HE had heard her

As the world suddenly turned silent for Shikandani Rodrigo, she believes that it was her faith in God that restored her hearing
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi, Pic by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

The voice was loud and clear. The words shook her awake early morning as if the person was in the room itself, making her jump up in bed to switch on the light.

The message was: “You have told Me and I know it all. You rest and I will do it in My time.”
At that moment, on that early morn of August 28, what crossed the mind of Shikandani Rodrigo, who had turned 43 the day before, was that throughout her ordeal she seemed to have been thinking that God too was deaf like her.

When we meet her at her home down Buller’s Lane last Tuesday there is no indication that this mother of three sons has had a traumatic loss of hearing or gone stone deaf several months before, in August to be exact and recovered it as dramatically in September.

Willingly she recalls how her life changed drastically since then. August 19 was just another working day, the only difference being that Shikandani felt as if her right ear was blocked when she woke up in the morning. She shook it, and pressed it as most of us are wont to do. “It was the feeling you get when you approach Kadugannawa,” smiles Shikandani, explaining that it did not clear although she tried shaking her head vigorously and opening her mouth wide.

Not taking the condition seriously she went to work at the Emirates Airlines office. Usually she would answer her boss from her seat but that day she could not hear him. “It was the same with the phone calls. When I went in the morning to office I could answer the phone but by about 10.30 a.m. I couldn’t hear anything.”

That was when she panicked, for she had been diagnosed with lupus about four years before and the doctors had advised her that if ever there were any major changes in her system for more than 4-5 hours she should get herself checked immediately.

Shikandani contacted her mother, as husband Palitha was abroad at that time and went to the Golden Key Eye and ENT Hospital at Rajagiriya, where she was examined by resident Consultant ENT Surgeon Dr. Sobitha Abeyaratne who ordered an audiogram.

It indicated a 60% hearing loss in both ears, says Shikandani, whereas she was under the impression that it was only her right ear that was affected. She was also advised that if the condition was to be reversed, immediate admission was required along with a battery of tests daily, including audiograms and also neurological tests. Many ENT Surgeons were also called along with Neurologists. A cocktail of drugs were ordered firstly intravenously and later orally.

Although initially there was a slight improvement, there was a decline thereafter with the condition worsening and leaving her with a minus hearing as the days passed, she says. Shikandani had, however, developed the ability to lip-read quite well.

By about August 26, even the hum in her ears was gone, says Shikandani, while her son adds that they used to clap loud but she couldn’t hear. “I could hear no ‘surround’ sound at all,” she says, adding that she was repeatedly praying for a restoration of her hearing.

The doctors had also contacted well-known ENT specialist Prof. Mohan Kameswaran of the Madras ENT Research Foundation (Pvt) Ltd. By now there was also a dip in her mental state, with depression setting in. “I have always been a believer that 90% of an illness is in your mind and if that part is handled, the rest would fall into place. But in this situation I was finding it extremely difficult to cope, for I couldn’t hear my husband’s or my children’s voices,” she says. As August 27 was her birthday, her kith, kin and friends banded themselves together to transform her hospital room into a garden party but still couldn’t uplift her spirits.

But when the “call came that He had heard, early the next morning” she needed no more reassurances. During her morning prayers she opened a book of daily reading that a friend had gifted to her and turned to August 28 and the page before her ironically read: “Ask and God will do. Give Jesus Christ a chance, give Him elbow room.”

By this time the intravenous medication had given way to oral medication which she had not taken to very well. She was feeling lightheaded and they brought on palpitations. September 1, after sedation, more tests followed and that was when she had an “episode” during which the doctors nearly put her in the ICU.

“I felt icy cold inside me and at the same time as though I was on fire. I was restless but I didn’t want to lie down. My pulse was racing. I was breathless and gasping for breath. The doctors thought I was coming in for cardiac arrest,” says Shikandani, explaining that though she cannot remember anything her family told her later that she sat up and prayed to the Holy Spirit.

As the doctors who were treating her were due to go to Chennai for a conference, Prof. Kameswaran had suggested that Shikandani too should come along and thus on September 4 she and Palitha had gone there.

Once again the tests had been repeated with the same result. “Prof. Kameswaran told me that I would get back my hearing but he could not say when. He wanted me to continue some tests once a week and others fortnightly. We were told to be back for more tests on Monday. This was a Saturday and the next day, a Sunday, was a free day,” she says.

A strong believer in Vellankerny, it being a Sunday, she wanted to go to a similar church in Chennai. She and Palitha found one where preparations were being made for a huge celebration the next day, as September 8 was the birthday of Mary, the mother of Christ. A massive stage had been put up along with large loudspeakers.

The mass began at 7.45 a.m. and she went right to the front as she couldn’t hear a thing, just following the motions of the priest…….standing, sitting or kneeling……….a silent service.

Come Elevation time, however, suddenly she heard the tinkling of the bells, and wondered whether she was imagining it. As she looked up in wonderment, the priest raised the Eucharist and loud and clear as crystal Shikandani heard, the first words in 19 days: “This is My body”. (Elevation is the time during holy mass when Catholics believe that the host and the wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ as at the Last Supper.)

For Shikandani, the rest is history. She is just ready to tell her story to anyone who is willing to listen.
Even 2008 years after the birth of a tiny infant in a lowly and humble manger, millions of Christians across the globe believe that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to save mankind. And every year as Christmas comes around or each and every time the Eucharist is elevated for veneration, the faithful also believe that somewhere a miracle does take place. A life is touched and changed irrevocably.

It was non-organic hearing loss: Consultant

The diagnosis in the case of Shikandani Rodrigo was ‘non-organic hearing loss’, said Consultant ENT Surgeon Dr. Sobitha Abeyaratne, when contacted by The Sunday Times, adding that he also sought the opinion of several other ENT Consultants such as Dr. Ravi Ruberu and Neurologists as well.

Explaining that they have seen about 10 such patients, he said that Ms. Rodrigo was subjected to two types of tests – one type where the patient had to respond to sound and the other where there was no patient participation. “The auditory nerve pathway was intact. It was like an electric circuit which lights up a bulb. The wire was intact, the mains were intact, the bulb was intact, but when the switch was pressed the bulb did not light up.”

Such patients do regain their hearing but it takes time, he added.

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