“Don’t compare your abilities with others who have a similar spinal injury”
The mention of classmates and batch mates always brings a big smile to our face. They are a part of our memories linked to the good old days from school/ college. What makes these people special is that we have gone through the same experience at the same time. The below profile is of Shishir, my rehab mate from the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre. We got our cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) at the same time, have lived a similar number of years as able-bodied people and most precious have been witness to each other’s transition into this new way of life. Till date we exchange life hacks and I look up to him as my Wikipedia on all things SCI.
Shishir Bhatnagar’s #LifeBeyondSCI
I was born in Visakhapatnam. On account of my father being in the defense forces I spent my childhood between Visakhapatnam, Mumbai and Delhi. I was an average student and enjoyed spending time outdoors. I took part in national level sailing competitions and enjoyed swimming. My love for the sea made me take up a career in the Merchant Navy after completing my schooling.
We were in a happy mood as our wedding anniversary coincided with my cousin’s wedding and the whole family was in Goa for a major celebration. It was a poolside party. During the celebrations, I accidentally fell into the pool as there was no safety rope or rails placed around it, and sustained a spinal cord injury. I thought I would drown and no one would notice. Luckily my wife, Nishi, saw me and asked my uncle who was in the pool with us to turn me over thereby allowing me to breathe. He pulled me out of the pool and rushed me to a nearby hospital. I was left completely paralyzed below the neck. Your body just switches off. You can hear stuff and you can see stuff, but suddenly you can’t feel your body anymore.
There was a lot of physiotherapy and rehabilitation for eight months and my wife Nishi was with me throughout. Nishi would take me to the rehab center and back, stopped her work and it was one year of turmoil. She protected me from the negativity, the crying relatives and faith healers.
After my injury, I had to learn everything from scratch again! The thing that bothered me most after the incident was that I had to be dependent on others for all of my daily requirements. From brushing teeth to eating, getting dressed to everything else, I needed assistance. Injuries, like the one I sustained, don’t just crush your way of life; they also crush your soul, your will to live, to do anything. But my family was determined to get me to be as independent as possible, I would attend tiring physiotherapy sessions from morning to evening, at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, which is the largest rehab center for spinal cord injuries in Asia.
There is no cure for spinal cord injury. The best option a person has is to go for quality rehabilitation that includes physiotherapy, occupational therapy and counseling for emotional vocational and financial needs.
Life beyond spinal cord injury
I had always loved and admired the seas from my childhood— my father had been a senior officer in the Indian Navy. I had cruised through the seven seas as part of my work as a Merchant Navy officer for 12 years. But the tragedy of it all is that the same water — that had once given me so much joy — had now taken away so much from me.
I now work from home as a nautical consultant for a Hong Kong-based shipping company. I live together with my little bundle of joy, Snuffy, a cocker spaniel. Having a dog takes away the negativity. Snuffy wakes me up, fights with me, and brings a smile to my face every time. Meanwhile, I have also gone back to adventure sports, having recently done paragliding and scuba diving (under special instructors). I have even gotten a tattoo for my wife on my arm.
I started out travelling by car initially as it seemed to be the most convenient mode. I have visited Chandigarh, Ambala, Jalandhar, Mathura, Agra, and Lucknow by road from Noida. Eventually I have also travelled by air. I visited my cousin sister in Bangalore and spend time with friends there. It was my first trip by air after my injury and I was able to travel without any difficulty. I also visited my relatives in Pune by air. I spent two weeks relaxing, enjoying the weather and change of scenery.
I wish to travel to Sydney, Australia and visit my sister who lives there. As it is a long way off I have apprehensions about managing the travel and staying there. It is on my bucket list.
Message for people who are newly injured
Fortunately, I met a number of excellent peer mentors, Physical therapists and psychologists who showed me that they were not just living a normal life but enjoying it to the fullest even after a spinal cord injury.
If you are recently injured, please give yourself some time for accepting and coping with this devastating injury. Do not compare your abilities with others who have a similar injury to you. Make the best of what you have and enjoy living life at a relaxed pace.