About a month ago we got an early morning call that our friend Tim had broken his neck in a bike accident in LA. He was on a bike path, wearing a helmet and following all the rules when another bike came at him head on going the wrong direction. Tim was forced to veer off the path and into a fence. And that's when it happened. His third cervical vertebrae, the shock absorber of the neck, couldn't take the impact and snapped. Tim fell off his bike still clipped into his pedals and knew instantly that something was wrong because he couldn't feel his hands or feet. Passerby came to his aid immediately but Tim was alert enough to tell them, "Don't move me. I might have a neck injury."
And that's the way injury happens. It comes out of nowhere when we're minding our own business on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and totally disrupts our life. Injuries are a part of daily life that we will never escape. There is no vaccine we can take to prevent them. There is no medicine that will magically make them go away. Once we get hurt we're going to have to find a way to heal, just like the rest of the 2.8 million people in this country who are hospitalized every year for traumatic injury.
The spinal cord is the power main of our bodies. When it gets bruised, broken or severed it's like the cord's been unplugged. Almost always we will suffer some degree of paralysis temporary or permanent. And it's a long slow process to get the power up and running again. If we damage just a single nerve in our bodies it can takes weeks to months to regenerate. Think of the spinal cord as a bundle of hundreds of nerves. There's a lot golng on in even a tiny sliver of it, hundreds of complicated nerve impulses crisscrossing in a tight space signaling when to move, to feel, to breathe.
Tim was in the ICU for a week and then started inpatient rehab where he's been for three weeks. He was finally able to type his first email night before last. Yesterday he walked thirty steps with assistance. He still has a long way to go but the way things stand right now, Tim's one of the lucky ones and he knows it.
More on spinal cord injury in HURT, Chapter 13 "The Road Back."