My Own Awareness

A couple weeks ago, I learned September is Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Awareness Month. I’m embarrassed by my ignorance — I’ve been a quadriplegic for 20 years — seems my membership should be suspended for such an oversight.

I sometimes roll my eyes at the plethora of causes Americans must be aware of each month. And the days of recognition cooked up by social media are obnoxious. On any given day, twitter will be trending about national recognition for ice cream, cousins, labradoodles or mountain climbing. America even has National Vitamin C Day. Yet somehow, I’ve been blatantly unaware I should recognize something that’s been so affecting to my life. And what exactly should I (and the rest of the nation) be mindful of when it comes to spinal cord injuries?

Naturally, I’m regularly “aware” of my injury. I’m a C5 quadriplegic and require assistance with every daily living activity. It’s unsafe for me to be home alone, and I need someone with me whenever I venture out into the world. This is inconvenient, for sure, but I don’t think it calls for any special recognition. Things could be a lot worse for me.

When I sustained my injury in 1997, modern medicine and technology were making significant advancements in the SCI field, easing the affliction of quadriplegia. Moreover, I was injured seven years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law; I’ve been the beneficiary of civil rights warriors.

Wade Blank liberated disabled residents from dire nursing home conditions in the mid ‘70s. In 1978, the “Gang of 19” brought Denver’s public transportation to a halt by planting themselves in front of buses, demanding (and ultimately receiving) accessible transportation. Those outcries gave birth to the grassroots organization ADAPT in 1983, through which the disability rights movement flourished, enacting change through non-violent action. When the ADA was signed into law in 1990, places of businesses, parking lots and sidewalks were made accessible.

It’s those forward-thinking activists and legislatures who deserve recognition this month.

The nurses, doctors and surgeons who keep SCI sufferers alive also deserve national awareness.

I was in the neuro-intensive care unit for eight weeks following my car accident. From there, I spent three months in a rehabilitation facility. In the year and a half that followed, I spent more time in a hospital than at home as my body was ravaged by illness and infection. If not for smart, skillful physicians and dedicated nursing teams, I would not have survived my trauma.

In reality, it takes a village to maintain the livelihood of a person with a spinal cord injury. Paralysis can be a hard, ugly, money-sucking way of life, and it’s put upon regular folks just trying to survive like everyone else. And so, if the nation wants to recognize spinal cord injuries for a month, I say, “Thank you, America.” There are millions of nameless citizens who have dedicated their lives to the well-being of those of us with SCIs; all we can do now is continue to fight the good fight.

 

 

 

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