Posts Tagged ‘Spinal Injury’

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James Bond

November 7, 2021

I went to see the new Bond film last week. I wasn’t impressed. It was too long, too slow, too serious. I was impressed, though, with my pelvis. I’ve never sat so comfortably in the cinema. I did get fidgety by the end, but who wouldn’t with a three hour film that had none of the excitement and humour of the Bond films of old. My pelvis has really come to life lately and, when I look back to the early days, the change is phenomenal. There was a time when my pelvis simply didn’t have life. It was crushed under that section of my body above that still had life to it. It was disconnected from higher regions of the trunk at the lumbar sacral junction, so to speak. My trunk above the pelvis had enormous structural deficiencies, but nonetheless had a certain integrity to it. That integrity did not extend below the lumbar sacral junction so, in a structural, bio-mechanical, sense, that was a point of disconnection. The pelvis used to be devoid of feeling, all normal feeling at any rate, although I could feel the lumbar sacral junction and the severe weakness, at that point in the spine, was a cause of great discomfort, particularly when sitting through a long film. It is hard to describe the feeling of well being that has returned to my pelvis lately as it is something you tend to take for granted when able bodied, while the lack of pain at the lumbar sacral junction is something we can all relate to more, especially when a significant number of able bodied people succumb to a weakness there. The feeling of well being is simply that of life and it has to be considered here that your body can exist without life and without the feeling of comfort that life brings.

The pelvis is home to the lower intestines, bladder and bowels and it is these organs that are the foundation for the pelvic structure. It is there pressure, density and so volume they occupy, accordingly, that give the pelvis its volume. Without that inner quality the pelvic skeletal structure will collapse in upon itself, in turn denying capacity for the proper insertion of the legs at the hip joints. This is the scenario I was living with and the scenario I have now managed to move beyond. Bladder and bowel function, or rather lack thereof, are a major factor in spinal injury and in some ways can be more debilitating than the lack of function of the legs. They tend to be the unspoken side of paraplegia and I will not be going too far in breaking that trend; it is not a subject I am too comfortable talking about. I will say that there function has greatly improved, substantially raising my quality of life. There is a long way to go there, but I am no longer lifeless in that region and there is once again a structural foundation to the pelvis. This gives for far greater articulation of the skeletal structure, descending the structural integrity truly into the legs, whereas once that integrity stopped at the lumbar region.

With my upper body (the trunk above the level of paralysis that was by no means exempt from structural collapse) coming very close to full capacity, bringing full capacity back to the pelvis will be the next milestone and with the life I have now re-engaged in the pelvis, the real hurdle to achieving that has already been overcome. Who knows if I’ll ever overcome the paralysis in the lower legs or even regain good strength in the upper legs. I’m unlikely to ever be a James Bond, however, I do intend to engineer a great deal more improvement yet.

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Shed Building

October 17, 2021

A good mate of mine and I make a good team when it comes to shed building. I’m the architect, the project manager, the chief engineer and the skilled craftsman and he’s the dog’s body manhandling the timber, hammering the nails in and doing all I can’t reach, under close supervision. It was his log shed so he’s also been the bank balance and the one who buys the drinks in the pub afterwards. Considering how much I love a good project it’s been a fair deal, although a big job and a lot of work!

The biggest log shed I’ve ever seen!

He wasn’t confident to do a straight saw cut so all the sawing fell to me. As a paraplegic most people think I must have good upper body strength, after all I spend a great deal of time pushing a wheelchair. This, however, is far from the truth. Good upper body strength requires good foundation, all that is badly damaged in the paraplegic. Without good foundation, well balanced function of the arms is impossible despite use of the muscles and the ability to build up muscular bulk. Wheelchair racers are a good example here. They build up enormous muscular bulk and on the surface look extremely strong. Look deeper, though, and another picture emerges. In order to effectively use their muscular power they have to crush themselves into a wheelchair to provide sufficient stability for the use the arms, as there is no true foundation for their function. Ask them to sit upright and saw a piece of wood and they would struggle. Good all round strength in the arms requires good inner capacity; volume to the chest, a broad shoulder girdle and just as importantly, strong foundation in the head and neck.

In a true paraplegic the inner capacity has collapsed leaving no foundation for the legs and only weak foundation for the arms. Interestingly, some wheelchair sportsmen these days are not true paraplegics and have managed to retain intrinsic capacity despite the spinal injury. This begs the question as to why they haven’t managed to walk again and the answer probably lies in the fact that doctors and physiotherapists don’t tend to recognise the inner capacity and from personal observation tend to steer everyone in a spinal unit towards wheelchair use despite the fact, that in one or two, the potential exists to walk out of hospital. If that potential isn’t developed then they will remain wheelchair users.

With all the sawing I have done building this woodshed I have been so impressed with how significantly I have developed the foundation in my body, particularly in the neck. Volume to the chest and broadness to the shoulder girdle are important, but a strong neck is the real foundation for the shoulder girdle and so for the use of the arms. My neck has really developed lately with an increased solidness to it and my head sat high above my chest. There is still work to do to fully draw the shoulder blades out of the body, and rebuild volume to the back, and so the foundation in the neck was really tested by all the sawing. I had to be careful and am certainly not strong enough yet to do a full weeks work; two days in a row and I needed a days rest. Impressive it is nonetheless and after twenty years, and many thousands of hours of work, the trunk is really coming to fruition and the upper body side of things, at least, is close to finalisation. That’s exciting!

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To Simply Be

August 3, 2021

A friend of mine is such a doer. He goes from work to the golf course, to the gym, to the pub in a never ending drive to fill each day. He doesn’t stop! I on the other hand am happy to sit in my rocking chair, outside the back door, gazing up the garden and listening to the birds. I admire my friends energy, and often wish I had more myself, but I can’t help thinking he’s somewhat lacking in the ability to ‘simply be’.

One of the toughest things about being disabled is living in a body that can deny you the ability to ‘be’. Being is not just a state of mind, it also requires sufficient structure to the body to physically be, without effort. These days I have little trouble in that respect, but that has not always been the case. Sitting used to take constant effort. Muscular involvement was necessary to make up for the lack of intrinsic capacity and the need for muscular involvement takes effort and so an inability to switch off and truly relax …and that was from the waist up. Below the waist I had no usable muscles and the structure was very collapsed, so although there was no conscious effort, that paralysed part of my body very much contributed to the struggles in what I could still consciously use. Even if there is no awareness of paralysed body, and no feeling of aches and pains, then the poor structural quality will still have a negative affect on your overall physical health and it is that wholeness of health that is so important for the ability to simply be.

These days my body is so much better that I can sit in my rocking chair and very much relax, with maybe just a slight tension in the lumbar sacral junction. Having lost the ability to be and having now very much regained it, I may have more appreciation than many of the importance of simply being. Western culture is such a culture of doing. Not only is there a constant drive to work to provide for living, there is then the tendency to find things to do to fill the rest of our time. As a society we have gone from earning money out of the work that needs doing to creating work for the sake of earning money. We find ourselves more and more embroiled in a reliance on manufactured goods and with less and less time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Is it any wonder that nature’s turning round and saying enough is enough. Maybe we all need to learn the art of being rather than doing and good physical structure plays it’s part in this.

Native Americans are the epitome of being rather than doing. Did we miss an opportunity to learn from them?

One of the things I love about the therapy work I do is that, not only does it build up the capacity to ‘be’, in it’s way of achieving improvements in structure it actually encourages the art of being. No pain no gain does not come into it. The work we do is about delivering gentle inputs into the body. It takes hours and hours of repetitive work to make the changes, but the work itself is really quite relaxing. Perhaps my friend would be wise to do a little less rushing around and give up the no pain no gain work down the gym, after all gyms are for building up strength in a well balanced body and not for getting into shape once your body has lapsed. If he’d allow me to show him how to rebuild that root of weakness in his neck and shoulder girdle and alter his ways to a more gentle therapeutic approach then maybe he’d find more pleasure in the art of simply being.

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Infection

June 19, 2021

I had trouble a couple of months ago with an infected testicle. The infection was savage and I was concerned enough to go to hospital for intravenous antibiotics. The doctor explained that because I’m catheterised this can cause infection in the bladder and bugs can work their way down to the testicles. I have a different explanation.

It hasn’t taken me two months to get around to writing this because I’ve been poorly. Quite the opposite. It was a very short stay in hospital and I bounced back quickly and have merely been absorbed with another project. Infection is often seen as bugs invading the body, and even doctors talk about it in such terms, when in reality the bugs are always in us and only get to work when encountering poor quality tissue. When living with a spinal injury much of the body is poor in quality. The underlying structure of the body collapses and the weaknesses get locked in leading parts of the body to exist in a semi dormant state. I have spent the last twenty years waking my body up from that dormancy and over the last few years there have been successive waves of development bringing the pelvic region back to life.

Bringing life back into a body where it hasn’t existed for many years is a fantastic experience, but not without its complications. In bringing back to life you expose the weakness that has been buried for many years. In the muscular skeletal system this is fairly straight forward. Reconfiguring the structure and exposing muscular skeletal weakness merely results in a strain if you’re not careful, a little like finding muscles you didn’t know you had. You can easily get over the strain and begin to enjoy new found strength. However organs of the body being woken up is a different scenario altogether.

Some years ago I brought my skin back to life. You may think of skin as nothing more than an outer covering, but in fact it is an organ. On waking it up I suffered from terrible rashes. The lymphatic system started working properly again and was ridding the skin of the toxins that had built up over many years of existing in a semi dormant state. A testicle may also build up toxins in it, but more importantly the structural quality is weak and in waking it up you expose that weakness, leading infectious agents to think that weak cells needs breaking down and disposing of. That is the job of infection. The accompanying fever will also help rid the body of toxins, but if the fever and infection get out of control they can cause more harm than good and such a situation may need managing through the use of antibiotics. I’ve paid the price in the past for not respecting the dangers enough.

Eighteen months ago, in previous wave of pelvic development the same thing happened to the right testicle, but nowhere near as savage. The left side of my body has always been weaker and more dormant and it took a deeper level of development to wake up my left testicle and resulted in a more serious infection. 72 hours after the first sign of a problem I was already starting to feel for that deeper level of life and articulation of the pelvic region. The testicles are better than ever now and I’m very much enjoying a more developed pelvis.

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Workout

April 5, 2021

I went for a walk with a friend the other day in the Nower in Dorking; it’s public woods and grassland. We used to go sledging there as kids so as you can imagine it’s on the side of a hill and not very wheelchair friendly. I enjoyed the walk (or wheel), enjoyed the company and it was great to be trekking around my old stomping ground again. At the end I was exhausted and it was remarked that I’d had a good workout, but was it really good for me?

Gazebo at the top of the Nower

If I did it too often it wouldn’t be good, but now and then does me no physical harm and worth it for the other benefits, although to think of it as a workout would be wrong. In terms of improving my physical condition there is absolutely nothing to be gained by struggling in a wheelchair. To overcome paraplegia you have to be a lot cleverer than that. When my body was terribly depleted, physical exertion was definitely counter productive in terms of ingraining the changes and further deforming the body. In the few years after injury (before the ABR years) I did much damage in taking my body in the wrong direction and much time and effort has been invested since to reverse this. These days I am much stronger, and more capable, while at the same time I am more sensitive and tuned in to the counter productive nature of using my body beyond its limits and I tend to shy away from such activity.

When you live in a body with insufficient structure to support certain functions it is important to improve that underlying structure rather than struggle with function that abuses the already weak structure. The work we do is all about improving the underlying structure through external mechanical inputs, building it up to the point where function becomes possible. Only then, once the functional ability is achieved, does a workout become sensible. Such an approach should not only be adopted by the severely disabled, but also by the significant number of able bodied people who find themselves out of shape.

We get many joggers down our lane. The occasional one is in good shape and it’s a joy to see a body so capable of effortlessly moving at speed, although for most it is painful to watch their misguided attempts to improve their fitness. The other day there was a women with a distinct weakness at the lumbar sacral junction. Instead of a strong trunk supporting the pelvis and allowing true articulation at the hip joints, the hips were rigid and the body twisted at the waist with every step. The inputs into the body, from the reaction of each step against the ground, could ascend no further than that weakness and could only build up bulk around the already immobile hips. I see many joggers with hunched up shoulders, and head sunk down into the body, locking up the weakness in the neck and shoulder girdle in order to gain the stability to support the lower trunk and legs. Again no inputs can work up into the weakness, it’s too locked up.

One day I’ll teach people how to strengthen their structural weaknesses and get in shape to the point that they’re then in a position to jog with ease and have the capacity to build up their fitness.

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Cold

February 25, 2021

Fortitude is a word you rarely hear these days. Maybe we are all so mollycoddled by the wonders of our technological civilisation that we have little need to find the fortitude in us. Fortitude being ‘strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage’. This winter I’ve been without a Rayburn which is normally the background heat throughout the cottage, that wonderful warmth when you enter through the back door into the kitchen, lashings of hot water and a great way of cooking. I’ve always enjoyed real log fires to keep me warm when sitting indoors, an open fire in the front room where I conduct my therapy sessions and a wood burner in my cosy living room. This year, though, that’s all I have. The Rayburn finally bit the dust at the beginning of winter and the reconditioned one that’s being made to order will not be delivered until 11th March. Last week was exceptionally cold, with temperatures barely rising above freezing, and it’s taken considerable fortitude to live comfortably, and a good store of well seasoned logs of course.

The great thing about living with the cold is that, not only does it take a strength of mind (or spirit), but in finding the fortitude to embrace the cold you find yourself imbued with a ‘strength of spirit’. My bathroom is a poorly insulated extension and although I am managing to maintain a slight background warmth throughout the rest of the cottage, the bathroom is absolutely freezing. Stripping off to take a wash takes fortitude and yet by rising to that fortitude I find myself all puffed up against the cold, easily attaining to a wonderful stature.

One of the most interesting things I have read about diet and nutrition was Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on the subject. He pointed out that if you eat meat your body is given the blueprint for manufacturing its own meat. If, however, you eat a vegetarian diet then your body does not have the luxury of the blueprint and so has to work harder to build and maintain your own meat. The interesting part was his statement that in working harder there is more strength to be gained, although he did point out that you have to be strong in the first place to live without the blueprint. Was he talking about gaining physical strength or a strength of spirit. Maybe the two are intrinsically connected, but either way I can draw parallels with living with the cold. It takes strength to live with the cold and if you can find that strength then you also find there is strength to be gained.

I grew up with central heating and never cared much for it, I always found that radiators gave a muggy kind of warmth, while many friends grew up with houses on the chilly side and a coal fire in the front room. You hear stories from people my age and older about how cold their houses were as a child and yet none of them seem to have suffered and maybe quite the opposite. These days people often sit in their houses in winter wearing no more than a t-shirt and I’ve good reason to think that, as a nation, we are getting softer. Not having a fire and a warm room to relax in would be unbearable and I’m looking forward to my new Rayburn for next winter. For the time being though I am rising to the challenge and enjoying the strength and vibrance that finding fortitude gives me. Even when I have my new Rayburn I won’t stop loving the great outdoors and will always embrace the cold and will never be too mollycoddled by the wonders of civilisation.

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Being Frank

November 12, 2020

Frank Gardner is the Securities Correspondent for the BBC who was shot in Saudi Arabia leaving him a paraplegic. He’s made a documentary, called ‘Being Frank: The Frank Gardner Story’, aired on TV earlier this week, in which he talks about what it is to be disabled. Frank he definitely is, having the courage to talk openly about the intimacies of such an injury, his bladder and bowels; issues that are generally the unspoken reality of spinal injury.

Frank Gardner enjoying life to the full

I take my hat off to the man, as I do to anyone who makes something of their life following terrible injury. It’s not easy. Two things struck me about the film. Firstly the way he talked about what it is to be disabled. He was expressing thoughts that I haven’t had for many years. A typical outlook for someone in such a position and all thoughts I’ve had myself in the past. It made me think about how I’ve moved on in accepting my lot in life, a process that takes years.

He was working for the BBC when he got shot and continued to work in the same role when returning to life post injury. The difficulty in trying to play the same role is that you are constantly reminded of what you can no longer do. The essence of my life hasn’t changed a great deal and I managed, post injury, to fulfil my ambition to live the country cottage smallholding lifestyle, something you’re meant to be able bodied to achieve, but I did it by moving on to pastures new, while at the same time still holding on to the life I had and all my friends. It’s worked well for me.

Holding down a high flying job at the BBC is quite an achievement when living with a spinal injury. I haven’t had a proper job since I became a paraplegic; then again I was pretty unemployable before. That’s not to say I don’t work; I’ve always worked very hard. One of the wisest things my father has said to me is, “We used to make money out of the work that needed doing, now we create work for the sake of earning money”. No wonder mankind has taken our world to the brink of destruction when the relationship between money and work is so out of balance. I choose to do the work that needs doing, despite the fact it doesn’t pay, as I feel a more productive member of society that way. I work to put a roof over my head and food in my belly together with other work at the Cheshire Home community where I live, but my life’s work is in the development of Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation techniques and that brings me onto the other thing that struck me watching the film.

Frank’s body is just how mine used to be. Terribly depleted inner volume and terribly disconnected structurally. I’d almost forgotten how bad it once was. I’m so glad I got involved with Leonid Blyum and found the dedication to put the work in. I sent Frank my film last year, ‘Spinalroots the Movie’, and he not only watched it but took the time to write to me after. He didn’t really get it though and to be honest most people don’t.

Regardless of whether I walk again, if I can teach mankind the importance of paying attention to our intrinsic capacity, our structure and form, then my life’s work will be fulfilled.

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Climbing a Mountain

October 8, 2020

I haven’t written a blog post for a whole year. I didn’t feel I had anything new to say. I even sat down in February and got half way through writing a post only to give up. I was just repeating myself. I’d said it all before and was relating what I was saying to yet more small improvements in the head, but that’s just it. What it takes to heal a body, from such a catastrophic injury, is one small improvement after another. Advanced Bio-Mehanical Rehabilitation, as the way of therapy I work with is known, is not a miracle cure, and there are no miracle cures, just steps in the right direction. Each step is nothing more than a tiny incremental change, but if you take enough small steps you can climb a mountain and climbing a mountain is exactly what you have to do to overcome the physical effects of a spinal injury.

Paraplegia is considered a permanent condition and without dedication to a way of healing it will be. I talked in November 2017, in a post entitled ‘Competitive Co-Operative’,about spinal injury being about far more than the loss of muscular function, due to nerve damage, and that there is enormous collateral damage; structural collapse that fails to recover naturally and overtime the changes become ingrained in the body and, if we are not careful, permanent. The cells of our body are constantly replenished and I am led to believe that every seven years we have an entirely new body with every cell being replaced over that period of time. Those changes will be replaced in the same ingrained fashion, unless we encourage the body to return to balance, as it replaces its cells. By delivering repetitive mechanical inputs, into the system of the body, we can encourage that return to balance as the body’s replenishes itself.

By the very nature of the work we are undertaking, it is a long slow process, although I find it incredible that the improvements, however slow, creep up on you so that now and then you suddenly realise how much you have changed and how far you have come. It would be nice to think that those who have known me throughout my rehabilitation notice these changes, bearing in mind that over the last twenty years we have radically altered the structure of my entire body to the point that I barely resemble the paraplegic I once was, and there are some who do. However, there are others who seem to forget just how bad a condition I was once in. I met someone at a funeral earlier this year who asked me if I was still doing the therapy and whether it was working. I looked down at my body and thought, ‘Can’t you see!’.

There’s a guy who drinks in my local pub, whom I haven’t know for long, who on hearing about my therapy work wanted to know more. I gave him the links to my website (www.spinalroots.net), blog (www.spinalroots.blog) and film (www.spinalroots.uk) and on seeing him the following week was impressed with how much he’d looked into it. He realised not only the enormity of the physical improvements, but the extent of the life journey I have undertaken. He’s inspired me to talk more about the psychological aspects of overcoming such an injury, realising that you can’t begin to heal a body without also healing the mind. So maybe it’s time to go back to the beginning and tell the story from a different perspective.