May 19, 2013

On Paralysis

At ATLS we learned about spinal cord trauma. How to manage a patient in the trauma bay after a recent paralysis. Usually the patient is so panicked about not being able to move his or her arms and/or legs that he or she is screaming, yelling and in shock. It can be distracting, but there are often other seriously life threatening issues occurring so you always have to go back to the ABCs. Treat the biggest threat to life first.

He jumped off of something and landed on his head. Broke his neck. Immediately yelled to his friends, "Guys! I can't move my arms or legs." After he recovered, he had a tiny bit of movement of his biceps. Nothing below the nipple line. Every time we’d go into his room, it was just so solemn. A lot of tears as the realization that everything he’d dreamed about his life was no longer real.

My friend met a guy who broke his back in an accident. Was paralyzed from the waist down. The neurosurgeon came in to talk about the surgery he’d need to do in order to stabilize the fracture. “Will I be able to walk again after the surgery?” “No.” And the realization that he’d never be able to walk again. His family told him they still wanted him around as he wondered if he’d rather have died.

I woke up late and stretched my arms overhead. Realized for the first time how miraculous it is that I can do that. I can stretch from fingers to toes and walk for hours in the nighttime air and ride my bike and move myself to place to place. I should wake up every morning with a profound sense of gratitude for the amazing life I am living and the body I’ve been given.

Please don’t jump or dive into things when you don’t know their depth or off of things that are too tall to be jumped from, wear a seat belt with a lap and a shoulder belt, keep your kids safe in a car seat, don’t text while driving, don’t drive drowsy, don’t keep a loaded gun where it can hurt someone innocent, don’t ever point a gun at someone even in jest, and please oh please be grateful for every day in your blessed, moving body.


  1. Makes me remember walking into the hospital room of a young man who was recently paralyzed and on a vent. Before I left, I asked if there was anything I could do. He was a little hesitant, but then asked if I would scratch his head--it'd been itching and he couldn't do anything about it. So sad.