RamGopal Vallath (RamG) – How a courageous IITian became a bestselling writer and what his story teaches us
From Ouch to Oops
Interview with RamG
How did you know about your disease? What were the symptoms? How did you learn about the diagnosis?
The symptoms started appearing soon after I joined Airtel as a circle sales & marketing head. It started as slight tremors in the hands when I held cutlery, a pen etc. and a feeling of loss of balance as I climbed down stairs. The symptoms started becoming noticeable around the time I became a Circle Operations Head (The youngest circle COO in Indian telecom industry) and just when I thought I was on top of the world.
I met several doctors, but unfortunately, none of them could diagnose this correctly. The symptoms worsened and i found it increasingly more difficult to use my fingers. It took seven years for the diagnosis to happen- and it happened when I came down with a fever. The fever spiked the condition and within five days, I was unable to move my hands or my legs.
This is when the doctors diagnosed the condition as CIDP – an autoimmune disorder which affected my peripheral nerves. In my case, by that time, the nerves had been deeply compromised and since they were unable to transmit impulses to the muscles, a lot of muscles had completely faded away, never to return.
How did you feel at first?
Those seven years, when the body was slowly but inexorably wasting away, and I had no diagnosis, were really frightening. But one thing I had learned early in life was that no problem is unsolvable. (I had studied in a Malayalam medium government school in a small village, but had achieved 129th rank in IIT JEE- only because I had learned that no problem is unsolvable).
So I attacked this problem with gusto – putting in hours at the gym, trying yoga, Ayurveda etc. But nothing worked- even though the spirit was soaring, the flesh was weak.
I was handling some high intensity jobs- COO at Airtel, later Director Operations at HP etc. I had to travel, but it was increasingly becoming difficult. A simple act like putting on the six buttons of my shirt would take 90 minutes! My senseless fingers would often be unable to find my zip when I stood in front of a urinal. My left ankle lost all its strength and the foot started flopping down. My left wrist became totally useless.
The standard medications – steroids and other immunosuppressants did not work for me. They also had very negative side effects. Life was really tough.
Describe your journey through the process? How did you fight back? How did you motivate yourself?
The one thing I told myself was that come what may, I will not lose my sense of humor or my cheerful attitude. I made it a point that every time I was with a group or walked into a room, I would make it a bit more cheerful than when I entered. I also brutally steered my mind away from ever thinking of what could have been. I realized that would be a complete waste of time. Instead, I focused on maximizing the present and finding a solution.
Finally, I did find a solution- a clinical trial of a Stem Cell Transplant treatment in Chicago. I enrolled for this. The treatment reversed the condition substantially I became far better that I had been anytime in the previous decade. After the treatment, I pushed myself to the limit to try and get back my lost muscles- working out three hours every day, exercising about 27 different muscles.
The fact that I was writing my first book Oops the Mighty Gurgle, a wacky humorous science fiction made the recovery even sweeter.
What’s your mission now?
After my first book was published, I started holding science workshops for school children. My wacky, humorous workshops where children learned scientific concepts even while laughing their heads off, became a huge hit. Then I was invited to address the employees in a company and the talk became a huge success. People told me they found my story inspirational. Suddenly I had a new purpose in life- to inspire people to be positive in life. Today, I have addressed employees of more than two dozen companies and dozens of colleges and schools. It leaves people with a very positive state of mind. There is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than to touch lives positively. I have now kept a target for myself- to touch a million lives positively.
My second book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’ is about this journey of mine and the way I transformed my life and reinvented myself. It is humorous, but very impactful. It has been a bestseller from the first week of launch and is currently up for reprint.
I also hope to become the most prolific popular science writer in the world.
Why is this mission special to you? What is the difference you want to make in this world?
In the last few years, so many people have been kind to me in so many ways – visiting me, calling me, encouraging me, sometimes holding my hand when I needed support, sometimes getting me food at buffet because I couldn’t hold a plate, sometimes taking me and my family on vacations, sometimes even tying my shoe laces. There is no way I can return all their kindness.
But I know that I can be kind to every individual person I meet. That is what I try to do now. I have cut out all negativity from my life. And I want to spread the message of positivity and also make people understand that they should not let small downturns affect their lives. Every downturn is a springboard for success.
I strongly believe that ‘I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul’. I want to make people believe that they are the masters of their fate.