A general perception is that TB affects the poor living in slums. That is not necessarily true, especially in a crowded city like Mumbai. The chances of getting infected increases when one travels by public transport like buses and trains.
TB is a contagious disease and the virus spreads by air. Most of us believe that TB affects the lungs and a recurring cough is the only symptom. While both of these are true, they are not conclusive.
I am speaking from personal experience. About 8 years back, the vision in my left eye blurred. I went to an eye doctor. He could not find the cause of the problem and gave me drops – 3 of them including steroids. The disturbance in my vision kept increasing over a period while the medication had no effect.
From then on, I went to about 6 different doctors to get my eye treated. After a while, my vision deteriorated so much that I could not perceive levels. Like for example, I never could perceive which object was closer to me – the scooter or the car, etc. I had to be extra careful not to miss a step. I developed a cataract in my left eye when I was barely 45 years old.
I went to yet another doctor and had an appointment for a cataract operation for the next day. God was obviously on my side that day. The clinic was overcrowded and the doctor did not keep his appointment. My husband got irritated and insisted we left. He fixed an appointment with Dr. Deosthali in Sion.
That’s when I got to know that blood vessels had formed in my iris – the portion that gives colour to the eyes. In a normal eye, blood does not flow into the iris. Dr. Deosthali also said that if I underwent a cataract operation at that point, my eye would flood with blood and I would lose my vision completely.
He recommended Dr. Ashish Vaidya, a retina specialist at Mahim as I was working in that area in those days. It was a lucky day for me when I met this specialist who had many years of experience at Shankara Nethralaya, Chennai.
The moment he checked me, Dr. Vaidya asked me to get tested for TB. He said that he would have other tests done only if I got this one ‘negative’.
When I tested for TB, I went back to the testing clinic after 2-3 days (as stipulated) and the doctor there had the shock of his life when he saw the state of my forearm. I had very high level of TB and I had never known. I have always been overweight and I had had no symptom of the disease. In fact, when I had taken a chest X-ray for insurance purposes at work, it had shown up nothing.
I am from the upper middle class, have never been mal-nourished in my life and live in a very clean environment. I used to travel to work by taxi and very rarely use the public transport. Despite all this, I had contracted the deadly tuberculosis. There was one thing though. While I rarely caught cold and cough, when I did, the cough used to last for atleast a month and used to be quite severe. But I never made the connection.
Six months of rigorous treatment followed when I kept going back to the retina specialist for regular check-up. The blood vessels receded over this period and I was finally ready for the cataract operation. When Dr. Deosthali performed the operation by laser, he had to spend 45 minutes on it while he said an average cataract operation takes less than 10 minutes. My eye was in that bad a shape thanks to TB.
Now, the pupil in my left eye is permanently dilated and my vision is not 100% back. I manage mostly with my right eye. Such is the impact of TB. So how does one escape such a situation?
I think everyone should test for the disease once in a few years, the same as one would do an ECG after 40. And all people, including children, should get checked every five years or so.
The only way to get cured of TB is to take the medicines the doctor prescribes diligently – not missing even one dosage. This is very important to ensure that the virus is completely killed. Otherwise, it tends to recur and then there is no way to solve the problem.