Sunday, 18 October 2015

The Hope Slope

It's been a relatively slow few weeks since summer officially packed its bags and did a runner, taking with it the festivals, the trips across the UK and abroad, as well as any form of enticement to get out of bed early on a morning. Sure, I've started back working at college again and I'm still doing the weekly cinema, pub quiz, night out, gym and rugby training stuff, but that's all fairly routine by now and I like to branch out every now and then and do something that keeps me on my toes...poor choice of phrasing! On Wednesday I'm getting the steroid injection that I hope will sort my shoulder problem out and a couple of weeks after that the wheelchair rugby season kicks tips off and I hope we win all our games. Speaking of which, I hope you all tuned-in to ITV4 at 5pm during the week to watch live coverage of the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge tournament from London, where sadly GB emulated their able-bodied English compatriots and went out at the group stage! I repeatedly used the word 'hope' right now because I don't know for sure that these things will happen but I'd certainly like it if they did.

Hope is almost unanimously seen as a positive thing, the desire for something accompanied by the belief that it could genuinely happen. "I hope I win the lottery", "I hope I pass my exams", "I hope no embarrassing pictures of me from last night end up on Facebook!" And as the tagline from The Shawshank Redemption states, 'Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.' But is this always the case?

There's no denying that suffering a spinal injury is an unpleasant affair. It is a life-changing moment, and as you are lying in a hospital bed, more or less unable to move, a million thoughts frantically colliding inside your head, it is difficult to see how anything good could ever come of it. I remember bursting into tears on my first night on the rehab ward as all my fellow inmates chanted "FRESH FISH! FRESH FISH!" in unison...wait...sorry, still thinking about The Shawshank Redemption, what a film! No, the reason I burst into tears was because I was now completely off my hallucinogenic pain meds, allowing the reality of what had happened and the extent of my injury to finally sink in. And at that moment, as far as I was concerned, I had destroyed my life and nothing was ever going to be good again. Because if you can't walk and have full control of your body then what's the point right?! And that's when I began to hope, for the holy grail of spinal injuries: The Cure.

Few realise that the original title of their 1992 hit was in fact, Friday I'm Incompletely Paralysed!
I think every spinally injured person, especially at the beginning when all feels lost, will have at least entertained the thought of, "What if they develop a cure?" It certainly doesn't seem outside the realms of possibility, especially when friends and family excitedly bombard you with newspaper cuttings, magazine articles and webpages all declaring that the cure for paralysis is at hand! Before the accident, I didn't exactly home-in on articles to do with paralysis so I couldn't say whether it's always been like this, but it seems that barely a week has gone by in the last decade where there hasn't been a 'breakthrough' in the hunt for a cure for spinal injuries! Whether it be via stem cells, electrical wiring, electrical stimulation, ancient Chinese remedies, spine transplant, or even head transplant (?!), it feels as though we are never more than a few years away from cracking it.

I'm sure there's a fitting metaphor here somewhere...
During the initial months after injury, I don't think there's anything wrong with buying into these stories and daring to dream. In fact, I think it can be a healthy coping method, telling yourself that this is all just temporary, so soldier on and you'll be back on your feet as soon as scientists have perfected their formula. Whilst in rehab I swore to myself that I would never accept the injury and I left hospital in that same mindframe. This 'broken existence' was not going to be my life, it had to be fixable.

But then something inside me changed.

It didn't happen suddenly, I didn't go to sleep in one mindframe and wake up in another. More, it was something that came about gradually, over time and without me noticing. The feelings of anger, denial and hatred towards my situation, coupled with the desperate hopes for a miracle that had been a permanent fixture in my thoughts for months, began to dissipate. This continued until one day I realised that, despite my initial protestations to the contrary and without my knowledge, I had come to terms with what had happened. I was okay with it. I had unwittingly crafted a wholly enjoyable life, full of opportunities, with friends and family I tolerated loved.

And that is pretty much how I've felt every day since. Of course, I get days where I don't feel great about myself but then everyone has those, regardless of circumstance. Now my main source of regret is that I didn't embrace the possibilities that come with spinal injury sooner: the travelling, the multitude of disability sports available, the ease of rolling down to the pub on a Saturday afternoon followed several hours later by the blurry, uphill slog home!

But I doubt any of this would have happened if I'd continued to get carried away with the media buzz and paused my life as I clung onto the hope of walking again. As far as spinal injuries are concerned, I don't think there's anything more dangerous or more damaging than refusing to accept what has happened and instead becoming fixated on reversing the effects. It will consume you and it will end up stopping you from having the life you wanted far more than the injury itself ever would have. Fear can indeed hold you prisoner, but then sometimes so can hope. I'm not, by any means, saying hope is a terrible thing and should be completely abandoned! Hope can be (and more often than not is) a fantastic thing but you should never allow it to put blinkers on you and stop you from seeing all the potential that life has to offer.

My mum, to this day, still brings articles round about the latest developments, and I'll politely skim through them and pass comment, "I see the Daily Mail believes the cure lies in draining the blood of asylum seekers!" I'm sure that one day in the not too distant future, spinal cord damage will be reversable, and that will be an incredible breakthrough for the newly injured. However, after over a decade of being more or less permanently sat on my arse, throwing myself on/off and in/out of various things, as well as regularly catheterising and irrigating myself (the less detail I go into with these the better, trust me!), the mere thought of suddenly regaining full sensation is enough to send a shiver down my spine!



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks very much! I'm familiar with the Disability Horizons website and will have a look at the air b&b, cheers!

  2. have you heard of these people they are doing airb&b for people with with limited mobility