First off, I would like to admit that I’m a bit childish with my thought processes at times. It’s almost as if I never lost the child in me that would ask my parents ‘if you had to choose between me or my brothers if the house was burning down, which one of us would you save?’ (I’m still in therapy due to the answer I received to this 🤣).
During my recuperation in the hospital, I naively weighed up the option of which would be worse: not walking again or being doubly incontinent. My experience of bowel care and catheters definitely voted for the latter. I realise now that I am exceptionally fortunate to have regained both and was ignorant of the fact that most SCI wheelchair users (and even walkers like myself) don’t often regain their bladder and bowel. I am eternally grateful to my minions (you will need to read my memoir to understand this!).
So, recently I had a conversation with a colleague. She was very inquisitive about the episode of psychosis which led to breaking my back, and being I’m quite open about this, we had an in-depth chat. She flippantly assumed that another episode of psychosis wouldn’t be as bad for me should it ever happen again since I know what to expect. My response to this is as follows…
If you were to have a leg cut off slowly and painfully… one year later if you were to have the other leg cut off would it be any less painful? Of course not.
She also asked which was worse: breaking my back and damaging my spinal cord, or the episode of psychosis…which is interesting and very difficult to answer but I’ll try.
I suppose I am fairly unique to have experienced both mental and physical trauma at the same time. The psychosis lifted fairly quickly once I was given the correct meds, probably a couple of days after my spinal fusion operation, so the horror of my psychotic episode came to an end. The physical pain was managed by morphine and other drugs, so apart from the first few days and nights, I don’t remember a great deal of pain. I’m not sure if morphine affects memory though.
Obviously, there were further mental hurdles to overcome with being immobile in a bed for 5 weeks before being allowed to so much as sit up. With this came all sorts of indignities and difficulties which I adapted to fairly valiantly (even if I do say so myself). However, despite learning to walk again (against the odds), the spinal cord can never heal 100% so I am left with some permanent disability, whereas there is no madness left from the psychosis (although my husband may beg to differ).
So, if you were to give me the choice of either/or, I would probably choose 3 months of physical recuperation and a broken back again. Psychosis is utterly terrifying… imagine the fight or flight panic that you would feel if you heard someone downstairs in your house in the middle of the night…well that’s the level of fear I’m talking about here. There is little to no concept of time when you lose touch with reality, and in fact, I would say it slows down, making a day feel like a week. So, the nightmare seems endless and it is a torturous place that, thankfully, I have been rescued from by anti-psychotics. After a couple of months, these were tapered off and I am drug-free today.
However, there are no long-term effects from the psychotic episode. Since my recovery, I would claim to be 100% mentally strong. So, being the spinal cord injury leaves permanent damage – it leads me to change my mind, making the decision somewhat complicated again.
Obviously, I would not want to experience either option ever again, but I guess to summarise, I would say that they are both as bad as each other, and if forced to choose, would have to flip a coin. However, I would request to NEVER have them both at the same time ever again… thank you!