Though grouped together, quadri- and tetraplegics are different

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 –

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