Hi my name is Amy, and I am a clinical social worker at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. I work in the SCI unit with patients who have recently experienced spinal cord injuries and are here for rehab. My role is to provide them with therapy, counseling and validation of what they are going through, the grief, the loss, the anger and all the feelings that are normal and part of the adjustment process.
I don’t always openly share my life experience, unless asked, but I do think that my being in a wheelchair and living a full life serves as a sort of model. Initially, patients may not acknowledge that life after paralysis is even possible or they may be in denial of what’s going to happen. This is, of course, natural. But, I still think my presence here reminds them that it will get better over time and that they too can have a good quality of life after their rehabilitation. Basically, they can create any kind of life they choose.
I came to Southern California from Michigan to play wheelchair tennis. So, my sport is what brought me here. What I try to share with patients is that activities, hobbies, sports can really help them deal with their disability. Like for me, tennis opened up my world. It provided me with so many amazing things such as: traveling, role models and that sense of community. I also believe it gave me confidence and fulfillment.
I know that the adjustment process is different for each one of us. We all have different pasts, different sets of experiences and get to different places. I am a paraplegic due to complications from open heart surgery when I was three months old. As long as I can remember, my sense of identity has been integrated with my disability.
Obviously, my life path is unique. But, I think that at some point, we all come together and deal with the same issues. Someone who has been in a chair, say a few years, deals with the same kind of things that I deal with after thirty years. This is why I tell people that if they focus on what makes them happy and seek the necessary resources and assistance, then they will find their niche and their community in their “new” life. Most importantly, these things will allow them to lead full, rich, rewarding lives. It’s completely up to each individual.