May 4, 2010

spinal cord injury & marathon training

It's winter and a young girl in a wheelchair rolls up to a snow-covered school and stops at the entrance will all the other kids, staring at snow-covered stairs and a snow-covered ramp to the front door. A janitor has started shoveling the snow on the steps. When the girl asks him if he can please shovel the ramp, he says, "not until I'm done with the steps, you can't always have priority for your disability, you know". To which the young girl in the wheelchair replies, but if you shovel the ramp, we can all get in.

It's a story directly stolen from my mother, who tells it when she gives discussions on adapting to people with disabilities. I thought of it today because our entire day (and maybe week?) is focused on spinal cord injury, and this afternoon we had an orthopedic surgeon and two of his patients, a young man and a young woman with spinal cord injuries, present to our class our next "case". They went through the basics of spinal cord injuries - what sorts of fibers are destroyed depending on which level of the spinal cord is affected, and how these manifest in symptoms such as an ability to control ones bladder (which is pretty much not possible for anyone who seriously injures her/his spinal cord, regardless of the vertebral level), ability to sit up straight (difficult if the injury is higher), ability to feel ones toes (really depends).

The man and woman (let's call them M. and C.) were incredibly charismatic, open, and educated about their own injuries and their lifestyles before and after. As an entire class (we're talking 100 some people), we talked about everything from "bowel programs" - or the methods by which they empty their bowels, and actually teach their bowels to empty at certain times - to sexual climax and how their are erogenous zones everywhere, and an orgasm is much more mental than we all think it is anyways. M. talked about his battles with skin sores, some of which go all the way to his bones - something I never think about when I think about the challenges of being in a wheelchair many hours of the day. C. talked about how she used to ride horses, how menstruating is actually basically the same, except that she cannot take a hormonal pill because people in wheelchairs are at a greater risk of clots, and how she's training for the marathon and still riding horses.

They both talked about how their wheelchairs had become a part of their bodies and how incredibly rude it felt when health care workers (or other people) leaned on them, pushed them, or generally touched them without permission.

Our class was completely captivated - we asked about a million questions and when they finally had to finish the session (30 minutes late), we clapped so hard and then went down to ask them more questions.


It was fascinating to have this subject matter come up this week because a good portion of my class is training for our city's marathon, and last week was our 18 mile run, and this week is our 20-mile run, the longest run ever for a lot of people. We're all hurting a lot and there are lots of doubts about whether our bodies are up to the challenge, but after learning about the abilities of all of our nerve fibers - and how much people do even when some of them don't work, I feel a lot more motivated to get out there and take advantage of my body's abilities, as well as to be a little more forgiving of it's disabilities.

"Put yourself in a state of mind where you say to yourself, 'Here is an opportunity for me to celebrate like never before, my own power, my own ability to get myself to do whatever is necessary.'"
-Tony Robbins

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