Anyway, moving on. I've been in a chair now for a little over 10 years and in all that time I've never really had any issues with bodily wear and tear. Sure, I've suffered through the occasional pressure mark, UTI and dreaded stomach bug, and my waist could definitely do with being a couple of inches slimmer, but my body has held itself together remarkably well, all things considered. Until recently that is, when the first (possibly overdue) crack in the armour appeared in the form of a shooting pain in my left shoulder.
At first I thought nothing of it, that I must have just tweaked a muscle or trapped a nerve during wheelchair rugby training. But after it not only persisted for weeks, but also worsened, I decided to make an appointment with a specialist at the hospital. And after an x-ray, an ultrasound and some complimentary NHS poking and jabbing I was told that I had weakened my rotator cuff and had some fluid trapped in a bursar up there which was the cause of the pain I was feeling. I was put on a waiting list for an anti-inflammatory injection, given some gentle exercises to help strengthen the area and told to rest my shoulder as much as possible. And therein lies the issue...
If I'd been told this BC (before crippling) then it would've been a simple case of laying off the football, badminton and any other arm-related exercises (minds out of the gutter!) for a few weeks whilst it healed. But being spinally injured, especially at an independent, quadriplegic level, means that you rely on your shoulders and use them more than any other part of your body, so resting them completely isn't really an option. Your legs are made for constant use and weight bearing, hence the thickness of the bones and size of the muscles, your arms and shoulders are not (this is about as anatomically in-depth as I get). The basic actions and movements required to get out of bed, get washed and get dressed on a morning are enough to put your shoulders under some serious strain, and that's before you even start pushing your chair about and transferring in and out of vehicles! The only thing you can do, bar shipping in carers, a hoist and an electric wheelchair, is cut back on any sporting activities you do and hope that's enough.
So I took a few weeks off training, only going on the gym handbike once or twice a week at a low level of resistance, and did my daily shoulder exercises. I don't know if this weakened rotator cuff is completely fixable or whether the exercises and injections are simply going to be quick fixes and this is something I'm now stuck with. I guess only time will tell. My real fear is that this is the start of gradual deterioration in my shoulder which will eventually lead to loss of strength and ability. As someone who went from lying in a hospital bed, relying on people to wash, dress and feed him, to someone who lives almost completely independently (I never have and probably never will be able to get to grips with ironing clothes!), I think my biggest fear would be going back to being dependent on others, and I'm sure I can't be the only one who feels like this. I'm aware that eventually I probably will lose some strength and ability, and I may need to accept more help at that point, as many able-bodied people do as they advance in years. But I'm hoping I can delay that as long as possible, at least until my hair has started greying, a substantial number of wrinkles have formed and a couple of marbles have rolled out of the bag!
I do think that whatever happens though, it's important to remain positive throughout. I would like to think that with a strategically placed injection or two, coupled with continued exercises, my shoulder will be pain free and back to full working order in a month or so. But if the worst comes to the worst and it continues to deteriorate, well I'll just have to adapt to the situation. Hell, it's not like I (and countless others) haven't adapted to a heck of a lot worse! If you've suffered a spinal cord or similarly life changing injury, battled through the hard times and come out stronger on the other side, then you can pretty much handle anything life has to throw at you.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pop some ibuprofen, get the side of this computer off and start poking around with terrified confusion akin to a binman carrying out open heart surgery!