… tall in the saddle

Johnny has experienced something of a breakthrough in terms of pain control. A disagreeable feature of his life since becoming paraplegic, he has finally dealt with its nastiest manifestation simply through paying more attention to his posture.

Decades mostly spent sitting in a chair doesn’t do a cowboy any good. I heard talk of the ‘becoming wheelchair-shaped’ phenomenon but assumed that applied to one’s lateral, dog-legged position. To mitigate that tendency I still get vertical (or horizontal) as often as possible. But over the years one also tends to slump downwards, into the cushion, and that generates curvature of the spine and compression on nerves — such as the sciatic one.

As a result for many years I have suffered from acute sciatica, a condition familiar to many but, in my case the resultant pain was distorted by the Spinal Cord Injury into a throbbing bitch of a thing, radiating down the back of my leg and foot that would routinely continue, without relief, for three days and nights at a time.

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Thanks to the OU Disabled Students Allowance scheme

In the search for relief I subjected myself to several nerve block injections, various powerful drugs including opioids, and a make-or-break operation on my spine that, er, broke. After attending a two-week pain management course at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, I was that close to having a modulating device (like a pacemaker) inserted in my arse. It was a last throw of the dice. Over last winter, I have to admit, life was getting pretty desperate.

However at about the same time I acquired, through the #OpenUniversity God bless-em, an orthopædically-designed office chair (together with other kit visible in the headline photo) to help me in my degree studies. It took some months for it to have an effect (and for the Son of Satan to knaw through most of the adjustment cables) but by April I realised it had disappeared and I was living through a whole six weeks completely pain-free. That was a huge deal; it hadn’t happened since 1986.

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600 quid’s worth of carbon fibre replaces nylon uphostery

Since then some pain, including the sciatica, has returned but to nothing like the same extent. I can deal with it and I haven’t yet finished paying attention to my posture. I push myself into the curves of the office chair. I have spent an absolute frickin’ fortune on a carbon-fibre seat-back for my wheelchair, to replace the stretchy uphostery. I try to drive the car while sat upright, rather than leaning casually on the door arm-rest (not that easy a technique to master, given the hand-controls on the steering column). At night I try to fall asleep on my back. Sleep-disrupted nights have reduced by, I would say, about 80%,

I sit more upright in the day-chair and, when pushing, try not to lead forwards. On advice from my masseuse I am learning the Alexander Technique, to help me stay upright and depend on “the body’s natural balancing organisms”.

Will Johnny keep it up? Indubitably. He now has a huge incentive to stay erect. Hallelujah!

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