Studies indicate that there are approximately 11,000 new cases of spinal cord injury (SCI) every year. That figure does not include those who die instantaneously or shortly after their injury. Since there have been few, if any, studies on the occurrences of SCI, it is unknown whether or not incidence has changed in recent years.
Whatever the case, SCI happens far too often. We have become a mobile society in which accidents resulting in SCI are occurring with more frequency. Also, medical technology has advanced to a degree that allows those unfortunate individuals sustaining a spinal cord injury to not only survive, but to also live almost normal lives after their injury. As a result, spinal cord injuries have become relatively well known among the general public.
At the time of my injury, SCI was far less known and understood than it is today. Simply put, survival of an SCI was uncommon.
Upon arriving at the hospital the night of my injury, my mother, who had accompanied me in the ambulance, was told that I might not live through the night. Fortunately, that warning was only a precautionary measure. After it became apparent that I was going to survive, my future lifespan had shortened significantly compared to before the injury. At the time, seven years was the average lifespan of someone surviving an injury as severe as mine. Not much, in the grand scheme of things.
For some reason the doctors never did tell me what my future was going to be like. That is, they never told me that I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life. They gave my family as much hope as possible, while being brutally honest about the reality of my condition. "Time would tell," became the theme. Why they never told me is a question I can't answer. I can only trust that the doctors were doing what they thought was best given the circumstances.
Today, with knowledge of spinal cord injury more prevalent, those sustaining such an injury are told almost immediately. Many realize that fact even before they are told. They have known or heard of others with SCI and are aware of the fact that the paralysis they are experiencing may very well be permanent with a vague idea of what lies ahead.
For me, the situation was totally opposite. I had no clue what my future would be like. “It’s up to you,” is what I was repeatedly told. Considering I had never known anyone with a spinal cord injury, what lie ahead was left up to my imagination. Not a very comforting thought, as I look back.
Initially, I thought the paralysis was temporary and that I would be up and around soon. That misconception gradually faded as I began getting to know other SCI survivors who I met during my rehabilitation. "What happened to you?" I would ask. Their answer almost always included not only what had happened but also when. "Three years ago," "five years ago," and so were their answers. Soon I realized this information was an indication that my paralysis would not be subsiding anytime soon, if at all.
Gradually, almost on an unconscious level, the permanency of my paralysis became apparent to me. This would be my life for its duration, like it or not.