Jen vs. the Manicure Scissors

Because of my spinal cord injury, I have no voluntary control or sensation below the middle of my breasts.  I cannot tell hot from cold.  I cannot fully feel the warmth and pressure of a friendly hand on my knee.  It’s muted like feeling that pat on your leg wrapped in layers and layers and layers.  But I feel pain.  Always pain.  

I have neuropathic pain as a result of my body’s inability to communicate with my brain.  It’s a constant burning buzz that has become the white noise of my existence.

I have phantom sensation too which can be very confusing.  When I was first injured I had to sleep with the light on because my brain was sending the message that my knees were bent upward and my lower legs  were 90o the wrong direction from my thighs.  I had to look at them, see that sensation did not match reality before I could rest.  My brain made it real.   

Sometimes I’ll feel wet or cold for no reason and have to investigate.  Sometimes it turns out to be nothing I can discover.  Sometimes it’s how my body tells me I’m in pain.

In spite of all this, I tend to forget the lower half of my body exists.  I have ripped off more toe nails by ramming my feet in places they don’t fit.  When I get buried in what I’m doing and trust my body to auto-pilot, I can create quite a mess. 

If you’re squeamish, don’t read further.  But, if you’re curious…

I was trimming a sharp cuticle with those tiny manicure scissors.  I was distracted by a phone call and set the scissors in my lap and forgot them.  I couldn’t feel the weight or the coolness of the metal as they worked their way down underneath me.  I had no sensation of their unforgiving rigidity.

I did what I do on an average day; work, household chores, ran the dogs in the park.    

A few hours later I noticed blood on the bathroom tile.

One of the dogs must have cut a paw.  I examined both girls thoroughly.  I wiggled around in my chair, rocking this way and that to try to get a better view of any potential injury.  They were both free of any wound.  Maybe one of them abraded a lip on a chew toy.  I leaned over and with much effort, wiped up the floor.  Then righted myself in my chair and wiggled around until I was properly seated.

I went about my day but my spasms – the involuntary, often painful movements in my legs – kicked up.  Irritated, I took a handful of ibuprofen and continued on.  I weeded the garden, washed the windows I could reach in the kitchen, read a bit. 

Later, more blood.  Kind of a lot.  The dogs haven’t even been near me. 

I look at my feet and my lower legs, they’re fine.  I reach under me and pull back my hand covered in blood like the best slasher movie eh-ver. 


Time for the check list. 

  1. Spread towel on floor next to bed.  Quickly.
  2. Park wheel chair over towel.  
  3. Block from your mind the steady drip drip drip of YOUR OWN BLOOD. Do not panic. (repeat)
  4. Spread second towel on bed.
  5. Transfer out of wheelchair onto bed.
  6. Find the forgotten scissors on chair in puddle of blood.
  7. Cuss blue streak at personal stupidity.
  8. Curse the daily trials of a spinal-cord-injured life.
  9. Undress (I’ll keep it PG-13).
  10. Roll around on bed using mirror to assess damage.  Holy death-by-a-thousand-cuts!
  11. Clean and dress wounds as much as possible considering that:
    1. You’re unable to see them all,
    2. You do not have a third arm, and,
    3. You’re paralyzed and unable to move into a position to reach.
  12. Clean clothes, clean cushion, clean carpet.
  13. Head to Emergency Room.
  14. Wait…….
  15. And wait……
  16. And wait……
  17. Cuss blue streak at personal stupidity.
  18. Curse the daily trials of a spinal-cord-injured life.
  19. Know that some variation of this circumstance will happen again.

All of the movements of the day jammed those little scissors into me, digging and twisting, over and over again until I turned myself into human hamburger. 

It’s not the first time I’ve hurt myself and not known it.  And it’s not my worst un-realized injury.  I once broke almost every bone in the lower half of my body and went to bed and slept the night away before I realized anything was amiss.  I am that divorced from myself. 

My sensation is more intellectual than corporeal. 

It’s like when an infant cries.  You know the baby is distressed but you can’t feel its pain.  You run through the standard check list of things that make babies cry to no avail.  You want to cry yourself as the baby’s distress intensifies but you keep trying to alleviate the pain.  If only you could communicate, if the baby could just give some clue.

That’s what’s it’s like to live in the lower 2/3 of my body.  It’s there.  It has needs.  I don’t always know what they are or how to meet them.  So I must maintain a constant intellectual awareness of my body.  And I must integrate this into a day filled with all the things one regularly does. 

Each time, I am horrified that something so excruciating can happen to me and I can remain oblivious. How can one be so disengaged from themselves?

I have trained myself to visually scan my body semi-regularly.  Before I roll under a table for a meal or a meeting I inspect the area with my hand looking for sharp edges or lack of clearance.  I constantly check to make sure my feet remain squarely on the wheelchair footplate so that I don’t run them over.  Or drag them for miles until I grind off all the skin and nail.  Been there, done that.  More than once unfortunately.   And, I’ve learned to be careful with what ends up in my lap as it can just as easily end up under me. 

I need a separate on-board computer processor to replace my autonomic system.   I sometimes seem not to have enough bandwidth in my regular brain to think all the thoughts that come instinctive to you.   

Some days I feel like the Princess and the Pea. 

If she were paralyzed.  And sitting on manicure scissors.

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