By: Alex De Amicis
There is something important that everyone should know about people who have endured a spinal cord injury (SCI). They are in many ways the same person they have always been, only now, they are superhuman.
A SCI is a life-altering traumatic event that shattered the world they knew. Left in its grievous wake is a new person who must learn to live again amid a set of circumstances they likely never imagined. They must come to terms with a world that has fundamentally altered every facet of their waking lives; how they interact with those they love, how they present to new people they meet and how they take each step toward a recovery that is almost wholly shrouded in mystery. They must struggle to regain their autonomy and dignity while learning new ways to approach every challenge. They must set new goals, alter aspirations, and find new purpose. As they slowly emerge from this profound experience, one manifestation of their changed reality will be the stunning force of Hope in their life. Hope is resilient. Hope is against all odds. Hope is defiant. Hope is angry. Hope begins each day with the recognition of restrictions and limitations and then proceeds to ask for more; more individual effort, more strength, more resources and more community support. Hope perseveres through darkness. Hope is having every reason to give up but refusing to surrender.
You want to know what is wrong with the rest of us? We lack resilience because most of us have found a way to avoid suffering. Someone who has endured a SCI injury has come through suffering, and said, “There is more for me here, I am not done yet. Things can get better.” They become close friends with humility, patience, gratitude, and courage. They are in direct contact with human emotion and the human experience because they have had to embrace what few of us can bear to contemplate.
Unfortunately, they are also all too familiar with ignorance, unfounded stereotypes and lack of compassion and understanding from most of the population. As a Physical Therapist, I have been given the unique opportunity to become a part of my patients’ lives. I hear more stories about interactions with the uneducated public than I can list. They tear at my heart. They make me angry. When someone takes their grandparent’s Handicap tag to get a spot at the front of the doctor’s office and my patient cannot get to their much-needed appointment after getting up at dawn to make sure they are ready. I am angry. When a hostess glances at a woman in her wheelchair and then talks over her head to ask her husband if she can sit at a particular table. I am angry. When a renowned University refuses to let a man who recently became a quadriplegic take class online to finish his last semester of college. I am angry. Where is our compassion? When did we stop caring about everyone else? When did we stop putting ourselves in other people’s shoes? When did we become so ignorant and indifferent?
When my patients tell me these stories, I am usually the only one so angry I am red in the face. And my patients’? They are superhuman. They encounter these injustices each day. Where my anger lies, their hope endures, and they dig in. They are resilient. They advocate for awareness in schools and send in themselves as examples, they set up advocacy presentations, they volunteer in classrooms, they create safe spaces and events for people with SCIs, they finish school, they use social media as a platform to educate their friends and family. They also walk on the beach, learn to swim, start foundations, raise funds, set goals, and create dreams. They build futures and shore them up with hope. Finally, they learn that once you choose to hope, anything and everything is possible.
Over the last 7 years I have learned to hope. I hope for the day my patients are treated with the same kindness and respect they give. I hope for the day considerations for buildings, airplanes, outdoor spaces, events, and homes include accessibility for all. I hope for the day the public sees someone who moves differently from them as an asset to our society. I hope for the inspiring moments where my patients take back some of their autonomy and begin to command their resilient ever-beating superpower: Hope, and harness control of their lives.
Alex De Amicis is a Physical Therapist at Miami Physical Therapy Associates Inc. located at 2931 Coral Way Miami FL 33145. Feel free to reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org