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Practice A Patient’s Journey

Spinal cord injury

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 07 January 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:b5204
  1. Peter Sonksen, patient1,
  2. Stephen Hillier, general practitioner2
  1. 1Southampton
  2. 2The Surgery, Bishops Waltham, Hampshire SO32 1GR
  1. Correspondence to: P Sonksen phsonksen{at}, S Hillier stephenhillier{at}
  • Accepted 1 September 2009

Lifelong physiotherapy and pain control after accidental tetraplegia are augmented by various aids to mobility and an assistance dog, so that quality of life remains 90% positive

Imagine a perfect ski day at a mountain resort in Utah, USA. On the last gentle, groomed slope before home, a vertical drop suddenly appeared immediately in front of me. I had no time to do anything other than lean well forward, bend my knees, and hope. As I landed, I fell forward, and I saw stars but did not lose consciousness. Within seconds I realised that I was paralysed and unable to move my arms or legs.

Passers by called the ski patrol and my wife Sue. Both arrived quickly and I was impressed by the ski patrol’s handling of a spinal cord injury. The helicopter arrived and I was in the emergency room at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City within 40 minutes of the accident.

The next few days were a bit of a blur—I spent three days in “neuro-critical care” and was then transferred to a lovely orthopaedic room, where one scary night I had difficulty breathing and was too weak to press the button to call the nurse. After that Sue slept in my room. My daughter Camilla and son Julian soon arrived from UK, so I knew it was bad.

Next move was to “neuro rehab,” where the “nothing is impossible” attitude was very welcome. I was happy here, comfortable on an air bed and in safe hands. The physiotherapists and occupational therapists worked together in pairs. The nurses were all neurologically trained and the ambience was so positive that it was impossible to be negative. Even the food was good, and Sue dispensed the huge portions as “one for you and one for …

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