In rehab they teach you to redefine what a victory looks like. For anyone newly paralyzed, victory and recovery is one thing: to walk again. But it’s not that simple, the road is long, and the odds aren’t good. In case you don’t catch that the first time, you are told this over and over to ensure it sinks in.
You need to redefine what a success looks like, because with a ton of hard work, prayer and a miracle or two, you can get somewhat better than you are today, but there is no quick fix, no cure, no guarantee.
To understand what is and isn’t working and why, you are given an overview of the spine. Every vertebrae has a specific job to do. It operates like this from the top down:
·Cervical (C) 1 and 2 control the head.
·C3 and C4 help you breath.
·C5 controls muscles like your shoulders and forearms.
·C6 moves your wrist.
·C7 is in charge of the triceps and straightening your elbow
·C8 bends your fingers.
·Thoracic (T) 1 lets you spread your fingers.
·T1 - T-12 controls your chest and abdominal muscles.
·Lumbar (L-1 thru 4) bends your hips, your knee and moves your thighs.
·L5 wiggles toes.
·Sacral (S) 1 points your foot down.
·S3- 5 controls the pelvic muscles.
Wherever your injury is, Dennis is Thoracic/T-11, you lose function of the circuit below that vertebrae. What you work for every day is to not only gain strength, but to regain ability to do something that you couldn’t do the day before, even if you need to do them in a new way. And if you work really hard and are very lucky, you might get some feeling or function back in a part of your body controlled by a vertebrae closest where your injury was. Each time you can do one thing you couldn’t do yesterday, it is a victory.
Earlier this week I met a woman whose daughter is also a patient. She tells me her daughter’s injury is C5 and with a smile gives me a look that means “so close.” I am now able to understand what she means: If the injury would have been one vertebrae down, her daughter would have had some use of her hand that would have given her an exponentially far better level of independence. If someday she is able to just regain use of her wrist, if nothing else, it would be a triumph. Dennis and I look for our triumph and for this week we’ll take our first victory in getting there.
Dennis’ injury was severe. It’s a complete injury which means there is no (versus just not enough) nerve “electricity” getting to his legs. Earlier this week they tested Dennis for a special electrode therapy anyway. Rare but possible for his type of injury, they can sometimes simulate the current through the legs and from there they can manipulate your legs to move on an exercise machine. Specifically, they put you on a bike, hook up electrodes and are sometimes able to make your legs peddle. Dennis responded positive to the test and did his first session yesterday.
The current they were able to simulate doesn’t have correlation with getting activity back in his legs on his own, but it’s significant because it means he can keep his legs—and the rest of him—much healthier as far as bone density, cardiovascular health, muscle tone, and more. It also buys us time by keeping him in better shape for what’s on the horizon—for a cure that is close but not here, for new and progressive rehabilitation options. It is a victory.