Maybe it was a car crash. Perhaps it was a misjudged dive. In some cases, gun violence can be the culprit. However it happened, it doesn’t change what lies ahead: you have a spinal cord injury & your life will never be the same.
The first few weeks are a frenzy of doctors, nurses, IVs, opioids, visits from loved ones, cards, flowers, candies, PAIN, confusion & fear. Fear, that’s the one thing I remember the most distinctly: what am I going to do now? Will I ever have my old life back? The answer, which I didn’t know then, was no. No, you will never have your old life back. I didn’t understand then, that my old life is something that was better off in the past anyway.
After those first few drug-fueled weeks in the ICU, operating rooms and the like the day finally comes: if you’re lucky, you’re transferred to Craig Hospital, or a related acute rehab facility. This is where some excitement starts to come back in to the picture. Finally, I’ll be in a place that understands what I need & will push me to get back to full-strength and hopefully full-health. It’s probably not ubiquitous, but in a lot of cases, new SCIs are immensely hopeful that they will recover fully in their 2-3 month stint at a rehab facility. Despite what doctors tell us about the low odds, we don’t care. A common thought, “But, I’m not like everyone else: I can beat this.” Those first couple of weeks, reality starts to sink in, and you start to realize the true nature of a spinal cord injury. You realize that, even as an incomplete with high function, the road to recovery will be littered with setbacks, obstacles & challenges like you’ve never experienced.
After a while inpatient, the emotional toll starts to set in. Bladder & bowel function are massive points of frustration. The nostalgia of how easy everyday, menial tasks used to be starts to eat away at you. You start to curse to the heavens, asking why the hell this happened to you? WHY ME? But you push on, no pun intended, with grit and determination, hoping that brighter days are ahead.
Flash forward to the release back into the real world. Everything is a struggle. You fall out of your chair, you can’t reach anything, you have accidents, UTIs, Autonomic Dysreflexia, ER trips, arguments with your family. Life used to be so simple. Now, it’s almost tragic. You do your best to convince yourself that somebody has it worse than you, to maintain some semblance of sanity, hold on to some thread of gratitude.
Don’t get me started on going to public places. Whether it was actually the case, or simply a figment of the imagination, it feels like all eyes are on you. The glances, the stares, the inquisitive looks: they feel like your rolling around in the lime light. But a light that you never wanted. It’s like your some science experiment, an object to be analyzed, discussed, hypothesized, with conclusions drawn quickly. People are always friendly, but to the point where their kindness simply portrays pity. Nothing will be the same.
Months tick by, you start to feel more comfortable in your new situation. Your world & outlook starts to open back up, however slowly. Hanging out with old friends becomes comfortable again. Sure, those insecurities still linger in the back of your mind, but a sense of normalcy begins to return. Maybe at this point, you’ve done some T-Rec, found a nearby gym, joined an adaptive sports team, or perhaps one of the neatest paralysis wellness centers in the country. Regardless, you begin to accept this new life for what it is, not what it used to be.
Obviously, every person has a different path following their injury. People have different access to different resources, different levels & severities of injury, varying support systems. And I know how lucky I am to be in the situation I’m in. However, after being a part of the NeuAbility family for these past 4.5 years, I can say with absolute confidence that if you allow it to, a spinal cord injury can be one of the biggest blessings you could ask for. The community, the perspective, the opportunities, the mental strengthening, the patience, the serenity: there is no greater gift than adversity. As they say, no pressure no diamonds.