On July 8th, 2012 I fell from a third story apartment balcony, landed on my neck and shattered the C5 and C6 vertebrae in my spine causing major trauma to my spinal cord and instantly turning my world upside down. After losing consciousness for a few seconds, I opened my eyes and saw my friend standing above me, telling me not to move and that help was on the way. After being rushed to the nearby trauma hospital, I remember glimpses and flashes of being wheeled around the hospital and seeing different doctors, nurses and hospital staff looking down at me and yelling instructions to each other about my condition. A couple of hours later, I woke up in a hospital bed, unable to feel or move most of my body and knowing full well that intense medications were the only thing numbing the excruciating pain coursing through my body.
In response to the injury, my spinal cord had swollen dramatically and I was told I would need an operation to repair my badly broken spine. Before I could undergo surgery, I was injected with steroids that would control the swelling of my spinal cord and I was told I would wait a couple of days for the broken bones to resettle and for my spinal cord to come out of panic mode. In the meantime, I laid in a special bed that would sway and twist me from side to side, so that my muscles and bones wouldn’t atrophy before the operation. With my head and neck in a halo and lying flat on my moving, twisting bed, I could only lie still and stare at one spot in the ceiling for the next 48 hours as family members and friends would come into view, greet and console me, all the while trying to hide their fear and worry at seeing me in this condition.
At 11am on July 10th, I was taken to the operating room where the neurosurgeon and his team awaited me. I underwent a 7 hour long surgery that involved cutting me open in the front and back of my neck, removing all the pieces of broken bone, reconstructing my spine by fusing together four vertebrae (C4-C7) with titanium rods and screws, and, in essence, piecing me back together.
When I woke up that evening, I was told the surgery had gone well but that I had a long road to recovery, and no one could define what recovery would be. While I still couldn’t see my legs or feet from where I lay, I knew they were there but that was little consolation when I quickly realized I was paralyzed from the chest down. Within a few days, I was assessed by a spine specialist and a rehab doctor, where I was classified with an Incomplete C7 Asia B injury (link to an explanation of Spinal Cord Injury), and told that since no one knew the potential or extent of recovery, I should prepare myself for the very real possibility of never being able to walk again….