Construction workers and spinal cord injuries

You know that you suffered an injury to your back at work, but no one can tell you how serious the injury is and whether you will walk again. As you lie in a hospital bed wondering what your future holds, you might hear doctors throw around words that frighten you, such as paralysis.

Depending on what your doctors tell you in the first few days after your injury, you may need to think about the adjustments your life will go through in the aftermath of a serious spinal cord injury. Much of what needs to change depends on the location and severity of your injury.

A little basic biology

Your spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs from the base of your brain down through your lower back. Your spine encases it. It acts as your body's messenger between your brain and the other parts of your body and allows you to feel sensations and move around.

The signals between the body and the brain stop in the area of your body below the injury when your spine suffers a sudden blow, as you would receive in a fall, impact with a piece of construction equipment or some other trauma. The disruption of these signals could be temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of the injury.

If you suffered a complete spinal cord injury, you experience no sensations or mobility. In contrast, with in an incomplete injury, you retain some movement and sensation.

Your arrival at the hospital

Once you arrive at the hospital, doctors go to work attempting to stabilize you. The goal is to prevent any further damage to your spinal cord, make sure you can breathe adequately and control your blood pressure, along with ensuring your kidneys function properly. Once doctors no longer consider your situation to be an emergency, they order tests to determine the location, extent and severity of your injury. They do this through the use of one or more of the following tests:

  • X-rays
  • A computerized tomography scan
  • A magnetic resonance imaging scan

In the first few days after your injury, doctors order these tests periodically to track your progress. The results help develop a prognosis and course of treatment. After a few days, doctors will test whether you can feel certain sensations by using "pinprick" tests. They will also ask you to attempt to move certain parts of your body.

Prognosis and treatment

If you have no sensation or mobility from the neck down, you suffer from quadriplegia. If you have no sensation in your legs only, you suffer from paraplegia. Even if your chances of recovery are good, you could spend at least six months working toward that recovery.

During that time, you receive rehabilitation and other assistance to help with the following:

  • Muscle strength
  • Weight management
  • Controlling otherwise routine bodily functions such as bowel and bladder control
  • Wheelchair use
  • Use of other necessary medical devices

You might also benefit from counseling to help with the psychological issues that accompany such a catastrophic and debilitating injury. Anger, depression and other negative emotions could hinder your recovery.

Life after a spinal cord injury

Of course, life will never go back to the way it was before your injury. Even if you suffer only mild repercussions long-term, those "minor nuisances" could still affect the way you live and work. More serious and permanent spinal cord injuries change nearly everything. You might never work in construction again, but you could still work, drive and enjoy other activities even with your limitations.

You might need assistance receiving the workers' compensation benefits to which you may be entitled while you focus on your recovery. In addition, if a third party caused your injuries, you may pursue compensation through New York's civil courts as well. A knowledgeable and compassionate attorney could help in these endeavors.

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