Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A megabarati miracle

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Mother, there’s something wrong with my leg,” said Merna Mohamed, my 19-year-old daughter, one morning. “It’s painful to walk,” she added, as she was limping. I didn’t realise then that it was just the beginning of a long ordeal.

It all started last September when Merna lifted a too heavy weight in one of her cross fit classes. She came home with back pain and was diagnosed with a disc causing pressure on the sciatic nerve. She was told by doctors that she would not be able to do any kind of sports, apart from swimming, for the rest of her life. If she did, her back could get worse and require an operation. 

We took the news with a pinch of salt and believed it was just a minor injury that would be cured eventually. Merna took her medicine and over a period of three months undertook 16 physiotherapy sessions. “I don’t feel much change,” she kept on telling me, however.

There was a change however, but for the worse. Suddenly, her leg and foot started hurting severely. We made another tour of doctors, but they didn’t provide a sufficient explanation, all agreeing she had probably done some kind of action that had prompted the nerve to get agitated. “She will get better,” we were promised.

She didn’t. Her foot lost its colour, went numb, and was quite tilted. She was unable to use it anymore, so she hopped about instead until we bought crutches which eased the hardship but not the heartache we felt. 

Another doctor tour followed. Friends and family members had recommended different doctors who they believed were “excellent”, and we were fishing for hope. Their diagnosis differed this time, whether annoyingly or alarmingly. “Merna, you are just scared to use your foot. You have to walk on it and continuously move it,” said one doctor. “But I can’t. It’s numb,” Merna said, while the doctor gave her a suspicious look and said “try harder.” 

Other doctors, after squeezing her leg and foot and causing her unbearable pain, recommended she have an MRI on her back and brain. Afterwards, one doctor casually said that “the MRI reveals that the back and brain are normal, but she has a partial paralysis as a result of a virus and this will require either an operation or at least six months of physiotherapy.”

More tests were required, the worst being electromyography (EMG), which to me stood for “electrifying my girl”. This torturous procedure which involves inducing electricity into the nerves was required to find out whether the nerves were functioning or not. Merna tried to endure the pain, while the doctor pushed her foot up and down and increased the electricity. She sobbed for mercy, but he probably didn’t want to “waste” more time as there was a long queue of patients waiting outside. 

Finally the doctor said that there was considerable damage to the roots of the sciatic nerve. “What does that mean,” my husband asked. “You must ask the consultant,” he replied, eager to get rid of us as he called the next patient. 

It was a Wednesday night and the doctor that had requested the test had left his clinic, meaning that if we did not go on that day we would have to wait until after the weekend to get any answers. The doctors we called had either gone home or required prior appointments. We took Merna out for dinner, pretending that we were not worried sick and trying to keep her on a positive note. 

“It doesn’t look like I will be able to use this leg for a long time,” she told us. We believed her, but jokingly told her “to cut out the drama”.

On Friday my husband Mohamed told me that one of his friends had phoned him to say he knew a man that could cure Merna, the megabarati Haj Gamal Rabie. Not thinking he was serious, I gave a sarcastic smile. “He cured his sister who was unable to use both her legs,” Mohamed said. I continued my apathetic attitude. “He uses his hands and a small wooden stick.”

I replied by asking, “are you really convinced, or are you just desperate enough to believe in nonsense?”

“What do we have to lose? The worst that can happen is that he will not be able to cure Merna,” Mohamed said. He was serious, and I began to give in, putting aside common sense. 

We picked up my husband’s friend, journalist Rifaat Fayad, on the way to the man’s house, which was in a poor neighbourhood. During the ride, Fayad talked about the megabarati, trying to convince me that the man would be able to cure Merna. Meanwhile my mind was swimming with scary ideas. What if this man deals with spirits, or what if he does something to make her condition worse? Mohamed was wrong — we could make things worse by going to this man. What were we thinking of?

I saw Haj Gamal sitting on the floor of a room, his clinic, in his modest house. His face was relaxed, but I was still tense and regretful. He told Merna to put her crutches down, adding that “you won’t need them when I have finished.” Yeah, sure, I told myself.

He told her to lie down on her stomach. She did, and he started slowly pressing his fingers on parts of her back, then her hips, sometimes using a small wooden stick. We hadn’t told him what the doctors had said or what the tests had revealed and he wasn’t keen to know.

To our shock, he said what the many tests had revealed, namely that the vertebral column had a problem and this was pressuring the nerve. But he also said that added to this problem was the fact that the hip joint was slightly misplaced on one side, pressuring the same nerve. The doctors had never suspected that anything was wrong with the hip.

He went on using pressure with his hands and stick, sometimes pressing on areas that caused Merna to flinch. I acted as his assistant, pressing on some areas on his orders while he worked. I kept on blaming myself, feeling bad that I had made my daughter go through this “useless” procedure.

The process continued for about half an hour, and then he said she had to rest a bit. She lay still while he smoked a cigarette and chatted while I sat in anticipation.

Then he started again by concentrating this time on her leg and foot. I saw her foot tilt to its normal position, but thought I was imagining things. Then he held her leg in an upward position and told Mohamed to pull her foot at the same time. I protested, but was ignored.

“Merna, are you in pain,” I asked, knowing that just touching her foot had caused her extreme pain before. No, she told me in disbelief. 

Haj Gamal told Merna to stand up. “The guy is insane,” I told myself. But a miracle did happen, as Merna was able to stand on her previously painful foot. 

He told her to walk, and she limped. So he worked on her foot a bit more by making her do an exercise with his help. Now walk, he said. And she did. We were all in a state of disbelief. We hugged each other and kept on hysterically thanking Haj Gamal.

We did leave the crutches behind, just like he said we would. 

A few weeks later, we were grieved to find out that Haj Gamal had passed away, but he will never be forgotten.

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