The last couple of weeks have been my best since the accident. Last week I began walking with the aid of braces on my lower legs and a walker. I am able to walk further and further every time. By no measure is it easy and I move very slowly because I have no feeling or control in my lower legs. At least the braces keep my feet stable so I can stand on them. This feels so amazing each time I do it that I am usually grinning from ear to ear. These experiences walking have made it pretty clear that I will be able to walk eventually, but it will be very different than how I walked before the accident.
There are so many things that I have learned about spinal cord injuries (SCI) since I have been at Craig Hospital in Denver. For example, the spinal cord can heal for up to two years or more! I met a guy who was a patient here at Craig 12 years ago and was a quadriplegic. Through the years, he has regained use of his entire upper body and even some of his lower body and legs. I was absolutely floored when this guy told me his story! This just goes to show how long it can take for spinal injuries to heal.
The spinal column consists of four regions as depicted in the image on the left-hand side. When injury occurs within a particular region, it can result in damaged nerves in that region and therefore impairment of certain body functions that are controlled by those nerves. If an injury is severe enough, the result can be paralysis of everything below the injury site.
Since I have been here at Craig, I have seen all sorts of different injuries in people. Some folks who have complete paralysis below the spinal injury and do not have that function return while other folks who have had a Cervical level injury who are able to walk again after sufficient healing. This is a good illustration of how unique each injury can be. There are so many variables that influence the situation that doctors cannot predict exactly what will happen to any single person. They have certainly seen many different injuries and can generalize about what functions they think might return after sufficient healing but there seem to be so many cases where people have had seemingly miraculous recoveries.
The spinal cord actually stops in the Thoracic region and a bundle of nerve roots known as the horse's tail (or cauda equina in Latin) continue through the Lumbar and Sacral regions of the spine. Because my injury involved fractures to the Lumbar region (L3 and L4 were fractured) it affects the horse's tail of nerve roots. This also means that there could be damage to the nerves below the injury site in the Sacral region. Among other functions, these nerve roots control the legs. This is why I lack control and sensitivity in portions of my lower legs and my feet. I have been told by my doctor and physical therapists that these nerve roots can take quite a while to heal so I will need to be very patient. This is basically a wait and see approach to my healing. In other words, it may take some time before we know if any of the functions that I have lost will return to any degree.
The fact that I am being released on Tuesday is very welcome. It has been just over seven weeks since my accident and just over five weeks that I have been at Craig Hospital. I am eager to get back to my home to be surrounded by my family and friends (and my dogs) on a regular basis. It's difficult to describe, but my friends here at Craig agree, although time seems to fly by, you also feel like you are standing still and that the accident was just a few days ago.
I have really made some wonderful friends while here at Craig Hospital. What we all have in common is the total experience of a spinal cord injury. But more importantly, all of the little experiences that go along with it, both good and not so good. Although we all started out as strangers and we are from places around the US both far and wide, we all quickly learned to comfort one another. It's a strange thing to make so many new friends when you are in the most vulnerable state of your life. This is how I learned the true meaning of compassion. For this, I will be forever grateful. It's the little encouragements every day from your friends that keep you going. These friends are both the people who are here to help you as well as the other patients to whom you have grown so close. Seeing their progress really boosts your mood and you never forget to tell them so. We have all had good days and bad, and it's these people who help pick you up and keep you moving forward. I never dreamed that a hospital could be such a positive place. But a hospital can also be a rather lonely place at times, too.
Although alone time can be a good thing for learning to heal your mind and to accept the injuries that changed your life, but being alone for too long can be difficult. As your loved ones continue to live their lives, you are alone in the hospital focusing on your injuries and your healing 24/7. Someone asked me the other day, 'So what is your other job?' and I laughed immediately because I knew what she was asking. Her implied notion was that you are doing rehab to focus on healing your injuries and that is your full-time job right now, but what is your real full-time work outside of here?
Healing in and of itself is exhausting, let alone when the PT starts up. And depending on your overall state of healing, adding the rigors of PT to the mix can nearly send you over the edge of what you can handle mentally. Thankfully I have had excellent doctors, nurses and techs while at Craig Hospital whose skills and experience have helped to speed my healing process. Add to that family and friends who have visited quite frequently and I have experienced an extremely speedy recovery and discharge. I have been told that rarely do they see someone heal so quickly and be released. All the medical professionals I have seen have commented about my health, physical fitness and positive attitude because these are the biggest factors in my healing. Who would have thought that what my oldest daughter calls fitness crazy is what healed me so fast?!