Cautionary Tales: Is Youth Wasted On The Young?

You head down the beach to soak up the last rays of the season when somebody suggests a human pyramid. What's the harm?
You head down the beach to soak up the last rays of the season when somebody suggests a human pyramid. What's the harm?

Just another day in the life of a young whipper snapper...

IMAGINE: You're 17 again. The summer is drawing to a close. In an effort to soak in the fading rays of the season you & your pals head for the beach.

After a day of sun and surf, you head up the beach to spend the last few hours of sunlight. Who said human pyramid? Well, you're young and strong and healthy...why not? On bended knee you steady your self in the sand and brace yourself as you feel somebody kneel on your back and climb upwards. The mobile phones come out and the laughter continues as you hear the shutters click. Then, with a squeal of laughter from somewhere above, the pyramid collapses and bodies tumble.

Your face lies in the hot sand and you can hear sirens in the distance. There are sounds of somebody crying. Far, far away, you can hear the panic in your friends voices as they call your name. Then it hits you.

The pain consumes you and you struggle for breath. You want to flinch, to roll over and cradle your neck in your hands...but you can't...

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Moving to the hospital...

New faces surround you and speaking kind words that you can't quite hear, they shift you from one bed to another with a cry of pain that causes you to black out. You can hear the names of what must be medications but you've never heard of them before. You ask yourself why..."How can this be happening?" Thoughts turns to your mother...oh your beautiful mother. She's loved you unconditionally and now you don't even have the chance to thank her, to apologise for the way you've treated her, to tell her she's special. Your eyes well with tears that you can't wipe away. They leak from your eyes and form pools in your ears. Where is she? She should be here.

The nurses are still fussing over you asking you questions that you answer without really knowing that you do. You can hear them by your feet and strain your eyes trying to look down but you can't see them.

"Can you call my parents?" you ask but they're already here in the waiting room, your friends had called them. The pain starts to change...must be the med's. You hear talk about scans...something to do with an MRI...blood tests...catheters? ...You don't really care, you just want the pain to stop...just get it over and done with already...just make it stop. Why is this happening? The med's have taken hold now. It's warm in here.

During surgery the halo is secured to the skull with screws. Weights are hung from a pully system which renders the patient immobile to prevent further spinal damage.
During surgery the halo is secured to the skull with screws. Weights are hung from a pully system which renders the patient immobile to prevent further spinal damage.
Patients endure halo traction for six weeks before the broken vertebrae repairs itself. During this time, patients are briefly rolled every three hours to help ward of pressure sores. The remainder of that time is spent looking at the ceiling.
Patients endure halo traction for six weeks before the broken vertebrae repairs itself. During this time, patients are briefly rolled every three hours to help ward of pressure sores. The remainder of that time is spent looking at the ceiling.
A close up of this patients halo shows where the screws are inserted into four points around the skull. (Note: the screws do not puncture through the skull)
A close up of this patients halo shows where the screws are inserted into four points around the skull. (Note: the screws do not puncture through the skull)
Once the vertebrae has healed, patients are given a halo vest and begin their next ordeal - rehabilitation. After six weeks of inactivity, the body has weakened significantly.
Once the vertebrae has healed, patients are given a halo vest and begin their next ordeal - rehabilitation. After six weeks of inactivity, the body has weakened significantly.

On the ward...

Over the next few weeks, you struggle to understand what's happened to you. You've been told that when your friend fell you had face planted into the soft sand and broken your neck. The doctor said it was one of the most unfortunate cases of vertebral damage they had ever seen. You still have no sensation from the shoulders down but you're also told that this may change once the swelling has gone down, that you'll have to wait and see. Until then you are subject to six weeks in traction until the bone knits itself back together.

You had some surgery yesterday. The doctors attached a halo, a stainless steel ring that encircles your head and is held in place by small screws that were inserted into your skull. Weights that have been hung from the halo rest above the floor pinning you to the bed and the doctors have been monitoring the swelling. Every three hours a team of six people come in to gently roll you onto your side, massage your back to get the blood flowing and rearrange you flat on your back again. The pain is excruciating.

There are catheters and tubes coming from everywhere, but you don't care...it's not like you can feel them. You can't see them. You forget they are there. What you can feel is the itches. They're giving you some drug to counteract it but the painkillers are making your face itchy, so itchy...and when your face is the only thing you can feel...

Your squeeze your eyes tight to hold back the tears.They leak anyway and dribble down your face into your ears. You're thirsty. Again. The pethidine is dehydrating you. The nurses offer you a drink whenever they can but it's not enough; it's not like there's somebody in the room constantly and you can't exactly buzz when you need help. But you don't complain...no, you're too scared to make a fuss in case the nurses take it personally, in case they label you a difficult patient and make you wait even longer than you already have to for a drink or your med's.

They could make your life hell if they wanted to.

You share a room with three other beds, three other patients trapped in these helpless infantile bodies. You wonder how many other rooms like this one are on the ward. The woman opposite is crying again, her husband and children have just left.

You can hear someone fussing around by your feet and you strain your eyes to see who it is but it's no use. The only thing you can see is the lights above your bed and the ceiling. They shine brightly in your eyes and give you headaches. "Am I due for a top up soon?" you ask, hoping that it is a nurse and not the cleaner.

"Let's have a look," a kind voice answers. "How are bad's the pain on a scale of one to ten?" You can hear the rustling of paper as she looks through your notes and you wish she would stand closer so you could see her. The pain is overwhelming again. You would have asked ages ago but there wasn't a nurse nearby, at least, not one that you could see.

"About twelve," you answer dryly.

You hear several sets of footsteps slowly enter the room and you cringe at the thought of being rolled over again...it hasn't been three hours since the last one, surely?  

Then you realise that it's too quiet to be the roll-over team. They come bustling in chatting loudly, talking about their plans for the evening or what they did on the weekend; don't they realise what it's like to hear this...knowing that you may never scratch your own nose again let alone go out with your friends...or meet someone special. Or get married. Or have kids. Don't they know that you've been reduced to being as helpless as a newborn infant, completely dependant on the will and whim of others?

No, it must be somebody's family to be walking so quietly. The nurse at the end of your bed greets them and your hear your Dad's voice. It's the first time you've seen him since the accident.

"How are you feeling, love?" Mum asks softly. Your heart sinks a little. Feeling? You don't know how to answer this, so you don't.

"Can you scratch my eyebrow?" She steps closer and you can see her properly now that you don't have to strain your eyes to look at her. She looks tired. "And can you get me a drink? There should be a cup with a straw in it somewhere over there," you point with your eyes. The guy in the next bed also takes advantage your visiting family and asks for a drink too. Mum disappears from view for a moment.

When she returns you look around your bed and examine your family. You look into their tear stained faces and see fear and pity and grief and you just can't take it anymore. You start crying unconsolingly. Dad leaves...he can't stand to see you this way. And once again the tears stream from your eyes but this time Mum catches them before they have a chance to pool in your ears. How could this be happening? You had barely even started living, barely even left school and now it was too late. Everything you had planned for your life had been stolen away. Nothing would ever be the same.

"How long am I going to be like this, Mum?' you ask.

"Ohh, darling" she whispers, "it's only been a few days."

Statistically speaking...

This tale was loosley based on the story of a young man that was in the bed opposite my brother on the spinal ward in our state's specialist hospital 50kms away. When it was time for us to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital, he had recovered sensation in his arms. We do not know if he ever walked again. He did not have his family to support him, though they did fly in from the north of WA briefly.

It's a sad situation for these patients. Time moves incredibly slow, especially those without loved ones to offer emotional support. In many hospitals, staff set up mirrors so that patients can see when somebody enters the room - this can cause some patients to feel nauseous (as the world is upside down) or distressed at the sight of their bodys. In many cases, there aren't enough mirrors to go around. Tv's are also provided on most spinal wards which are set up on an angle so that patients can view them without causing eye strain. Sadly some hospitals are still a little behind the times and these tv's can only be accessed after leasing them.

As sad as this tale is, it is by no means unique:

  • Men are more likely to suffer a SCI (spinal cord injury)
  • The most common age to sustain a SCI is between 15-30yrs (this age group make up nearly 50% of all spinal cord injuries).
  • Nearly 400 people in Australia suffer SCI every year and approx 12 000 people in the USA.
  • Spinal cord injuries are often companioned with cardiovascular & respiratory problems, loss of bladder/bowel function. temperature control and loss of sexual functions.
  • Approx. 50% of spinal cord injuries result in paraplegia. The other half result in quadriplegia.
  • Approx. 9000 people in Australia have spinal cord injury.
  • Approx. 250 000 people in the US are currently living with the results of SCI. That's a quarter of a million families who have had their lives turned upside down.

And these statistics are for SCIs caused by trauma alone. We haven't even touched on the numbers of people who suffer the same fate from a disease or infection to the neural tissue within the vertebral column (like polio), neural defects like Spina Bifida. Other causes are MVA's, violence, workplace injuries (a staggering 12% are bystanders), falls and so on. In most cases, family step up to care for these patients. These carers are emotioanlly involved and so over worked that thay often reach meltdown in the first year. There are many worthy foundations and charities dedicated to the ongoing support of these familys who are always in need of volunteers and financial aide....look one up in your area.

So is youth wasted on the young after all?

At the start of this tale I posed a question: is youth wasted on the young?

I'm inclined to say no. It's wasted by those of us (young and old) who are foolish enough to take our health for granted. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a sound body cannot imagine the psychological trauma involved in SCIs. This tale was extremely challenging to write and was only made possible with the help of those, like my brother, who have been there and done that. (I still haven't done it justice.) The rest of us can only imagine.

I challenge you tonight, as you crawl into your warm bed, to remove you pillow and lie flat on your back. That's it. Just see how long it takes for an itch to get the better of you, or a bug to fly too close and the next time you're feeling sorry for yourself, you will do well to remember this tale of a 17 year old baby who had his life turned upside down in the blink of an eye.....

For my readers who are carers, my heart goes out to you. You're local hospital has given you a number of sources for support. Use them. Know that you are not alone and get in touch with other carers - I've included a link to a forum for people who are living through the same ordeal.

For those who are interested: My brother suffered terribly after a high speed MVA in 2010 (motorbike). His injuries included a punctured lung, broken ribs, a fractured collar bone, compound fractures in his forearm and on the other side of his body a fractured shoulder blade in addition to the shattered vertebrae. For many weeks he was unable to use the buzzer, he was unable to feed or hydrate himself. He under went numerous surgeries and to complicate matters also caught with Golden Staph which required re-admittal and more surgery. It is a dark chapter in our family history. The last thing you want to hear when you are in that sort of pain is "You are Sooo lucky" but truly, he is so very, very fortunate to leave the ordeal behind him with nothing but a few scars to remind us.

(You will find a handpicked list of books and DVD's at the bottom of this hub pertaining to living with illness or first aid and the prevention of serious injury.)

7 comments

Tamila Roberts profile image

Tamila Roberts 5 years ago from Canada

Very detailed hub. You must have done a long research for information about the subject.


Artist-For-Hire profile image

Artist-For-Hire 5 years ago from Western Australia Author

That I did!! Lots of research...but also experience.

There's a lot of text to get through, I fear it may not be popular - but that is not my intention...far to many of us take our health for granted until tragedy strikes


creamice profile image

creamice 5 years ago

Great hub. Very good writing. Kind of scary makes you really think. I have two kids and I cannot imagine what people go through when this happens.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

This was a great hub, and really, not what I expected. It's so hard to imagine what people go through who have injuries like this!


Artist-For-Hire profile image

Artist-For-Hire 5 years ago from Western Australia Author

So sad when it happens to someone so young,

The hours spent writing it were Extrememely (with a capital E) stressful and that was just trying to IMAGINE being there...

Thanks for your comments guys


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Always so sad when young life is altered by CSI. Despite making a great case that youth is NOT wasted on the young, I must disagree. Anyone over the age of 40 or 50 would LOVE to have the body and energy they had as twenty-somethings IF they could also have the wisdom they now possess to prevent making the life-altering errors in judgement they made back then.


Karl Whyte 5 years ago

I broke my neck twenty three years ago today. Youth is what young people are. Life is not wasted, on the young or anyone, just lived. Worse things have happened than my neck in my life. Ables always fear losing their bodies. The fear is the issue, living is a celebration. Dont waste life whatever your age or ability. Dance in the rain as it might not stop and be kind to people for all are suffering. Peace and Love, Karl x

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    Hand Picked

    Each one of these great reads has been selected based on the following criteria:

    • Comes with great reviews - min 3.5 stars
    • Nothing over $20.00
    • Is relevent to improving or educating you about your health care and first aid.

    Each DVD/VHS must meet the following criteria:

    • Nothing over $30
    • Contain life saving information

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