Walking through fire

I had to relearn how to walk, because I was a hemiplegic after the traumatic brain injury I suffered. I have never even heard of the word “hemiplegic” until I became one…

I think the term “hemiplegic” is a little bit like the third wheel on the disability bandwagon. Almost everyone knows what a paraplegic is due to the Paralympics and a quadriplegic is a household name due to famous actors who became quads, like the late Christopher Reeves and South Africa’s Erik Holm. But allow me to briefly give you a short definition.

A paraplegic experiences complete paralyses in the lower half of their body, because of an injury to the spinal cord. A quadriplegic experiences paralysis of the body from the neck downwards. Quadriplegics have use of their arms in differing degrees depending on where exactly they broke their neck. They cannot use their fingers at all. A hemiplegic experiences weakness or paralysis that affects only one side of their body. Hemiplegia can sometimes be the result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but it may also be caused by a stroke; assault; excessive alcohol and drug abuse or a tumor in the brain.

Hemiplegia is when there is a loss of voluntary movement on one side of a person’s body and the weakness or paralysis occurs on the opposite side of where the injury to the brain took place.

If the injury, and the subsequent damage, occurred on the right-side of the brain, the left-side of the body (the left arm, leg and trunk as well as the left side of the face) may experience complete paralysis or some weakness. Because of the specific damage to my cerebellum, I sustained complete paralyzes to the right-side of my body and the left-side of my face.

This type of paralyzes is quite rare seeing as hemiplegia usually affects the face; arm; trunk and leg of the same side (hemisphere) of the body.  After initially being completely paralyzed (on the right side of my body and left-side of my face), I regained a lot of movement and strength since 2009. My right arm and leg is now a bit weaker than before the accident and have very little coordination because they are a bit spastic. My left eye is a bit smaller than my right eye and the left corner of my mouth droops a bit due to the weakened muscles on the left-side of my face. But this is my new sense of normal which means it does hamper me anymore.

According to Doctor Norman Doidge, the author of The Brain that Changes Itself, balance is easily overlooked as one of your most important senses.

It is actually quite obvious when you think about it. Your sense of smell. Your sense of hearing. Your sense of taste. Your sense of balance. You actually have more than twenty senses, excluding the possible ability to see into the paranormal realm! The rest of our senses are not as tangible as the distinguished five senses school tends to focus on (smell; sight; hearing; touch; taste). The other senses are much more centered on your emotions, logic and integrity, for example, your sense of justice; your sense of pride; your sense of respect etc.

Without your sense of balance, you would not be able to walk or even sit upright. I lost my ability to balance to some degree, because of the amount of damage to my cerebellum. The cerebellum is the area of the hindbrain that controls coordination, balance, muscle tone and equilibrium. Hence I struggle to walk with swift, flowing movements and my coordination is awry. I walk with slow and uncoordinated movements, and so I mostly use a wheelchair to move around swiftly and with ease. It took me three years and eleven months to be walking semi-independently. That is more than two million minutes. Try to count to two million. I dare you. Then you will have an indication of how much patience and dedication I had to invest in my quest to walk again.

What matters most is how well you walk through the fire. – Charles Bukowski

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