and help solve them. We recently wrote to the Prime Minister and the Health Minister with suggestions to achieve a patient-centric, stigma-free system of TB care.
Our hope is to speak up for those forced into silence because of TB — those like us who stare death in the face. We hope the world listens because we are not going to give up.
(By Saurabh Rane)
Read more about Saurabh’s journey: MY STORY: How I Battled XDR Tuberculosis & Ran 10 Km in 57 Minutes While on Medicines