Spinal Cord Injury May be Hidden or Obvious

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Spinal cord injury was once a death sentence. According to Spinal Cord Injury Canada prior to 1945 fewer than 10% of people with SCI lived more than a year. Research and technological advances have changed that so that many people with SCI live long lives.

Spinal cord injury is a common traumatic injury in Canada. The major cause of SCI is car accidents with about 80% of the injured being male. The leading causes are:

  • Car crashes
  • Falls
  • Acts of violence
  • Sports
  • Non traumatic (infection, tumour, inflammation)

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that run through down the centre of the spine. SCI is any injury to the spine or the nerves at the ends of the spine. When trauma occurs to the spinal cord the impulses that travel through the nerves can’t get through. The results are loss of mobility or sensation in the parts of the body that those nerves service.

Spinal cord injuries fall into two categories, complete and incomplete.

Complete SCI results in either paraplegia or quadriplegia. The location of the injury will determine the amount of mobility and sensation lost. The higher in the spine you have an injury the more parts of the body are affected. Injuries to the cervical spine (neck) may result in all found limbs being affected. Breathing may be affected, speech and bladder/bowel control may be lost. Thoracic (middle back) may result in the trunk and legs being affected and may affect bowel and bladder control. Lumbar (lower back) injuries may affect the hips, legs and bladder/bowel.

The damage done to the body may not be the same on both sides of the body and may only affect certain parts of the body.

It is easy to identify people with crutches or a wheelchair as being injured and needing some accommodation. There are injuries however that aren’t easy to spot and leave a person feeling vulnerable and sometimes embarrassed or afraid. Emma Carey is trying to change the stigma attached to this.

Ms. Carey was in a parachute accident having fallen from 14,000 feet breaking her spine and pelvis. She eventually regained her ability to walk but her body isn’t entirely healed. She has lost her ability to control her bladder. Multiple times a day she wets herself.  Because she can walk people think there is something ‘wrong’ with her when there is suddenly a wet patch on her pants. Despite the catheter and pads accidents happen. To deal with the stigma of this she published photos of herself online doing every day things with wet marks on her pants. She wants’ to get rid of the taboo surrounding bladder conditions and doesn’t want people who suffer from incontinence to feel embarrassed about being in public.