I met with disability by accident

At the recent QASA AGM I enjoyed hearing the remarks and reactions to last issue’s topic (What is the Bigger Picture?). Like everyone else, I do enjoy receiving feedback, especially from the people who read this awesome magazine. However, it has made me think about the quality of life (or lack of it) that some of us experience.

I met with disability by accident – if you’ll excuse the pun - roughly ten years ago. An injury to my spinal cord immediately made me a person with a disability, but it was the dreadful lack of knowledge of what had happened to me, and what my chances of survival were, that paralysed me. This same lack meant my medical professionals had to make all of my decisions for me: decisions regarding which treatments were available, the cost of them and of planning a way forward after being discharged from hospital.

Fortunately for me, most of the decisions went in my favour and things have worked out thus far. I’m sad to say, that this is usually not the case for the newly injured at most of our government hospitals. Due to severe resource shortages, and the ever increasing number of disabling injuries, patients are being turned away from our hospitals and emergency units are under pressure to provide appropriate care to the masses. When a patient needs to be ventilated and the Intensive Care Units are full, policy dictates that, if expected outcomes are poor, the ventilator support must be discontinued. This means that the machine that is keeping you alive will be switched off! Your next of kin will be informed but the patient will not be part of the decision making.

With the upcoming year-end festive season, which is usually accompanied by an increase in road accidents, this does not make for happy reading. A patient with injury to the cervical spine usually needs to be ventilated.

Fortunately, with advances in modern medicine, the outcomes of high level spinal cord injuries are getting better. Christopher Reeve (Superman!) had a very high level injury and decided on exercise even though doctors did not believe in exercise for patients with these levels of injury. He is a shining example of how things can turn out for the better. No, he did not recover from his injuries or live to be an old man, but he did make a difference in the way things are now being done. He helped to advance the treatment of, and the outcomes for, people with injuries to their spinal cord. Decisions should never rest with only one person, but with the various parties who have the patient’s best interests at heart. For this, and other reasons, I strongly support campaigns to prevent spinal cord injuries.

The Quadpara Association of South Africa will roll out its road safety campaign, “Buckle Up We Don’t Want New Members”, during the holidays. Hopefully some travellers will take it to heart and serious road accident injuries will be prevented. South Africa is still ranked as one of the worst countries with regard to serious road accidents. Let us all work together to lower this figure. Care should always be practised when diving into water as diving can also cause spinal cord injury. Prevention is better than cure, and there is no cure for spinal cord injury! With the onset of summer, better weather and the prospect of spending some time relaxing, one should also remember the advantages of physical activity. Few of us are gold medal contenders for the upcoming London Paralympics 2012, but exercise is still good for us! Be it “chairobics” to your favourite tune or just bobbing your head to the beat of music - do try and increase your level of activity.

Every one of us should do something to celebrate life and reach for the potential that lies within us all. I wish us all a safe, secure and happy holiday season and may 2011 see all of our hopes, dreams and expectations come to fruition!

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