Archive for April, 2011

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Coming In from the Cold

April 21, 2011

After four years of charging head long into life with damage legs I was forced to find a better way. This I did and although I always had difficulty, I not only learnt to live with the injuries to my knee and ankle, but learnt to live well and stay fit and strong. All this knowledge I then applied to the condition of paraplegia after breaking my back. Paraplegia, though, is a whole different ball game to damaged limbs. The weaknesses penetrate much deeper, to an intrinsic level. In other words, it affects the core of our bodies and the root of our strength. My experience served me well and I managed to live to the best ability that my body could allow (and still do), managed to prevent further serious decline and even made some improvement in my functional ability. The trouble was, you can only go so far through conscious muscular effort and I soon reached that point. From then on in it is a battle to maintain that level and prevent the slow but steady decline that is inevitable with such a depleted physical condition.

I had learnt the importance of not pushing the body too hard and to keep it in balance, but even so I faced a dilemma. ‘Do I strive to grow fit and strong through muscular effort or do I become resigned to living a very much lesser physical existence’. Possessing that dogged determination of us Capricorns, there was only ever going to be one answer. Of course I strived to live as active a life as possible, but it was just as sure that this would one day catch up on me and that I would again have to ‘find a better way’. However, this time there was no better way in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel. A better way did not exist. Paraplegics do not improve. I was left out in the cold with the daunting prospect of living with paraplegia for the rest of my life.

Then one day I accompanied a young man with cerebral palsy to a centre where he was to undergo oxygen treatment in a pressure chamber. It’s what divers do when they get the ‘bends’; the idea being, in this case, that breathing pure oxygen under pressure allows it to penetrate into damaged areas of the brain to encourage healing. I didn’t think much of the oxygen treatment, a bit pie in the sky for my liking, but I did spend several hours watching a Russian gentleman who was teaching mothers with children with cerebral palsy to work upon the physical bodies of their children. Leonid Blyum had been invited to England by the woman who ran the centre and I was fascinated by what he was doing. I did not understand what effect the exercises were meant to have but I did have some grasp of his explanations about aspects of the body. He obviously had an understanding that went beyond that of the established medical profession and that of established alternative treatments which are often little more than the corrupt remains ancient ways.

Not long after, we discussed the possibility of me joining his therapy program. Leonid decided there was potential to make improvements to my physical condition and agreed to take me on if I so wished. Somehow I knew deep down that he had knowledge that could help me and so I decided to embark upon what is known as ‘Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation’ (ABR Therapy). This was just before Christmas 2000 and while back in my home town over the festive break I told an old friend what I was about to get into. His rather shocked response was, “Do you mean to tell me that you’re going to let someone tell you what to do!” My answer was simply, “Yes”, to which he replied, “I don’t believe you.” I’ve always lived life my own way and to this day, Leonid Blyum is the only person I’ve ever really allowed to tell me what to do.

ABR is a very slow and gentle therapy that addresses the deep structures of the body, rebuilding the depleted quality of intrinsic strength and it takes hundreds of hours of work to make substantial changes. I had to find a helper to work on me as the therapy relies upon the delivery of an external mechanical input and the ways in which you can work upon yourself are limited. I finally started in March 2001 and had to work for a whole year before appreciating that we really were engineering change in the structure of my body. This I could only do because I intuitively knew that I was on the right track, despite the fact that I had much to learn before I truly understood.

Ten years later I am working as hard as ever and not only still improving, but making enormous progress at actually conquering paraplegia. Walking is some way off, but it is now on the horizon and just as importantly my understanding, and awareness, of the body I live in has changed my whole perspective on health. The day I embarked upon ABR Therapy was the day I ‘Came In from the Cold’.

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Longing for Community

April 7, 2011

For my twenty first birthday, my sister got me a ‘personal horoscope’. In this it told me that life gets better with age, especially after thirty. When at the age of twenty eight I broke my back, I thought to myself, “How the hell can it get better now!”. I’m glad to say it did and has continued to get better ever since.

My twenties were a struggle. I was bitter with a world where we hurtle around in steel boxes trashing peoples’ lives. Disillusioned with a society that leads us to partake in mindless jobs, disconnected from who we are or any way in which we can work together. We have all become so individual that it can be a struggle to find community. I longed for a way of life that had meaning, and purpose, and could make me a part of something more than me.

As the Levellers said, “There’s only one way of life and that’s your own”. Although we may struggle to find community, the rise of the individual in us has freed us from the limitations placed upon us by the communities of old that were bound together in material ways. Many were born into a working way and followed in their father’s footsteps. Rarely does this happen today and we are all free to make our own choices. However, freedom comes at a cost. To be solely in charge of our decisions is demanding. No longer are we led by the way of the community and it’s as though we all have to be pioneers, which can be hard at times, especially when you have such high ideals as me.

After breaking my back, I moved to Brockham. A lovely little bungalow annexed to my landlord and lady’s. A Beautiful couple who had a large garden with geese, chickens and a veg patch; right up my street. The village had two local pubs, social club, shop and a friendly community, some of whom I knew and many more that have become my friends. When I needed help, people were there for me. Friends rallied round and I found a compassionate side of life. I very much enjoyed my time as a resident in that community, but there was something missing and what I truly longed for wasn’t to be found there. Such villages work well because of their affluence. The people who live there are hard working, and have to be, to be able to afford to live there. Most people get in their cars in the morning and drive off in different directions, pursuing their own paths in order to fund their lives and the community they so enjoy. Community has become something that we work for all week and act out at weekends. To really fit in you have to join in on this way, but I was someone who had just come out of hospital and the prospect of employment was daunting, leaving me to rattle around an empty village waiting for the ‘after work’ crowd to be in the pub.

I also broke my collar bone in the accident that left me paraplegic and despite the fact that the two halves were so overlapped that the bone only re-connected fibrously, my consultant in hospital refused to address the problem. The perverse mentality that says, ‘because I’m paraplegic there’s no need to sort out my collar bone’ prevailed until I finally persuaded a surgeon to mend it, two and a half years after injury. I had the good fortune to stay at Heatherley Cheshire Home while recuperating from the operation, which was successful, and found it to be a residential care home that had evolved as an extended family. I fell in love with the place. This had a lot to do with the land and outbuildings, not to mention the dilapidated old Lodge which is now my wonderful cottage, but it had more to do with finding a sense of belonging, a place where I could put my skills to good use for the benefit of the community, to regain purpose and worth in my life.

Heatherley was established as a care home in 1960 by Pamella Farrel and set up under the wing of Leonard Cheshire. The spirit of the movement ensured the opportunity for everyone to play their part in making the home work as a whole, leading to the community being known as ‘the family’. Unfortunately that perverse mentality, that seems to go hand in hand with our society’s way of governance, reared its ugly head again and powers that be, in the professional management that had taken over control of the home, insisted that people be labelled as ‘residents’ and ‘the family’ became taboo. Recently it has got worse still and those receiving care must be referred to as ‘service users’, while those of us looking after ourselves in bungalows must be ‘tenants’. However, you can’t destroy spirit that easily and deep down the family still prevails and as long as I live here that spirit will never die.