‘Acceptance’ isn’t always the fundamental key to rehabilitating someone with a severe injury. Educating people with traumatic injuries is a difficult process, mentally and physically, according to those working in the field.
Doctor Leah Wiseman, Occupational Therapy lecturer at Charles Sturt University in Albury, works with patients who live with severe brain and spinal injuries. She said many of her patients can never come to terms with the loss of their pre-injury identity, “rather than focusing on acceptance, we should be focusing on adaptation and help them get on with life.”
On 5 April, 2014, James McQuillan’s life changed forever. James was playing Aussie Rules at the Albury Football Club when an accident happened.
“I put my head over the football and collided with an opposition player’s leg, subsequently I shattered the body of my C5 vertebrae in my neck and damaged my spinal cord,” he said.
Dr Wiseman said the severe injury isn’t always the worst part. “It is the destruction of their world, in many cases the injury can cause relationship break down, depression and anxiety,” he said.
“Mentoring these people to having a positive attitude is the best thing but also the hardest.”
James McQuillan said a positive attitude is one of the things that has kept him going.
“There are many things in life that you do not have control over, and will never be able to control. But there are many that you can, attitude being one,” he said.
“Helping the patient get back to being who they were before the accident is the aim, finding new things they love helps this process,” Leah said.
For James, it was hard to come to terms with how he perceived himself now.
“I went from an independent 20-year-old with the world at my feet to a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic trying to find his feet in a new world,” he said.
Mr McQuillan said the best way to educate people with injuries is not to tell them what they should be feeling. He uses humour as a way of adapting to his new life.
“I quite often use humour as a coping strategy, and I quite often take the piss out of myself or my circumstances,” he said.
“The best educators are the people with the injury, I learn from them every single day,” Dr Wiseman said.