I was asked to do a presentation on Life As A Quadriplegic for a group of local junior high students, and asked not to sugarcoat the situation as I am prone to do. I like to focus on what I CAN do, but the teacher pointed out that "we don't want it to look like it's all fun, because it CAN'T be". She was right, I have a habit of hiding the tough stuff and focusing on the positive, a survival tactic us gimps use. I have been very fortunate to surround myself with a lot of very positive people, and I'd like to keep it that way! Well I was asked to write something that shows what it's really like to be a quadriplegic, something that will make them pay attention to the presentation and remind them that it isn't always easy. Now don't get me wrong, I received top-notch care and have no bad feelings about the care-givers that were required to perform such a difficult job. So here it is, what the kids got, and now I can go back to thinking on the positive side again!
Life As A New Quadriplegic
Imagine you are struggling, fighting to escape. You are held firmly down to a bed. Two white-coats are holding your head still while trying to insert a hose about the diameter of your finger up your nose. You struggle, trying to thrash side to side but cannot move. Your arms and legs are immobilised, you are lying flat on your back, and it feels is if you are encased in steel. The feeling of claustrophobia is taking over.
Your mind races as a wave of panic takes over. What is holding you down? Why are these two guys trying to shove a hose up your nose? Why can't you fight back? What is going on?
They tell you to stay still and don't fight. You try to reach up with your hand and grab them but cannot, your arms will not move. The hose gets shoved slowly up your nose. The gagging reflex takes over, you start coughing and choking as the tube goes down the back of your throat and into your stomach. Once again they tell you to stay still and don't fight. Why are they doing this?
You are told to calm down and breathe regular, but you cannot catch your breath because of the gagging. They talk amongst themselves and you hear them say that they wonder if they're going to have to perform a tracheotomy to allow you to breathe better. A tracheotomy involves cutting a hole in your throat, your worst fear. You try to stay calm, breathe slowly and not fight, but the gagging keeps taking over. Finally you stare at the ceiling and concentrate on not moving, just trying to take one breath after the other. If only you can just get through the next minute.
Next a technician walks up with a cage looking device. You are told that they are going to screw it to your skull and then hang some weights on the end of the bed to pull your neck tight. Once again you try to thrash and fight but are held fast. Again the feeling of claustrophobia takes over, how can this be happening? They hold your head still while the device is attached to your skull, you can feel the metal attaching to bone as the wrenches turn the screws, and it creeps you out. In a short time the cage is attached to your head and the weights are attached to a rope that is slung over a pulley at the end of your bed. As they add the weights you can feel the pull on your skull, and attempt to straighten out your neck. After a while the weights drag you up the bed, and the white-coats pull you back down by your ankles.
Some visitors are briefly let in to see you. You can see by the look on their face that they are caught somewhere between running and puking. There are hoses and machines plugged into every imaginable place on your body. Your head and face are swollen and covered with cuts, bruises, and stitches. You cannot move or speak but they see the fear and panic in your eyes. Some of them stand there and stare at you not knowing what to say, some of them stagger backwards and sit down, and some of them turn and bolt for the door, never to return. You will never forget the stunned look on their faces.
Soon you are alone. You stare at the ceiling for hours fighting the feeling of claustrophobia and the gag reflex. You know that if you cannot breathe properly they will put in a tracheotomy and you are deathly afraid of that, so you concentrate on taking one breath at a time. You keep thinking that if only you can get through the next minute, then you will work on getting through the minute after that.
And so it goes minute after minute, hour after hour. You stare at the ceiling and fight the feeling of claustrophobia. You keep trying to move your arms and your legs but everything is held fast as if encased in steel, then as panic overwhelms, you give up and stare at the ceiling to try to calm down.
You roll your eyes to the left and look at the clock on the wall. It is now midnight.
Congratulations, you have just survived your first day as a quadriplegic.