Saturday 15 March 2014

SURVIVOR'S STORY: Rising from the ashes - Avinash Godbole

Avinash Godbole knows the pain of being land locked when your heart dreams of flight. That is why he chose the metaphor to express his life after stroke in his paintings. His life changed 11 years ago; Godbole was the creative art director in an ad agency. One day while climbing the stairs of his home he felt his right leg going numb. He ignored the pain and called his family homoeopath in Pune, who prescribed a few drugs. He thought the sensation would ease like the last episode three months earlier. The numbness, however, worsened. “We kept telling him he needed to see a doctor, but he refused,” says his wife Ratan, an artist. “He had more faith in homoeopathy.” 

 (Avinash Godbole working in studio / Photo by Amey Mansabdar)

Finally, it was another homoeopath who saw him at home, who convinced him to see a doctor immediately. By then, it was already three days since his stroke. “We rushed to Lilavati Hospital in Mumbai, and doctors confirmed that is was a stroke. But they said they could not undo the damage done, only prevent further damage,” says Godbole. It seemed Godbole suffered from an ischemic stroke, but since he didn't reach the hospital in the four-and-a-half hour window period, doctors could not conduct any procedure on him.
He stayed in the hospital for 10 days, four of them in the intensive care unit. Godbole had graduated from J.J. School of Art and was an illustrator for a newspaper while working in the ad agency. He knew his life had changed when his right hand could not hold a pencil after a few days in the hospital.
For days after discharge, Godbole was prescribed physiotherapy yet there was little improvement, his right leg limped while his right hand remained lifeless. The doctors told him that all the progress that is to happen, would come in the first six months and Godbole was desperate for a miracle. “I tried everything¯ayurveda, homoeopathy, Kerala massage, Christian healing, folk remedies everything,” he recalls. “We even tried putting the blood of pigeon on the right hand; it is said to be warm and improves circulation,” says Ratan. His miracle did not come. Meanwhile Godbole went back to work a month after the stroke. Not being able to use his right hand was frustrating. “That's when we told him to start doing things with his left hand,” says Ratan. “Dr Shirish Hastak, his neurologist, kept telling us that stroke is not the end of the world,” says Ratan. “He told Avinash to do what he loves¯start painting again.”
( Avinash Godbole recent painting )

Godbole picked his pencil again, this time with his left hand. It was a slow start. It was like learning to paint all over again. He realised that his brain was still intact: it had ideas, creativity, a vision about beauty. It took three years to train his left arm to bring that vision to reality.

He started painting full time after he retired as an executive creative director. Three years ago, he came up with a series of 25 paintings describing his tryst with stroke. “I wanted to create awareness about stroke. I do not want someone to go through what I did,” says Godbole. His paintings articulate the regret of losing out on time due to stubbornness, his experiences with different alternative therapies and accepting that one side of his body may not be functional again.
While stroke has changed his life, his family has helped him achieve his dreams. His wife accompanies him when he needs to travel and his driver helps him with household chores. Godbole has his routine set now. He paints six to eight hours a day and has made about 500 paintings after stroke. “Everyone says my paintings are better than they used to be,” he says.

“For two years after his stroke, we were not clear about what it really was,” says Ratan, “We didn't fully understand that it is the brain that is affected and not the hand.” Godbole is an active member of the stroke support group in Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Rotary Club's initiatives on stroke.

He was also invited to exhibit his paintings at the World Stroke Association's conference in Brazil last year. Hope is the message he wishes to convey to stroke patients and their families. “Our brain is a wonderful thing, there are things we haven't tapped in our brain. In spite of the stroke, you can do what you love to do, become a poet or a writer.” Ratan, on the other hand, wants the caregivers to make the stroke patient independent. “When the stroke patient says he can't, encourage him to try," she says.

Report courtesy Published in The Week ( Health cover story)March 3, 2014 18:51 hrs IST