Survival Of The Non-Fittest #11: The Turning Point

In the week before Molly’s accident, she knew something was going to happen. She just didn’t know what. She said that there were all of these indicators during the week-long Aikido retreat preceding her accident that in retrospect, had filled her with a sense of something coming and something about to happen.

Mostly, she found the indicators showing up in the quality of her relationships with the people who were there. Everything felt deeper and richer. She took notice.

Then the week ended and the accident happened.

The severity of the accident rocked the various communities that we were part of.  People who knew Molly and who had been sitting on decisions, or who had been facing difficult choices, suddenly made those decisions and those difficult choices. It was as if Molly’s accident was a catalyst for people to take action on the things that they had been indecisive about and putting off.

For Molly, she felt like the other shoe had finally dropped, and that her physical wellbeing had been zeroed out and reduced to nothing.

There is something profound about starting from nothing though.

From nothing, there is nowhere to go but up.

From nothing, Molly knew that she would make something.

On Sunday evening of the 3rd week in Rehab … Bill, our chiropractor friend came to the hospital from Oakland. When he came to visit, we all turned into secret agents. We closed all of the doors, asked for privacy, and put some security at the door so no one could come in. We were about to break all of the rules.

Bill slowly took apart the halo clamshell where it wrapped around Molly’s body, so her upper body was free to move. The top part of the halo was of course, held in place by those four pointed screws going into her head. He then methodically checked every vertebrae and rib, and pretty much every bone in her body.

He found that all of Molly’s ribs, where they attached to the sternum, were blown out of place like an exploded version in a diagram. The bones in her arms, her elbows, her clavicle, nothing was aligned properly or in the correct spot.

Now imagine this: That hard halo clamshell, tightly pressing against Molly’s out of place ribs in the front and back for the last 5 weeks. Oh man! All I can say is OW!

Gently nudging, coercing, pushing and prodding, Bill methodically put the bones back into place, making small shifts for alignment.

A normal healthy neck has natural curves that allow the spinal cord to be relaxed and plump, and in this state the cord is bathed in spinal fluid.

When the surgeons went in the front of Molly’s neck, they removed the discs between C5 & C6, and ground out a couple of channels. Then they fused C5 & C6 with cadaver bone.

Then 48 hours later, when they went in the back of her neck, they removed the natural curve, and wired it all completely straight through C5, C6, and C7.

The surgeon tethered the spinal cord, and thinned it out when he stretched it straight. With the spinal cord pulled taut, it is not the best position for healing. In addition, the trachea, which is married to the spine, was cut away from the spine to get to the vertebrae. This added a lot of injury to the area.

It took a lot of time to recover from the injuries from the physical surgeries, let alone the injuries from the accident. Of course, the surgeons thought that they were doing a good thing as they followed a statistical model of treatment.

Molly had done yoga and stretching and had gone to chiropractors for years to have and to keep, a healthy curve in her neck. Bill wanted to see if he could get some of the natural curve back. He discovered some slack and some play in the wires where they had wired her neck together, and he began to use the play to make tiny, slow adjustments.

As he worked this way, late Sunday night behind closed doors, the more he got the natural curve back, you could visibly see small releases in Molly’s body.

A couple of hours later, after Molly’s bones had been put back into place and reset, it was as if her body went back online and the power turned on.

Almost immediately she began to get some movement. Molly shrugged her shoulders and the movement started to move down her arms and to her wrists on both sides. Then she began to lift her arm.

It was exhilarating as I watched movement begin to animate Molly’s body. They said she would never have any voluntary movement from the shoulders down, and here she was getting movement back after having her bones and body structure re-aligned.

When Bill released all of that, including the head bones where Molly had been repeatedly slammed in the head, the energy release through her body was like an electrical current from the top of her skull, all the way down her whole body to the tips of her toes.

Everyone in the room had big watery wondrous eyes and smiles on their faces.

Bill was a major ally for us and in our education about the spinal cord, and this allowed Molly to say no to the rehab staff about spending a long time sitting in a wheelchair. They wanted Molly to get used to the chair right away. Standard protocol for spinal cord injuries is to get people up, and sitting in a wheelchair for long hours, so that they can be “independent.”

However, in order for the spinal cord to relax, which it needs in order to heal from trauma, you have to lay down so the cord can be plump, instead of taut like it is when sitting.

So Molly refused to spend much time in a sitting position.

The doctors also cautioned Molly about anyone touching or massaging her hands. They said don’t touch Molly’s hands because it could make it difficult to have what is called Tenodesis Grasp, which allows C6, C7 spinal cord injuries to grasp and release objects.

Coming from such a body oriented understanding and experience, Molly thought that this was wrong, but went along with it for a few weeks. After a few weeks her hands started to take on a claw-like talon look, at which point she knew this was incorrect for her body, and she began to have people work on her hands and wrists in earnest.

The talon look softened and disappeared and there was no loss of tenodesis.

This was a huge week.

After 6 weeks of chaos and confusion, terrible news and emotional hits, we saw our first real evidence that Molly had the possibility of rehabilitation, and she had already moved beyond the prediction of no movement from the shoulders down.

I was so relieved. Other than the positive feedback from Dr. Perkash a few days earlier when he felt tone in Molly’s legs, it was literally the first evidence of anything positive since the accident. It gave me a little bit of hope, which I needed badly.

The work that Bill did with Molly’s structural integrity, getting the natural curve back in her neck and getting her body to come back online, marked an important turning point in her rehabilitation and recovery of movement.