No one ever plans ahead for an injury. So when it happens to you—especially something traumatic and potentially life-changing like a spinal cord injury (SCI)—there’s a lot of new information and new emotion to try to absorb all at once.
Although you may be feeling scared, down, or confused, rest assured there are many resources and therapies available to you, and caring people ready to support you and help you get on with your life and recovery.
Coming Home and Keeping the Faith
The excellent acute care you received in the hospital has done everything possible to minimize your nervous system damage upon injury. You’re now embarking on a longer road of learning how to adjust your activities of daily living and create adaptations that work around your physical limitations. Each spinal cord injury is entirely unique, but what they all have in common is a goal of maximizing how you’re able to use the physical function you have.
Whatever the nature of your spinal cord injury, some form of physical therapy exercise is available, in combination with other treatments, to help you preserve your health, minimize side effects, and in some cases, even regain some movement or sensation. We now know that neuroplasticity allows most people with an incomplete SCI to work on retraining their nervous system, potentially helping it reroute around the site of injury to make some degree of functional improvement.
Where the fields of medicine and positive psychology come together, there’s also good news about research discoveries linking humor, positive feelings, and attitudes—and personality traits such as “resilience” and “grit”—to improved health outcomes. So, don’t give up hope. No matter the severity of your injury or your level of disability, making an effort to focus on gratitude and surrounding yourself with the people and things that help you stay happy and positive can literally change the quality of the rest of your life.
What to Expect in Rehabilitation and Recovery
Your personalized rehabilitation program may start in stages, first with a focus on communication abilities and mobility, then move into occupational therapy to work on finer motor skills and things like vocational rehab or recreational therapy. Your rehab team may be led by a physiatrist (rehab physician) and may include physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, case workers, rehabilitation psychologists, vocational counselors, nutritionists, and of course, registered nurses (RNs) and certified rehabilitation registered nurses (CRRNs).
As part of your rehabilitation and general health care and wellness program, your clinicians will help you address and manage any symptoms you may be experiencing such as pain or tingling, bladder or bowel problems, breathing difficulty, spasticity (muscle tension), gastrointestinal problems, sexual dysfunction, skin problems, depression, or anxiety.
How Home Health Care Can Help
A multidisciplinary home health care team with SCI expertise allows your rehabilitation, health care, and community reintegration to continue long term and on your terms, in the comfort of home. An RN or CRRN clinical manager leads the home care team of specialists and collaborates with you and your doctor to make sure you get the assistive devices, medications, supplies, and reliable health care services you need to stay healthy at home and continue to work toward your personal goals.
Because they work one-on-one with you on a regular basis and follow your progress over time, you can get the benefit of individual attention, family education, home modification advice, and much-needed encouragement at every step. Over time, you’ll likely find that your multidisciplinary team has become more like friends and cheerleaders than clinicians. Whatever needs may arise living with spinal cord injury, your care team can point you toward solutions.
You can rely on your home care team to monitor your health status, oversee safety protocols, provide motivation and hands-on guidance with your rehab exercises, and help you manage your symptoms and daily activities. They also follow protocols to prevent and intervene in any potential complications that could lead to hospitalization, such as pneumonia, pressure ulcers, autonomic dysreflexia, or deep vein thrombosis.
Rebuilding Quality of Life
Of course, your doctor will give you much more specific information about the nature of your neurological deficit and disability, and help you set and achieve reasonable goals. But in the end, no one can predict what life after SCI will bring with absolute certainty; it’s largely what you make of it. The longer you learn to adapt to your “new normal,” the more confident and comfortable you may feel with the quality, independent, fulfilling life that you’ve chosen and you’ve rebuilt.