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For most people, when they hear the word “quadriplegic,” their mind goes straight to an image of Christopher Reeve in his wheelchair. Or when they hear “spinal cord injury,” they think the worst of it is that we cannot walk. But how a body is affected and can still function despite the main nerve being down is quite something. From lesser-known secondary effects to the body’s impressive resiliency, here are seven surprising facts about spinal cord injuries.
Some spinal cord victims cannot cough. They may be able to emit a tiny cough, but that is about as fierce of a cough most of us can do. Reason why, spinal cord injuries do not just effect the legs and arms, they affect the chest wall muscles; everything becomes paralyzed below the level of injury. This is why respiratory failure remains the number one cause of death among people with spinal cord injuries. Coughing up phlegm is critical when fighting off colds, but the good news, cough-assist devices and techniques like these.
Some people urinate through their belly buttons. Everyone thinks they know our going-to-the-bathroom secret, we use catheters—duh. But there is one big secret mainstream society has no idea is possible. A surgery that allows you to pee through the belly button. That is right, a hole is put in the belly button, with a new urinary conduit to boot. All you need to do is insert in a catheter, put a drainage cup between your legs, and you are good to go. This fascinating surgery was invented by Dr. Mitrofanoff.
Our legs can still move, I mention this because mainstream society thinks paralysis equates to the legs being absolutely frozen in time, but this is not the case. Paralyzed legs move and shake a lot on their own; anything causing pain below the level of injury can do it.
One time when my legs spasmed while riding in an elevator, a person riding with us was hysterically overjoyed to see my legs move. “Oh they move!” (Pretty sure he thought he had just witnessed a miracle). And then suddenly, he wanted to chat but I did not have the heart to tell him that it was not a miracle.
So there are a few odd facts regarding spinal cord injuries. A condition many are hoping may be cured one day soon. Stem cells may make spinal cord injuries a far off memory in the next 50 years, but in the meantime, knowing the inside scoop can never hurt.
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