Physio, Physio, Physio
The reason for the title will become apparent. I was asked to recount my experiences following a spinal injury over two years ago in the hope that it would help others in a similar situation.
At the age of 66, I was in excellent health, as I had been for most of my life, but on the morning of January 6th 2018 my world changed. Three weeks previously I had woken up with a searing pain at the base of my neck. Despite visits to the doctors and A & E it remained undiagnosed. The pain was constant. On that fateful morning I was in the bathroom when the strength in my legs faded and I fell to the floor. I crawled to the next room for my mobile but once there couldn’t reach the phone. Fortunately, at least, I knew my daughter and son in law would be visiting soon so all I could do was wait. When they arrived a few hours later they called for an ambulance. I remember the paramedics arriving but nothing after that until I woke up in ICU some days later. It turned out I had sepsis on my spine, in the C6/C7 area, the surgeon had removed the infected area but I was left paralysed from the chest down.
I was to stay in the hospital for 5 weeks, progressing through different wards as I improved until I was transferred to another hospital with a specialist spinal unit. The doctors told me the injury was ‘incomplete’, the cord hadn’t been severed and sensation and movement may return. That was some good news and gave me hope of recovery whatever that would be. I had daily physio to build back my strength and was shown the skills to help with daily life to allow me a degree of independence at home. A friend who visited me in hospital reminded me of the time his wife had suffered a stroke a few years back resulting in some loss of mobility. With regular physio after time her movement returned. To improve my own mobility he made 3 recommendations, ‘PHYSIO, PHYSIO, PHYSIO’, advice which I was to take. After looking round my daughter came up with Leeds Neurophysiotherapy and as I lived in Yeadon they were local. It turned out to be a very good choice.
In July, after 6 months in hospital, I was able to return to my flat, fortunately it was ground floor. I started weekly physio though at that time I had little movement or sensation but after a few months by holding onto the bed rails I was able to stand for a few seconds. It took a great effort. Gradually over the coming months I was able to stand for longer but still only for a few seconds. In the new year assessing my progress I felt it was not as rapid as I had hoped. I could either stop the physio or carry on and try harder. I decided my only course was to try harder. Around this time, with the help of my physiotherapist, I was provided with an NHS standing frame which was to prove invaluable. Initially by myself I managed one half hour standing session a day which I was later able to increase to two sessions as my strength improved. Towards the end of 2019 I was still making only slow progress but the fastest improvement was to come the following year.
Early this year my physio suggested I obtain some exercise pedals. They were motorised but still required some input from myself, this should improve my leg strength. Initially my legs were not strong enough to work the pedals so they were put to one side for a few months. When I tried them again I found I could manage 20 minutes. There was then a rapid improvement in my legs both in sensation and strength. My new daily exercise regime became one half hour in the standing frame and two half hour sessions on the pedals. Just before the March lockdown the practice were loaned a Topro Taurus walker though I was doubtful I would be able to manage any kind of walking with it. However, I found I was able to walk the right leg without too much effort but the physio had to help my left leg forward. Using the walker brought home to me the fact that walking is far more than just moving legs but depended on whole body strength, balance and sensation. I felt that all my efforts were now bearing fruit but then came lockdown – no physio after March.
I could have taken a break from exercise during the four months of lockdown but carried on with my daily routine. I managed a half hour in the standing frame, two half hour sessions on the pedals and now a half hour of other exercises, in all a total of two hours each day. When physio resumed in July I found I had made progress but the left leg remained stubbornly unmoved in the walker. Over the next few weeks physio was focused on improving the strength in the left leg. Finally after a few weeks I was able to step 4 paces with both legs until I can now manage a total of 29 steps in the walker. I had always hoped I would walk again, now I knew I could! I am sure my improvement will continue.
There was no way I would have been able to get out of my wheelchair by feeling sorry for myself or without regular physio. So the morals of my story, be positive, don’t look too far ahead, don’t give up and PHYSIO, PHYSIO, PHYSIO!