As you might imagine, becoming paralysed at age 11 wasn't quite part of my life plan.
However, this was what happened to me in August 1993 when I sustained a spinal cord injury. And yet, I think it was the fact I was only 11 year old, which became my saving grace. Children, properly supported, can be even more resilient than adults.
Now, as a solicitor, I represent clients who have sustained similar catastrophic injuries. Everyday, I see the worries they have about financing their new life and injury; whether they can return to work, or even their own home; and of course the stresses their new injury puts on their personal relationships. I try my best to help them through this with the benefit of my own experiences both professional and personal.
Naturally as a newly injured child, my thoughts didn't turn to mortgages or whether I would be able to get a job. At that time, I had no concept of just how expensive having a spinal cord injury could be. I had far more pressing concerns such as:
- Will my friends still like me?
- Will my younger brothers have to babysit me?
- Will I be able to get a boyfriend (and or have sex)?
- Can someone tell if I have an 'accident'?
- What happens if I fall out of my chair (possibly drunk...)?
The truth is I never worried about how I would earn money or whether I could live independently. I didn't even consider if I could go to university or drive a car. I just knew I would. And yet these are all quite natural concerns that I help my more adult clients with everyday.
The point being that as an 11 year old, albeit with some premature life experience, I was still relatively fearless and saw my potential, not limitations. I was still your average teenager, with the same concerns as all my friends.
Perhaps ignorance played its part. In 1993, the internet was still in its infancy. Today there's a wealth of information online. This is both good and bad, as with information can come misinformation. As such, informed medical professionals and charities still play an invaluable role at the very early stages of sustaining an injury.
Education about what it actually means to have a spinal cord injury is vital. The key is in receiving good advice and then having the confidence to advocate for yourself and seek out second opinions. Once these skills are mastered, your potential is limitless.
Sadly, there are still many medical professionals who fundamentally misunderstand spinal cord injury. I have had my fair share of nonsense advice over the last 24 years. One doctor advised me against using tampons as they would stretch me more than an able bodied person, for reasons I've still yet to fathom.
It's experiences like this that motivate me to guide my newly injured clients through the maze that they are presented with. I want them to benefit from the good aspects of the support that I had and which enabled me be where I am now.
As a solicitor, it's my priority to work out what my clients need, whatever their age or circumstance, to help give them quality of life. I then set out to get them whatever they need, both in terms of knowledge and also the finances to achieve their goals. No amount of money can compensate for a spinal cord injury, but if nothing else money can level out the playing field. This then allows my clients, and I, to fit in and be seen as equal. And that is all we want.
PS. The answers to the above questions are:
- Don't worry, the real ones will.
- No. In fact, some 24 years later, you will still be subbing them!
- Yes. And indeed yes. It's more than fine.
- It will seem far more obvious to you than anyone else, and over the years you will perfect the art of dealing and concealing.
- I find acquiring a few 6'3'' friends provides a good safety net. Also, check for fractures and maybe no more alcohol for the evening...
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