Spinal Cord Injuries seem to be the latest trend to be featured in TV shows. I am obviously much more aware now than I was 2 years ago, but I’m almost certain that it has only become a recent thing to have a character who has an accident and ends up in a wheelchair blah blah blah… And on one hand I think it’s great. It is raising the awareness of SCI, and that combined with the Paralympics this summer, I reckon people are more aware now than they have ever been about disability. BUT, and this is a massive but, the story lines that these TV shows pursue are so unrealistic and portray a completely false image of SCI. So I am here to set the record straight…
The show I was watching that has triggered me is 90210.. complete trashy American show, but for some reason I absolutely love it. One of the characters had a car accident and while he was lying in the hospital the doctors said he had an incomplete spinal injury in his neck. Setting the scene nicely for a great SCI recovery story. The doctor says he might not walk again, everyone cries, and the first episode ends. Next episode he is pretty mobile already and has started his rehab. His arms pretty much work perfectly again and he is starting to learn to walk on parallel bars in his rehab session. Lucky him. And this is not out of the ordinary either. This sometimes is the way that it happens.
There is a condition called spinal shock which I was told about in hospital. When the trauma in the spine occurs, fluid rushes to the area in the spinal cord affected and it swells just like a bruise. The swelling travels up and down from the injury site, and this blocks all of the messages from travelling to the brain and the body. The result is paralysis. After a few days or weeks the swelling starts to go down and the fluid leaves the area. The messages can start travelling again and the person returns to normal. There is no exact science to how long the body stays in spinal shock, but I was told that after 3 months it is pretty safe to say any swelling would have gone down by then.
So I waited and hoped and waited. Three months passed, then I hoped a bit more that maybe I was someone who it would take a bit longer for. Unfortunately not for me. It has been about 21 months now, and although I have got more sensory function and I definitely feel I have made lots of right steps in the right direction (bad metaphor I know), I most definitely have not gone back to normal.
Anyway, this is where the TV shows get it so wrong and it pisses me off massively. Dixon in 90210 was struggling mentally with what had happened to him, but after half a session in therapy and a quick pep talk from someone else in a wheelchair he overcame his mental hurdles. He had an epiphany, stepped out of his wheelchair and as if by magic he was back to his old self. In the next scene he was hobbling and limping around the beach in a wetsuit and was then in the water for a quick surf. I pretty much had to turn the TV off at this point.
These TV shows and stories in crappy women’s magazines about ‘Doctors told me I would never walk again…..’ are all bullshit. These people were all the lucky ones, and there are thousands and thousands of us that aren’t so lucky. These stories imply that having some mental obstacle and overcoming it will cure you, and that if you put in enough effort and really try your hardest then the reward will be getting your legs back.
My granny told me when I was feeling down about all of this that if it was all down to effort and trying hard then I would be running again by now. And I’m not one to blow my own trumpet, but she is right. I work so hard, put so much effort in and have overcome so many mental hurdles over the last 21 months, but still I am not walking.
So don’t believe everything you read or see on TV. Some people are lucky with their injuries, and some people aren’t. I sound very bitter I know, but I haven’t got my happy ending yet.
The step by step guide for how it works on TV…