Saturday, 11 November 2017

Some Cautious Positive Permobil News

For anyone using a Permobil M300 powerchair and has had interest in my ongoing problems with my Permobil, I cautiously offer some optimism.

 An earlier "clunker" to my Permobil M300; Note electrical cord plugged into rear of auto.

I am still involved in the process of moving from one house and city to another.  Having received the most timely offer of a Quantum powerchair by a friend, I was able to leave the Permobil M300 at my old house for use there while I pack and the Quantum at my new house - thereby not having to move powerchairs from home to home as I work at each location.  I save lots of room in the van in not having to move the chair each time; more room for packed items.

Over a year ago the Permobil's motors failed, one after the other - and one replacement motor also appeared to malfunction requiring its replacement.

More recently it was the power control unit (my term) which failed; the computer or controller board which distributes the power to the motors from the joystick commands.

Whenever I was at my old house using the Permobil, the powerchair would lose control of one motor.  With only one motor receiving power, all I could do is drive around in circles about that non operational tire. My technician contacted both Permobil Canada and the U.S. Permobil operation but neither had little interest nor solutions to my chair's problems.

My technician discovered that by unplugging the wiring harness' Molex connector to that motor and then reconnecting it - the system seemed to reset and become operational again.

This required someone to remove the rear plastic housing and unplugging/replugging the correct connector as described above.

This happened so often that I chose to leave the rear plastic housing off for ease of accessibility.

Okay - I promised some cautiously optimistic news on my Permobil M300.

It has not shut down over the last four times I have used it -several days at a time!!  Keep your fingers crossed for me!!
*   *   *

Monday, 16 October 2017

Hot Seat (Powerchair Fires)

I received a curious and distressing e-mail from a Pittsburgh Pennsylvania lawyer a couple of weeks ago.

The gentleman contacted me after seeing my blog and was specifically interested in my perpetual problems with my Permobil M300 power wheelchair.  He outlined that he was representing a family that had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a wheelchair manufacturer and asked if I was willing to speak with him on issues relating to the Permobil M300 powerchair.  I agreed to help in whatever capacity I might be of service and e-mailed back my phone number.  The Lawyer again e-mailed me and said he would call the following Monday.

I gathered from his e-mail that the powerchair operator was using a Permobil M300 which had somehow ignited - resulting in severe burns to his body.  Sadly, the unfortunate gentleman had succumb to his injuries.  Apparently the family had reason to believe that the powerchair itself was the source of the fire and responsible for the man's death.

I waited for the call the following Monday but as far as I can discern none came;  I did not receive a call nor was there any message on my answering machine on that Monday or for the few days that followed.

I suspect that after some consideration, the lawyer decided that in spite of all my problems with my Permobil powerchair, self-immolation (burning alive) was not one of them and my assistance would not be worth the long-distance phone call.

Curious, I searched the internet for any 'deaths by wheelchair fire' in Pittsburgh and could only come up with one event that might match the description.  Though it occurred in January of 2016, it does take time for wrongful death/legal suits to be filed and investigated.  This seemed to be the most recent incident which fit the circumstances.

The gentleman in this case was found engulfed in flames near a stove in the kitchen.  The articles I found on the internet did not state the make or model of the wheelchair.  There were no other specifics offered to clarify if he was cooking at the time or whether he had a portable oxygen unit, etc.  The kitchen just may have been the closest exit or escape route to where he could find help.

I would think the burn pattern would be telling as to whether the powerchair was the source of ignition or there was some external source or event which engulfed him in flames.  I suspect from the lawyer's phone call that there was enough evidence to suspect that it may indeed have been the powerchair.

Pittsburgh Powerchair Article (CBS Local)

Pittsburgh Powerchair Article (Times Leader)

Pittsburge Powerchair (YouTube)

After a bit more searching on the web, I was distressed to learn that powerchairs erupting in flames is not a totally uncommon problem.  Apparently both Invacare and Pride powerchairs have had ongoing issues with powerchairs erupting in flames. I assume that have been adequately addressed and issues have been reduced if not eliminated.  When dealing with electrical devices, I'm not sure if it is possible to totally eliminate all dangers.

Other related articles which may be of interest:

Orange Observer Article

Texas House Fire

A Personal Injury Lawyer's Page with various incidents listed
The overheating and fire issues have been attributed to both manufacturing defects and possibly from sustained overuse.  Batteries and short-circuiting wiring harnesses have both been implicated.  In some cases a five-cent fuse may have prevented a fire from a short-circuit which for whatever reason (company profit?) was eliminated.

 As my wheelchair technician explained, wheelchairs, as any other product or commodity, are made as cheaply as possible: Not to save the consumer money by making the item affordable, but rather by maximizing profits for the company shareholders.  A few cents saved here, there and where-ever possible adds up to thousands of dollars over time.  Remember the stories about how airlines stopped handing out packets of peanuts on flights or that a fast-food franchise offered one squirt of ketchup on a burger instead of two resulting in  hundreds of thousands of dollars saved over a relatively short period of time.

So, I cannot confirm that the unfortunate wheelchair fire I presented here was in fact a Permobil M300, nor that it was the cause death.  However I did find it curious that I was contacted by a lawyer representing the family of a deceased individual who was operating a Permobil M300 when he received lethal burns.

The incident described by the lawyer allegedly occurred using a Permobil M300. Again the circumstances are unknown to me and must be proven before assigning blame.  Assume Permobil innocent until proven otherwise.

However, I will be much more aware of any heat or smoke when operating my own Permobil or my Quantum.

*   *   *

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Do-it-Yourself Wheelchair Repair when Professionals are Unavailable.

Two week waiting list!!  Having moved to a new town, I call up the local wheelchair repair service of the franchise I have been using for the last few years (Motion Specialties).  Those who may be bored enough to follow this blog know that I had high praise for the franchise after my dreadful experience with Shopper's Home Healthcare.

I say "call up" however I first filled out their On-line Form requesting service, then with no reply, the next day I call their office only to find myself punching buttons to reach inappropriate voice mails (with no cue as to when to start speaking).  Still no reply, I send an e-mail and ask for a call-back.  Some time on the third day I get a e-mail (no call-back) telling me that the next available time-slot for a house call would be in the afternoon -IN TWO WEEKS TIME!

I`ve found out that their preferred mode of communication is via e-mail.  Who knew!

My first experience was fairly positive.  I wanted to introduce myself to their system so I unknowingly started by sending an e-mail with a summary of my problem, my make of powerchair, my address, etc, etc. The response was fairly prompt - within a day or so.

However, two weeks to receive a service call is unacceptable as anyone who is dependent on a wheelchair knows that the wheels are your life.

The phone situation was also unacceptable as if I become stuck in a sewer grate while crossing Main Street during rush hour during a rain storm while short of meds - I have to have some sort of emergency number to call which will respond promptly by phone, if not by service.  No emergency number was offered when calling their business.  No option to speak to a real live person was available.

I understand that the bulk of Shopper`s Home Healthcare clients were dumped upon Motion Specialties when Shopper`s abruptly closed without notice.  They also lamented that a service technician was on sick-leave as well.  More work, less staff; I understand to a point.

Here was my problem:  The weekend was two days away and I had out-of-town friends coming over.  The bearing in my Quantum powerchair had disintegrated - with parts spilling out from the assembly.  I need a technician to replace the bearing in my front caster so that I can enjoy the weekend with my overnight guests.



So what to do? I came up with several options - none of them acceptable.  My manual chair has canted wheels and will not fit through most of the doors in my home.

I settled on dismantling the caster wheel assembly and taking the broken wheel/bearing down to Motion Specialties and sitting there in their lobby until I received service.

Luckily things worked out and my faith was somewhat restored.

They had two new front wheels including casters in stock and I was able to purchase them (no questions asked).  I bought the two reasoning if one was in such bad shape, the other probably is too.  The bearings appear to be fitted to the caster wheel such that they are one unit and they are sold as such.  As I was prepared to do the work myself, I saved the cost of the service call!

With only hours to go before my friends arrived, I regret that I didn't take photos of the process.  However, for those who are capable and find yourself in a similar situation, below is what I did to change over the caster wheels.

A photo of the Quantum's front caster wheels removed.  The wheel to the left shows the bearing removed with remaining contents in the plastic bag beneath. The right wheel shows an intact bearing withing the wheel.  The axle runs through the smaller hole in the center of the bearing.

Start by removing the rear cap by unscrewing the two Phillips screws.

With the cap removed, the pozi-lock* nut is visible.  This nut screws onto a bolt which runs through the assembly.  To remove this nut you'll need two socket wrenches (17 mm or equivalent in inches)
*The Pozi-nut is a self-locking nut which prevents the unintentional loosening of the unit during usage.  It may go by other names depending on manufacturer/country, etc.

Shown above -the right front caster with a 17mm socket wrench below and one above.  The bottom wrench keeps the bolt from spinning while you loosen and remove the nut above.  Note how much of the bolt shaft protrudes above the nut and try to reproduce this when reassembling (explanation follows below)

Note:  When you remove the nut, the bolt can be pulled out through the bottom.  Caution:  The bolt holds a spring sandwiched between two cupped washers (upper and lower).  When assembled, this appears to act somewhat like an initial shock-absorber. Additional springs on the caster arms further soften the ride. (not shown)  Over tightening compresses the spring such that there would not be one there.

Next you will need two 5 mm hex wrenches for opposite sides of the caster assembly.  While the bolt that was removed above holds the wheel to the frame and acts as an initial shock-absorber, the hex nuts secure an axle along which the wheel can move up and down along bumps, cushioned by the spring on the previous bolt.  One hex nut is short (remember which side -will go in one way properly) and the other hex is part of the axle bolt.  Once the smaller hex nut is removed, use the hex wrench to push the bolt through the shaft in which it sits.

With these two items removed, the caster assembly should be free of the chair and can be removed to be worked on on a table or in your lap.

The previous photo showed the hex bolt on the inside (left side) of the caster assembly.  This photo shows the opposite side (larger face) of the hex nut.  (this is why you should remember which directin the bolt went in).  Hex wrenches in turned opposite directions loosens this bolt/axle for removal.

I had the wheel in my lap when I did this; recreated here for effect.  Two 13 mm socket wrenches turned in opposite directions (or hold one in place and turn the other) loosens the wheel axle proper.  It can be pushed through releasing the rubber wheel from the mount.  Careful as other metal washers will also come along - keep track of where these come from and replace when reassembling.  These washers generally act as 'spacers' or provide a more robust surface against which the bolt heads reside.

When reassembling, everything goes back in reverse.  You may find a tiny ring floating within the bearing which may impede the axle being placed through the tunnel.  I placed the wheel sideways on a flat surface used a small shaft screwdriver to center this ring so that the wheel axle passes through unimpeded.

I probably should change the rear caster wheels as well but I think that they generally get less pounding than the front ones and are probably in not as bad shape.  They are also somewhat larger in diameter but are probably easier to disassemble.

I put this Quantum chair through some very heavy usage at my new home.  I was doing some landscaping in my back yard and probably shoveled a ton of soil in the process.  The large, square patio stones have shifted over the years with frost heaves and between soil movement and weed growth between the cracks.  Crashing through, over and getting stuck in between the patio stones put a lot of pressure on the wheels bearings and suspension.

At least the Quantum runs.  The Permobil sits ant my other residence (still in the process of moving) and often fails to move on a flat, even surface.

*   *   *

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Permobil -Need I say more?

I was lucky enough to be offered a Quantum power wheelchair from a friend after seeing the never-ending problems I was experiencing with my Permobil M300 powerchair.  The Quantum was a "discard" after the previous owner operated the chair for some five-plus years and qualified for ADP assistance for a new replacement model.  The Quantum would have gone to the scrap heap.

With my ongoing move to another home in another city, I was delighted that I could now take the Quantum to my new home while leaving the Permobil at my old residence.  My primary wheelchair now became the Quantum with the Permobil as an unreliable back-up.  The Quantum was a 'God-send' as it was about an inch narrower and could fit through the doors of my new 1960's era home where the Permobil could not.

The condition of the 'hand-me-down' Quantum could not be guaranteed.  Regardless, I found it more reliable than the Permobil which has had just about every part replaced on it.  The Permobil is in essence a new powerchair which still refuses to run reliably.

I return to my old home with my manual wheelchair then use the Permobil to sort and pack my possessions for shipping to my new home where I have the Quantum.  Works out great!...Sort of.

Over my last four visits the Permobil has 'failed' three times.  By fail I mean that I have the continuing problem of the right motor becoming nonoperational resulting in my only being able to drive around in circles using the left operating motor.

My wheelchair service provider, Motion Specialties, has been great in trying to resolve this problem. The Permobil manufacturer - not so much. Both motors on the Permobil failed within a month of each other and were replaced -one twice.  The computer-controller unit has been replaced, yet the problem of why one motor cuts out cannot be solved.

Permobil headquarters in the U.S. asks for the 'error/maintenance code' that is being displayed on the joy-stick controller.  There is no error code being displayed!!!  Then they can't help us!  Their machine won't run, but they can't help.  Permobil U.S. did offer to sell me another motor at $1000+ Cnd, which would be the third replacement motor, to replace the one that cuts out.  That was their solution!

My service tech found out that if the motor is unplugged and then reconnected, the system appears to reset itself and the chair runs again....for a while.

So this is what I do now.  Every time the Permobil powerchair acts up, I have my wife unplug the 'Molex' plug to that motor -wait a few seconds and then plug it back in.  Just like turning a desk-top computer off and on again to reboot it.

The plugs are located under the plastic housing at the rear of the powerchair which is held on by two thumb-screws.  In anticipation of this being an ongoing problem, I have left the back housing off permanently.

The photo above shows the Permobil M300 with the rear housing removed.  The yellow arrows point to the three 'Molex' plug-in connectors.  One for each motor (Left and Right) and the central one which powers the controller [box in photo] itself (& joystick connection on the controller also).  Whenever my chair fails, I unplug the connector (right in this photo), wait a few seconds and plug it back in.  From this pattern, I suspect it is the controller which is the problem however it has been replaced (new) and my service tech even tried another from the shop with the identical problem reoccurring.  I do not believe it is the cable itself that shorts out or fails as simply wiggling it about does not solve the problem -it has to be physically unplugged and re-plugged.

As mentioned in previous posts, the Permobil fails when trying to reverse from a stand-still.  The chair is not under any additional load and it has always been on flat tile flooring or a low-pyle carpet.

So, for anyone else experiencing similar problems, try this and see if it works for you -temporarily as it may be.

*   *   *

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Paralytic Spasms

 The short video above best illustrates what I have to contend with each night when my paralytic spasms begin.  The jerking leg movements you see in the video are spontaneous and I have little control over them.  They 'trigger' every six seconds to every twelve to fifteen seconds and usually last one or two hours although the longest episode I experienced was eight hours.
My leg is jumping on its own - I am not assisting the movement!

Paralytic Spasms -they are almost as devastating as the paralysis itself. (but then there is also the nerugenic burning pain, sciatic pain and the stiffness too!)  How do you wish to be tortured?  Which agony will come to the forefront today?

I am on the maximum oral dose of Baclofen, however, I find it does acts more on tightness does little to reduce the spontaneous repeated contraction of muscles.  'Drip, drip, drip of neurotransmitter?  Does the injury prevent some signal which would allow the neurotransmitter to dissipate and therefor not accumulate until the 'neurotransmitter bucket' is full and now overflowing? Drip, spasm, drip, spasm, drip, spasm...

Devastating as they are, I don't wish to have some doctor insert a tube into my spine connected to a liquid Baclofen pump to shoot this drug directly into my spinal column. My opinion on the doctors I've encountered can be found elsewhere in this blog.

While I can get spasms any time of the day, they usually do not last long in the daytime.  It is only at night when they come on in full force with the leg becoming increasingly "creepy feeling" and then the contractions begin.

I don't believe it is because at night I'm reclined in bed with my feet up.  I may lay down during the day to read a book or such with no spasms at all.  Night time seems to be the common denominator in this puzzling formula.  Does one's physiology change so much at night and if so, what physiological product produce (or is lacking) triggers these unbearable contractions?  What is the exact mechanism by which Baclofen is supposed to work?  (another blog post?)

So you can see how devastating they can be.  I can show you the jerking motion but I can't give you a real sense of the 'creepy inflated burning tingling' sensation that ramps up when the spasms are about to start and last until they peter out.

Just as a moderate example:  If my leg jumps, say, once every 10 seconds, over three hours it would have jumped 1080 times.  Just try to sleep with some demon grabbing your leg and yanking on it all night long!  The above video shows the motion while I'm on my back.  On my stomach, the motion lifts my heel to the ceiling.

On rare occasions, putting pressure on the foot by placing it on a flat surface and pressing down on it may help.  Most times it just has to run its course -and hope you remain somewhat sane at the end!

I had previously wondered why my pain and spasms were so bad when my injury (infection around the T5 - T7 location) did not seem so severe.  While I still cannot walk unsupported, I have proprioception, sensation and can slightly wiggle some toes on either foot.  Then it occurred to me.  Perhaps my pain and spasms are so bad because my injury was not so severe.  If someone has a partial severing (crushing, intrusion, etc) of the spinal column, those fibers no longer connect and cannot transmit. Perhaps my spinal column is intact but due to the bacterial toxins and enzymes, the pathway is modified but the signals can get through.  I only know my own level of pain and sensation and no one else so how can anyone realistically judge another person's severity of sensation?  Perhaps what I feel as severe, someone else thinks is moderate or vice versa.  Curious...

*   *   *

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Accessible & Affordable Healthcare –A few thoughts on Ours and Theirs

As a Canadian, I have been watching with fascination the Trump administration’s ongoing attempts to repeal and replace the ‘Affordable Care Act’, or as Trump prefers to call it “that disastrous Obamacare.”

It is my personal belief that healthcare is a human right and not a frivolous luxury.  It is non-negotiable.   I also believe most Canadian citizens feel blessed to have universal healthcare coverage.   I have heard it described by some as healthcare “free” for our citizens.  It is not free – we pay for it dearly and hold it just as dear.  Others call it “Socialized Medicine”, then recoil, shudder and brush the term off themselves as if they had walked through a dense spider’s web.

We’re a democracy!  We don’t need any of that red socialism!  We’re proud capitalists!  You keep that pinko socialism in your own country!

But where does that term ‘socialism’ come from?  It is derived from the word ‘social’ (Society).  The dictionary defines the word ‘Social’ in several ways –here are a few.

  • of or relating to human society, the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society.
  • tending to form cooperative and interdependent relationships with others.
  • living in more or less organized communities.

America already had social institutions.   Nationally or Federally the American Military is a social institution.  All citizens pay for this service through their taxes and in return the country as a whole is protected by its military.  On the State level, State Militias may exist paid for by its citizen’s tax dollars

While private schools are commonplace for those who wish to opt out of local residential schools paid by one and all through their local taxes

Your local fire department is another social service.  Can you imagine the chaos if it were not?  Imagine if your neighbour’s house catches on fire and he’s not home to call his fire department.  Yes, I said “his” fire department.  If your town did not wish to have a social service of a common fire department, each homeowner would be free to sign up with one of the competing fire extinguishing services available in town.  You better have the number of your neighbour’s fire department as your own will only extinguish you house if on fire.

Socialism is simply working together for a common good – a common necessity.

I wish I had noted the name of the Republican spokesperson that stood before an interviewer and said “no American wants to have socialized medicine.”  I have to wonder if the parents of a gravely sick child would accept socialized medicine to save their child or would rather let their child die a fiercely proud red, white and blue American without that “pinko” taint on him/her.

Don’t get me wrong.  I too feel there is too much government involvement in my life.  The big wheels of bureaucracy burn far too much fuel and need way more grease for the meagre work accomplished.  However, the collection and administration of healthcare funds is not one of them if done proficiently.  Federal taxes collected could then be distributed to States according to population, age, specific needs.  Feds act as a ‘not-for-profit’  insurance agency however individual States know best how to distribute the funds as needed.

Why is the American Affordable Care Act faltering?  Why do costs rise so drastically?  Because it is administered by the Insurance companies.  While the government is responsible to the American citizens, the insurance companies are responsible only to their stockholders.  Capitalism at its bestIf people use the service (ACA) then there is a greater pay-out and less profit for the stockholders!  It is always about the money.

I fail to see any resolution of this issue if the Insurance Companies are left in control of the administration.  Liberal Democrats wish to see better and more extensive coverage.  It seems that Conservative Republicans wish for total independence; pay for it yourself or suffer.  And that same polarization – that divide is also seen within the Republican Party itself.  Moderate versus those staunchly conservative.  Eight years in opposition yet they have no well thought out replacement plan to offer.

It puzzles me.  So many Republicans appear to represent the “evangelicals” – from the “Bible belt”.  “Help thy neighbour, etc, etc.”

Take the U.S. Marine’s slogan of “No man left behind”.  Every warrior is my brother and all will be done to save you or recover your remains.  But the same sentiment does not seem to apply for the average American citizen.  Can’t pay for your healthcare, predisposing medical issue, etc?  -You're left behind -second class citizen…

The whole idea behind socialized medicine is that we all look out for each other.  We all pay into the system whether sick or healthy and by doing so we all look after our ‘brothers and sisters’.  So I don’t need it now, but I will age and will no doubt need it as the future nears.  And who among us can predict when an accident will occur.  I will gladly pay so that my neighbour or their child doesn't have to suffer.

Is our Canadian system perfect?  Not by a long shot but nobody wishes it repealed and replaced.  It needs to be tweaked when necessary.  It will always remain a work in progress.  I remain forever grateful it was there for me when I acquired an infection and became a paraplegic.  Six month stay in the hospital and I received no bill for their extensive services.  My fellow Canadians looked out for me and after I recovered I returned to work.  The taxes from my paycheck will look out for someone else.

America has a socialized military, elementary education, fire departments, police departments, utilities and so forth.  I find it surprising that Americans draw the line at socialized healthcare.  It simply astounds me...

Money for expanding the military and building walls, but not so much for looking after ailing citizens.  Go figure!

Although I have healthcare, don't shoot me for my opinion.  Just my point of view.
I do wish the best for my American neighbours whatever system of healthcare that may be.

By the way, I’m married to an American citizen.  

*   *   *

Thursday, 15 June 2017

State of My Recovery -11 Years Post Injury

What follows is a long-winded summary of my symptoms and improvements (if any).  I write these posts primarily for my own documentation and not so much for any interested audience I may have acquired.  ‘They are what they are’ –please take them as such and read on if still interested.

Much of the following can be found elsewhere in my blog however this is simply a summary of my state of recovery and or symptoms eleven years after I first sustained my infectious injury.

I had expected to make more progress after my discharge from the rehab hospital but sadly things haven’t changed significantly.  While I was written off and offered little expectation or encouragement by the “professionals”, I had hoped for and have achieved much more…but sadly not enough.

I was basically told to go home, put a quilt over my lap and live out the remainder of my days watching the sunrise and sunset from my porch.  My wife was given instructions to set her alarm clock in order to turn me over in bed every four hours so that the chances of developing pressure sores would be minimized.

All told, I believe the rehab hospital did as much damage to me as did the original infection simply by such minimal treatment that it amounted to neglect.

When my wife questioned the rehab about my receiving further physiotherapy, they actually questioned why we should want to continue physiotherapy after discharge.  The impression was that it would be of no use.  I simply cannot imagine any competent healthcare facility arguing against further therapy.  Though I trust my wife implicitly, there must have been a miscommunication.

I did receive over two years of physiotherapy at the hospital at which I was employed –three times per week.   Afterwards, I joined a gym and created my own routine on any apparatus or equipment that I found I could utilize.  I feel it did help though not as much as I had wished.  After two years at the gym I stopped going after the equipment was changed over to models which I couldn’t find a way to use.  What equipment remained didn’t justify the membership cost.

I did return to my work as a medical technologist.  I am able to stand alone and non-braced for a short period of time and braced by my wheelchair, significantly longer.  I can do much of what I could before my injury except for walking away from the wheelchair.  I had always hoped to get back to my woodworking shop when no longer at the bottom of lengthy stairs.

While lying on my back for six months at the rehab hospital, paralyzed from my waist down, my muscles weakened and tendons shortened; ligaments also probably tightened.  Muscles regained much of their strength through physio & self-directed gym work; however the tendons are another issue.

Tendons, particularly the Achilles’ tendons retracted (shortened) so that I have little dorsiflexion (lifting my foot up at the ankle) but have strong plantar-flexion (moving the foot down at the ankle).  As such, I can stand on the ‘balls’ of my feet –tip-toe I suppose.  As I cannot lift my foot up much at the ankle, the toes point downwards and catch if I try to take a step using a walker.  I can walk using the walker but I have to lift my foot un-naturally high so the toe clears the floor.  The gait, though awkward, is effective; I can walk moderate distances.

Unfortunately it is a “catch-22” situation where to stretch out the Achilles at my age would require my being on my feet for long periods of time.  My injury does not permit me to be on my feet for long periods of time.  I wished there was some sort of apparatus or ‘boot’ that could be worn early after the initial injury that would keep the foot bent and the Achilles in the stretched position so they wouldn’t retract and shorten.  Of course, once the learned doctor has pronounced his prognosis, no further assistance is given as doctors are never wrong.  Physio and gym therapy has helped to a limited degree; I can feel the Achilles stretch on gym equipment made for that purpose, but the effects are short-lived.  Young developing children have very pliable tendons but as you age they lose this quality and it is hard, if not impossible to regain their effectiveness once retracted.

Injury Symptoms Remain:

Here are my remaining injury symptoms which remain to give me great grief each and every day.

1.       Tightness:  as mentioned above, tendons and ligaments have tightened or shortened because they have not been used as intended – over their full range.  It is my understanding that muscles or tissues not used over their natural range may develop ‘contractures’ where the tissues or tissue layers permanently fuse to each other.  Movement may be forever restricted unless the tissues are freed from each other surgically.

In addition to my Achilles tendons having shortened, I suspect there is some alteration around my hips as well as I cannot ‘do the splits’ to any great degree.  I used the ‘abductor’ apparatus in the gym in hopes of improving this but it probably helped to regains strength but not range.  This may have some bearing on my sciatic hip pain (further below).

The other location where this tightening is most noticeable is in my core.  I have a limited range in twisting from side to side at my waist.  I suspect it feels as if I would wear one of those corsets the Victorian ladies used to lace themselves into.  The main limitation is in personal hygiene after having used the toilet.  It is difficult for me to swivel and reach my backside therefore some inventive methods have to be developed to accomplish this unpleasant but necessary task if one is to preserve dignity.

In spite of constantly twisting and turning ‘in-situ’ (real life), I have not achieved any additional range of motion.  While my muscles seem willing to go further, the ligaments seem to hold them back resulting in pain if I attempt to twist further.  Any improvement I get from exercises is quickly lost –as if there is a philological mechanism preventing improvement.

2.       Shocks:  I suppose these are the spontaneous firing of various nerves with the resulting   Even these vary in sensation.  One feels so specific as if someone suddenly jabbed me with the point of a pin.  Without any notice a pin-pint jab can cause me to jump (unexpected, it is usually accompanied by a yelp or expletive which I cannot repeat here!).  They may occur anywhere below my injury site but usually from the groin to the feet.  A shock as specific and isolated as a pin-prick.

Then there is what feels like electrical shocks which I can only describe as being accompanied by a kind of “buzz”.  They kind of feel as if you touched a 120V electrical wire for a split second.  I don’t think the human body runs on A.C. (Alternating Current), however that “buzz” I mention feels like the 60 cycles per second alternation our electricity is transmitted with.  I swear I can almost perceive the buzz as the cycles alternate.


Finally there is a variation of the specific electrical shock described above.  It is broader, almost a wave that spreads out over a larger area.   Although they have occurred from the groin area downward, they occur more frequently in the soles of my feet.  Again, they are a broader or wider buzzing shock-like sensation similar to the 120 Volt shock.

All of this shock like sensations may occur only once or they may pulse – occurring several times with perhaps a few seconds in between each shock.  There are usually no more than five or ten shocks before they peter out.  They offer no clue as to what triggers them and they offer no warning as to when they are about to occur.

3.      Sciatic Nerve Pain:  I suspect this exact sensation is unique to my injury.  My injury appears not to be symmetrical (affecting both sides the same).  Though my motion appears the same on both sides, they symptoms differ slightly between left and right.     It seems my injury has weakened my left side such that there is pressure or stretching (which?) at the hip joint which causes the sciatic nerve to be irritated.  I have sciatic nerve pain which at time can be tremendous and all consuming.  When at its worse there is no escaping the pain.  OTC (Over the Counter) analgesics (pain medicines) do little to ease the pain.  I have tried ‘Piriformis’ muscle stretches which target sciatic pain to no avail.  At worse it feels as if I am sitting with my hip joint placed squarely on a hot rock.  There is no escape as the nerve pain throbs with each heartbeat pulse whether sitting or lying on my stomach.  I said ‘all-consuming’ as it is difficult to think of anything else but the pain when it is at its worse. 

4.       Neurogenic Pain (Burning Pain):  Another symptom that can be “all-consuming” in that it is hard to think of anything else when the pain is at its worse.  In fact I don’t believe the severity fluctuates at all.  Simply when some other discomfort becomes worse than the burning –then your attention is not entirely focused on the burning.  (To not focus on a headache, hit your fingers hard with a hammer.  The sensation is unique –unlike anything I have experienced before so it is difficult to describe accurately.  I imagine it may vary between individuals affected and their particular injury.

The best description of my neurogenic pain that I can offer would be that it feels as if my limbs are immersed in boiling bubbling soda water with the millions of very hot bubbles continuously bursting on the inside of your limbs.  There is an unpleasant “tickling” sensation as each bubble bursts after hitting the inner surface of the skin where it ‘explodes’.  Some describe the sensation as having pants made of glass shards or perhaps the sparks from one of those ‘Christmas sparklers you light with a match.  Internal receptor sensations may be amplified so water from the shower may feel unpleasant, causing the limb to jump.  This burning sensation is with me every hour of every day and absolutely ruins any quality of life I may still have.

Gababpentin, Pregabalin (Lyrica), Amitryptaline and Nortryptaline are the only drugs I know of that are supposed to ease nerve pain.  I find them of little benefit, perhaps lowering the pain level by 5 to 10%.  I “grasp at straws” and accept those drugs as better than nothing, however they are not very effective.  If they don’t do much good, then why do I continue to take them?  Well, a drowning man will reach for a twig if it is the only thing floating around him…

5.       Paralytic Spasms: “Spasm: a sudden involuntary muscular contraction or convulsive movement” –Webster.  This is certainly what I consider to be a spasm to be.  I believe I was given another description by my botox doctor; it was something like ‘tightness through velocity’ as he flicked my foot at my ankle (I didn’t take notes).  These absolutely destroy my life!  While they can occur at any time and last for any length of time, they usually occur in the evenings and can last for hours.  My longest stretch of continuous spasms has been for eight consecutive hours.  They started at 10:00 pm and finally subsided around 6:00 am.  You cannot get much sleep when it feels as if some demon in your bedroom suddenly lifts your leg off the bed and violently throws it back down –over and over and over again for hours on end!

Usually spasms give some warning that they are about to start and they are about to begin.  The leg starts to buzz much more intensely than which I attribute to neurogenic burning.  My calf gives the sensation that it inflates or swells outward.  The sensation that it is hollow and a million bees have bees have been let loose to bump into my skin with their stingers out.  Then comes the first spasm; a quick and sudden jerk that at its weakest lifts my knee off the bed and at its strongest actually throws my entire leg around the bed.  Each individual spasm may also give a half-second warning prior to the leg jumping.  It feels like a wind-up spring mechanism that drove old wind-up clocks.  Wind too tightly and the spring may release and unravel requiring you to wind it up again.  It is that last fraction of a second wind-up and release that teases me that another spasm is about to fire. Try to get some sleep!  Just try to read a book, or watch TV or do anything when your leg is flailing around; up and down, left and right for hours on end.

Again, my injury is not symmetrical.  Spasms on my right side start with that creepy hollow buzzing feeling in my right calf and the spasm seems to come from both my calf and thigh.  On my left side, the spasms come from the hip and lower back.  I find it a curious clue that spasms occur on one side or the other.  Though not always in this sequence, they usually start on my right side and then may stop or transfer to the left side.  Both sides, thankfully (I guess) both sides don’t spasm at the same time.  Probably a clue to the neurological pathway they take.

I am taking the maximum oral dose of the anti-spasmodic drug Baclofen.  I have no longer have trust in doctors as I have been miss-diagnosed my entire life.  After my experiences, I have no desire to have a Baclofen pump surgically inserted in my spine.  I also have my suspicions of efficacy of the drug itself.  Some length of time after I was released from the rehab hospital I was experiencing spasms in spite of being on anti-spasmodic Baclofen.  It seemed to have little effect so out of curiosity I slowly began to lower my dosage until I was all but off the drug.  I found that the spasms continued at about the same rate and intensity however what did change was my stiffness.  I discovered that my legs seemed to pull together and were harder to spread.  My only real observation was that there was a major change in stiffness and tension in my limbs –spasms, not so much.  So I have to wonder what difference would pouring Baclofen juice directly into my spine would have and what side effects would I then experience?

In my ninth year post injury I started to get what I called “Atomic spasms”.  These spasms exploded so quickly there was no warning as to their coming.  They were so intense that it felt that the muscles were trying to disarticulate (tear apart) the joint.  They would explode to the extreme limit of the joint’s movement and then try to go further. At their apex (highest point) they would not release but hold, often for seconds.  The results were eye-wateringly painful spasms usually accompanied by a barrage of curse words, regardless of present company.  What caused this change in the ninth year, I can only speculate.  Perhaps after quitting the gym my muscles rebelled as the benefits painfully returned to pre-gym status.  Thankfully these Atomic spasms have generally subsided, though not entirely.

One note on the possible effectiveness of Baclofen:  Also up to my ninth year post injury the spasms I experienced occurred in the evening or at night.  They would run their course and then leave me alone until the next evening.  In the ninth year I began to get the ‘atomic spasms’ –an entirely different beast than the annoying, repetitious spasms.  What I also observed was that if the annoying spasms ran their course and stopped before bedtime, I could sleep uninterrupted until morning.  In the ninth year this changed.  I now may wake during the night and the simple act of turning over to another side may trigger a (few) spasms which usually however these will not continue on for hours.  So, I may be wrong.  The Baclofen may have some effect on my spasms after all.  The efficacy of the drug may be wearing off after nine years of constant usage.  The body may metabolize or circumvent the drug allowing spasms to initiate more frequently.  Regardless, the majority of violent, long-lasting spasms still occur each evening to late night.  This same metabolism or circumvention of Baclofen may account for my increased core stiffness.


So what is the exact mechanism that fuels these spasms?  Are we dealing with an electrical pulse for it symptoms sure exhibit themselves as a shock?  Zap! Zap! Zap! Or is it the constant drip of neurotransmitters across the gap?  Drip – Fire! Drip – Fire!  Drip – Fire!  It is the closest thing to perpetual motion than I can think of.  I could never lift my leg up and drop it down every few seconds for up to eight hours. I suspect I would be sore and exhausted - unable to raise my leg after fifteen minutes of exertion!  Spams that fire roughly every 6 to 10 seconds for hours on end!  Urgh!!!

So nightly I wait for the rhythmic spasms to begin causing my leg to jump and jump and jump – rarely, if ever for minutes but usually for hours on end.  It is pure ‘hell on earth’ –worse than the paralysis itself and destroys whatever quality of life may still remain.  At the risk of being “politically incorrect”, the perpetual spasms are like ‘Chinese water torture’ where a victim is restrained and from a reservoir and bamboo spout placed above their head, a single drop of water drips, drips, drips every few seconds upon their forehead.  Such a seemingly innocuous method has the victim ready to confess any and all secrets within a day if not hours.  I have no secrets to offer to stop this torture.  It will continue perhaps daily and surely every night for the remainder of my life.  And because of this never ending torture I have been broken and I’ve even cursed my God now on numerous occasions.  There is and will be no salvation for me…

“I hope I feel awful tomorrow as awful would be so much better than how I feel today”

Now, what has improved over 11 years post injury?

Because my spinal cord injury was due to an infection and not physical trauma, the progression of my recovery may differ from other paraplegics.

When you have an infection, the tissues respond by swelling which physically contains the bacteria much to the site of infection.  Fluids and white blood cells from the lymphatic system infiltrate the area in an attempt to destroy and mop up the invading organism.  The act of swelling can have a deleterious effect on the spinal cord by exerting pressure and perhaps reducing blood flow.  The body’s self-defense mechanism may actually aid in the damage which occurs.  (The same is true for physical injuries due to a cascade effect of substances triggered by the injury –but that is another matter).

I believe that this response to my infection caused additional damage to my spinal cord.   I have reason to believe this as when my wife first saw me post-surgery, she said I was tremendously bloated and swollen.  She also said I could move my feet at that time which I could no longer do days later.  To continue,  I became infected sometime in April and it was only in early January of the following year that I believe that the swelling receded enough to allow what neurological signals I had (motion and pain) to be transmitted along the spinal cord.  Before leaving the rehab hospital in November, I noticed I had regained some motion in my knees (slight movement in and out).  In January I suddenly realized I had regained some control of my core and could sit up or back against the backing seat cushion.  Soon after I realized I could lift my feet back and forth between the wheelchair footrests and the floor.

Two-plus years of physiotherapy, three times a week helped maximize my strength and range of motion.  It took some time longer to regain proprioception (knowing where in space my limbs were).

Sitting in my wheelchair I could exercise anytime by lifting my legs up in front of me.  (Sorry, my Grey’s Anatomy is packed away.)  That was fine for strengthening my (upper) thigh muscles.   Unfortunately the muscles on the underside could not receive the same attention as I cannot bend my legs back as my heels hit the wheelchair frame.  It was a lop-sided sort of exercise.

I had hoped the gym equipment would help strengthen those and other leg and core muscles.  After just over two years at the gym (2 to 3 times per week for about two hours at a time), there was some improvement but not to the extent I had wished and the improvement did not translate into improved or independent mobility.  As I mentioned before, I stopped going after the equipment was swapped out for newer models on which I couldn’t find a way to safely use.

I felt that this was about as far as my efforts would take me.   I returned to work and worked for an additional five years until I accepted early retirement.  I retired not because of any hardship, though there were plenty of challenges, but rather because the hospital at which I worked merged with another and consolidated the laboratories.  There were just too many staff members and my age and years of service qualified me for early retirement.

I am fairly independent as I can live on my own if I must.  My wife is out of town frequently and I can do all the chores, unassisted, that I need to do for daily living.  I hope to find a way to get back to my wood working.  I have a basement full of industrial quality equipment and only need an accessible location to reconstruct my shop.  (I have just moved to a new location).  Time will tell.

In my mind I find an apparent disconnect between my injury and my debilitating symptoms.  Over these eleven years I have regained motion right down to having weak yet obvious motion down to and including my toes.  I have the sensation of touch and of temperature in my legs though not as acute as before my injury.  But I can move a few toes, I can stand on the ‘balls’ of my feet, I can stand up from a sitting position (some help by pushing on the armrests occasionally helps).  And I can stand freely for some short periods of time and braced (back of the legs) for longer.  In the gym I could press several hundred pounds on the inclined-leg bench-press and could even kick some smart-ass in the pants if the situation warrants.  I can walk some distances with the assistance of a ‘walker’ though my problem in doing so is more mental than physical.  I have a sensation of loss of balance, more so from not having walked for so long rather that the inability to maintain my balance.

So, in essence, I can do just about everything with my legs except for walk away from my wheelchair!

I sympathize with those who have recently received a spinal cord injury.  Heartbreaking stories appear in the papers of people vowing to fight hard and walk someday.  I say “good-luck” to them.  I hope they do and for some reason some people regain the ability to walk.  I don’t wish to ‘rain on anyone’s parade’ but as I have described with my injury –I have regained almost all of my pre-injury motion yet after years of physiotherapy and persevering determination, I still sit bound to a six-wheeler.

It is almost as if the body actively works against recovery.  The stiffness!  Any stretching out is lost within minutes of stopping.  I have found that the paralysis itself, the inability to move, is the least bothersome aspect associated with spinal cord injury.  What destroys your outlook, your joy; your determination is the never ceasing tightness, shocks, burning and most of all, the spasms.

Once again:

“I hope I feel awful tomorrow as awful would be so much better than how I feel today”

*   *   *