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Home discharge and preparing for life after spinal cord injury

Home discharge and preparing for life after spinal cord injury

I never had it explained to me that I was going to be in Southport spinal injury centre for a while, but somehow I knew. There did not seem to be a lot of choice in the matter. I think that is part of the key to how we adapt to such things. We do what it takes when we have no choice.

I remained on bed-rest and on skull traction for around the first 10 weeks when I first got to Southport. Thanks to a large family and lots of friends, there was an amazing outpouring of attention and support. Visiting hours in the intensive care unit were like a circus scene. People streamed in with gifts and food, decorated with balloons, flowers and cuddly toys. I even got a kiss from the cute blonde girl who I had admired on the school bus and upon whom I had developed something of an obsessive crush! Letters and cards offering good wishes arrived from people known to my family and I, and from complete strangers; people I had never even met. It was, without doubt, the most intensive outpouring of love and affection I have ever experienced.

After a series of x-rays were taken and it was clear that the damage I had done to my spinal vertebra had healed up the skull traction was removed and I was slowly allowed to sit up and then get out of bed.

Once I started to mobilise in my wheelchair, six months of intensive rehabilitation followed during which time I learnt basic skills, how to transfer from my wheelchair on and off the bed, how to transfer safely on and off the shower chair and how to get dressed whilst rolling around on a bed.

Some of those basic skills were easier to learn than others. As someone who has sustained a tetraplegic injury (spinal cord damage to my neck) I have paralysis affecting not only my lower limbs but also my hands and arms.

One of the most frustrating aspects of a tetraplegic injury is the paralysis that affects one’s hands. It becomes difficult to do anything that requires dexterity and I am always dropping things and simple tasks such as brushing your teeth, combing your hair and even feeding yourself become difficult and an every day challenge.

I did however have youth on my side and on more than one occasion during my time in rehabilitation, if I dared to feel sorry for myself I was very quickly reprimanded by my physiotherapist who told me to be grateful for the movement I had and to this day there are indeed many days on which I count my blessings.

Life after a spinal cord injury is not a stroll in the park or a bed of roses. It’s a complex, challenging, frightening and inspiring journey that consumes all aspects of ones physical and mental health.

After nine months in Southport, I was fortunate to be able to be discharged back to the care and support of my family. But so much had changed; my grandmother had passed away, (she visited me only once in hospital when I was on traction and after that was sadly too poorly herself to understand the severity of my injury) our dog was old and had been put down and we had had to move house as our previous family home was unsuitable for a wheelchair user.

The only constant in my life was that some 10 months after my injury, I was finally able to return to my school - an emotional experience following my injury there earlier in the year. Now of course, it took all my effort to push myself in my wheelchair along the long familiar school corridors – the same corridors that only a few months earlier I had walked along without a care in the world. But I was pleased to be able to return there, to return to my year group and to be able to complete my school exams and go on to do my Alevels.

I remember from the very early stages after my injury that I was anxious never to use my injury as an excuse and all I wanted to do was the things that my peer group were doing. All I wanted to do was pass my driving test, go to university and be seen just to be “normal“.
After finishing my A-levels, I found myself at the University of Warwick studying a history degree in the autumn of 1991 and after finishing at Warwick, I started my postgraduate law degree at Nottingham Trent University.

Even at this early stage, I had developed a real interest in supporting others after catastrophic injury and whilst completing my training contract as a solicitor and at a large law firm in Manchester, I developed a real interest in personal injury legal work and that is something that I have done since I qualified as a solicitor in the autumn of 1999; just over 20 years ago.

In my legal career to date, I have worked with and supported many people affected by spinal cord injury, those who have been injured themselves, their friends and their families.
In the 32 years since my injury, no doctor has ever told me that I would not walk again. I am in fact still waiting for someone to tell me this news.

In my teenage mind maybe this allowed me the illusion of having had "a close call" and that I would “get better”. I cannot say how I would have felt if I had been told I would never walk again. Others with a spinal cord injury I have talked to over the years since my injury have expressed both extremes.

Some people resent being robbed of hope, or of being overloaded by the sheer shock of the news. Others have said that it allowed them to get a quick start on coming to terms with their new reality, their new identity. It turns out that there are no hard and fast rules about this kind of stuff. We are all individuals.

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