Continuing on from my previous post about the military battlefield analogy I used to describe dealing with SCI, I want to highlight more specifically what I meant.
I think that for many people I talk to or meet who learn of my condition, their thought is that my inability to use my lower body is the absolute thing I’m concerned with. I tell them about my intensive therapy and exercise that I’m doing six days a week and their rightful assumption is that it’s all intended for me to be able to reengage my legs. In my military analogy from my last post, the battle to regain function of my legs is the army facing me straight ahead. It’s obviously the most significant challenge for me and the one for which I’ve most prepared.
While that is a mostly correct assumption, one of the most frustrating aspects of this injury, and its ensuing recovery, is that my legs are one of MANY challenges I struggle with everyday. Because the level of my injury was so high up on my spine (C5 and C6 vertebra in my neck), there are many functions that are controlled by nerves further down my spine, that I do not have full control of yet.
Here are examples of just three:
Hands – This is probably my biggest day-to-day frustration. My fingers and hands have regained a lot of function and improved considerably but they’re still at about 50% of what they should be. My grip is still weak and I can’t hold certain things in one hand (i.e. laptop, heavy book, plate of food). My fingers are stiff and not dextrous so simple things like buttoning up a shirt or tying my shoes is a massive struggle. This also prevents me from cooking, playing guitar and doing other hobbies that are so important to me.
Core/trunk – This has improved tremendously and is the area I’m exercising the most in all of my therapy, but it’s still weak. Other than a flabby, soft stomach (which isn’t great for my ego…), it means that basic mobility and moving around in a seated position is very difficult. Dropping something on the ground or reaching for something becomes a risk of falling out of my chair. Cutting food with a fork and knife is still impossible because that would involve both my hands and I don’t have the strength yet to sit and use both arms unsupported. So I can only still use one hand to eat, and the other to stabilize myself.
Shoulders – To be clear, my shoulders are working 100%, and they’re stronger than ever but that’s where the challenge comes in. I use my arms for EVERYTHING. Aside from moving around in the wheelchair, throughout the day I have to lift up my legs and move them with my arms. Ok so I do have thin legs but they still weigh a lot! Every time I transition from my wheelchair to the car or to bed or to the couch, it means supporting my entire body weight in my shoulders and arms. The bottom line is, my shoulders are exhausted all the time. I have massive knots and tight spots throughout my back, shoulders and neck. Massage anyone??
Aside from these three functions I’ve described, there are many more that aren’t 100% but I think this gives a more complete sense of what dealing with a SCI is like. It’s not just the legs. One day or one hour, it’s one challenge, the next it’s another. I may think I’m improving one thing but as soon as I want to celebrate that accomplishment, I realize four other things that aren’t working. Every day gets split up into segments of dealing with one body part at a time and trying to measure that progress becomes lost in the attempt to improve other body parts. Back to my battlefield analogy, it’s a feeling of being attacked on so many fronts, from so many places. Some days, I don’t know where to focus my efforts because it’s all so overwhelming.
I know that as I improve and as those functions come back, I can focus more energy in less places and feel less overwhelmed. But for now, the battlefield remains crowded…