The Infuriating Case of SCI Semantics

Hospital staff person – “I’ve heard about a lot of quads doing that. Now are you a quadriplegic or a paraplegic?”

Me – “Neither! I hate classifications like that! I’m a nothingplegic because I’m just someone who had a bad accident, but is on his way to recovery and hate being categorized or classified with this bullshit terminology!”

Ok so that’s not exactly how I responded to the good-intentioned hospital worker who was talking to me about my life post-rehab, but that’s exactly what I wanted to say. Maybe I’m oversensitive about this one but I’ve always disliked it when people tried to categorize me. I would think it was difficult to do that since I’ve always taken pride in being a multi-dimentional person with a diverse range of interests and hobbies. I mean, in high school for example, (the absolute peak period of time when people classify each other), I was a soccer playing, gym-going, guitar-playing, swing-dancing, fantasy book-reading, political protest-attending, newspaper editor/jock/nerd/musician. I had friends in all different circles and thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I couldn’t be boxed into a category. Now the same thing goes with this quadri/tetra/paraplegic nonsense that I keep hearing about.

(Technically, quad and tetra mean the same thing, motor or sensory impairment in all four limbs and para means an impairment of just the lower extremities)

To me, classifying myself as any of these admits defeat to a certain extent. When you break an arm or sprain your knee, do you start referring to yourself by a different term? If you get bronchitis or a severe flu do you accept some silly title that means little to you but probably makes a world of difference to medical students attempting to diagnose you? Of course, Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is obviously more significant than the flu or a broken bone and will take much longer to recover from, but my approach and outlook is that of a person with a temporary condition who is on the path to recovery. I see this injury as a hindrance, an obstacle, an extended stay in jail on the Monopoly board before I break out and piece my body back together and get back to full health.

Maybe because doctors are so reluctant to give SCI patients false hope is why they so frequently tell patients they won’t walk or recover and that leads to people to accept these self-defeating terms and calling themselves quadriplegic or what have you. Well, that’s not for me. No way. The only classification I can accept is that of a human being, albeit a badly injured one on an extremely difficult path, but I see myself as fundamentally no different than I was before this injury. I’m not going to start calling myself something different, and with all my intention, ambition and desire focused on a 100% recovery, there’s no chance I’ll ever refer to myself using any of these ridiculous terms. End of story.

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8 thoughts on “The Infuriating Case of SCI Semantics

  1. Arash-
    Your story is inspirational. I have no doubts that your attitude and energy will allow you to break free from this temporary condition. I’m rooting for you and your continued success.

    Lots of love,


  2. […] One of the first posts I wrote on this blog had to do with the semantics and terminology used for those with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), specifically the use of words like “quadriplegic  or paraplegic.” I explained how much I hated these terms and now I have a better understanding of why I still get frustrated whenever I hear them. It has to do with how I want to define myself after this injury. […]

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