​Moving Forward: Megan Collins

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on September 16, 2020 # Moving Forward

My name is Megan Collins, and I sustained a T-8 spinal cord injury in June 2017. I was on my way to the beach a week early before meeting the family I babysat for there. I lost control of my vehicle on a highway in Columbia, South Carolina. When my car collided with a tree, my airbag didn't deploy, and I hit the steering wheel, which caused my back to break, injuring my spinal cord.

My injury left me with no muscle activity from my belly button down, no bowel or bladder control, and it made it difficult to regulate my blood pressure. I was a very recent college graduate, so thankfully, I was in a transitional state of life already, which provided an opportunity for a new beginning after the changes this injury would bring. I spent two months in an ICU in a South Carolina hospital, learning as much as I could about spinal cord injuries from my therapist. I also used the SCI-Ex mobile app that Shepherd Center had released at the time, figuring out what this injury meant for me before I could be transferred to Shepherd Center for rehabilitation.

I had no idea what my life was going to look like after injury, and I was filled with anxiety about the future. I can remember the day I decided to focus on a full life rather than a full physical recovery. A Shepherd Center physical therapist showed me various ways of "walking" if I were to regain muscle function. It became clear that muscle recovery and functionality were not mutually exclusive. My therapy team and an honest and relatable peer support volunteer quickly taught me that I was going to be able to live independently if I dedicated myself to learning rehabilitation techniques and maintaining my health. Megan Collins

My inpatient physiatrist also had paraplegia and showed me every day through his actions that it was possible to be successful and thrive after trauma.

The culture around me filled me with possibilities instead of limitations. As time went on and I began to make progress, I decided that I would stay in intensive therapy until I felt confident that I could live on my own again. Thankfully, my mother was an ICU nurse for 22 years, so she was able to become my full-time caregiver to give me time to focus on recovery.

Eight months later, as I finished my last round of outpatient therapy, I began to feel like I could be independent. My transfers were getting easier, and I was gaining confidence in daily activities. Instead of returning to my college town, which was not an accessible environment, I decided to make a big change. I signed a lease and moved to Atlanta seven hours away from my mother and everything I knew. I knew that to be truly independent again, and I was going to have to put myself in a position where independence was my only option.

My mom continued to stay with me on and off for the first month, so I could slowly get comfortable being on my own. There were a few obstacles that made me more nervous than others, like shower transfers when I was alone. I was so scared to fall getting in or out of the shower by myself without any help. I bought an Apple watch to wear in the shower in case I needed to call anyone and kept extra clothes and towels where I could reach them if I did fall. Being prepared in case anything did happen alleviated a lot of my anxieties surrounding living alone again.

As soon as I got settled into my apartment and started driving again, I began to get involved in the community. I volunteered as a peer supporter, joined a gym, and started searching for employment. My chosen career path in healthcare administration made it easy to transition back into the workforce because those types of organizations are always accessible and accommodating. I started working part-time at first to ease myself in and so that I'd still have time to cultivate a social life in my new city.

Being social in a wheelchair was almost as intimidating as starting physical therapy. There were new ways that I had to manage my health that I needed to fit into my schedule, and being social meant more opportunities to need help from others. I had to become comfortable navigating the world and its societal and social norms as a woman in a wheelchair. Being a young, single woman, I still wanted to go out and have fun, but I was concerned about people my age being nervous about approaching me.

I also knew that going out meant I would come upon hills that I might need to be pushed up and that I would want things that I couldn't reach on my own. Those things made me question how far I had actually come in my fight for independence. I had to learn that it is OK to ask for help from people and that it was more important to be involved than to be prideful.

The most beneficial thing for me was making sure that I had a purpose in every day and a reason to wake up and do something. There were some days that I could've spent all day daydreaming about all the things I would do if I had my body back. At first, the daydreams seemed distant, but after a while, it becomes more comfortable to daydream than to live the life you have. It is so easy for a person who is injured to fall into depression, so I made sure to keep myself busy and active.

For me, it was important to acknowledge my feelings without getting stuck in them. Staying active in the gym and visiting with other people in similar situations kept my mind focused on the present instead of the future that could have been. I was 23 years old when I had my accident, and I knew I had so much more time on this earth to live a full life, so my focus has continued to be to stay happy, healthy, and productive.

One year after completing rehabilitation, I was comfortable in my day-to-day routine. I would start my days at the gym and end my day working part-time at a medical supply company. My social circle had grown into a group of friends who got together at least once a week. Although I was comfortable and had a great balance between work and friends, I felt as if I was stagnant in my progress to grow as a person.

As time went on, I felt a lot more pressure to be making the most of my health, experience, and good fortune. I had settled into life in a wheelchair as seamlessly as a person can. I was confident in myself and what I had to offer again. I decided to challenge myself with new activities and began looking for employment that would allow me to continue my education while giving back to the spinal cord injury community.

I began working at Shepherd Center as the office manager in the Marketing and Public Relations Department in November of 2019 – two and a half years after my accident. I have been able to push myself by working full time and continuing my morning gym routine, as well. It wasn't easy to adjust to spending more time out in the community, and I had to figure out how much my body could handle and how I could make it easier on myself. My feet get swollen, causing increased tone and spasticity after about six hours of sitting in my chair. I had to learn that it is OK to take the time to go stretch and elevate my feet to be able to stay active longer more comfortably. I have now learned to listen to my body and have a set timetable of my day, managing my disability along with a work schedule doesn't intimidate me as long as I am in a supportive environment.

June 2020 will mark three years since my car accident in Columbia, South Carolina. I could not have imagined then the amazing blessings that would eventually come out of tragedy. I am able to give back in a fulfilling environment by working at Shepherd Center, where I received therapy.

I am also a board member for the United Spinal Association's Atlanta chapter. We work to grow membership and provide advice, camaraderie, and resources for other individuals with paraplegia, tetraplegia, and other mobility-inhibiting illnesses. I have been given so many opportunities to meet new people, learn new skills, and increase visibility for the disabled population in my community. Looking back, I would not change anything about the path my life has taken to get me to this place of compassion and happiness.

This blog appears courtesy of Shepherd Center. Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation.