Paralysis is an unfamiliar term to many. Meaning, most people know what the word means, but don’t fully understand the extent of the condition. I was one of those people until three years ago when my nineteen year old son became paralyzed. His condition is what is referred to as paraplegia. For those unclear about the difference between paraplegia and quadriplegia read further for clarification. Paraplegia is paralysis of the lower extremities, commonly affecting both legs and often internal organs i.e. bladder and rectum. Quadriplegia results in partial or total loss of use of all limbs including the torso. The extent of paralysis depends on the level of injury to the area of the spinal cord (www.encyclopedia.com/topic/paraplegic.aspx).
Did you know that a paraplegic cannot control his or her bladder or bile movements? The loss of these functions is replaced with alternate methods i.e. catheterization, manual bile removal, digital rectal stimulation, suppositories or mini enemas. These methods are known as Bowl Programs. Many people are unaware of these facts. They associate paralysis with not being able to walk or move arms. Paralysis encompasses many conditions. Since the individual cannot feel his or her buttocks they are constantly at risk of getting pressure sores (bed sores). To prevent sores from developing they have to be careful not to sit or lay in one place for long periods of time. Pressure sores can vary from mild to life threatening. Another condition brought on by paralysis is altered body temperature. The physiological mechanisms of temperature regulated are affected by the vascular system (blood vessels), where constriction and dilation can occur to help conserve and dissipate heat from the body (http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-114126762.html). In short the paralyzed area of the body looses its ability to regulate hot and cold. When exposed to extreme temperatures many people cover their legs with blankets. This helps to prevent severe sunburn or frostbite.
Paralysis may seem like a debilitating condition, but like my son many patients receive extensive therapy. Physical therapy helps to strengthen their muscles i.e. arms, chest, back etc. The purpose of therapy is to enable them to transfer to and from wheel chairs, showers, beds, floors and cars. And yes, I did say floors. Physical therapy teaches them how to remove themselves from the floor in case of an accidental fall from the wheel chair, bed, sofa etc. If you are wondering how a paralyzed person takes a shower or bath. They simply transfer from the wheel chair to a shower chair.
Paralysis is not the end of a productive life, but the beginning of life of coping and improvising. We all have encountered challenges and with stick-to-itiveness and fortitude we prevailed. My son has taught me that anything is possible if you are indomitable and committed. He is currently in college studying to be a Computer Animator. He once said to me “Mom you don’t need legs to operate a computer, you need knowledge, skills and strength of will.” “Paralysis didn’t take those things away it enhanced them.”
Remember, “The shell is on the outside the true spirit lies within”