Reaching my Peak Potential!

Two laps of Stewart Park today, as evidenced by my new best friend Strava. Who knew I had it in me?! Well, I know one person who knew: Alex, my awesome PT. Today she did something really cool other than coming out in the rain with me; she did a lap in a wheelchair! Now, whilst that may sound a bit strange, it’s actually brilliant. As someone with no experience of a spinal cord injury, Alex cannot understand what everyday tasks like pushing around a park are like, nor can she understand what it’s like to have to move your legs in and out of bed by hand. Whilst the second part is extreme, the first part is not, and she decided to do something about it!

As a sports therapist, Alex has a brilliant understanding of the human body and the way it works. The only problem is that I don’t use my body the way most people do, and so for her to hop in a chair and actually experience what I do is certainly above and beyond. As she says in her own post on Instagram (Peak_Potential) “The main thing I’ve learned is there’s so much more to being in a chair than just ‘Pushing is hard work’!”. Personally I really appreciate the lengths she has gone to, just to put herself in my shoes and personalise the approach to my training.

It was an interesting session today. Pushing 2 miles sounds pretty easy, but when you factor in hills, camber, mud, moss and so much more it quickly adds up to a fairly decent cardio session. We did two loops of the park and Alex was in the chair on the first. With this being her first outing in a chair she was quickly feeling the burn in a different way than she is used to, which meant a pretty easy time for me. The second loop though… well the less said about that the better. I think you could probably hear me coming before you saw me with all the puffing and panting going on. The interesting thing though was that Alex received a few comments that she still isn’t quite sure how to take. Nothing offensive of course, but a few off the cuff remarks that those of us in chairs receive on the regular. I think it was a bit of an eye opener as to the way in which people treat those of us in chairs differently. Nonetheless, I am very grateful Alex put herself out there in order to better understand my needs, and how she can tailor the work we do together more accurately.

The smiles were absolutely not this bright after the second lap!

A final point from today is that I’ve realised how much improvement I have made over the last few months. There is still a very long way to go for me to get where I want to be, but at least I know I am heading in the right direction. I’m feeling rather stressed at the moment (more on that later) but today has certainly shown me that we cannot predict the future and I am allowed to have positive hopes for what is to come.

Wheel life

Have I used this title before?! Who knows. Oh well, I like it. So, one of the big issues with being in a wheelchair is that it can lead to a lack of independence. Not necessarily through a lack of trying, but through pure difficulty. One of the things I’ve found hardest is being able to use my car independently, as so far I’ve required someone at either end to get my chair in and out of the boot. But no longer! From this moment on, I am free!

Yeah, that sounds dramatic, sorry. But I’m happy either way. I now have the ability to go where I want and do what I want whenever I want; which is a complete novelty to me at the present time. I can go from one set of wheels to another, and back again, completely on my own. Obviously it’s still more practical to have someone at either end place my chair in the boot, however there is something reassuring about having it available when driving alone. It’s something that has evaded me thus far for a number of reasons, and in an attempt to be educational rather than satirical for once I’ll go into detail here.

Firstly, getting something the size of a wheelchair into a car is never going to be easy. There are surprisingly few parts, and over the last few decades the technology used in wheelchairs has advanced dramatically and has made getting a chair in and out of a vehicle easier, but by no means is it easy. You take the cushion off, fold the back down, take the wheels off, then lift the frame of the chair in. Sounds simple, but requires a certain finesse that has evaded me until now.

Secondly, storing a few lumps of metal in a place they are not designed to go is, unsurprisingly, also slightly difficult. My way involves putting the wheels in the rear near side footwell, my cushion and backpack on the seat behind the driver, and the actual frame of the chair on the passenger seat. My car is incredible, but the one thing it lacks is electrically movable seats, and so I cannot move my seat back to make this process easier as I cannot move it forward again. Then we get to the problem of securing all of these pieces, as if I were to be involved in any kind of incident, or take a corner too fast, or hit the brakes hard, it’s bye bye windscreen and wheelchair.

The third and final main reason I find it difficult is the reassembly at the other end. It’s the same as getting it in the car just reversed, but usually getting out is harder as I have driven from home to somewhere that isn’t as level or open. And it’s normally raining.

Putting the chair in and out is a very good time for maintenance. Here you can see my off-road wheels getting a healthy dose of air!

Despite all of this, many people (myself now included) manage to live independent lives in regards to motoring, and being independent is absolutely key in this life. I can pop to the shops, go see friends, pick my daughter up from school… the possibilities are endless! I’m super happy now, and I can tick another thing off the list of issues to deal with as a new paraplegic.

Mission: Complete

The day is here. The time is now. I have a new wheelchair!

Does my bum look big in this?

It’s certainly been a long time coming, and I’m not 100% convinced that it needed to be such a long time, but the end result is the same; I finally have a much more appropriate wheelchair. The ‘Argon 2’ made by the aptly named ‘Quickie’ is my new steed, and she is a beauty! Not quite to the spec I, well, expected, but I’m absolutely over the moon. Obviously I can’t remember exactly, but I thought I’d ordered it with a bit more Orange, specifically on the forks, but a little detail like that is not going to be a deal breaker especially when it would most likely mean another long wait.

As of now, I can start to live an independent life, to a much greater degree than I have previously been allowed. I can use the car by myself, without help getting in and out (or at least I’ll be able to soon), I can get around so much easier, and more importantly I can build my skills as a wheelchair user and become more confident.

I picked the chair up yesterday, which I admit was slightly unexpected. Thankfully no major adjustment was needed, and I was able to take the chair with me! Normally these handovers take place with a rep from the company and a therapist, but that would have meant waiting until the end of September for the next available appointment. After being unable to attend my last appointment, the prospect of waiting so long was simply too much, so thankfully wheelchair services managed to fit me in without the rep. As I’ve said I really wasn’t expecting to come away with a new chair, so it was a nice surprise!

So far I am really liking it, although it is a huge change. There are no armrests, the back is MUCH lower, and overall it is so much lighter. The footplate is a lot lower to the ground and the castors are much smaller, meaning that avoiding/ overcoming obstacles is quite interesting. All of this combined makes it much more nimble and maneuverable, however it does come at the cost of having to support my own form a lot more. My back is killing me, but in a good way for once, and as I use it everyday I’ll soon get used to it and feel better. . I really can’t complain even if I wanted to, as it is so much better in every way. I need to properly get to work in the gym now though, as the more I ‘Improve’ the easier I will find everything, from transfers to everyday living. I have the tools I need in my posession now, and I am very grateful for that. Now onwards and upwards!

VW Passat – the first weeks

So, I am once again on the roads, albeit in a safer way as I’m back on four wheels. On top of those wheels is sat a grey VW Passat Estate, which just so happens to be the topic of choice today!

Starting right at the beginning, it’s a 1.6 Diesel with 120bhp, meaning it’s fast enough and plenty of grunt to get moving, but by no means will I be racing it. Much. The car choice stemmed from lack of choice really; I obviously wanted the ford focus estate which ended up being a no go due to production and availability issues, which was disappointing but hey ho. Having looked around, there were only a few options that met my needs: family size, estate style, and under 25 friendly on the motability scheme (basically low insurance group and 120bhp). When we looked there were very few cars that met this criteria other than the ford, and so we had a look at them all. Unfortunately they all came with a caveat; too small, plug in hybrid, really awkward transferring in and out of… when Sarah suggested looking at the VW, I was skeptical but clinging to hope. Unbelievably it was perfect. I didn’t even try getting into it, as when I rolled up it just felt right. The model we were looking at was the top spec, however the sales rep went through everything that was different, and it made no difference. That was the car for us!

Obviously I drive a little differently now, by which I mean I use hand controls. The car itself is otherwise unchanged, meaning anyone can drive it that is named on the insurance. I’m going to explain more about the car and my controls, but first I’d like to explain how it’s possible for me to access it. The Motability scheme is something akin to a hire agreement, whereby people who meet the criteria can exchange their money for a car. The money itself comes from a type of benefit known as PIP, or personal independence payment, which in turn has two elements there is the daily living element and the mobility element. You can be given a higher or lower award for each, and only if you have the higher element of mobility can you access the Motability scheme. This may sound exclusive, but it’s designed that those who really need it most can exchange some or all of their award money and have a suitable vehicle for their needs. By some or all, I mean that some cars only cost some of the award money, whereas bigger and better costs more. The thing is, the scheme includes everything but fuel. Insurance, tax where applicable, servicing, breakdown assistance; it’s all included, and makes having a vehicle that’s suitable a realistic prospect. Woohoo!

So, more about my actual car. Obviously my legs don’t work, and so a manual is out of the question. That just leaves the problem of making it go and making it stop; easy! I have a mechanical arm linked to the brake pedal, and so when I push it down, the car slows and stops. Behind this arm is a trigger, which is my accelerator, and the car takes care of the gears. Sorted. I even have a few added extras, just to make my life easier. On a control unit attached to the brake arm I have buttons for indicators, headlights, main beams, and the horn. A steering ball and a plate to stop my feet accidentally touching the pedals top it all off. The car itself is absolutely lovely, lots of mod cons and a ‘business class’ feel. Full leather seats which are bucketed help me get a really secure seating position, whilst 360 degree sensors ensure I keep well clear of any accidental meetings of metal and wall. Auto hold has quickly become a firm favourite with me; no more applying the handbrake at lights or on hills, the car does it all! The boot can only be described as cavernous, and there is plenty of room both in the front and back for passengers and ‘stuff’.

My view of the cockpit. Steering ball on the left, hand controls on the right. I can control cruise control and assistant systems from the wheel which really helps.
A better look at the actual hand control unit. The leather on the end of the arm is where I hold, and push towards the dash to brake. The small pole behind is the trigger accelerator.
The blanking plate is fixed in place by wing nuts, and stops my feet touching the pedals and activating or blocking them. It’s easily removed for Sarah to use the pedals as normal.

I have to say I’m loving driving again; it’s pure freedom. Being able to drive is much more than a right of passage at 17, it’s an enjoyable pastime that has so many practical applications. Thankfully, with the right adaptations, even people in my position can make use of our four wheeled friends!

How to Passat the time

Well, a lot has happened since my last post, where I introduced my triride. I was due to have an appointment at the hospital to pick up my new wheelchair, which fell through due to me getting an infection. The infection gave me a high temp, which led to me needing a covid test, and therefore I couldn’t make the appointment. Oh well! I’m desperate for the new chair, but I’ve been waiting a long time now so a few more weeks shouldn’t kill me. The covid test wasn’t as bad as I expected either – but more on that later.

If you have eagle eyes, you may have spotted a little something in the title of this post, something akin to a car model name… no, it’s not a spelling mistake, just a terrible pun (as standard). This is because, at long last I am finally a motorist again! 2/3 weeks ago Sarah and I visited a VW showroom in Middlesbrough, and on Wednesday we picked up a stunning VW Passat estate, complete with all necessary hand controls and adaptations that make it viable for me to drive. I want to do a dedicated post on my new car and how I drive it, so that will do on the subject for now, but please look out for my next installment which will explain in detail how people like me are enabled to drive!

So, besides not getting a wheelchair, getting a car, and fighting an infection, not a great deal has happened recently. That is if we don’t count last Tuesday, known to us as Sarah’s birthday! As I kind of spoiled her 21’st by being in HDU rather than Centre Parcs, it was nice to repay it a little by just being able to be there. We spent a nice morning relaxing with presents and cards (obviously flowers were included). We spent the afternoon at Sarah’s Mum’s having food, which as anyone would agree is a prefect afternoon for us.

We also met up with a friend I met in hospital last weekend, which was a lovely thing to do at long last. What with covid, my lack of triride etc and general life getting in the way, it was a long time coming but I’m glad we finally got to meet again. Between running around chasing ducks and getting ice cream, the kids (big ones included) had a lovely time, and we’re all looking forward to doing it again soon!

Hopefully I’ll be able to write soon about more exciting things coming my way, most importantly my new chair. I’d like to thank everyone for sticking around and still reading; my posting has been rather erratic again mostly due to lack of anything to post, but now that I am mobile and independent I aim to write a lot more. I’m hoping to be able to highlight some issues people in my position face, but obviously it won’t all be negative. I hope everyone is staying safe, and I promise regular programming will resume shortly!

TriRide with me

I HAVE A TRIRIDE! Sorry for shouting, but it’s worth it, because I have a triride!!

Prior to getting it, if I needed or wanted to go somewhere I had to ask for help, fit in with other’s timings, or put people (Sarah in particular) under pressure to help me. This equipment in incredibly exciting, in more ways than just being a fun toy.

For those who don’t know, a triride is a powered attachment for a manual wheelchair, essentially turning my wheelchair into a powerchair/ mobility scooter cross. The important bit is that this little yet brilliant piece of kit allows me the freedom to do what I want. It is simple to attach, and uses a lightweight battery to power an electric motor and thus opens up a world of possibilities for me. From accessing places I previously couldn’t due to not having the strength or stamina, to simply being able to go along the street holding Sarah’s hand; having access to this incredible thing has changed my life in less than a week.

I now can do pretty much what anyone else can do, from going to the shops alone to heading to my homebrew gym, a world of possibilities has opened up. I’ve been waiting this long to write this post as I wanted to get some good time in using it before commenting, as I felt picking it up was simply not enough. It’s certainly a learning curve to get used to it; from understanding how the throttle reacts to using the F1 inspired KERS braking system, it even comes with cruise control. Lazy or what?!

So far I really have tried to make the most of it. I’ve been up to the homebrew gym at my mum’s house, into town both with family and alone (more on that later) and to local green belt place, Stewart Park. The first time we visited SP was my first opportunity to really push the new toy and see what it could do. The verdict? A lot. We went on all terrain there such as concrete, paving, cobbles and even woodland tracks, and it didn’t miss a beat. Unfortunately Amelia did, resulting in her having a sudden rush of gravity… twice. She took it like a trooper though, and jumped straight back on her bike.

Going into town on my own was certainly an experience, and not one I’ll forget in a hurry. The actual experience of doing something ‘adult’ on my own was completely surreal. Granted all I did was go shopping for pizza and ice cream, but the whole idea of being completely independent was something alien to me after so long around others. It was incredible to have the ability to do what I want when I want, without having to put other people out and ask for help. There was a few points at which help would have been good, but being alone gave me the opportunity to start thinking for myself again and thankfully I managed to complete my mission.

Since then, I have had another great experience; going out for a drink with a mate! Following my accident I have been in pubs, but always with plenty of people available to help, and always with assistance getting there. This time though I was able to get there alone, and the only help I needed was getting the door open as the lift was (as per usual) broken. It was nice to sit in a pub (obviously following all the issued guidance) and not have to worry about am I being too much in the way, am I drawing attention, etcetera etcetera…

I’m so excited by the opportunities this piece of equipment will afford me, and I can’t wait to share my future adventures now that I have the freedom to access things again. Cheers!

Clearly I stayed within speed limits as defined by the powers that be…
How good does she look?! Sarah I mean, obviously…
Just like her daddy, lazy whenever she can be!

Where now?

All this time, since that fateful day a little over a year ago, I’ve had my mind focused on getting to this point. I’ve had it in my head that making it one year will big a big turning point, and everything will start to get back on track. In some respects, this has happened, and I’ll explain how below. However, there are still so many things that I have to deal with on an almost daily basis. Read on to learn and listen to me complain!

As part of a spinal cord injury there are a few complications that come along for the ride. If we were to use a car analogy, if you have any kind of spinal injury then even the base spec comes with a set of complications, designed purely for your inconvenience. I’ve spoken about these issues before, but as a quick reminder: bladder and bowel issues often mean people have to use catheters, have a specialised bowel management programme (basically a plan on which they go to the loo), and the combination of having to have a specialised plan with an uncooperative body can often lead to, let’s say, accidents. So that obviously is no fun at all. Unfortunately it is all just part of daily living with an SCI, and is the part that thankfully is usually unseen by the greater majority of the population.

We hear the term ‘invisible disability’ used a lot nowadays which I think is brilliant, but whether or not a disability is ‘visible’, it doesn’t mean that one is easier or simpler than the other. There are so many parts to any given person that go unseen, and when you have a disability you simply add to your facets. The reason I mention parts of an otherwise obvious disability is that just because someone is in a wheelchair, that isn’t necessarily an indication that the only obstacle they face is physical movement and access, as even when they can move about freely there may be difficulties to overcome such as accessing toilets, using standard tables, turning around without taking the paint off the walls… the list could go on forever.

In a very positive move, I have been offered a super exciting job, doing something I really think I can be good at and sink my teeth into. However, even the prospect of starting work is daunting for someone like me. I plan my life around medication times, management of the plumbing as I mentioned earlier, and of course I have to take into account everything from how long it takes me to get ready on a morning, the time getting in and out of a vehicle, using accessible entrances… As someone very much in the infancy of their lifelong disability, the idea of going back to work is both incredible and terrifying. How will I work my medication times when I work night shifts? How will I have time to shower and get ready when even putting on my socks takes minutes and not seconds like it would if I were still able bodied? As I said above there are so many things that go unseen with any given disability; these questions and so many more are just waiting to be answered, although how and where I will get the answers from remains a mystery for now.

One thing that really does play a part in disability (or at least in my experience) is mental health. Obviously I have talked about it a bit before, but I am going to focus a lot more on it in future; both in practice and in my writing. Something like a new job is obviously a very exciting time, but it is unbelievably stressful too, and not just for the reasons above. As well as them I have to think about silly things such as the uniform; if the trousers are going to leave me with pressure sore risks, I’ll have to speak to occupational health. What about using a desk and computer at the right height? Will I be able to navigate the building easily? I know all of these things are easily resolved and are a while away yet, but you can’t help but worry; it comes with the territory. Thankfully I do have Sarah to keep me thinking straight, but in turn I do not want to pass all of my stress onto her, as she has her own life to get back to. That said she is my rock, and I like to think I offer her at least a fraction of what she gives me in support. Like every couple we have ups and downs, good days and bad, but at the end of those days we have each other and for that I am thankful.

Well, that’s it for another one. A nice bit of news there I think, although some of you may have already known about the job as I can’t keep my mouth shut I’m that excited. Plenty more to come soon, possibly as soon as monday. Watch this space, and thanks for reading!

One year.

Before we begin, this post was meant to go up yesterday (July 29th) but quite simply I didn’t know what to say. Rather than worrying about that, Sarah Amelia and I went to my mum’s house for a party of sorts, just a little gathering with family and a few friends to commemorate the day. It was exactly what I needed; just a nice afternoon with a few drinks, a lot of laughs, and making new memories to associate with the day. My sister Ciara made me one of the most incredible gifts I’ve ever had, which is a scrapbook full of photographs and messages from friends and family. I’m not going to share that on here as it is deeply personal, but I want to say a huge thank you to Ciara and everyone who was involved.

Well, that’s it. One year to the day that my entire world changed. One year since I almost died, but didn’t. One year since I became paralysed, but managed to keep pushing forward. All in all, it’s been one hell of a year.

I don’t really have a great deal to say, well at least nothing that I’ve not said before. There have been ups and downs, plenty of both in fact, but at the end of the day I’m just happy to be alive and well enough to spend every day with the people I love. I have lost people along the way, grown distant from people I’ve known forever, and have felt let down by people I didn’t expect it from. In a polar opposite to that I’ve met some incredible people I will now consider lifelong friends, reconnected with people and bonded through our respective journeys, and realised who and what is actually important in life.

By far this was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me; let’s be honest, nobody wants to become a paraplegic at the age of 21. That said, this life I find myself living is much better than the alternative of having no life to live at all. And so, with the negativity out of the way, I’d like to go forward with this post focusing on positives.

Obviously I’ve said thank you to everyone I can as many times as I can, but if we’re going to look at positives then I need to look at the positive impact the people at the start have had on me. From the incredibly kind lady (Trisha) that was in the car behind me who stopped to help, to the firefighters immediately on scene and the ambulance crew, to the doctors and nurses that kept me alive and well enough to get me to a place I can begin my rehab… there are plenty of people who were absolutely vital in those first few days and weeks. My bosses from HM Coastguard Steve and Steve were there immediately, and I will never be able to repay them for that. My mum and Sarah were in the hospital, so A) I’m sorry and B) thank you. My dad and step-mum shaz were on holiday, so sorry for spoiling that (and your birthday, thank god you’re 50 again this year). There was an overwhelming amount of support I received, most of which I have covered in previous posts, and if I said everything this post would be far too long, so here’s just a few more people: Leanne, for organising the crowd funding that allowed us to turn what was a shell into a home we now love. The Coastguard Association for again helping us financially during the initial weeks. Jonny, Corey, Isaac, and the rest of my mates that came through to see me and keep me company playing poker. My step-dad Jon, not only for supporting my mum, but for all the comforting words and doing whatever you could to help. Debi, Eileen, Amy, Di, Caroline… there were so many staff that were either directly or indirectly involved in my care but took the time to come and see me just to check I’m okay. All of the people mentioned here, and so many more, have been instrumental in my recovery, and even though it doesn’t begin to cover it, thank you.

As part of my journey I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my time in hospital, and there was definitely a lot to think about. That said, there were some stand out moments, and I’d like to share a few that I’ve already probably mentioned… Irene and her lovely dog Poppy coming to visit me first in HDU (as well as all my other furry friends I’ve made along the way), meeting my now very good friend Ify, Lots and lots of moments from the physio gym, once again the list is too long to write everything down. The point of this though is that although the hospital experience as a whole is not necessarily a positive thing, it’s important to remember that there is always something positive to bring away from an experience, and thankfully I had many positives. I made some great friends, developed great relationships with many of the staff, and with some of the opportunities I have had/ I am going to have I will hopefully be able to make a positive difference for future patients. Since leaving hospital I have continued to meet people (despite covid ruining everyone’s plans) and I have made so many improvements.

Although it is one year to the day of my crash, in reality it is one year since my recovery began and that is the important bit. Sarah Amelia and I have had to rebuild our lives, and this one year mark is a significant point in that, as one year ago everything changed. Not for the better by any means, but not necessarily for the worse. Life is certainly more complicated now, and lots of things are more difficult, but as our experience grows so does our knowledge of how to make life easier, and more importantly how to make it better. I have a brilliant trainer in Alex from Peak Potential, who pushes me to be the best I can in everything I do, and then pushes some more. I have my mum and dad, and of course Jon and Shaz, who are always there for me and do everything they can to help and make sure that our lives are as close to normal as possible. I have some great friends who, same as before my crash, are so accommodating and go out of their way to see us in our home so life is easier… what more could I ask for?

Well, one thing I did ask is for Sarah to marry me, to which she thankfully said yes on christmas morning. I couldn’t get by day to day without her; she is my rock when I need support, my stick when i need prodding to get moving, and the hand that sometimes very literally drags me up when I am down. Going through what we have this past year really makes you think about what, and who, is important in life. It may sound cliché, but life really is too short to sweat the small stuff. We may not have the biggest house, or the fanciest things, but we have happiness in our lives. As such, we recently decided on a date, and we are getting married next year! I think I speak on behalf of us both when I say we can’t wait to share this day with those that matter the most to us but more importantly, we can’t wait for this new chapter of our lives together.

On that note I am ending this post, and I will be back on your web browser soon with an update on some exciting things heading our way. Until then, take care folks!

One year on, one year stronger

One in the same?

In this post, I’d like to talk about spinal injuries in general, but specifically how different they can be. Read on if you want to learn a little (or a lot) and be bogged down with really annoying medical terms!

I think one of the first things I need to explain is that I, despite having a spinal cord injury, am no expert on the subject. There are so many types of injury, so many nuances, that it would be impossible for me to even pretend to understand them all. Another point is that ‘better’ and ‘worse’ are really poor words when it comes to talking about injuries, as they are not comparable. As such, I’ll try my best to not compare anything, but if I do it’s purely to show the differences. I do not intend to cause any offence, or to discriminate against any injury etc. On that fun note, let’s dive in!

There are a few points I aim to cover in this post, which include spinal injury vs spinal cord injury, complete vs incomplete injury, and levels of injury. As I’ve said before the topic is so broad and far reaching it is impossible to cover everything; in fact I doubt there is anyone alive that could claim to be an expert in every part of the world of spinal injuries. That said, I do have a very rudimentary understanding, purely through sustaining my own injury and learning as I go.

So, where to start. Well, I guess at the back; more commonly known as the spine! I’ll mention a bit of basic anatomy, that way we’re all on the same page. The spine, in a very basic way, is a collection of little round bones known as vertebrae. These bones are sectioned into 5 groups: starting at the top there are 7 cervical vertebrae (which make up the neck), 12 thoracic vertebrae, 5 Lumbar vertebrae, the sacrum and the coccyx (which together form the back). The last two are solid, whereas the first three sections are separate bones, which is what allows us to bend and move freely.

If you were to break your back, chances are that it would be bone damage much like breaking your arm, and it would heal good as new. Whilst painful and obviously potentially dangerous, this is not the type of injury that will leave you paralysed. The problems start when the spinal cord, which runs through the middle of the bones, is damaged.

The spinal cord is essentially an extension of the brain, and carries the nerves that control the body. The nerves branch off at different levels of the spine, and the level at which the spinal cord is damaged dictates what type of injury occurs. So for instance if someone broke their back and damaged the spinal cord at the level of the 4th Thoracic vertebrae, the nerves which branch off below that level cannot send or receive messages from the brain, and therefore anything below the level of that injury is paralysed. Obviously the whole thing is a lot more complicated than that, however in basic terms thats how a spinal cord injury works.

The next part is complete vs incomplete injuries. This is a very complicated topic, but thankfully can be summed up in a very succinct way: a complete injury refers to a spinal cord injury in which the spinal cord is damaged to such a degree that there is no sensation or movement at or below the site of injury. An incomplete injury is still a spinal cord injury, however there is some muscle control and sensation retained at and below the injury level. Neither of the two is better or worse than the others, and they both come with their own set of issues. That said, no two injuries are the same. Two people with exactly the same injury can display vastly different signs and symptoms. With an incomplete injury, it is possible that the person will walk again, and may be able to live what is considered by many to be a more ‘normal’ life. However, incomplete injuries are still a spinal cord injury, and they are still a huge deal.

With both complete and incomplete injuries, there are a few common themes: difficulty in controlling the bladder and bowel, reduced touch sensation, and the need for long term, intense physio and rehabilitation. People with incomplete injuries often need the use of wheelchairs just as those with complete injuries do, and anyone with a spinal cord injury is just as valid as another whether complete or incomplete.

A final point I’d like to raise is that there are many causes for both complete and incomplete spinal injuries. When you imagine the reason behind someone becoming paralysed, chances are that you think of something traumatic like a car crash, falling off a roof, or something spectacular like a climbing accident. However, that’s not always the case, in fact it rarely is. Conditions such as infections, tumours, and many many other amount of things result in people having a spinal cord injury, and as such it is important to bare in mind that whether traumatic in nature or not, an SCI is a life changing event. There are complications during surgery, Cauda Equina Syndrome, genetic conditions… the list goes on and on.

I think that’s a good place to leave this post. I hope this has been somewhat educational (if you’ve made it this far) and I hope that it has been a small window into other people’s realities. If anyone has questions feel free to get in touch, whatever it’s about I’ll do my best to answer. There are some awesome charities to provide support and information, and I’m always happy to signpost. Take care folks!

Wheelchairs… wheely?!

What’s this? Wheelchair Sam actually posting again?! I wonder why that is!I’ll tell you why, I’ve had my fitting for my new wheelchair! It was a few weeks ago now, but never mind, it’s still a big thing for me. Now, whilst that may sound simple, straightforward and rather boring, it’s the exact opposite for me. I’ve been waiting a little while for this, and so the day finally arriving is actually rather monumental.

When something like my injury happens, something meaning that you’ll never walk again, it’s not as straightforward as being dumped in a wheelchair and shown the door, thankfully. There are occuplational therapists, physios, brand reps… the list goes on and on as to who is involved. These are all important people, but the important bit, the wheelchair itself, is what this post is about. If you’re interested, read on to (hopefully) learn a little more about the wonderful world of chairs on wheels!

So, as you may or may not know, there are many types of wheelchair available. They can broadly be put into the categories of manual or powered. The latter meaning they are battery powered and move under their own steam, the former being, well, manually powered. However, it gets much deeper than that. There are many types, variations, brands and specifications, all of which are decided upon by the patient and professionals mentioned above. I personally use a manual chair, and that is because I am fortunate enough to have the ability and willingness to do so. I do know a little about power chairs, but not quite as much, so I’ll mainly discuss manuals so as to ensure I’m passing along correct information. Four wheels on a chair, nothing more to say, right? Right. However, there are many variations. There are active user chairs, attendant only chairs, bariatric, paediatric, tilt in space… so many variations are available that it simply wouldn’t be sensible to list them all here, so I’ll stick to the basics.

When I was ready to start going in a wheelchair, I was given what’s known (at least to my knowledge) as a self propelled wheelchair. This is your standard, two big wheels at the back two little wheels at the front big back rest sticking out push handles type chair. It is designed for people who can move themselves, but also have people help them get around often enough that it is practical to have fixed push handles. The small front wheels, known as castors, are actually rather large and this allows for comfort over uneven ground. These chairs usually have folding swing away foot plates to aid transferring in and out, and they more often than not can be folded for transport. Another common feature is armrests attached to the side clothing guards. As with all chairs they come with a seatbelt, though most users choose not to use the belt.

The compromise (as there always is) is that these chairs are heavy, slow, and don’t really turn all that well. The version I have is made by Invacare, and the model is an Action 3 NG. This is at the better end of the scale, and has served me very well for over 6 months of daily use. However, the time now has come for me to upgrade, and the jump is rather big…

An incredibly filthy self propelled chair, showing large rear wheels with rims for pushing, 8″ (large) front castors, and removable swing away footrests. Please ignore the crocs and daddy pig socks.

My new chair, when it arrives, will be a huge step up (if you’ll pardon the pun) and will make my life so much easier. The style is an active user chair, which essentially means it is designed for somebody with a lifestyle equivalent to that of someone who has full function of their body. It is designed to enhance the abilities I still have, whilst remaining supportive and useful to make up the difference. So, what does that mean in English? First of all, my new chair is much lighter. This is achieved through better materials, less parts, and smaller sizes. So, there are push handles on the back, but they are fold down and have no bar between. There are no armrests, just clothing protectors that are very lightweight. The chair itself is one piece, so there are less moving parts, which means less joints, which means less weight. Woohoo! Other parts of the chair are a bucketed seat design, meaning my posture will be better and my balance will improve. Being only two wheels, the chair and a cushion, I will be able to get it in and out of the car myself. Finally, with all the changes, I should hopefully be able to become a lot more independent. The chair I am getting is an argon 2, made by the company quickie. Hopefully it will take less than 2 months to arrive, and I really can’t wait.

Well, I think that’s enough boring tech info for now. When my chair does turn up, I’ll give everyone a guided tour. Take care folks!