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My Broken Body: Spinal Cord Injury and the Experience of Grief

By Matt Lalande in Spinal Cord Injuries on May 19, 2018

My Broken Body: Spinal Cord Injury and the Experience of Grief

My Broken Body: Spinal Cord Injury and the Experience of Grief.

6 Minute Read from Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers Hamilton

My thoughts as a Lawyer, from the a person on the outside.

As a Hamilton Personal Injury Lawyer, every time a new client’s family hired me it makes me think….There is nothing foreseeable about the psychological sequelae of a Spinal Cord Injury.  From what I have seen over the past 15 years, how accident victims respond to such life changing trauma is no doubt individual and is influenced by their pre-accident character, their own self-perception, prior injuries, self-management, medical/ secondary complications and external factors such as finances and medical care, financial resources, family and social support, among other things.

Spinal Cord Injury – Emotional Pain, and Emotional Loss.

Over the years and while helping spinal cord injury victims, I have tried to understand the loss that SCI patients go through, but have accepted that it’s simply not possible.  What I have see, however, is the same underlying emotions. I have seen that the majority of people with spinal cord injuries will experience very high anxiety or worry and find it tremendously difficult to handle emotions. There is confusions. There is non-acceptance. There are questions. .Sometimes, it seems, that this can partly be a reaction to acute injury, pain, lack of sleep, the high dosage of pain medication, and/or being in the hospital for an extended period of time. Initially, I would say that, more often than not, spinal cord victims experience severe negative emotional reactions, which are even more pronounced if the victim suffers accident related cognitive impairments or TBI, which can contribute to mental and psychological changes even though they may be mild or short lived. It is certainly not uncommon to sustain a TBI and a spinal cord injury in the same accident.

Spinal Cord Injury and the Grieving Process.

An SCI is a huge assault on one’s body, an assault that is for the most part, irrecoverable. Within moments, someone like you and I, that was active, healthy and independent, is immobilized and becomes dependent. The instantaneous effects of a spinal cord injury result in a total disruption of a victim’s life, and the beginning of a life-long psychological adjustment process which all starts with how a spinal cord injury victim is treated during the rehabilitation phase.

Experiences are often frightening, overwhelming and confusing for the client who has just experienced an SCI, and from what I have seen, the best attempt at emotional recovery seems to be dependent on proper structure and routine, proper rehabilitation, and support from loved ones. It is crucial that all of this occur as soon as possible in the rehabilitation phase. There is no doubt that the daily routines set out in rehabilitation units will help to establish some structure with the help of various health professionals.

For most that go through all of this, there is a grieving process that is normally always associated with negative emotional reactions, which may not be evident initially, but evidence based studies are quite clear that people with SCI’s have raised levels of depressive mood and negative psychological states such as apprehension and anxiety which hold strong through stages of grief if not properly treated.  On top of this, I have seen (and read my own clients’ reports) that post-traumatic stress reactions are common in persons following a major stressful life event like a car accident or assault which caused the SCI.

Grieving my broken body: an account of spinal cord injury as an experience of grief.

From the outside, watching a spinal cord injury victim deal with this new situation is somewhat akin to the loss of a former life and the start of a new one, which seems much more pronounced in the transition from rehab center to home, where SCI patients are confronted with their disability head-on and immediately meet miscellaneous barriers, be it physical, social, psychological, and environmental barriers…what ever the barriers may be, for the first time.

Recently a physician sent me a great  piece to read called “Grieving my broken body: an autoethnographic account of spinal cord injury as an experience of grief” (A summary of which is available here) which is an medical article that explored the analogous links between the losses from an SCI and the experiences of the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one – but that loved one is simply your former self.

It was your former self that walked, ran, jumped, skied, biked, played baseball, basketball walked to school.  The story drew on the author’s own experiences of becoming a C5 incomplete quadriplegic, and more particularly on his account of navigating the levels of grief, and how deconstructing and reconstructing the story of one’s own life is essential to learning to accept and live with an SCI.

Deconstructing – letting your past life go, and reconstructing – learning to adapt with resiliency.

Over the past decades there have been a lot of great articles written on the psychological effects of dealing with a spinal cord injury. A popular pieced, known as the stages theory, written by Lindeman and Kubler-Ross (1940’s and 60’s) has been very helpful over the years in recognizing the emotional stages and the responses of those stages:

  • shock and denial;
  • depression;
  • anxiety;
  • anger;
  • bargaining and;
  • adaptation

These stages are seen as a normal, healthy, and appropriate part of adjustment to SCI – although not all persons might go through these all of these stages, some more than once or some might not experience them at all not at all. The theory, however, is long standing well-known work on grieving post SCI.

My Broken Body is a great small piece of literature that seems to make most sense to me, as a Hamilton Spinal Cord Injury  lawyer, from the outside looking in. The article “recognizes that adjusting to an SCI involves complex swings in emotion–sadness, anger, and melancholy, alongside hope and determination” but in doing so, one must deconstruct and reconstruct the narratives of one’s own life – which is essential to learning to accept and live with an SCI. Grief therapy should encourage people to help mourn their loss (their old self) and make sense of their new lives.

Health is wealth – Especially Psychological Health.

Experiencing grief helps those experiencing spinal cord injuries come to terms with the emotions associated with their loss, to accept the reality of life as it is today and to begin to make adjustments towards life reconstruction –  so that new life can be lived with a reason to get out of bed everyday.  If proper psychological rehabilitation is not put into place (along with physical rehabilitation) there is a danger that one might not be able to accept the death of his or her former self, and learn to learning to adapt to their new life with resiliency and determination. Proper psychological care is an absolute must, in addition routine, so that victims can adapt to that purpose and routine on their own, find health, happiness and self worth and maintain and/or strengthen their relationships with others.

Deconstructing and reconstructing is not an easy thing to do – but health is wealth, or so is the common saying. It is important to recognize that for a spinal cord injury victim, their grief and emotional pain is a reflection that something, valued or treasured, has been lost forever. Proper counselling is needed immediately, and should continue beyond the rehabilitation centers and hospital. It should go on indefinitely and that therapy should encourage victims to construct and reconstruct a new  life story to help them mourn their loss and make sense of their new lives.

To do this, proper financing needs to be put into place, for life.

Contact a Hamilton Spinal Cord Lawyer Serving Ontario.

For the past 15 years, Matt Lalande has represented hundreds of people that have suffered major life altering injuries.  Our Hamilton Spinal Cord Lawyers understand that instantaneous effects of the injury result in total disruption of the accident victim’s life, and the beginning of a life-long psychological adjustment process. If you have been hurt by someone else’s negligence or carelessness, it is important that you are obtain the appropriate compensation to protect your future. There is no doubt that significant costs are incurred throughout the life of a spinal cord injury victim, including acute rehabilitation, home modification, vehicle modifications, and recurring costs for durable medical equipment, medications, supplies, and attendant care assistance.  We take proactive preventive interventions and ensure that a proper life care plan (along with physicians) is put into place and costed out based on the needs of your loved ones, which represent the ranges of the local market rate where you live, along with estimated inflation.

Contact us at 905-333-8888 for a free no obligation consultation. We are available 24/7 to speak with families of spinal cord injury victims.  Alternatively you can chat with out live operator, or fill in a contact form and we will get back to you immediately.



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