Spinal cord injury: some reflections on living with tetraplegia

Published on October 27, 2011   28 min

A selection of talks on Clinical Practice

0:00
What's it like to live without movement or feeling below the neck? What's it like to be incontinent? What's it like, that despite having no feeling from the body, one still may feel pain in it? But because one has no feeling in it, the body can no longer protect itself and you have to tend more towards the body itself. I'm Jonathan Cole, I'm a clinical neurophysiologist. In addition to medical work, I also do some empirical research, and I'm also interested in the lived experience of chronic neurological impairment. To do this, I sit and listen to the stories of those with various problems. In this lecture, I'm going to relate some of the stories that people tell me of living with spinal cord injury. Robert Murphy, who himself was paraplegic and then tetra or quadriplegic, wrote that, "nobody has ever asked me what it's like to be a paraplegic and now a quadriplegic, for this would violate all the rules of middle-class etiquette". I thought it important to ask people exactly how they lived, sometimes for many years, with spinal cord injury.
1:18
Medicine is often at loss and deficit. My interest, however, is beyond that, to how people reassemble their lives and find new ways of living with, and yet somehow, beyond their impairment. The spinal cord injury must be one of the most sudden and severe losses of embodiment one could imagine. Such changes in the body have profound effects on the sense of self. Merleau-Ponty, the French phenomenologist, wrote that "consciousness projects itself into the physical world and has a body... [it] is in the first place not a matter of 'I think that' but of 'I can'." "The body is a general medium for having a world." What sort of world would one have when one loses the sense of agency, the sense of the ability to act in and on the world. I grouped the lecture into a series of different parts.
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Spinal cord injury: some reflections on living with tetraplegia

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