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HomeInformationThough grouped together, quadri- and tetraplegics are different

Though grouped together, quadri- and tetraplegics are different

| Source: delmarvanow.com

My readers have asked me, “What is a tetraplegic?” It’s time to answer their questions.

I am a tetraplegic. Because you won’t find Adah Marie Guy listed under tetraplegic, I’ll explain it to you. Bear with me, though. I’ll try my hardest to define a tetraplegic in layman’s terms.

An insight into living with a spinal cord injury Web site defines a tetraplegic as “someone who is paralyzed because the spinal cord in their neck region has been damaged in some way.”

The higher your spinal cord is damaged, the less mobility you’ll have.

I, for example, can’t move anything below my injury, medulla to C-1. The medulla is your Brain stem, and C-1 is the first vertebra in your neck. Frankly, I can’t move or feel anything below my jowl, but it’s just easier to say and easier for people to comprehend “anything below my neck.” When you press on my neck, however, I can feel pressure. But I can’t feel pressure any lower.

Both quadri- and tetra- mean four. Naturally, most people would think that a quadriplegic and tetraplegic can’t move any of their four limbs. But there’s more to it than that.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Association, among others, group Tetraplegia and Quadriplegia together. That disturbs me because my doctors always said that tetraplegia is a more severe spinal cord injury than quadriplegia. On Jan. 12, 1993, my brain stem was contused and spinal cord severed. My injury doesn’t even involve any Vertebrae.

Quadriplegics that I’ve heard about only have their spinal cords damaged.

Many people have heard about Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman. He became a quadriplegic, and his injury was C-1 to C-2. I’ve never heard of any one with an injury as severe as my injury.

Being classified with people who have more mobility than I is just wrong. Whether it be breathing on their own for a few minutes or supporting their own head, it’s still more than I can do.

Sometimes, the wrong classification can even be life-threatening.

For 15 years, I’ve been put in groups with mentally or physically disabled people. Most able-bodied people think that just because I can’t walk, I’m mentally challenged. That isn’t so. I hate when people talk to me like I’m a baby, not knowing the difference between up and down.

For that simple reason, I don’t like to be classified with people who have different injuries, and thus, face different challenges than I do. A little more precision would be nice.

My injury is so high that I can’t even swallow my own saliva. That flap of skin that covers the windpipe when a person swallows so nothing but air gets to their lungs doesn’t work in my throat. If I tried to swallow, saliva would go in my lungs and I would aspirate, needing suction to clear my airway.

When my mom brushes my hair, I can’t even feel parts of my scalp. My face and facial muscles are basically all that I can feel and move.

You’ve probably heard Paraplegic said more often than quadriplegic or tetraplegic. Thus, many people will refer to all wheelchair-bound people as paraplegics. But there’s a big difference between being a paraplegic and a quadriplegic or tetraplegic.

In a word: independence.

Paraplegics have damaged their upper or lower backs. They can’t voluntarily move anything, inside or outside, below their injury. Because the highest injury paraplegics can have is in their upper back, they can breathe on their own and have some upper body mobility. So, they don’t need a human being watching their every move. A service dog is usually their only companion.

On the other hand, quadriplegics and tetraplegics have damaged their necks. Like paraplegics, they can’t move anything below their level of injury. Breathing on their own, without the aid of a respirator, 100 percent of the time is uncommon. A constant human companion, therefore, is needed.

Do you see “brain stem” mentioned anywhere in the brief discussion above? No.

My injury is one of a kind.

By Adah Marie Guy – delmarvaNOW.com

20 COMMENTS

  1. In spite of your tetraplegia, you are highly intelligent and highly articulate. In spite of your physical disability (and I assume resultant health problems, which I truly empathize with) I admire you in the context of your being able to move metaphoric mountains with your gifted mind.

  2. Thank you for this. My uncle was a quadriplegic (injured at C6) and I was his care taker. I didn’t know there was a injury called Tetraplegic and I am glad I now know. I know there is so much misunderstood about these injuries and I was really upset when the nurses at St. Jude were unable to care for my uncle when he was there because they didn’t have training for day to day needs. This was years ago, I really hope that people are becoming more aware of injuries such as these.

  3. People with quadri or tetra pelgia have different levels of functionality the way people with the same chronic illness have the same level of functionality. It’s unfortunate that you have so many struggles and I can tell this frustrates you but they are different words for the same thing. That said, I’m glad you’ve been willing to share your story because I feel that has helped you and you deserve to have a voice and have it heard and all humans have a right to make a mistake. I wish you well wishes and hope that you find the joy in life that you deserve in spite of your tetraplegia.

    Since you have so many people who are willing to hear your story I thought I’d share a positive one so people might get inspired.

    It is a story from another tetraplegic.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMkILprbsK4

  4. I want to say thank you very much for your article. I just found out my partner’s sister-in-law has recently become a tetraplegic and you have helped me to understand what that means. All the best to you in your recovery.

  5. This is incorrect. The words are synonyms.

    The prefixes “tetra” and “quadri” mean the same thing, they both mean “four.” Combined with “plegia,” they both mean, “paralysis affecting all four limbs.” From a word etymology point of view, technically “tetraplegic/tetraplegia” is more correct because “tetra” and “plegia” both come from Greek, while “quadri” is Latin so “quadriplegic” is incorrectly combining Greek and Latin roots. Nonetheless, “quadriplegic” is more commonly used anyway. But both words mean the exact same thing.

    There are different levels of quadriplegia/tetraplegia, from the most severe experienced by the author (who I believe has since passed away), to those who have a lot of function in their arms but can’t move their fingers, and everything in-between. But whether it’s called “tetraplegia” or “quadriplegia” has nothing to with the severity of the injury, only the world preference of the person describing the injury. The author’s doctors may have told her the words have different meanings, but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

  6. I was classified tetraplegic with incomplete spinal cord injury at C4, C5. Surgery removed the back of C3 to C6 and fused them with rods. I slowly regained muscle control and enough strength for independent living. My muscles are still weak and my walk is wobbly, so I wonder if the TETRA classification still applies

  7. There is no difference between tetraplegic and quadriplegic, they both describe somebody who has damaged their spinal cord which has resulted in all four limbs being affected, whether that’s completely paralysed or partially paralysed. The term quadriplegic is more commonly used in the USA whereas tetraplegic is more commonly used in the Western world, especially the UK. I had my accident in 1986 and quadriplegic was not a term that was ever used when I was in hospital.

  8. I know your type of injury is severe but I believe after much study that a quadri- and a tetra- plegic are defined exactly the same. Even so, I know that depending on the level of their injury their level of functioning may be quite different. A quadriplegic has the root word quadri- or four which has a different language origin than the root word tetra- or four. Much debate in scientific circles have occured because the two root words have different language origins. It is more correct to say tetraplegic because tetra- and -plegic both have the same root origin. Whereas quadri- and -plegic mix language origins. I, however, am not trying in any way to diminish the severity of your injury by writing this. Thanks for listening.

  9. I know your type of injury is severe but I believe after much study that a quadri- and a tetra- plegic are defined exactly the same. Even so, I know that depending on the level of their injury their level of functioning may be quite different. A quadriplegic has the root word quadri- or four which has a different language origin than the root word tetra- or four. Much debate in scientific circles have occured because the two root words have different language origins. It is more correct to say tetraplegic because tetra- and -plegic both have the same root origin. Whereas quadri- and -plegic mix language origins. I, however, am not trying in any way to diminish the severity of your injury by writing this. Thanks for listening.

  10. Dear Adah
    I just wanted to say thank you for your very clear information – my only regret is it was written years ago, and I’v no idea if you have any further update. I looked up the definition of the term tetraplegic out of complete ignorance – but some instinct suggested to me that it was more serious than quadraplegic. It may be that I work with someone who has tetraplegic injury and will need a permanent ventalator. I do not really have the time to do him justice as I am about to embark on 2 new jobs taking up a full 5 day working week, recently come to the end of a 32 year marriage, and now the sole responsibility for a mother living 300miles away from me in the middle of nowhere with no personal support systems. My heart goes out to this very young person, but I feel he could need so much more than I could really (medically ignorant too – which might be an advantage) offer. The remit is therapeutic intervention etc . Any thoughts?

  11. In spite of your tetraplegia, you are highly intelligent and highly articulate. In spite of your physical disability (and I assume resultant health problems, which I truly empathize with) I admire you in the context of your being able to move metaphoric mountains with your gifted mind.

  12. Thank you for this. My uncle was a quadriplegic (injured at C6) and I was his care taker. I didn't know there was a injury called Tetraplegic and I am glad I now know. I know there is so much misunderstood about these injuries and I was really upset when the nurses at St. Jude were unable to care for my uncle when he was there because they didn't have training for day to day needs. This was years ago, I really hope that people are becoming more aware of injuries such as these.

  13. People with quadri or tetra pelgia have different levels of functionality the way people with the same chronic illness have the same level of functionality. It's unfortunate that you have so many struggles and I can tell this frustrates you but they are different words for the same thing. That said, I'm glad you've been willing to share your story because I feel that has helped you and you deserve to have a voice and have it heard and all humans have a right to make a mistake. I wish you well wishes and hope that you find the joy in life that you deserve in spite of your tetraplegia.

    Since you have so many people who are willing to hear your story I thought I'd share a positive one so people might get inspired.

    It is a story from another tetraplegic.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMkILprbsK4

  14. I want to say thank you very much for your article. I just found out my partner's sister-in-law has recently become a tetraplegic and you have helped me to understand what that means. All the best to you in your recovery.

  15. I was classified tetraplegic with incomplete spinal cord injury at C4, C5. Surgery removed the back of C3 to C6 and fused them with rods. I slowly regained muscle control and enough strength for independent living. My muscles are still weak and my walk is wobbly, so I wonder if the TETRA classification still applies

  16. There is no difference between tetraplegic and quadriplegic, they both describe somebody who has damaged their spinal cord which has resulted in all four limbs being affected, whether that's completely paralysed or partially paralysed. The term quadriplegic is more commonly used in the USA whereas tetraplegic is more commonly used in the Western world, especially the UK. I had my accident in 1986 and quadriplegic was not a term that was ever used when I was in hospital.

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