It took her a good two-and-a-half year to settle in when she joined a boarding school, 800 km away from home, at 11 years of age. She thought the biggest adjustment she had to make was over but five years ago she lost her arm in an accident and had to figure out an entirely new way to be on her own.
Meet the brave 19-year-old Anushka Pathak who is least bothered about kya kahenge log and excels in doing everything that comes her way.
It was in 2012 at a class outing when their bus driver got drunk and took the bus over a street divider. Within seconds the bus fell to its right and Anushka’s face hit the smashing glass window. Everyone began to run out of the vehicle but she couldn’t get up.
“My friend Diya grabbed my left arm and pulled me. I stood up and saw my other arm lying on the ground completely severed, and there was blood and muscle flesh covering the ground.”
Diya was so horrified that she released her left arm and Anushka dropped like a stone – her face smashed the glass again and she was back on the ground, fading in and out of unconsciousness. “At the time I knew I was supposed to be in pain, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t feel anything. It was like being in a partial state of shock. The next thing I remember I was at a hospital. It had taken them forty minutes to get me out of the bus and into the hospital, and when I arrived I had already lost 60% of my blood.”
The doctors were mumbling, “She’s had no BP or pulse for 15 minutes. Forget about her arm, we’re trying to save her life”. Anushka woke up after approximately a-day-and-a-half and heard a doctor saying that it was an, “above elbow amputation.” Approximately two inches above the elbow. The trauma wasn’t only to her arm. She had also suffered severe injuries to her face. “I had completely lost the area under my right eye where you would typically have bags if you were tired.”
“I am lucky I came from a financially stable family who were able to offer me the best possible healthcare. After moving to a hospital in Mumbai, I was in the hospital for 25 days and I had a surgery every other day because everything was so damaged.”
Like any father in the world Anushka’s father wanted to sue the school for their negligence that caused irreparable damage to her daughter. But Anushka knew doing this will mean she won’t be returning to school and it will also endanger future of hundreds of children. So she asked his father not to sue anyone and focused on recovering and getting used to the new ways of life.
It was a gradual process to start learning to write with her left hand. It was unbelievably frustrating but Anushka was determined to return to school. After a week in the hospital, she started writing one page every day. The letters were huge at first, but after a week or 10 days they reduced in size and began to fit in the lines which felt like an enormous success.
Next thing Anushka tried was to wear her school uniform by herself. She stood there for 20 minutes trying to button her shirt before eventually becoming so frustrated that she burst into tears and flung the shirt on the floor. After a few minutes of weeping she picked it back up and practiced and practiced until she could do the buttons without thinking.
After learning to do everything all over again over the summers, Anushka was back to school in August 2012. Her friends helped her transition, became her biggest support, and made sure she did everything she used to earlier. Her focus was on school and she excelled in the coming years. She won debates one after another, got her poems published, and got brilliant score on her SATs. By the end of the school she was awarded the most prestigious award offered at my school called the Spirit of Mayo.
Coming from a small-town of Satna in Madhya Pradesh, where practically everyone knows each other, made her struggle only harder. As people came to the know about the amputation of Mr Pathak’s daughter, pity talks were triggered. “How will she ever find a groom?” they said. It bothered her and her parents at first but when Anushka went to Atlanta and came back with flying colors, the worries drifted away.
“I am only 19 and marriage is not in my list right now. When I want to get married, I will find someone on my own,” says Anushka who has devised a way to tie her hair, button her shirt, and multi-task with one arm.
“At the end of my high school senior year, I made a promise to myself. I will go back to the place where the accident happened. But I won’t go back until I have become something in life. When I return, I’ll stand where the bus crashed: tall, proud and whole. I’ll laugh at the obstacle that tried to screw me over. I’m determined to leave the obstacle behind, move on, and in that moment I know I’ll be fierce.”