It was the C5 vertebra that was dislocated almost to the point of complete separation in Colin’s neck as his car was hit from behind, spun over, flipped and landed on its roof. At that moment, he felt his entire body go limp and knew he wasn’t going to walk away from this. In the days and weeks that followed, everything seemed lost – he couldn’t breathe on his own, he couldn’t move his arms or legs at all and he couldn’t even speak or get the attention of the nursing staff, but then an unexpected side effect occurred.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) causes many changes to the body and the injured person’s entire life, varying from slightly annoying to devastating. Newly paralysed individuals have to come to terms with losing control of their bodies, how people treat them, when and what they eat, if and when they are able to go anywhere – sometimes they even lose their life partners. Suddenly being paralysed can seem like the end of anything good, but wonderful things can also emerge from spinal injury.
Common medical side effects for SCI patients include
For anyone who had significantly high blood pressure before their accident, there is no longer a risk of complications such as stroke, heart damage, blood clots, or risk of a detached retina.
Apart from lower blood pressure, injured people who spend time in ICU or rehab recovering are on a strict regimen to manage all their vital signs including their blood sugar (which is a concern for diabetics), they’re given nutritionally correct food (which may assist with weight loss for obese patients), and they’re observed carefully for any other medical issues that may change or appear post-accident. Non-medical upshots include early retirement, not needing to sit for hours a day in traffic on the way to work and, in most cases, no more need to run to the bathroom every hour.
Some SCI patients are not able to negotiate the troubled waters of what life has thrown them with great success, but others are able to take their despair and grief and move forward. Statistically, most end up losing their life partners, but for others it’s a path to solidifying their relationships, and helping identify what’s important. For those couples who do stay together, life can be more than it was before, not less.
There’s a period of mourning for those who have SCI, their partners, and their families and friends and there are many losses to work through after their tragedy, like losing their independence and feeling betrayed by their body. But there are also things that happen that may be a blessing instead of a curse. Partnerships that do survive only go on to be stronger, some medical issues may arise, but others can be mended, true friends are revealed, and every day brings a new opportunity to look for miracles, no matter how small.
Every day, for at least the first two years of recovery, quadriplegics and paraplegics can hope for, and even expect, some physical improvement or recovery. Every sunrise brings opportunity for some medical, physical, social and relational improvement. Choosing to focus on a positive rather than a negative, no matter how small, is the only sure path to success and happiness.
For Colin, not having to add the high blood pressure tablet to his daily cocktail of meds is a win.