I know I said that was going to jump into this stuff on bipolar disorder but 1st I have one last thing written about my spinal cord injury. I want you to understand how my injury affects me. I hope that some of these things do not make you feel uncomfortable. When I talked about catheters in one of my speeches I actually made a guy pass out so be careful when you see a picture of it and just remember that I can’t feel pain. I remember before my accident when I would think of a catheter and think of just how painful that would be. I understood the pain because I took a test for an STD before the accident where they tested for gonorrhea by sticking a Q-tip up there. The test came back negative by the way. 🙂 Maybe that’s too much information but that hurt like a bitch. Some people with spinal cord injuries can still feel pain so I am thankful that I am not one of those people because that would just be miserable. Anyways this is what I deal with on a daily basis…
How Exactly My Spinal Cord Injury Affects Me
by Adam Helbling on Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 6:16pm ·
The past is behind us now. You can’t change it. It has defined you and today you are who you are because of your past. Some people are happy with who they have become and embrace the past and move on but many people let the past continue to define their future. They think that because they made mistakes in the past that they will continue to make those mistakes in the future. Many people do not believe in change and they are content with living the life that they always knew even if it brought them misery and shame. It is important to reflect on the past to recognize what made us happy and what brought us down. As long as you can recognize what makes you happy there is no reason that you cannot understand how to live a brighter future.
After my accident I would dwell on the past and wish so badly that there was a way I could go back. I would wish for just one day for everything to be normal again. But it did not take long to realize that thinking this way would only drive you insane. So the focus had to change to what I could do with this new life. There still is a great deal that I can do and there are still things that will make me happy. I have found a new purpose in life which at the end of the day I can have a smile on my face and I can sleep easy. I feel that now my life has more meaning than it ever has and my capacity to help people see a brighter future has increased tenfold. I love to educate people on what I am going through so that they understand what exactly a spinal cord injury effects. Most people with an injury are afraid or too embarrassed to speak about it. So my goal is to spread the word about this condition. I then want people to be able to reflect on their lives and understand just how much they have to be grateful for.
Yesterday I spoke to a panel of scientists and PhD students who are all involved with spinal cord research. They were chosen to be a part of this panel and they were from all around the world. The surprising thing was that even though these people have been doing spinal cord research nearly all of them have not met someone with a spinal cord injury. So it was my job to explain to them what my life has been like since my injury and what my injury affects.
When you think of paralysis you think that it just affects your legs. Well for me that was exactly what I thought when I 1st got injured. The spinal cord affects far more than just your legs. Two weeks after my injury in Indianapolis I started physical therapy. My 1st session consisted of trying to sit on the edge of the bed and balance myself. I thought I would have no problem but instead it took four therapists to hold me up and make sure that I did not fall over. It was then that they told me that I was paralyzed from the chest down and I did not have the use of my core muscles. Two minutes later everything started to fade to black and I had to lay back down. That was the end of my therapy session for the day. The spinal cord also regulates your blood pressure so when I would sit up all of the blood would go to my legs and my blood pressure would drop quickly. On the next day I was able to sit up for 5 minutes before blacking out. Then each day after I steadily increased until I was able to sit up all day long. This took me 4 months until I could withstand sitting up all day long. Still to this day I have problems regulating my blood pressure. When I get up in the morning I take blood pressure pills and then I must elevate my bed to a 45° angle for 10 minutes and then to a 90° angle for another 10 minutes. I then have to sit on the side of my bed and make sure I am not going to black out before transferring to my shower chair.
When I woke up in the hospital I had a catheter in. I thought the reason for this was because I could not get up out of bed and go to the bathroom. It was not until a few weeks later that I was told that I would have to rely on catheters for the rest of my life to go to the bathroom. I have a neurogenic bladder which means that I cannot go to the bathroom on my own. In order to go to the bathroom I use a straight catheter which is a tube that goes to your bladder and empties into a bag. I know this sounds like the most painful thing in the world but luckily I cannot feel pain from the chest down. This is something that I have to do every 4 hours. I am lucky in the sense that I can feel when I have to go to the bathroom but it only gives me about a two-minute warning and I do not have the ability to hold it in. I have had several accidents which is such a pain in the ass. When this happens it means that I have to transfer into my bed and have someone help me change because I cannot dress myself. Because of this I do not drink alcohol or caffeine because they go straight through me.
Not only does the spinal cord affect your bladder but it also affects your bowels. In order to go to the bathroom I need to have a nurse use a mini enema on me and then transfer me into a shower chair and push me over a toilet. I then wait for about a half hour until it is all over with. I do this every other day which I am able to do because I do not get the feeling when I have to go. Every time I go to the bathroom the nurse also has to check my blood pressure and my temperature. Everything is thoroughly documented and it is a long process. Luckily for me I have an incredible nurse who makes me laugh throughout the entire process.
I injured my spinal cord at the C6 and C7 vertebrae. This is at the lowest part of your neck. Technically I am a quadriplegic and I should not have use of either of my hands. Luckily for me I regained function in my right hand over the course of a year of occupational therapy. I would do minute tasks such as picking up pegs and other small objects over and over again for about an hour and a half every day. When I got my accident I severely dislocated my left elbow. An external fixator was drilled into my arm to hold it at a 90° angle. My left hand was curled up and could barely move. I thought for the entire 6 weeks that I had this thing drilled into my arm that it was the fixator that caused my left hand to not be functional. After the fixator was removed I thought that my left hand would come back. It was then that my occupational therapist told me that my left hand was paralyzed because of my spinal cord injury. I started to cry but soon enough she made me focus on working to get it back. I spent an entire year doing occupational therapy on my left hand but I did not see any return. Today I am just thankful that I have the use of my right hand.
Losing the ability to walk is just one thing you lose when you suffer a traumatic spinal cord injury. Of course every day you wish that you could take that 1st step all over again. But there are other little things that you wish you could get back that you once took for granted. In addition to not being able to feel pain below my level of injury, I also cannot feel temperature. You are reminded of this every morning when you take a shower and you can only feel the hot water on your shoulders, arms, and head.
Another problem is that I have to worry about pressure sores. I do not have the circulation like I used to so I cannot sit on any hard surface. On my wheelchair there is a special air filled cushion that prevents pressure sores. I also sleep on a special gel top mattress and I must put a pillow in between my legs when I sleep and special booties on my feet. No longer can I just jump into bed. Now getting ready for bed is a 45 minute long process.
My spinal cord injury was incomplete which means that I did not sever my spinal cord. This means that you can regain function and sensation below your level of injury. If you sever your spinal cord you have no feeling or motor function below your level of injury. At 1st I could not feel when someone would touch me from the chest down. Eventually I was able to feel somebody touch my feet and then I regained sensation from the bottom up. Now I can feel somebody touch me below my level of injury but it is very dull. Because my legs stay in one place all day long they get very stiff and it is very uncomfortable. I also get muscle spasms in my legs and core that go on all day long. This sometimes makes it very difficult to sleep and I must take medication to get rid of the spasms.
These are the problems that I have to deal with on a daily basis. The 1st year was the hardest trying to adjust to these new obstacles but I have learned to adapt to this new way of life and I have learned to accept it. From dealing with these problems on a daily basis I have learned to be extremely patient. I have to wait for someone to get me dressed and up in the morning. I have to rely on others for transportation, cooking, cleaning, and many other activities of daily living. I’m so grateful for all of the incredible help and support that I receive on a daily basis. From this experience I have learned who my true friends are and it has reaffirmed how incredible and loving my family is. I have seen my injury bring out the good in people. People will go out of the way to help me and I love when it brings a smile to their face.
People are always curious as to why I am in a wheelchair. I never hesitate to tell them the story and when I finish telling it they always say that they are so sorry for what happened to me. I always have to explain to them that this happened for a reason and that now I’m speaking and writing about it so that I can help others. I tell them that it happened for the greater good. It is sometimes shocking to them about how positive I am about the situation. I think that it has a great affect on people to see me be positive despite my situation.
The past is the past and for me I would not change a thing. Because of everything that I have been through I feel that I am a much better person. I am very humble and proud of everything that I have accomplished in life so far. I have great aspirations for my future and I feel that I will be able to help so many people. I understand what is important in life now and my life has more meaning than it ever did before I was paralyzed. Before my accident I dreamed of nice cars, a brand-new ski boat,and my own private ski lake. Now I dream of helping people realize what they have and to not take anything for granted. I have had a lot of people tell me that because of my writing I have given them a completely new perspective on life. That has made it all worth it for me. I want you to live your life differently and take advantage of everything this world has to offer. I want you to help others through their struggles rather than worry about your own. Shine light on your family and friends rather than focusing on yourself because you never know when you’re going to need them.
I do not want anybody to feel sorry for me. I want everyone I know to treat me the same way as they did before the accident. I’m still the same person that I was before the accident. I’m just a little bit banged up. I’ve accepted everything that has happened to me so you should accept it too. This is who I am and my future is still bright. Don’t be afraid to give me a call or to ask me to hang out. There are still some friends that I have not even seen since my accident. If you’re one of them please give me a call because I would be more than happy to catch up.