What is Quadriplegia – From A Quadriplegic’s Perspective

Quadriplegia is combination of two words. “Quad” which originates from Latin word for four and “plegia” which means paralysis. It’s paralysis below neck including all four limbs and trunk. 

One of the major cause of Quadriplegia is damage to the nerves of spinal cord in neck region(cervical spine between C1-C8) . When you want to move any organ of your body, messages from brain are transmitted through motor neurons in spinal cord to group of muscles which enable you to move the desired organ. When you feel pain in any part of your body messages from that part of your body enter into sensory neurons in spinal cord which are then transmitted into the brain thus enabling you to feel pain or any other sensations. 

Effects of Quadriplegia on body 

In case of Quadriplegia there is damage to the nerves in spinal cord due to which messages can neither pass from brain to body nor from body  to brain making you unable to move or feel any part of your body. You can neither walk nor grip anything with your fingers. You also loose control over your bowel and bladder and are unable to feel and enjoy sex like you do before.

As you can’t feel your skin so by sitting or laying in one position for longer time bones of that area  will exert pressure on blood vessels which will limit or stop blood supply to cells, resulting in death of cells of that area thus causing formation of pressure sore which is a life threatening condition.

As you have no control over your bladder so you have to use some kind of catheter for bladder management and you will suffer from fever from time to time because of urinary tract infection in case you become lazy in taking care of proper hygiene and let bacteria enter your body while inserting catheter into your bladder. If you have a broken bone, a full bladder due to blocked catheter, constipation or any situation that will cause severe pain in your body, you will experience Autonomic Dysreflexia in which you will feel severe headache, your body above injury will sweat and your blood pressure will increase dangerously.

Your body can no longer regulate temperature. In summer you have to be extra careful with hot weather because with increase in temperature of surroundings your body temperature will also increase as it can no longer emit sweat to cool down. 

Causes of Quadriplegia 

Some major causes of Quadriplegia due to spinal cord injury are fall from roof, road accidents,  natural disasters like earthquakes and storms, diseases and surgical complications, spinal cord tumor, birth defects, bone disease and bullet hit injury.

Besides all the causes one of the major cause of cervical spinal cord injury or quadriplegia is shallow water diving. I myself got quadriplegia while diving headlong in shallow water. Miscalculating the depth of water my head collided with floor of swimming pool. All pressure from head transferred to neck and resulted in breaking of my neck.

Every year in summer so many young people break their necks because of miscalculated shallow water diving. So a lot of care must be taken while diving headlong. One mustn’t dive headlong unless he is sure about the depth of water.

Functional abilities in persons with Quadriplegia 

Not all quadriplegics have the same level of functional abilities. Some cannot even breathe at their own and are on ventilator while others have the power and potential to be independent in activities of daily living like eating, drinking, writing, transfer from wheelchair to bed and from bed to wheelchair and even in driving a modified car. It all depends on the type of injury and the level of injury that a Quadriplegic have. 

On the basis of type of injury , spinal cord injury can either be complete or incomplete. In complete injury a Quadriplegic person will not be able to feel or move any part of the body below the injury site while in incomplete injury some motor and sensory functions stay intact below the injury site. The more the injury is incomplete the more a Quadriplegic person will  have functional abilities because of the additional feeling and movement below the injury site . 

On the basis of level of injury, functional abilities of a Quadriplegic person can be as below. 

In fatal injury above C3 , one doesn’t posses any movement below neck and requires ventilator for breathing. In C4 spine injury a person may breath at his own but with difficulty and requires help in all activities. If injury is at level C5, breathing improves and one can move his shoulder and elbow. With assistive devices one can feed himself. If level of injury is  C6, one can extend wrist along with elbow flexion and shoulders movements.

My level of injury is C6. I can eat , drink, dress, write, type, groom and transfer to bed and commode chair at my own but need assistance in transferring to car. In cervical spine injury of level C7 one can flex and extend wrist and can extend elbow using triceps which makes transfer and other activities easier than C6. In Quadriplegia of injury level C8, daily activities become more easier because of the improved  hands functions. 

Effects of Quadriplegia on life

Quadriplegia no doubt is a devastating condition. It completely changes one’s life. In most of the cases it happens to young, energetic and adventurous people who are at the peak of their life, health and fitness. Like an eagle you are flying high in life but then an accident happens which breaks your wings and legs. You become quadriplegic and your life gets full of limitations.

Your independence is lost. You can neither eat at your own nor drink . You totally become dependent on others in clothing, bathing, toileting, getting in and out of wheelchair and all other activities of daily life. You have no control over your bladder and bowl and your privacy is compromised. Your marital life is not the same as before and you can no longer feel and enjoy sex like you do before Quadriplegia. 

Mobility becomes a big problem for Quadriplegics. As you cannot move affordable manual wheelchair at your own so you have to depend on electric wheelchair which are expensive, sophisticated and heavy to be carried along in a car etc. 

Being Quadriplegic life becomes full of various kinds of barriers especially if you live  in a developing country like myself. First kind of barrier is physical barrier. Even if you are lucky enough to get an electric wheelchair still you may not be able to go into markets , libraries , schools and other public places because of unavailability of ramps.

If you were student, teacher or businessman before injury and want to restart, these physical barriers will create difficulties in restarting active life again. Life with Quadriplegia is very expensive. So, another barrier that will prevent you from starting active life again is economic barrier. If you are not financially strong you will not even be able to buy an electric wheelchair and will get confined to your home and room. Social barrier is another barrier that persons with Quadriplegia face a lot. People  no longer think you as a complete individual. They will only take pity on you, looking only at your disability and ignoring all the abilities. 

How to live active life with Quadriplegia

No doubt Quadriplegia is very severe disability, full of extreme challenges on daily basis. But it’s a permanent disability and once it happens to you, there is no escape from it. The best way  to survive is to compete it with positive attitude. Negative thinking will do nothing rather than giving you sorrows, grief and depression thus increasing your problems. I have been living with Quadriplegia for the last 20 years. Down below I am giving few tips that have personally helped me over the years.

  1. You are a Quadriplegic person now. Accept this reality as early as possible and start living in the now. Always remembering your glorious past will do nothing rather than giving you sorrows and depression. 
  2. There are so many other people living an active and successful life with Quadriplegia and you are not the only one in this situation. Arrange meeting with such role models, study their lives, seek inspiration from them and follow their footsteps.
  3. You still have the potential to improve and get independent to some level so, concentrate on your rehabilitation. Get yourself as much independent as possible. Your body behaves differently now. Understand all the problems associated with your new body and learn how to solve them. This will make your life easy.
  4. There is a saying ” An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. So keep yourself busy in positive activities as much as you can. This will help you forget your grief. 
  5. You are differently abled now. So, create the confidence and guts inside yourself to face the world in wheelchair.
  6. Although being Quadriplegic you can neither walk nor grip something but still you have plenty of abilities. Concentrate on those abilities and ignore your disability. Discover your hidden potentials and skills and polish them so that you can use them to your benefit.
  7. Invest on your mobility and buy a fast and powerful electric wheelchair if you can afford. Make your home and your surroundings accessible for your wheelchair. Go out of home, do shopping, meet your friends and share your problems with them. Sometimes an apparently difficult problem can be easily solved by a friend of yours. 

About the writer 

AsifUllah Khan is a C5c6 complete quadriplegic for the past 20 years. In spite of no proper rehabilitation he is almost 90% independent in all activities of daily living. He can do transfer independently  and can even drive his modified car. He has authored two life changing books. One regarding how to live an active life with spinal cord injury and the other is a motivational book in which he has proved various principles of success with lessons from his Quadriplegic life.