Whether it's your family car, a computer or a television set, the diagnosis that none of us want to hear is "beyond repair." Those two words can initiate many actions, including some that can be quite expensive. With repairs out of the question, it is usually time to discard and replace the object in question.
Unfortunately, that is not always an option when it comes to our bodies.
When I fractured my cervical vertebrae ski racing in 1988 my neurosurgeon said that surgery wouldn't correct the situation, so he didn't operate. My assigned physiatrist, or rehab physician, told my former employer that I was paralyzed and would never be able to work again, so they didn't offer me a job. My occupational therapist said the hospital did not have a computer that was accessible to me, but that was unimportant because I would not have to work again. Physical and occupational therapy sessions were designed to maintain what flexibility and function I still retained, as it was impossible to rid me of my paralysis. I was obviously beyond repair, at least in the minds of those medical professionals.
Replacing my damaged body in the same manner as a non-functioning appliance has not been an option. I have had friends who were paralyzed and found it was necessary to jettison various limbs that were ravaged by circulation problems or infections, but ridding myself of the areas that cause me concern or problems on a daily basis would mean the end of my life. Most would be impossible to amputate or otherwise remove; that is why they are called vital
organs. I would prefer to carry on with them intact for a few more years.
Fortunately there have been several options available to me as my aging body and inoperative muscles combined to slow me down and sap me of the strength needed to perform the Herculean tasks that so many of us who are paralyzed accomplish on a daily basis--just to survive independently. The things I do on a regular basis are definitely not signs of someone who is beyond repair.
Technology is our friend when it comes to spinal cord injury and several other types of paralysis. It may not cure the impacts of paralysis, but it can certainly alleviate some of the symptoms. Technology has been an important friend, although Velcro™ ranks right up there on my favorite things list too.
When decreased flexibility and diminished muscle strength started making it more difficult for me to turn the steering wheel in my modified vehicle, the van from hell's
power steering was upgraded twice to the point that I now have what is called "zero effort" steering. Additional upgrades -- including a smaller steering wheel -- are available when I really need them, but having a certain amount of resistance when I steer assures that my Olive Oyl arm muscles will retain their usefulness as long as possible.
The same holds true for my brakes. Bringing a 2 1/2-ton van to a quick stop with mechanical hand controls is not an easy feat, but brake pump upgrades have made it somewhat easier. I would bet that those whose back bumpers have been dented during two of my unsuccessful attempts to accomplish a panic stop probably wish those upgrades had been scheduled much earlier. Thankfully they make electronic hand controls that operate with much less effort: another expensive modification, but worth it if driving safety is improved. They are on my Christmas wish list.
When the van and I were both much younger, it was fairly easy for me to reach and operate the standard gearshift lever. While I don't think that lever has been moved since then, I've had to install an extension handle to make it easier to shift gears.
Small extensions placed on the dashboard controls when the van was modified for me originally allowed me to adjust the temperature and radio, but those are now out of reach too. A surplus backscratcher carried in the dashboard console provides me with the extra reach needed to make those adjustments today. Low tech, but tech nonetheless.
My life has also been enriched by several generations of computers and accessories that followed my initial exposure to the inaccessible version in the rehab ward. By using a trackball mouse, desktop microphone and infrequent injections of voice recognition software I'm fairly computer literate. In fact, I have finished earning a college degree, established a successful consulting business and followed that up with stints as an executive manager in four government agencies in two states and the nation's capital. None of that would be possible, nor would my current career as a freelance writer, without the use of computers. Definitely not signs of someone who is beyond repair.
I have given up on walking again, but am reassured by the knowledge that stem cell research will probably lead to cures for those who are newly injured in the future. Related discoveries may also include cures for Cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and other maladies that threaten our longevity. When it comes time to put those discoveries to use, I'll be here: Awaiting Repair
© 2012 Michael Collins