Spinal cord injury L1 - Guy

Guy Harris Spinal cord injury top

My name is Guy Harris. Most call me Guido. I am a normal 32-year old male. No better or worse than anyone else. Anything anyone else can do, I can. And anything I can do, anyone else can do also.

I was knocked over by a lorry while I was crossing a road in Sheffield - I was writing a text on my mobile phone and I looked the wrong way before stepping out. Fortunately the driver of the lorry that hit me was within the 30 mph limit so I'm still around to tell the story. I am sorry that he had to have such a thing happen to him.

It was one of my good fortunes, in the greater unlucky scheme of my accident, that one of the country's twelve Spinal Injury Units was five minutes down the road and they keep a bed for just such incidents. So I went straight in. And my God, what extraordinary and professional nursing care I received there, mixed with such good humour and a tireless work ethic based around us, the inmates.

I went in with some sensation and movement in both legs and over the next three days had terrible spasms which moved higher and higher until I had lost all movement and sensation in the legs. The doctors' hope was that as the swelling in the spinal cord, caused by the impact, went down over the next six weeks, so my motor and sensory function would return. The weeks passed, increasing quickly, as I realised nothing was improving. By the time I was released, I was diagnosed with an L1 complete injury.

Working With Hratch

Mum had printed off a description by Laurance Johnston of Hratch and his work, which I had kept, read and re-read for six months.

At the time I was making regular visits out to Albert Bohbot's Laserpuncture Clinic in France, also favourably written up.

Albert had been the first man to tell me with absolute confidence that I would walk. However, after two and a half years of being in a wheelchair, I had met a wall of depression and wanted to attack rehabilitation full-time. Hratch's method of mindwork alongside the physical rehabilitation appealed to me. And the notion of a greater self-awareness and contentment reminded me of something I had desired before my accident.

So I booked in for a consultation. He looked at me and asked questions about me, my history, the accident, and, without warning, felt the wasted muscles in my legs, and then sat down in front of me. Abruptly, he leant forward and I felt an energy force into my stomach and remember thinking: something is happening here. He asked if I wanted to walk, and I replied, "Yes" . He told me, "You will walk, I have no doubt of that. I am happy to take you on and if you do everything I say, it will happen. But understand this: you don't miss or cancel an appointment, nor come late. The only thing stopping you coming in is being dead. If you're dying, you come in anyway and we'll fix it. You cut out drinking alcohol, cut down on your socialising, you work hard and you do exactly as I say, and we can make it happen." At this point there was a transfer of worry. I was able to return to an adult-child relationship where someone was able to answer all my questions and tell me the right thing to do.

In the beginning there had to be a massive leap of faith.

My self-esteem had completely vanished. However hard I had tried - despite having my own business and various relationships - I defined myself by my paralysis. My legs had really started to waste away (aided by months of bed-rest following an infection, abscess and operation on my bum) and I felt completely detached from them, and resentful of them. They were cold. Circulation was bad. I hated my situation.

Depression is simple to resolve for Hratch. We don't need to rely on medication, the downward spiral of dependence, lowered self esteem, defining ourselves by our condition and not our true character - what had happened to the carefree, spontaneous Guido? Yes, I could, and did, joke in front of friends; I could, and did, run my own business; drive, be independent, etc... But the minute I was back in my own company, I was engulfed by emptiness.

My depression - and all of my depressions through adolescence - had to go permanently, in order not to block my physical improvement. With emotional stress, my mind was not free to go inside my body and help me feel those slight connections which I needed to notice in order to bring about further stimulation and change.

This method requires a will to change: perception, understanding and all the old habits and emotions that brought me to those negative places. Now I had to tell Hratch all the things that were bringing me down - no issue could be too stupid or insignificant. And for every problem or upset that I asked about, he gave me the solution. Clear and absolute. Instinctively I knew these were the right answers. They didn't seem revolutionary, but I had to be told them. Each problem resolved was a whole myriad of endless thought processes that I no longer had to go over and over in the dark recesses of my mind.

At the same time he was pushing me to exercise.

This was a balance between mental and physical. He explained the emotional shock of the injury (and not just the physical trauma that the doctors would have me believe). In the times when I didn't understand the process, I reverted to the old "just do" mantra. (Looking back I see how much I was absorbing at a subconscious level, and how the changes were already beginning.)

In the beginning I held onto one certainty: when I did what he said, I felt good; when I didn't, I felt depressed - or rather guilt was making me feel bad. My mind was telling me that laziness was unacceptable and only exacerbated the situation.

For a very long time it was hard: I was fighting everyone's cynicism (friends, families, anyone with any medical knowledge) but worst of all, my own. Was this man a blessing or an expert conman? Each day the questions tormented me, and each time I listened to him I would think: well, he couldn't simply make this stuff up; instinctively I knew it to be right and it made me feel good. And his attention to detail when it came to my legs was extraordinary: he'd be praising me when I did something right and would shout like a drill sergeant when I did something wrong. But when my legs didn't seem to be moving and it was just an internal feeling of movement, I found it extraordinary that his responses mirrored my own internal feelings. I'd just think, ‘how does he know this?' - even testing him at times, but he never got it wrong.

Each time I left a session I felt fantastic - no matter what state I turned up in. If my back hurt, he fixed it up; if I was low, he fixed it; if we spent a session exercising, I could always do a tiny, tiny bit more at the end than I could at the beginning. He drove me hard, shouted at me, cajoled me and good-humouredly teased me onwards. Behind my effort has always been his effort.

But still there was the physical need for evidence. Something to say unquestionably: this is working, here is your first 1%, the other 99% will follow.

It came one day when I had wasted the day: not really exercised as I should have and I was feeling the guilt. Determined to salvage something of the day I lay down on my bed to read Hratch's recently printed book. Bits of it were completely relevant and I just drifted through the other bits. I had given myself an hour of reading, but throughout, my left leg kept trying to capture my attention in an unimaginable way, like it was physically saying "I want to move… move me." I stuck to my hour of reading then put the book down and thought, okay: you want to move, then move. I was on my back and started to try to slide it out to the side. Then, bang, it moved, just slid over. It was unbelievable, so I video-ed it on my phone and called both my parents in and got them to video it from a different angle, scared that it wouldn't happen again. Putting it back into the centre again was harder, requiring a different action (as the video shows). It was a thrilling moment: the first where I could sit back and confidently realise that I was not wasting my time. Something significant was happening.

I've given this phase of my life to this completely. I've (mostly) given up work – yes, I know I'm lucky to be able to do this, though others manage both work and this. I have someone who helps me exercise at home. This means I know there is a period in every day when distractions end and I focus entirely on me. This is how it has to work in order to achieve results.

When other things have arisen - depressions, issues, (breakdowns of) relationships - these have had to be dealt with immediately so that I can get back to me. It is the biggest and most unconditional discipline I have undertaken or stuck to. Some friends understand this. Others do not, and have moved away.

I am happy and enjoy huge personal freedom.

The process is a lengthy one, make no mistake, and at times has seemed impossibly hard. But the more I do, the more I seem to understand it. And this February (2008) my mental understanding and awareness have opened up completely - hence the switch from staying private to wanting other people to have the benefit of my experience.

The beginning was a question of just doing. But now I am much more focused. I find myself automatically inside my legs. And when I'm exercising and I get feelings and sensations I go straight to them and work them harder to make the connection from the brain to them and back again much stronger and permanent. When I exercise at home, I am beginning to know intuitively what I need to do to get the most out of each movement. Exercise cannot be thoughtless. Hratch drives the new changes and explains what they are and how they work, as and before they happen.

Working with Hratch is not a pre-destined route, though he understands the basic ways and patterns to recovery, having seen many improve. But it is a more wholesome and intuitive process. At home, I had to exercise, focus and write. In my writings I was to put down on paper exactly what came up as it came up. Between these three disciplines, if done, one or more things would always come up: a change in sensation or, deliciously, a new one; an issue or set of thought processes; a problem, squabble or event; or maybe just an unaccountable (to me) high or low.

These new things I conveyed to Hratch, who explained (mental) or worked (physical) them. I have always booked two-hour sessions. These have been spent being pushed to the limits exercising, being poked and prodded with electrical stimulation pads and an acupulse "pen", in deep conversation or in meditative focus receiving mind instruction for both the physical and the mental. Each time I bring things up, he knows to work them.

The hours and hours and hours of listening I couldn't begin to describe, nor explain exactly what it is I've learnt. But those who know me will recognise how I have changed. How I look well; how I always seem to be up; how I am able to do exercises, unimaginable at the beginning, and impossible according to current medical thinking.

And quite apart from what others notice, I am watching my progress every day. I'm going through a period of excitement. More feelings, more control, more tension in the legs, more muscle mass, exercises that were hard becoming easy and new ones that I couldn't do becoming the ones I find difficult. Intimate and personal issues changing, improving. Tiny bit by tiny bit, I am becoming more able and in control. And mentally, there's a whole world of understanding and contentment that has opened up for me.

It has taken me a little over two years to gain the confidence and awareness to answer this for myself. And what I know is far from being conclusive or complete. It is the search for more that drives us.

Key to understanding how this works is first to accept that emotions can cause both mental and physical turmoil in our bodies, and that to control our bodies we must first learn to control our emotions. Only through greater self-awareness can we achieve this. This is no insignificant task, and requires desperation and discipline.

In my personal example, a road traffic accident caused my L1 vertebrae to rupture, damaging my spinal cord and causing paralysis from (about) the waist down. Everyone acknowledges the physical trauma caused and great attention was given to this in the exemplary medical and nursing treatment that I received in the Sheffield Spinal Injury Unit.

But no-one knew to pay attention to the inner me. I had received such a severe emotional jolt; one that, unknown to me at any conscious level, affected every one of my thought processes and mental calculations. The way I viewed myself and the world around me was clouded by this jolt. Negative suggestions such as the categoric "You'll never walk again" caused chaos and a deep depression (not always visible). Inside I no longer felt normal. A smile could not change the real feelings of inadequacy. I was now half a man. No longer in control of my bladder, bowels or sexual function, and sat at 4'6" instead of standing at 6'2". This wasn't about coming to terms with my loss or accepting it to go on to lead a healthy and fulfilled life. This was about my real pride - I don't mean like a superficial loss of face over a trivial incident, but the very core of me and who I was.

I have always kept alive the absolute belief that I will walk again - in the face of criticism, reason, arrogance, fear, and medical knowledge and condescension. I don’t know why I should have been drawn to Hratch out of all the possibilities of promise out there. But I was. And that is part of this.

In growing self-awareness, we start to listen to our intuition and our mind. It tells us everything that we need to know, but knowing how to listen to it, with all the white noise of our lives around us, is difficult.

Essentially, if the mind is cleared of all problems and negativity and given clear and positive instruction, it has the ability to find ways to heal the body. It is as if we are born with a perfect blueprint of how we should be and work. When something goes wrong, there is a move away from that blueprint. And when given the correct and purely positive, simple instruction, the mind works its way back to the original. How it does this does not concern me. I have absolutely no idea. Nor do I need to. Maybe one could take an MRI scan of my injury site after I am walking and see what change there is from immediately after my accident. But this would change nothing. The results are what matter.

This need to clear out all the negative clutter that blocks progress is the reason that I had to cut down on socialising and visits to any doctors. It is so easy for someone to make a criticism or a negative comment. The mind is incredibly sensitive and easily seizes on these - see the reality programme recently where they were showing that children only think something is impossible if a grown-up tells them it is (even if the reality is that the grown-up is wrong, as was shown).

So within the mental parameters of focus and positive instruction, the next step is to work the body. The old Post Office adage runs true: use it or lose it. At first, one has to go right back to basics and use any means possible to make the exercise work. It often seemed to me like nothing was happening or Hratch or a machine would be doing the work for me, and I would say as much in disappointed, unconvinced tones. And he would tell me to “Shut the fuck up, and get on with it. You are paralysed and cannot feel at the moment. You don’t know what you are doing. If I were worried then you should be, and I’m not. I’m telling you that you are working. Keep on doing it until I say stop.” And that would be the end of that discussion for a while. I would keep on working. And sure enough, by the end I could do a little more than I could at the beginning. And I felt better and happier for it. So it was just a question of his saying and my doing, onwards and onwards, not concerning myself with timescales. All the time I was improving, what had I to worry about? If the progress ever stopped, then I would have given up. But if I did the work, the progress didn’t, and hasn’t, stopped.

For more information and to view video footage of my progress please visit my site www.myscirecovery.com

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