Still life

Published February 7, 2021, 12:10 AM

by Dr. Jose Pujalte Jr.


Dr. Jose Pujalte, Jr.

“People brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot.” – Matthew 9:2, Common English Bible.

To injure the spine and what it protects, the spinal cord, upends a life in an instant.

If you break your neck with the cord crushed, everything below it may no longer move or feel. If you break your back with the cord crushed, everything below the torso may no longer move or feel.

Spinal Cord Basics. The central nervous system (CNS) is divided into the brain and the spinal cord. The latter begins at the base of the brain at the back of the head. If the brain is protected by the skull, the spinal cord is shielded from damage by a tower of bone blocks called vertebrae. Unfortunately, in the event of a traumatic injury – violent crash, fall, or gunshot – bone fragments can penetrate the spinal cord. It can also be eaten by disease, pulled, pushed, twisted – all of which lead to (usually) irreparable damage. The spinal cord is made up of grouped nerve cells called tracts. Communication between the brain and the rest of the body is linked by the spinal cord through these tracts basically divided into motor (for movement) and sensory (for feeling pain, temperature, pressure, and orientation in space).

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). This can be traumatic (motor vehicle crashes, falls, penetrating injuries from guns, knives, arrows, and – let’s not forget – sports). If non-traumatic, the spinal cord can be damaged by arthritis, infection, inflammation. SCI can also be complete – which means there is no feeling or movement below the level of injury or incomplete, some motor power and sensation noted below the damaged area of the spinal cord. Injury may also be described as paraplegia in which paralysis involves parts of the trunk, lower limbs, and pelvic organs – think of Apolinario Mabini, our Sublime Paralytic, or the 32nd US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Or it can be quadriplegia (paralysis of the arms, legs, trunk, and pelvic organs) – think of 1970s Superman Christopher Reeve or Don Enrique Zobel.

Diagnosis. A thorough medical history and a complete physical examination (repeated at intervals) are essential. Emergency diagnostics include X-rays, Computed Tomography (CT) scans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and myelography – in which an injected dye visualizes the contents of the spinal canal.

Treatment. A well-trained team (doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, prosthetists, nutritionists, spiritual guides, etc) is necessary to handle an SCI patient successfully. But there must also be a caring family (and caring friends) in the treatment and recovery phases. SCI is, more often than not, a life-changing event met by the patient with disbelief and denial, anger, bargaining (“God, if you make me walk again, I will give all my money to the poor”), depression, and finally acceptance. But we all know what Jesus did for the paralyzed man. First, He forgave his sins and then He asked him to get up and walk, which he did. From a clinical standpoint, miracles for macerated spinal cords are not impossible, only rare. And as for me, the real miracle is loving life again and feeling blessed for being alive, after this neural tragedy.

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