Archive for March, 2011

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Life on the Fringe

March 28, 2011

As well as the leg injuries I received when run over by a car, at the age of twenty, I also received serious head injury. My head and body went underneath the car and I was hit on the right side of my head, probably by the sump of the engine. This smashed my head onto the tarmac causing a fracture above my left eye and tissue damage down that side of my face. Bearing in mind that this happened on a dual carriageway and that the car did not even slow down, let alone stop, it beggars belief that I even survived.

On top of the concussion, I contracted meningitis, an infection of the fluid around the brain, and so for the following week, remembered little from one day to the next. Being in a surreal hospital environment, it was two weeks before I began to suspect that I couldn’t hear in my right ear. Subsequent tests showed that I had no hearing in it, at all, and I have never heard in it since. My head was almost certainly fractured on the right side, severing the nerve from my ear to the brain.

On leaving hospital I had to go back to live with my parents, for a while, and being largely confined to the house (my leg injuries preventing me from going far) I had no real trouble with my hearing. The only real problem I had was answering the phone. I was so used to picking it up with my right hand that I kept mistakenly putting it to my deaf ear. Once I had dispensed with the wheelchair and got onto crutches, it was time to head down to my local pub (The Queens Head in Dorking) for a Friday night out. As soon as I walked in the pub I was lost. I could hear people calling my name, but had no idea where they were coming from and I found it impossible to focus on a conversation.

In a similar way to using two eyes to judge distance, we use two ears to direct our hearing to a particular source. With only one ear to hear by, this becomes impossible and you are forced to listen to all the noise around you simultaneously. Picking out the speech of one person from the cacophony of background sounds is extremely difficult. All too often have I found myself trying to converse with someone on my deaf side when all I can hear is conversation on my good side that is nothing to do with me.

The damage to my hearing has had a profound affect upon me and in many ways has been more debilitating than the injuries to my legs were. As the years have gone by I have learned to compensate and struggle surprisingly less than I used to, but in my twenties it was a real problem. Some people thought I was a miserable or ignorant sod, but the truth was I simply hadn’t realised they were talking to me. Group conversations I found particularly difficult and I learnt to take a back seat, observing people rather than listening. This became not so much a habit as a fascination, especially when combined with my new found interest in posture and the way people use their bodies.

I spent a couple of years attending lip reading classes which I’m sure helped. We all read lips, to some extent, but do so subconsciously and it is not until you become ‘hard of hearing’ that you need to pay particular attention to this skill. You may well have noticed that someone suddenly becomes difficult to hear when they place their hand over their mouth, just as is someone with a bushy moustache obscuring their lips.

Hearing loss may be invisible, but as all disabilities do, it sets us apart from others and removes us a small step from the way of social interaction. I learnt to be happy to take a back seat in conversations at times, to be left out on the fringe reflecting on other sides to life and I believe this has helped me to develop a more philosophical approach. I am sure, also, that it prepared me well for life as a paraplegic which has further removed me from the mainstream way of society.

As we address my spinally injured body through ABR therapy we are addressing the weaknesses in my head that have come about through that spinal injury. In a bio-mechanical sense, our heads are the root of our strength and we must iron out the weaknesses there before moving on to lower regions. In this respect both of my ear cavities are weak, but the right ear has had weakness there since the previous injury which resulted in my deafness. Through ABR techniques we are strengthening the ear cavities and the hope is that as we do so the brain will once again recognize the existence of my right ear and re-establish the connection, resulting in a return of my hearing. After more than twenty years of being ‘hard of hearing’ this would be truly miraculous.

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The Art of Walking

March 21, 2011

Although I have little conception of what it is to walk, having not done so for nearly fifteen years, I remember vividly the struggles I had in the eight years prior to breaking my back and loosing the ability totally. At the age of twenty I was knocked off of a bicycle, left unconscious in the road and then run over by the following car. I suffered serious head and leg injuries, with a badly damaged left knee and a right ankle that was torn apart. I went down the conventional physiotherapy route until I was ready to soldier on back into life. For the next four years it got harder and harder to ‘soldier on’ until I was forced to reassess the situation. The answer was a renewed effort at more physio, which sparked the beginnings of developing a greater awareness of ‘the art of walking’.

For nine months I attended the leg class twice a week at the local hospital, growing stronger all the time. I had always enjoyed walking, and owned a dog, so applied myself to the task in hand. My approach was purely one of paying attention to muscular development. Our health establishment sees only that level in terms of strength. The higher level of the joints and bones of the skeletal structure they see purely as inert, possessing no quality that can be addressed and improved, and the higher level still of internal volume they fail to even recognize. I was forever questioning my physiotherapist (she soon got used to me!), but with limited knowledge had no reason to question the muscular approach. With what I have since learnt, it is now clear to me that I was dealing with serious weaknesses in the joints and the hydraulic capacity had fallen to such a low level that muscular effort could only ever further ingrain those weaknesses and do no more than compensate for them. However, the muscular approach was all I had at the time.

I began to focus on the specifics of walking, adjusting the angle of my feet and even the position of my knees. A podiatrist had told me that the arches of my feet had collapsed and made me some inserts to go in my shoes. My approach was to learn to use the muscles in my legs to hold my feet in that arched shape. I decided shoes were too inhibiting and took to walking around barefooted. It was hard on my feet to start with, but you soon toughen up; holly leaves were always the worst! We are talking, basically, of posture applied to the legs and it is amazing how, over time, you can alter the way you hold yourself. I started to question the notion that we walk on our heels.

No animal walks on its hock joints, what in a human is our heel. Many animals sit back on their hock joints when resting but always rise up onto their feet to walk. Having said that, no animal is a true upright being, not even the apes; they are all horizontal. Standing upright is what sets humans apart from the animals and so maybe walking on our heels is part and parcel of being human, an upright being.

I first came across this dilemma as a child. At the age of fourteen I ran the 1500 metres for the school (cross country was always my favourite, but track events were ok). The athletics’ teacher decided I should run in spikes and so my mother duly, albeit reluctantly, forked out for some spiked running shoes. What the athletics’ teacher failed to do, though, was to teach me to run up on my feet. I had never questioned how I ran and always put one foot in front of the other, placing my heel on the ground first. Unlike a pair of trainers, running spikes have no heel to cushion underneath yours and so the first race I ran simply tore my Achilles’ tendons. It took me over a year to get them to heal and was the end of my enjoyment of sport. If running spikes are designed to run up on your feet then it is clear that humans don’t always stomp around on their heels.

I pursued the art of walking up on my feet, taking small steps in quicker succession until I developed the ability to move almost effortlessly. You might have described it more as jogging than walking, but please don’t confuse this with that awful habit people have of hammering themselves into the ground in the name of fitness; it pains me to watch them. The movement I created I would have to describe as ‘locomotion’.

Breaking my back and becoming a paraplegic brought an end to this chapter of my life and it wasn’t until I became involved in ABR therapy (Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation) that I had a chance to reassess the way of locomotion that I had consciously created through attention to muscular effort. I had always been coping with damage to my joints and this affected the posture I developed. Using ABR techniques, despite the paralysis and after 12 years of living with those weaknesses to the joints, I have since addressed and improved those damaged joints. My right ankle was so bad that for years the foot and the heel had been locked together. After a hundred hours or so of working  on the ankle, the quality was improved to the point that the foot and ankle could once again be moved independently of each other. If only I had that knowledge all those years ago.

I am still undecided as to whether walking on our heels is part and parcel of being human or whether it is a slovenly state to which mankind has descended. I will reserve judgement until I can once more enter into the ‘art of walking’ and apply to that art the knowledge I have gained in rebuilding my spinally injured body. I do, though, look forward to attaining once again to ‘locomotion’.

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Internal Perception

March 7, 2011

There’s a saying in life that goes, ……”You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it”. When it comes to the seriously damaged condition of the body in the case of paraplegia, I think we need to re-write the saying to, ……”You don’t know what you’ve had until you not only lose it but regain it”. Leaving out of the equation, for now, the general decline in my body due to less than ideal living, something common to the vast majority of us, and the damage due to various other injuries, minor in comparison, we are dealing with an injury that causes catastrophic collapse of primary structures within the trunk of the body. In damaging the spinal cord, you damage the very core of the body, affecting every layer from the centre outwards.

However, when you suffer such an injury it is impossible to appreciate this loss of structure. Initially there is the trauma of such an accident together with weeks of bed rest, followed by rehabilitation based upon conscious muscular effort, something you are incapable of to any great, and true, extent, followed by a life of wheelchair use. By the time you settle down into your new found state of being, your able bodied past seems little more than a distant memory. It would be fair to say that I have little conception of what it is to be able bodied and that the art of walking has become something totally alien to my consciousness. What is more, I think nothing of living a life, as that horrible saying goes, ‘confined to a wheelchair’. The fact that I spend a great deal of time moving around without a wheelchair, putting pay to the saying, is a different story, but I do achieve an enormous amount through using a wheelchair. I keep dogs, manage land with sheep and keep geese to cut the grass in my garden. I cross a field in a wheelchair as though that is how everyone lives. The point I am making is that, if I had been truly aware of the extent of the loss of structure of my body, then I’m not sure that I could of embarked upon such a full and active life.

When I first got involved with Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation, four and a half years after injury, I felt quite insulted when Leonid Blyum told me that I had weaknesses in my upper body. Looking in the mirror I saw a body more muscular than I could ever remember. From the waist down I was dead weight that I simply had to carry around with me, but not from the waist up. However, it was not long before I began to appreciate those weaknesses. Not a conscious appreciation, though, but merely an academic appreciation. Conscious awareness is not possible when the primary structures of the body are so terribly depleted. You might wonder why you ache, wonder why it is difficult to hold your head up high or sit up straight, but to me the upper regions of my trunk, those parts not directly effected by paralysis, have always felt normal, until now that is.

After ten years of dedication to ABR therapy, things are falling into place. There has always been progress, but recently we have brought my pelvis back to life and regained some structural integrity, creating connection between the elements from head to pelvic floor. This connection is still in its infancy, but has brought with it a sense of ‘internal perception’ that I have never known before, not even when I was able bodied. For the first time I am consciously aware of the twist in my body. How the collapse begins in the left posterior neck, descending through to the pelvis. This explains why the left shoulder is so much weaker than the right. Years of conditioning of attainment to good posture have compensated for lack of stature (in a very superficial sense) masking that twist in outward perception.

The structures we have rebuilt in my body (brought back to life), were structures developed in very early childhood and so have always been taken for granted. In regaining those structures after years of loss, I have gained a truly wonderful internal perception of not just the strength that those structures bring, but, I believe, the structure itself. I hope I never take this for granted again.