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Back-breaking task of being Karuna

Within months of a back surgery to correct a disc degeneration because of age, wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi is back in politics as actively as his health and doctors permit, reports M R Venkatesh.

india Updated: May 10, 2009 23:30 IST
M R Venkatesh
M R Venkatesh
Hindustan Times

His political party — the DMK — has occupied so much of his time for well over 50 years that M Karunanidhi, its president, has “neglected” his family and health. His family is still rallying behind him but at 85 the neglect is telling on his health.

For the first time in half a century, the wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi, while in power, missed a Republic Day parade this year. He was in a hospital in the Chennai suburb of Porur with unbearable back pain.

After elaborate tests, doctors found out that Karunanidhi had been suffering from “low back pain” for several years now. It turned “very acute” only recently, said Dr S S K Marthandam, an orthopedic surgeon and one of the doctors who operated on Karuna’s back on February 11. He was suffering from disc compression or degeneration due to ageing.

Doctors tried physiotherapy, powerful injections and, at one stage, an epidural injection (steroid injections that reduce inflammation, pain), said Dr Marthandam. But the pain persisted and after further consultations with a specialist at AIIMS, New Delhi, Karuna underwent the surgery, a simple procedure which became high risk because of the DMK leader’s advanced age.

The surgery was successful. Despite his age, Karunanidhi “took it well,” the doctors said. After the operation, Karunanidhi was advised complete rest for a month.

But with the elections approaching, Karunanidhi was now shifting focus from his back to the political field. Karunanidhi left the hospital in a wheelchair. The doctors told him he would be fit enough to campaign, but advised him to avoid rigorous travel. He is not to sit for long hours either.

Given his condition, he travels in a personalized SUV with his old-time physician Dr Gopal and two other doctors and an aide to help him change and the like. But Karunanidhi hasn’t hit the road like he has done over the last 50 years. But being a man of tremendous will power, he visits the party office regularly to interact with candidates and fine tune seat sharing arrangements with allies. He was also present at the launch of the DMK manifesto. He also addressed a rally at Tiruchirapally on May 1 from his wheel chair with a sore throat. Strained by the effort, Karunanidhi came down with a fever and urinary infection and had to be admitted to a hospital for three days again.

After three days of hospitalisation, his overall health condition “is normal,” an official release said. He attended Sunday’s mega rally in Chennai with Sonia Gandhi. Yet, his doctors say that his return to full active life is still months away.

First Published: May 10, 2009 23:24 IST