The Daily Struggles Of A Quadriplegic Part Two
What Is A Quadraplegic?
A Quadriplegic is someone who has severed his or her spine, and cannot walk, and may or may not have limited mobility. They may not have any mobility at all, besides their head. Depending on where spine was severed depends on how much mobility you have.
This happened to someone very close to me. My older brother Kevin became paralyzed in 1982. He was hit by a car on a ten speed bicycle late one night. No one knows for sure what actually happened, because it was late at night and the driver never stopped. The police said he flipped over the handle bars, which make sense considering his injuries. He laid there for several hours before someone found him the next morning. He broke his C5 cervical nerve which is pretty high up on the spine, with C1 being the worse spinal cord injury. .
A Typical Day
My brother Kevin was paralyzed from the chest down. He could move his shoulders, and his bicep muscles functioned, but his triceps did not. He could move his wrist but not his fingers, and of course he could not walk. There are many things that a quadriplegic has to go through on a day to day basis just to live a normal life.
A typical day for Kevin went like this:
In the morning he would wake up. He lived alone most of the time so he had to make sure things like the phone, TV remote, drink, reading material, and a towel were within his reach. He also had a bar that was shaped like a triangle that was suspended over his head, so he could hook his arm around it. This would give him leverage to move around in bed, and this was the extent of his movement. He would watch TV or read until his PCA showed up usually between 7:00, and 8:00 am.
We Called them a "PCA"
A PCA is short for a "personal care attendant". These are people who are paid by a non profit organization to come every day and help start the day by helping a handicapped person get out of bed and attend to their needs. They would also do shopping and housecleaning. So let's hope you were on good terms with these people after all they could make your life miserable, and after all taking care of you is work to them. So they may not have been in the best of moods.
Luckily my brother got along with all his personal care attendants, and they were friendly to him and really helped him along. So the first thing they would do is put on coffee and make him a cup. The next thing they might do is give him his medication especially Valium because of muscle spasms. Quadriplegics typically have muscle spasms that make their limbs stiff, and they move, even though the person is not controlling them. So Valium needs to be taken to control this spasm which makes it easier for the PCA attendant and the one who's paralyzed.
The Reality Of It All
So now typically Kevin would watch TV, eat breakfast that someone had to make for him and just hang out. While this was going on the PCA would clean and do other things around the house. After eating it would be time to get up. First thing they would if his catheter needed changing, which has to be changed often. Then they would hook up his leg bag. The leg bag is what he urinates into.
A quadriplegic cannot control when they go to the bathroom, nor can they tell that they are going at all. Every other day they have what is called "bowl care". Because they can't go to the bathroom on their own, or even know when they go to the bathroom, someone has to do it for them. Now I won't get into details here, but let's just say these people that do this do not get nearly paid enough. All modesty goes out the window, and it must not feel good emotionally for the quadriplegic getting this done.
If they want to shower they will be helped into a special waterproof chair and wheeled into the shower. Kevin was fortunate enough to live a handicapped accessible apartment, which meant that the kitchen and bathroom was handicap friendly with low sinks Etc. The shower was no exception it was even with the floor, and it took up one whole end of the wall, so the whole wheelchair could be wheeled in. So obviously the PCA would have to help wash him up, again this must take a toll emotionally to the person getting this done.
When their done they have to be dried off, then it's back to the bed. Lying on the bed is the easiest way to dress a quadriplegic (well that’s how we did it anyways). Then you would help them get dressed. After getting dressed then it would be time to get up into the wheelchair. This takes a little bit of strength and a lot of leverage, or you can use a special harness that lifts the person up totally, and swings into the chair. I used to just pick him up by hooking my arm underneath his knees, while he put his arm around my neck, my arm would be around his back, and lift him up and put him in manually. I found this to be the easiest and quickest way, but you certainly had to have a strong back.
Life In A Wheel Chair
In the wheelchair (which in C-5 quad patient the wheelchair is motorized) there is a special cushion that helps prevent sores, and once they are in the chair they are usually in it for a while, so this is important. When in there chair is when the quadriplegic feels a little bit of freedom that most of us take for granted. They are mobile and can move around on their own. This is important, and I believe the wheelchair is the most important thing to the quadriplegic, because it actually helps them to feel a little like the rest of us.
Once Kevin was up, he might go outside. If it was warm out he might take a ride in his chair or maybe even go visit some of his other neighbors. He might also have family and friends over to just to hang out, or have someone take him somewhere. When he was home he could a lot more than you would think. He could go on the computer, answer the phone, make phone calls, open doors, open the fridge, get a drink, and many other things that you would be surprised that he could do. This was an awesome feat considering that his fingers didn't even move, and it's true that you do adapt to whatever your physical limitations are. There were many special devices that help him do things like eat, brush your teeth, and go on the computer. As long as everything was within his reach, he was OK,
When it would be time for the PCA to leave (after about three to four hours) this was one of their jobs to make sure Kevin had access to water, prepared drinks in the fridge, water bottles, prepared meals, ashtray, TV remote, make sure the house was cleaned, and anything else he would need to get through the day.
The End Of The day
When night comes and its time to go to bed, the PCA comes back to help Kevin back into bed. Just like before but just the opposite, he is put back into the bed. Then they help him get undressed, and hook up the bed bag which is what he urinates into during the night. They make sure that everything is within reach like the phone, TV remote, water or drink, and anything else he might need. They wouldn't need to be there as long (about two hours), but he would still rely on them. Then the next day the whole process would start over.
Now I can't speak for every C-5 quadriplegic out there that this would be how their day would go, but this is first hand account of what my brother went through every day. I have seen it day after day, and I've done all these things many times. I recently have seen some cool videos of quadriplegics that have made great strides with their conditions, and really live a fulfilling life. The human spirit never ceases to amaze me, and what people can accomplish with disabilities.
To learn more about spinal cord injuries check out these sites: