I broke my neck diving into a swimming pool in 1991. This left me paralysed from the chest down with limited arm movement and no hand function. When all four limbs are affected the condition is called quadriplegic (US and worldwide) or tetraplegic (UK).
When anybody damages their spine it can be complete or incomplete damage to the spinal-cord. I am a C5 complete which means my spinal-cord at the fifth cervical out of the eight cervical bones was completely severed and there is no communication past at that point. It is much like a tree and branches, depending on where you break and how much damage would depend on how many branches you would still of communication with. A C5 incomplete would still have some communication but the spinal-cord would still be damaged, this might give them more feeling, movement and control over more organs. For example they might be able to move couple fingers or move everything but cannot feel a leg, it doesn’t matter which which part of the spinal-cord you injure two people complete at the same level will be almost identical in ability. Incomplete injury are never the same, even if they are incomplete at the same level there will be vast differences depending on how much of the spinal-cord is damaged.
We hear many inspirational stories about spinal-cord injury patients having belief and working their socks off and walking out the hospital several months later. Many will tell you how they defied the doctors. I very often hear patients say they were told that they would never walk by their doctors or consultants, but in reality especially in the early days nobody commits to anything and no doctor should ever give false hope in the case they are wrong. Immediately after injury there is always swelling around the spinal-cord which almost always results in getting some movement and feeding back once this goes down. For the first six weeks I couldn’t move my arms due to the swelling above my injury. I know many and seen how hard they worked so I don’t wish to take anything away from them. But they are incomplete and more often than not it is the injury and swelling settling down and their hard work, a complete severed spinal-cord cannot repair itself.
What about a cure for spinal-cord injuries?
Of course worldwide there are many organisations working on finding a solution and hopefully one day the search will be fruitful. However, I am not up to date on the latest techniques although I do know there is not any firm cure at the moment. I choose not to spend my days searching for a cure, I would rather get on and live my life and hope the experts have a breakthrough one day.
Many spinally injured patients suffer from what is called Autonomic Dysreflexia. When something goes wrong below our level of feeling it sends a signal to our brain, in normal circumstances it would be received understood and then dealt with. For example the need to go toilet, ingrowing toenail or creased trousers that would hurt after a while. For us the signal does not get to the brain and starts jumping around the body in some kind of panic, as a result our blood pressure gets dangerously high very quickly. Autonomic Dysreflexia is known as a medical emergency and if it is not dealt with quite rapidly can result in a stroke or worse. But we live with it, do our best to prevent it and deal with it when it arises.
Unlike many other spinal conditions it is rare that a spinal-cord injury will either get better or worse, we have a fairly good status quo provided we look after ourselves by eating healthy, regular exercise and getting on with life.
Of course being positive never hurt anyone.