David Smith: Living with paralysis can feel like lockdown but success stories are infectious



HAVING a spinal-cord injury goes a long way to dictating how I live my life. This week has been a painful reminder of that fact.

Most of the time I forget I have it and defiantly try to not let if define me but having a spinal injury as high up as your neck pretty much affects the whole body. And every so often a reminder of how serious spinal cord injuries are strikes me hard in the face.

This usually comes in a pattern. I am pushing hard, all is going well, then bang! – I am floored, literally.

I was feeling pretty invincible here in Jamaica and most of the time completely sheltered away from the risk of Covid-19, apart from a few visits to the gym in Kingston.

I know so many are divided on whether we should be wearing masks or not. Not me – I am happy to wear a mask to help protect myself but more so to protect others.

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The gym here is lucky to be open and most members train with masks. But last week I saw an American guy training with his mask under his chin and I would have preferred he just didn’t wear it at all.

Going from machine to machine with no towel or spraying after he used them I felt a little uneasy around his approach to something that spreads so easy.

As athletes we are trained to follow hygiene in gyms, it has always been the bonus of training at Institute of Sport facilities. They are very much on top of everything around athlete health.

While I didn’t want to get involved as I had heard in the news a few months ago someone was shot in Jamaica for asking why someone wasn’t wearing a mask, it did make me question if I should be training here.

As I woke on Monday I just didn’t feel that great. It is funny how your mind has now been programmed to jump to conclusions before any rational thought can come in.

At the same time my phone went off and it was my good friend Stony who I met on my first day of radiotherapy in 2019 to tell me his brain tumour had returned and he was en route to surgery on Thursday. Hearing that really hit me hard as he looks so healthy and is a constant inspiration to me on how to live life.

It wasn’t the greatest wake-up call but thankfully later in the week Stony got through another brain surgery and the surgeons got all of the tumour.

After hearing that good news I wanted to get up and get my body moving. But as I tried to stand both legs gave way and I was on the floor.

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The thing is that a spinal cord controls everything in our body and even a slight bug can affect the cord to the point where my legs just stopped working.

So that was me down to one arm – and after my fall even that is not functioning at 100 percent. At that point I then made the decision to just stay in bed and sleep until I can get over the bug.

I struggle with this as I want to be training, and relaxing in bed for me is not something I enjoy. I want to be out pushing my body. But my mind kept thinking ‘what if it is Covid?’ So I isolated away just to be safe.

The only good thing was that all my health stats that I track were reading OK. Within a few days I felt better and was starting to move around again.

I think I had probably just pushed a bit too hard as I still can’t support my weight fully on my good leg and have taken a few falls.

Maybe this is why the nurse in Stoke Mandeville wanted me to leave with a wheelchair. However, as long as I can stand I am determined to keep using my legs.

This is the mental side of paralysis and it’s a bit like lockdown. You want to do all these things but you’re not allowed and it can maybe make you apprehensive. As my physio put it, before your injury you could do 10,000 things and now you can only do 1000. So try to just focus on the one thousand things you can do and not think of the nine thousand you can’t.

This is very easy to say, but a lot harder to actually apply to your life.

I know I need to get my body moving again or it is going to cause even more issues.

Life with paralysis is a roller coaster of two steps forward five steps back. But as you try to get some level of fitness the trick is to try to enjoy the thousand things that you can do.


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