My name is Murray Drew, I live in Victoria, BC Canada. On December 15, 2004 I was hit by a car while riding my bicycle. I was stopped at a crosswalk waiting for a pedestrian to cross. The car hit me from behind, I went through the windshield, flew through the air when the driver hit the brakes then crumpled into a heap in the middle of the road. I was 53 at the time.
My neck broke at C2 (cervical 2) and I was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital where they fused, glued and screwed me back together. The impact knocked out my memory from several days before the accident to about 5 days after.
When I finally came to in the ICU I realized something was drastically wrong. My head was immobilized with a neck brace and I was completely paralyzed below my break. I was hooked up to a respirator and all sorts of monitors. There were tubes coming out my nose, my throat, my arms and who knows where else. I had a tracheotomy which created a tracheostomy (a hole in the trachea/windpipe) which was connected to a ventilator. I couldn't breathe on my own and I couldn't eat or speak. I was on morphine and numerous other drugs.
My wife Janet was in my room and told me about the accident. I asked her if I was paralyzed and she said "Yes you are". "Oh shit" I mouthed. It occurred to me that I had probably received quite a bonk on the noggin so I asked her if I had any brain damage. Her answer - "no more than usual" - was perfect, it made me smile and assured me that my brain wasn't too badly damaged (if she had known I had severe brain damage I doubt she would have joked about it). The doctors did tell her that I had massive spinal cord damage and I would never get any usable movement below my break. I would probably never be able to breathe on my own, I would never get off the ventilator and I would never walk again.
A few days later my left leg started moving. I was ecstatic and I waved it around all day to help strengthen the muscles. It was at this point that I knew I would walk again. That belief plus all the tremendous support I got (and continue to get) from my family and friends kept my spirits quite high. All my family had come to Vancouver to give Janet and me support and we are very grateful. Our friends weren't allowed in for several weeks but soon we had tremendous support from them as well.
Communication was a problem as I couldn't speak. I tried mouthing the words but that didn't work very well at first. I tried blinking morse code with my eyelids then with my tongue in different cheeks but that was pretty cumbersome. After several days we found that the best solution was me mouthing the words or letters with the help of an alphabet printed on four lines. If they didn't understand the letter right off they could usually get it if they knew what line it was on. Janet got very good at it and became my main translator.
I had a problem that was quite common to people with spinal cord injuries but none of the doctors or nurses had any answers. I always felt overheated even though my temperature was normal. They covered me with ice packs but that didn't do it. Then they turned the air conditioning down so low that the nurses hated coming into my freezing room but I still felt hot. During the day it was tolerable but at night I felt so hot I would wake up to nightmares about being thrown into a furnace or dying in a desert. One day I figured it out and "Oh what a relief it was".
Due to the tracheostomy I didn't have any air moving through my nose, which caused my upper lip and nostrils to feel hot. That made the rest of me feel hot even though my body temperature was normal. I was given a "yonker" hooked to air suction to suck the saliva out of my mouth (like a dentists' suction tube). It was mounted on a stand and by turning my head slightly I could use it on my own. One night before going to sleep I had them place the tip right under my nose. The suction moved cool air through my nose and I slept like a baby. Being paralyzed I barely moved and it stayed in place all night.
I was surrounded by experts and I encouraged them use their talents to help me get better. You want to stick a tube into my lungs and suck out the fluid 10 times a day well be my guest. Do it 100 times a day if you think it'll help. I also prodded them to wean me off the machines quicker than they were supposed to, but only if it was safe to do so.
Before the accident I had been a amateur racing cyclist in excellent shape with a good set of lungs. That helped me get off the respirator fairly quickly and the tube was removed within 2 weeks. I could now breath on my own, talk and eat real food. I actually enjoyed eating the horrible hospital food as it was infinitely better than the liquid slop they fed me through my stomach tube. Within a month I was moved from the intensive care/stepdown unit into a regular ward and I was put onto the waiting list for GF Strong Rehab Hospital.
By the time I got to the regular hospital ward they had weaned me off the heavy drugs and I started getting a lot of pain. The pain specialist upped my Gabapentin pain/spasticity medication until I was sleeping most of the time, but the pain continued to get worse. I stiffened up quite a bit because I was sleeping whenever the physiotherapist came by to do range of motion therapy and they were so busy that they didn't bother waking me up. I was in tears, I could feel my chest clamping up as the muscles got tighter and tighter. All my limbs were getting stiffer by the day. I desperately wanted to start my rehab, especially since they kept telling me most of my gains would happen in the first 6 months, and here I was wasting my most valuable recovery time getting worse.
Janet tried to do get my Gabapentin dosage reduced as she found out that one of the side effects of Gabapentin was increased pain. After 5 days of no action from the Hospital she gave them an ultimatum, start reducing my dosage or we'd control the medication on our own. She certainly got the ball rolling, the next day I saw 5 specialists and the dosage was slowly reduced. My pain became more tolerable and we kept reducing the dosage till I felt there was a good balance between pain and medication. I now do that with all my medications (under doctor supervision). Reduce the dosage, see if there is a change and keep reducing till you reach a balance you can live with. This may not always work but I only take medication when absolutely necessary and will eliminate the medication entirely if at all possible. That episode was a good lesson for us. You have to be your own advocate (or have someone like Janet to do it for you) and speak out when necessary.
I was ready to go to GF Strong Rehab Hospital but I had to cool my heals for an extra month before I was able to get in, but by mid February I finally made it. I was very upset that I couldn't get any meaningful rehab in the hospital but that was now in the past. Now it was my time to work to get better and I was going to use the facilities at GF Strong as aggressively as I was allowed.
My first physiotherapist was brand new but my symptoms were far too complex for a fresh graduate. She was going to make an excellent therapist one day but I needed an experienced therapist immediately if I was going to maximize my limited time at GF Strong. I was officially given one hour of physio per day but I requested a transfer to Mora, a very aggressive therapist who would multi task by combining the times of the several patients, setting each of us up, then rotating through us as required. I was now getting about three hours of physio per day instead of one. You had to be able to work on your own for much of the time but for me it worked out well. It was a very slow grind but I could see results. There were several other drop in programs that you could participate in (hand class, pulley class, art class, therapeutic pool time, recreational trips about town and to the pool, cooking class, recreational games, computer dept etc) plus there was a gym on site that was open part time and had volunteers to give a hand if required. If you weren't motivated or if you could not work on your own then GF Strong could be quite lacking, but for me it was okay. They have been cutting services steadily for many years and I understand they have continued to cut services since I left. A crime really.
When I first arrived at GF Strong I couldn't lift up my arms or my right leg at all. When using my power wheelchair my left hand had to be placed onto the controls and I had just enough wrist and finger movement to operate the controls. When my hand fell off I had to get someone to lift it back on. My right arm had absolutely no movement but you could see some slight movement of my fingers if the light was just right. My left leg had fairly good movement but it was maybe 10% of what it had been. My right leg had no movement what so ever. I had a fair amount of pain on my right side (at first that surprised me but it's quite normal to have no movement or feeling but lots of pain). I couldn't feed myself, wash, brush my teeth or hair, shave, scratch an itch, blow my nose, wash or go to the bathroom on my own. I was a pretty big mess but my spirits were high. The support of family and friends helped a lot, as did being in rehab therapy and being around other people with similar injuries. And for the most part the food there was actually pretty good.
I was allowed to stay at GF Strong for about 6 months and I went home in August 2005. I had recently starting walking and I was just able to walk out the front door under my own steam. At home I found a very good physiotherapist and a good massage therapist and I continue to go to them on a regular basis. I have tried chiropractic, acupuncture, cranial sacral therapy and pool therapy. I go to the pool, to the gym, go for walks, use my recumbent trikes, handcycle, lever wheelchair and my other gismos.
Equipment I Own And Some Of My Therapy
• APT - stationary foot/hancycle for use with a wheelchair or chair. It has lots of adjustments and supports as well as motor assist if required
• Cardon Rehab - excellent wall pulleys at an excellent price. You see these industrial quality pulleys in a lot of clinics
• Ezee Motor - mounted on my Hase. A high quality front wheel electric motor. It is geared for more torque up hills, has a top speed of 32km/h and has absolutely no motor friction/drag when the motor isn't in use
• Greenspeed - Anura recumbent delta trike. A very good delta trike for the money. Includes a Schlumpf Speed Drive, rear differential, bar end shifters and front and rear brakes. All those extras were an additional charge on my Hase
• Hase - Kettwiesel recumbent delta trike. One of the best delta trikes made, I love it
• Nintendo - my wonderful kids got us a Nintendo Wii which is a painless and fun way to encourage more movement
• Rio Mobility - Dragonfly handcycle attachment. Pops on and off my Quickie GP Swingaway in seconds. A very good value for a multispeed (Shimano Nexus 7-speed internal geared) attachable handcycle.
• Rota Mobility - I have the RoScooter lever drive with 8-speeds and a reverse (front wheel rotates 180° for reverse)
• Trailmate - the Joyrider recumbent delta trike. An inexpensive utility trike. A bit hard to pedal but it's perfect if you need to store or leave it it outside as it's very durable. Looks like a scooter. I found the gearing too high and instead of changing the gearing I sold it
• Victoria Exercise Rehab - I've been going here since July 2005 with excellent results
• WalkAide - a foot-drop FES (functional electrical stim) to stimulate one muscle that doesn't fire. It certainly lifts my foot but it deflects it somewhat to the side. It has improved my form by forcing me to improve my gait so that the onboard computer can figure out the proper time to fire. It may also be helping my nerve connection to the weak musscle but I haven't been able to prove it one way or the other. I no longer use the WalkAide as I am too wobbly and the computer has a hard time determining my gait and would not fire accurately.
I still have a lot of recovery left in me, my rehab started in 2005 and I'm still improving.