All our lives we are thought to work hard in school, get a good job, hopefully meet someone nice and perhaps even settle down someday with a family of our own. The traditional Irish dream. But what happens when the plan changes, dwindles or even disappears? Everything you had worked toward your entire life vanishes in a split second and all that remains is heartache, pain and suffering. What then? What next? What do you do? Nobody ever prepares you with a backup plan! These are questions unfortunately I found myself faced with at the tender age of twenty seven due to a tragic cycling accident that resulted in a spinal cord fracture.
For those unfamiliar with spinal cord injuries they are very complex and life altering injuries with the consequences of such varying depending on the level and severity of the injury. Mine, a fracture of my cervical bone located in my neck, C6, was a quit high break and the results life altering. In spinal cord injuries the normal communication ceases either completely or incompletely between the brain and the rest of the body. In my case a total lack of sensory and motor function below the level of my injury occurred and the ability of the spinal cord to convey messages to or from my brain was completely lost.
I was left paralyzed from the chest downwards. For some they see a wheelchair and presume not being able to move my legs is the worst part but the outward paralysis’ is only the beginning. Temperature control, heart rate, blood pressure, bowels and bladder, balance are some of the bodies’ vital systems that can no longer be adequately regulated. My reduced lung capacity due to paralyzed chest muscles and a weak cough make me more prone to chest infections that can quickly escalate to something very serious and be life threatening. With this spinal cord injury, I have a number of complicated conditions that could cause a severe stroke and even death, one being Autonomic Dyresflexia (AD). AD, also known as hyperreflexia, is a state that is unique to patients with a spinal cord injury at a T-5 level and above. It means an over-activity of the Autonomic Nervous System due to the mix up of the signals between the brain and body and an inability to turn off its stress responses.
So the question still remains what next? And the truth is you just keep going. You put your head down, grit your teeth and weather the storm that has thrown you off your once clearer path in life. The alternative to taking action is simply unacceptable. Because that’s what life is… a storm. Whether you are lucky enough to have lived most of your life in the quiet, tranquil eye of the storm or survived turbulent hurricanes, the former still remains. You can’t hide from the inevitable blizzards that life throws at you; you can’t outrun them or even defeat them. The storm shelters you build can hold some at bay temporarily, quivering and buckling with every blow absorbed. The sound of your defiant roar is lost, echoing in the whirlwinds that engulf you. Most of the time you simply have to outlast the storm by clinging stubbornly to your spot and from somewhere deep within finding the strength and courage to keep going and know that the storms will eventually pass. After all, the greatest victories are won by modest day to day hero’s not by knights in shining armour in dramatic battles with dragons, but by regular, weak humans living in the darkest times, facing monsters that make even the stoutest heroes cower and run in their plaid shiny boots.