You are paralyzed from the neck down. Now what?

A friend of mine fell down the basement steps on Friday and landed with her head jammed against the wall opposite the bottom of the steps. She already had spinal stenosis in the cervical area. She lay there for 2 1/2 hours until she was found. She’s about 50.

She is currently paralyzed from the neck down. Breathing on her own, but otherwise has but a tiny bit of movement in one foot. She feels nothing. The spinal cord was not severed but was crushed by the angle of her head/neck/spine from the fall, and the pressure from the angle of her body when settled.

It’s quite frightening. Long-term no neurologist would dare predict right now what will happen to her. She may wel regain quite a bit of mobility and sensation, or this may be it due to damage to the spinal cord. She has zero mental defecit as a result, she is fine in that regard.

I hope she gains back most if not all mobility and is able to care for herself but the one neurologist who spoke to her ( recently EX ) husband was quite grim as to what he felt was the outcome- little if any improvement in the coming year.

I would go insane. Once it was quite clear that I would not be making any meaningful progress, I would petition the court to remove all responsibility from the hospital and starve myself to death. It is the stuff of made for t.v. movies to imagine that a friend or loved one would be willing to do life in jail for killing me just because I asked them to put me out of my misery. Were I the victim of this accident, I wouldn’t ask that of anyone. Instead a lawyer and court would be involved and I’d be permitted to control my own destiny.

I don’t know what will become of her, or what she will want to become of her existence. I do know that even a 10-15% recovery of sensation or motor skills would likely be useless because that 10-15% could well be random areas of movement or sensation that are useless in terms of mobility and quality of life.

I am not advocating euthanasia at all here, I am simply saying that I would not want to live with that kind of broken machine trapping a working mind.

Would you?


I would prefer death to this existence. My heart goes out to your friend.

Though my gut reaction is to say I’d rather die, there are people who chose to live in such a situation. So I have to say I dunno. If it ever happens to me, I can give you an answer then.

I’m sorry to hear that your friend experienced such a tragic accident.

As for what I would want if that happened to me, I think it is impossible to know for sure how I would feel unless I was actually in the situation. Sometimes, you change your view of things once you’ve had a chance to cope and adjust to a difficult situation.
“Paralyzed from the neck down” doesn’t mean the same thing in every situation. Someone who is injured at the first neck vertebra will end up like Christopher Reeve. Someone injured at the last neck vertebra (C7) will still be able to move their arms and be able to take care of a lot of their own needs without help.

Last year I attended a lecture given by two quadriplegic men about their lives and abilities.
One of the men had been injured at C3 and has absolutely no arm movement at all, yet is still running a business (using an adapted keyboard that he can control with his mouth), had gotten married and adopted some children. I think a lot of us would consider having a loving family reason enough to want to carry on living. During his talk, he was “pacing” around the lecture hall in his wheelchair (which he controlled by sipping and puffing on a control stick in his mouth). He was getting around quite well for someone who could only move his head.
The other man had been injured just two vertebrae lower (a C5 injury) and had enough arm movement to be able to drive a car by himself (that had been adapted for him to control it with his arms, of course).
I think when a lot of people picture life with quadriplegia, they think it would involve laying in bed at a nursing home. Of course nobody would want to live that way. Fortunately, the technology out there nowadays is helping people with spinal cord injuries become more independent. I definitely hope that your friend is able to have a good recovery and regain a lot of independence.

My dad got injured at work about 10 years ago. He hurt his back near the middle, I’m not sure which vertebrae. His injury progressed from using a cane to now being in a wheelchair full-time. He’s been confined to this wheelchair for about 5 years. After seeing how he takes it, all the stuff he goes through, and seeing how his condition affects those around him, I’d take a bullet the second I found out that the injury wasn’t fixable. Sure, people can still lead a life after such an injury, and maybe they’re happy, and maybe their loved ones are getting along just fine, but a physical blow like this would just take the life outta me.

Just the whole adaptation, constant concern over accessibility into places, medication, hospital visits, other people… it’s just not worth it.

Having said that, I feel horrible for your friend. My best wishes to her recovery. Coping with injuries such as these can be difficult.

My best wishes going out to your friend.

My husband is a private duty nurse for a quadriplrgic patient. The patient can control his wheelchair by puffs of air, but that is about the only control he has over his life. Since his care is funded by workman’s comp, his nurses are hired by an agency that is horrible; he can’t even get a nurse he dislikes taken off the case. (He has reason to dislike her. She doesn’t like baseball caps worn in the house, so she won’t put one on him when he requests it. She’s really bloomin’ lazy and is always trying to come up with reasons to avoid taking him to his parents house on weekends - other than doctor’s visits, it’s the only time he gets out of his apartment. This person should not be a nurse.) He has gone so far as to refuse to eat for her; exercising what little control he has over his life.

I would not want to live in such a situation and my husband knows it. If I couldn’t even turn the pages of a book or operate a mouse - please be sure to trip on those wires on your way out of the room.

If I were absolutely sure there was no chance of mobility I would be inclined to ask for the check.

I don’t know… I can’t say for sure that any injury would render death an attractive alternative for me. Being Asatru, these words always come to mind when considering quality of life issues…

Not all sick men are utterly wretched:
Some are blessed with sons,
Some with friends,
some with riches,
Some with worthy works.

The halt can manage a horse,
the handless a flock,
The deaf be a doughty fighter,
To be blind is better than to burn on a pyre:
There is nothing the dead can do.

-The Havamal

I have kids, I have a good mind… even were I incapacited in the manner you describe, I think I would still manage to find something in life that would make it worth sticking around. Besides, medical science marches on… alive you have possibilities, dead you have none.

I’ll go against the general consensus, too: I can’t think of a situation other than unremitting terrible pain where I would prefer death to life – and even in that case I would try extreme solutions to the pain first. Partly it would be the “they’re constantly making strides in medicine” hope, but even if that wasn’t available I can think of lots of ways I can be productive and useful even with only single-switch or limited-switch technology to access the outside world: heck, my life is pretty sedentary anyway.

You’ve heard this a lot, but again: my condolences on your friend.

My prayers are with your friend. Please let her know that, even though her body isn’t what it was, she still can think & reason.

Also, please let her know that there are therapies available now that weren’t even considered possible 10 years ago. So who knows what might be available later this year, or next year, or a few years from now? Hope is wonderful.

If I could still comunicate I’d be begging nonstop for someone to kill me. :frowning:

What a terrible thing.

If it were me? I used to be sure I’d want to die, but now I think I’ll be dead long enough as it is and I might prefer to see what I could make of the situation. I splend plenty of quality time not moving a limb now, reading and thinking and talking and so forth. Maybe that would be better than nothing. Since the choice is so one-sided, that is, since you can die any day but can never come back, there’s a good reason to err on the side of postponing death.

Stephen Hawking has been an amazing leader in his field for decades. It is hard to know, but he seems to have an excellent life.

Personally, although it’s impossible to know unless it happened, I believe I’d adapt. I could still do my consulting work with the proper ‘helper’ computer tools (such as the keyboard mentioned above). I have a loving family, too, and that would ease the burden.

Best wishes for your friend’s recovery.

I was just thinking about something…

If I were paralyzed from the neck down, I would be sad and miserable and would probably want to die.

However, if the doctors could take my head and place it in a life-sustaining container ala Futurama, I would be relieved and grateful. For some reason, it seems like I could cope with having no body. But having a body that doesn’t work would be a nightmare.

The reasons most often given for wanting to die by people who become disabled has a lot more to do with the conditions in which they live than with the broken machine trapping the working mind. And the way they live is not an immutable law of nature; it’s a series of social decisions. Great strides have been made; but greater strides remain to be made.

But there is a subtext to the conversation and it is the belief on the part of many of the non-disabled that people who are disabled are better off dead. And it is not limited to regular folks: the gap between how disabled people rate their own lives in terms of happiness and how their doctors and other health care professionals do is enough to frighten anybody, particularly since those values and beliefs on the part of the doctors affect their treatment decisions and the advice they give and the resources that are discussed with people who become disabled.

Anyone can become depressed and some people become suicidal for any number of reasons. When a physically healthy person becomes suicidal it’s a four alarm fire, but when a quad does we call a lawyer to find out how we can help them do it – it’s regarded as a purely understandable and rational desire.

And it’s just wrong. If you feel like stretching your mind on the subject, look up Ragged Edge or Not Dead Yet or read some of the stuff out there by Carol Gill and Harriet McBryde Johnson or Paul Longmore. You might be surprised.

But is it always irrational to conclude that death is preferable to life?

Much as I’d hate to continue as a burden on my loved ones, I can’t say that I’d want to die. Maybe I’d make lemonade in the form of being a living science experiment. Why not let some researchers poke around and maybe learn something that could help someone else? <shrug>

I don’t know. But it isn’t invariably rational. Larry McAfee thought it was, some twenty years ago. He petitioned a court in Georgia to allow him access to assisted suicide. To the public, this meant a man wanted to end his life because he was disabled. But his desire to die was directly related to the state’s long-term care policies, which forced him to live in a nursing home. The folks at United Cerebral Palsy helped him find the resources to live independently and he decided he didn’t want to die after all.

We applaud the “rationality” of the decision to die by a disabled person, all the while ignoring that it is often social decisions, not medical conditions, that create the unbearable life they wish to escape from.

My husband has just passed his 30 year anniversary as a quad and his biggest regret is that they saved his life the night of his accident. As his sole carer, I can definitely see his viewpoint.

I wouldn’t be strong enough to continue living.
To me, life includes freedom. Freedom to move, to walk, to dance…these are some of the simplest. If these were taken away and I was in a prison of my body, I’d off myself as soon as possible.