Living Well

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2013

Spinal cord injury is a devastating event that requires mental as well as physical adjustments.

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Late one afternoon my daughter received a phone call from her best friend. She was crying and said her brother had been in a motorcycle accident and was now paralyzed.

One day this 22-year-old young man was able bodied with not a care in the world. In a split second, his life was changed forever. The physical and mental challenges he’ll face are tough.

However, certain stages he’ll go through will help him adapt to his new life while providing the tools and hope to live well.


Spinal-cord injury (SCI) is a devastating life-changing event. One of the biggest keys to adjusting to it is personal motivation.

Most newly injured individuals believe they will walk again. They are motivated to participate in therapy in an effort to get stronger and gain more function.

Unfortunately, few people fully recover from their injury. This doesn’t mean they should give up hope for some recovery or even full recovery. 

Researchers are diligently working on a cure for SCI. The cure may or may not happen in our lifetime.

A healthy approach for adjustment is to move forward with life after injury with the continued hope that researchers may find a cure. But, move ahead. Don’t wait for a cure to proceed with life.


A person with a new SCI and his/her family will likely experience grief.

This is a time of mourning that is similar to the loss of a loved one. The stages of grief were proposed by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross, MD, in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.

The stages of normal grieving are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness (or depression) and acceptance. These five stages don’t necessarily happen in any certain order or for any specific length of time. Sometimes, people move in and out of different phases several times.

In the denial phase, individuals refuse to believe what has happened. They react as though they’ve just had a bad dream. In the anger phase, they become angry at their family, at God, and even at themselves.

The bargaining phase can be with oneself or God. The person may plead with God, “If you only will let me walk again, I will do anything.”

Sadness is one likely phase all SCI patients go through. This is one of the most difficult stages.

The person has feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Sometimes patients become clinically depressed and just want to give up and die. It’s crucial SCI patients have psychosocial support after their injury and during rehabilitation.

The final stage of grief is acceptance. This is when individuals realize that life has to go on. This is the phase when they accept their loss. They should now be able to regain their energy and goals for the future.

It may take some time to get to this point, but almost all SCI patients do.

Finding a New Normal

When an individual loses his/her sense of touch along with their ability to walk or use their hands, life is never the same.

You never quit missing that part of feeling and movement that is now gone. You have to make a conscious effort to find a
new normal so you can enjoy life and feel fulfilled.

In order to reach a new normal, people must travel through the phase of acceptance. They must accept their injury and move through the pain of their loss in a healthy way.

Grieving tends to be unpredictable with feelings of sadness coming and going. Just when you think you have accepted your new normal, the intense pain and grief starts all over again.

Individuals who are able to adjust well to unexpected experiences usually lead healthy, active and happy lives after their injury. People who do not cope as well with unexpected experiences tend to lead less healthy, less active and unhappier lives after their injury.

When individuals are first injured, it takes time to get used to the fact that they have a spinal-cord injury. It can take a year or more to learn to accept the injury as a reality.

The adjustment will continue throughout life because of the unique issues that occur in the everyday life of someone with SCI.                                                                                                                                         


The goal of rehabilitation is to become as independent as possible. It’s vital to learn as much as possible about what it means to be an SCI patient.

People should educate themselves and others about their injury and how it affects every aspect of their lives. It’s imperative to set short- and long-term goals.

People can be happy and hopeful about life, but it’ll only happen when they make it happen. It’s up to each person to find purpose and live an active and meaningful life.

New technologies, treatments and devices allow people with SCI to play basketball, snow ski, water ski, scuba dive and do many other activities that were impossible years ago. New medications and treatments are always being explored by researchers.

It’s necessary to remain hopeful about the future of spinal-cord research and continue to live life to the fullest today.  


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