Archive for April, 2012

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A Broken Back

April 21, 2012

I’m not the kind of guy who does things by half and breaking my back was no exception; I did it in style. Don’t get me wrong though, overturning a dumper truck was a stupid mistake that cost me dearly. I managed to crush myself under two tonnes of machinery that quite literally folded my body in two, in a manner that it is not designed to do. Our spines are only so flexible and the forced hinging of my back at the thoracic lumbar junction caused catastrophic damage. The bottom thoracic vertebrae (T12) and the top lumbar vertebrae (L1) were put under such pressure that they essentially exploded. An x-ray taken at the time shows there is nothing left of those vertebrae but a shower of pieces; disintegrated into shards of bone.

I passed out in the accident, with the last breath being crushed out of my lungs, and when I came to I had stars in front of my eyes, just as you get in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. I had been freed from underneath the dumper truck by the good man I was working for, but it wasn’t until I saw the truck propped up by a sturdy piece of wood that I remembered what I had done. Only then did the pain hit me! I’d experienced plenty of pain in the past, including extremely painful meningitis (an infection of the fluid around the brain), but this was something else! I was taken by ambulance to Portsmouth hospital and driven ever so smoothly at no more than 15mph. As I was wheeled through the hospital on a trolley I remember the joins in the floor, those tiny bumps that you normally wouldn’t even notice, causing excruciating pain despite the morphine I had been pumped full of.

As well as the pain from the physical damage to my spine, I was also enveloped in pain from the waist down due to the nerve damage to my spinal cord. When I arrived at Salisbury Spinal Unit later that day, having been flown there by the Coast Guard helicopter, the consultant told me, “with the damage you have done you shouldn’t be able to feel anything”. I wasn’t sure what to think of such a statement, but with hindsight I think it was a good sign that my body wasn’t going to give up on me without a fight. In the following weeks of bed rest the pain in my spine eased, but when it was time to sit up I was still very conscious of how weak and damaged my back was, although strangely enough it was more fear than pain that drove my caution. By the time I left hospital, seven months after injury, I felt I had a strong back again, however, that weird neurological pain that enveloped my body from the waist down took years to subside.

After leaving hospital I struggled with enormous physical challenges, numerous aches and pains and many related health problems, but never did I have back ache. Something you would expect to be a serious problem just didn’t exist. It is only now, with all the work I have done rebuilding the bio-mechanical structure of my body, that I understand why this is the case. First of all, a spinal cord injury causes far more than the obvious physical damage; it causes catastrophic collapse of the intrinsic capacity of the body. Secondly, the body has an amazing ability to compensate and allow function to continue, albeit in a perverted form.

With that collapse of intrinsic capacity, due not so much to nerve damage as to the trauma of the accident, weeks of bed rest and the following wheelchair use, the core of the body is left so depleted that it cannot support proper use of the arms let alone the use of paralysed legs. The external skeletal muscles take over the role of structural support and the spine is left floating around inside the body, redundant of its true role. The weakness becomes buried and disappears from the view of consciousness. Had I not chosen to embark upon the path of rebuilding my body through ABR Therapy (Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation), then that weakness may well have remained buried for ever more. However, as we have rebuilt that depleted volume to the core of my body and re-engaged the true structural framework, the spine has come back into play as the structural core to the trunk.

Last autumn, for the first time in fifteen years, I once again felt that damage to my spine. We’ve dug up that weakness and only now can that physical damage be really addressed. It has not been pleasant and at times has been quite debilitating. Lifting myself up from lying on my front seems to put particular pressure on the damage region often with significant pain. I’m pleased to say that the situation is improving and the pain is considerably easing. Through continuing the hours of therapy, constantly inputting into the system of the body, we are slowly improving the structure, and addressing the weakness in the spine is but one more step in my journey back to full able bodied health.

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Upstairs Downstairs

April 1, 2012

I’ve long pondered the notion of having an ‘upper’ and a ‘lower’ body. It’s obvious that are arms and legs serve different functions, but the idea that you can draw a line through the waist and divide the body into two has never seemed quite right. I’ve spoken before about the absurd thinking that suggests a paraplegic can have a strong upper body while his legs are paralysed. Both the arms and the legs are dependent upon the core structure of the body and if that structure is depleted to the point that it cannot support use of the legs, then undoubtedly the use of the arms will also be affected. That core structure from the top of the head to the pelvic floor does indeed consist of five very separate elements, the head, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis (cranial, cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacrum), elements that can also be subdivided into smaller sections, but no element can exist in isolation. The quality of each element is intrinsically linked to the quality of the structure as a whole and visa versa. It is often thought that breathing is the function of the chest, but in actual fact it is a function of the entire core structure of the body.

It is clear, therefore, that although we can subdivide the body, its strength and quality is a product of the body as a whole and that if we are to make a distinction between upper and lower body, we must remember that the two are intrinsically linked. Having established this I would now like to talk about the nature of this division into upper and lower. What I am about to tell you is not an understanding I have been taught, nor is it an understanding that I have ever read about. It is an understanding of the body that I have arrived at through internal perception. As an able bodied person I took my body for granted and felt little need to develop a perception of it from within. As a seriously disabled person, my body became so far removed from my consciousness that the development of such perception was virtually impossible. Only through the rebuilding of that damaged body have I been able to gain the insight that I am about to portray.

First of all let us understand that we are talking here of bio-mechanics and so primarily the purely physical side to our bodies. The terms I use must therefore be thought of in a bio-mechanical sense. Each body has its control room, its power house and its articulation, descending down into the limbs as the end product. The head is the control room for the arms. Not as a centre of thought, but as a foundation providing stability from which the upper body can operate. From there we descend to the neck which is the power house for the arms. The strength of our upper body comes from the quality of our neck and the movement of the arms is driven from the neck. Then we move down to the top third of the chest which provides the articulation for the arms and from there into the arms themselves. The joints and muscles of the arms and hands give us the dexterity to use them, but the strength of the arms comes from what descends from their foundation in the head.

The lower body follows along the same lines. The bottom two thirds of the chest are its control room again providing that foundation of stability. The lumbar region (our waist) is the power house from where the movement of the legs originates and the top third of the pelvis provides the articulation for the legs. The legs themselves follow in the same manner as the arms. People often talk of building up muscles in our legs and arms, but what we are actually doing, when we train in such ways, is working up into those higher regions and building up strength there. The resulting muscle bulk in the legs and arms is a reflection of the strength and quality of the higher regions in the core of the body.

We are now left with the bottom two thirds of the pelvis which belong to the third body, that of the sexual organs. This body does not operate in the same way as the upper and lower bodies, in the sense that it does not have the control room, power house and articulation. It seems to rely on the lower body to provide for some of this function while at the same time being as separate from the lower body as the lower is from the upper. This is as much as I can say of the third body for now, but will continue my investigation there from internal perception.

Just as in the grand houses of old where the aristocracy lived upstairs while the servants operated downstairs, so our upper body is our aristocratic side while our lower body is the workhorse serving our upper. Our lower body transports us from place to place. It kneels, squats, sits and stands to position our upper body wherever we want it. This frees our upper body for the dexterous tasks, those which require the manipulation of the hands and the mental capacity of the brain. Maybe our third body is like the fine wine kept in the cellar.

Finally we must consider the top of the head. In the same way in which only the lower two thirds of the chest are the control room for the lower body (the top third being the articulation for the arms), only the lower two thirds of the head are the control room for the upper body. The top third of the head seems to be the overseer of all three bodies, the crown that rules them all. In an esoteric sense this is our centre of will.