When I was young, I remember seeing a dude in a wheelchair at a concert and thinking he was screwed. I certainly was no student of Spinal Cord Injury, my knowledge was limited to the idea that not walking must suck. Little did I know that when I got to rehab, walking wasn't even a morsel of conversation. As my therapy plan was unveiled, I learned that paralysis had engulfed me from head to toe. I had to re-learn how to survive in a body of which I had no control. I was flat on my back and couldn't move. I was out of the Stryker frame, but still had to turn from side to side every two hours so my skin wouldn't open up in huge sores since I couldn't feel pain or pressure. I went to the bathroom anytime and anyplace and wouldn't know it until the smell hit. My arms were across my chest and I could flop them a little, but not enough to scratch an itch, hold a fork, or wipe away my tears. I saw others wheeling around, but I lay still and couldn't feel anything. I'd watch people give me a shot, rub my legs, and wipe my ass and never felt the contact. It kind of reminded me of my foot falling asleep, except it was my whole body and it never went away. I'm a competitive dude, but this was out of my league.
The workout process started on the first Monday I was there. Again, my mind was blown with where I started. For my first therapy, I was taken by stretcher to a cold, sterile exam room. A team of aides slid me onto a table and strapped me in with belts covering my legs, pelvic area, and chest. They left me alone for about 15 minutes and I had no idea what was coming next. Finally, a tech came and explained that with my head injury AND the fact I've been flat on my back for over a month, my equilibrium was way off. It would be weeks before I'd be able to sit up without puking or fainting. He explained that I was strapped to a table that would start the process of retraining my system. That was my introduction to my new girlfriend, the Tilt table. Twice a day, I would strap in and find out how far I could tilt upward in a standing motion before I vomited and passed out. Yep, pretty romantic... The first day they put me around 15 degrees, very slight. In a manner of seconds, my cheeks got warm and I could soon feel my head start to pound. The tech was monitoring closely and watched as my face and chest started to get covered with dark red blotches. My ears were ringing in a tune I'd never heard and my eyes glossed over until I couldn't see. Those were signs that my blood pressure was going through the roof and had reached my vertical limit. Before I passed out, I remember starting to vomit, but nothing came out. I learned my stomach muscles were paralyzed and couldn't push it out; it was a bad dry heave. When I came to, I was back on my stretcher on my way to my room. My body had cooled down and I was feeling back to whatever normal had become. Having only moved 15 degrees, I had a long way to go and was facing the prospect of repeating this process several times in the next few weeks. I was defeated and knew immediately that the challenges in the next 5 months were bigger than me. I needed someone with a better plan.