Even with extensive and regular surgery, there is no way to reverse the effects of quadriplegia, as the spinal cord cannot be repaired. Immediate surgery will be required to provide support and stabilize the vertebrae and bones in the spine. If the bones or discs are creating pressure on the spinal cord, surgery will be necessary to relieve that pressure. In many cases, surgery will at least be required to either remove fragments or realign the bones.
As time passes, with regular rehabilitation and additional surgeries, there can be advancement with the condition of the patient. By using metal rods, screws, and bones, muscle, and tissue from other parts of the body, physicians can at least improve partial movement for victims of more operable quadriplegia. Additionally, after at least one year, the process of functional electrical stimulation can be employed to provide partial movement to the immobilized muscles.
For spinal injuries that occur in higher vertebrae or nerve segments (C-1, C-2, C-3), a ventilator will be necessary to assist the victim with breathing. However, surgeries are available to install a phrenic nerve pacer, which, while quite costly, provide a much easier respiratory process than a ventilator. With a pacer, electrical impulses are used to stimulate the diaphragm.
Over time a victim of quadriplegia will require a variety of medical and rehabilitative professionals to provide the best quality of life possible. In addition to the victim’s regular physician, a patient may have to make regular visits to neurologists, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapists, and speech pathologists, in the case that the victim has to undergo a tracheostomy procedure, during which a tube is permanently placed in the victim’s throat to mechanically assist with breathing.
On average, time spent in a hospital for a quadriplegic can reach upwards of 100 days from the initial injury. After that, the patient is either moved to a private residence, nursing home, or rehabilitation facility to begin the assimilation process of coping with the concurrent disabilities. With the aid and care of the aforementioned physicians and specialists, the rehabilitation process will teach the victim and family how to cope with the injury and how to create stability in the recovery process. The most important aspect of recovery is the victim’s education and learning how to take care of himself to the greatest extent possible.
Rehabilitation will last years, if not the rest of a victim’s life. Because there is no known recovery from quadriplegia, there are so many different, important aspects of living that the victim and family will have to learn in order to maintain as simple a daily routine as possible.
Medication is extensive and intense for people living with quadriplegia. Victims will have to adhere to daily routines of specific prescription medications, and this will depend largely on the person responsible for the victim’s assistance and well-being. Included in the medication is a treatment of steroids, which prevents the swelling of the spinal cord. When the spinal cord is inflamed, it hinders blood flow, further complicating what little recovery is possible. Additionally, there are osmotic diuretics that the victim can take to reduce and eliminate swelling of the spinal cord. Blood pressure is also an important aspect, because under the stress of physical limitations and inabilities of the body, a spike in the blood pressure can cause severe damage to the body’s vital organs, so it is imperative that the victim be prescribed and treated with blood pressure medicine.
Living with the revelation that breathing assistance is suddenly necessary is a difficult process, as is learning to breathe through a ventilator. A victim will need to meet regularly with a respiratory therapist to learn to live with the breathing apparatus. And because the vertebrae have been damaged in most cases and need to be held in place, patients will be outfitted with injury-specific body braces, which can affect what little body movement the victim still maintains.
Victims of quadriplegia also require a great deal of attention and assistance in grooming, cleanliness, and bodily functions. Caregivers will need to be on hand to devote attention to the needs of bowel movements, bladder function, personal hygiene, and skin care. Without regular bathing and basic hygienic treatment, the victim will experience bed sores, abrasions, infections, lesions, and various other skin issues.
As for patient therapy, this is often the most delicate emotional aspect of helping someone who has become a quadriplegic. Dealing with the loss of mobility and bodily function is overwhelming, and the victim and family will need to consult with therapists in regard to mental health to stave off depression for everyone involved. Positivity is the most essential attitude in treatment and rehabilitation, as is coping with reality.
A physical therapist is necessary for keeping the muscles active and strong. Even in the most extreme cases of quadriplegia, the dormant muscles need to be exercised to continue to support the rest of the body. With patients who still possess some arm use and movement, the operative muscles are essential for the tasks that a victim can still manage, such as eating, dressing, and grooming. An occupational therapist is also necessary to help with the special equipment required for quadriplegics. Even recreational therapists can be employed to keep activity at a regular pace, and to show that even fun can be had with the proper attitude and rehabilitation.