The Brittle Battle

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on December 11, 2020 # Lifestyle

When I was first injured back in 2005, my inpatient therapists put the fear of God in me about a few things: pressure sores, lower-body awareness, and bone density. I have a horror story about all of those things and, no surprise to anyone, a lesson learned: those therapists and those warnings were right. In a lot of ways, I can’t be as reckless with my body as I could before my accident, or else I’ll pay a consequence. More than 15 years later, the words of my physical therapist still haunt me: “Just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s not there, Kristin.”

I could talk for an hour about the wound-consequence of not doing enough pressure sores and not being hugely aware of my lower body, but today I’m talking about bone density. More specifically, the bone’s fragility that results from not standing up and/or not bearing frequent weight on them. I like the imagery that comes with the word “brittle” when referring to those bones because it makes me think of the peanut brittle people eat around the holidays that breaks easily and gets stuck in your molars for the rest of the day. I never liked that stuff and I surely don’t like the thought of my bones turning into it.Kristin

As a paralyzed woman, there are a few ways to stand tall and put weight on my legs, the easiest being standing with a standing frame. For those not familiar, a standing frame is just how it sounds: a large piece of assistive technology that looks like a chair. The frame allows you to strap yourself in tight, crank yourself upright, and have support while standing tall.

And that’s all you have to do: stand there. Meaning, take your computer, your TV remote, or your cell phone with you, distract yourself, and just stand. While you stand, you’ll be helping maintain that bone density, preventing peanut-brittle-breakable bones, and stretching your legs out to length. The last thing we need to add to our list of handicaps is a broken bone or a leg that won’t lay straight.

If using a standing frame isn’t an option, there are other ways to get on your feet. I started walking with leg braces and a walker many years ago, and they’ve granted me the opportunity to graduate from high school and college on my feet, increase my core strength, add dimension to my workouts and, one time, an alternative way to get around my city. Using a walker in the City of Richmond proved to be a bit cumbersome for me at the time but, with some practice, I might give it another shot. My leg braces range from my upper thigh to my toes, and they’re a way to keep my legs locked straight or bent at the knee, depending on my skill level. Essentially, leg braces are like a standing frame on-the-go.

There’s a pun in my head that’s perhaps too cheesy to say (“stand up against brittle bones!”), but my sentiment is there: standing up will save your body from deteriorating. If nothing else, stand up to give yourself another perspective on the world. Equally as important, stand up to preserve your bones and get ready for the future; science will eventually catch up and deliver us a cure for paralysis, and you don’t want to be left out for something preventable like brittle bones.

This holiday season, eat as much peanut brittle as you want. Take a big bite and pick at your teeth for the rest of the day but, please, don’t let your bones turn into it.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of two books, Greater Things and A Million Suns, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at https://kristinbeale.com/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.