The True Cost of Treating a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI)
When you or someone you love is seriously injured, it is natural to feel a sense of relief in the immediate aftermath. “At least I survived,” you may find yourself thinking if you were injured. Or, “I am so glad they lived; we can deal with an injury,” if a loved one was the victim. While that profound sense of gratitude will remain even after the shock wears off, it will likely be joined by a new sense of shock at the magnitude of the expenses involved in caring for a person who has suffered a catastrophic injury – especially if that injury involves the spinal cord.
The different types of paralysis from spinal cord injuries
Not all spinal cord injuries (“SCI”) result in paralysis. However, a catastrophic SCI can result in one of two types of paralysis: complete or incomplete. The type of paralysis that occurs depends on both the severity of the injury and the location of the injury on the spinal cord. This determines the impact on the person’s sensory (feeling) and motor function below the injury site. For instance, if an injured person loses all feeling (sensory) and all ability to control movement (motor function) below the injured part of the spine, the injury is considered complete. In contrast, someone who suffers a spinal cord injury but retains some feeling and some control of movement below the injury site is considered to have an incomplete injury. The amount of paralysis can vary in incomplete spinal cord injuries.
These two types of paralysis are also known as tetraplegia and paraplegia. Each refers to the parts of the body that are affected by the paralysis.
Complications of tetraplegia and paraplegia
Tetraplegia is sometimes referred to as quadriplegia. It is a type of paralysis that affects a spinal cord injury victim’s arms, hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs. Paraplegia is a type of paralysis resulting from a spinal cord injury. It affects all or part of a person’s trunk, legs, and pelvic organs.
Depending on the type of paralysis and the affected limbs, a person with an SCI may require physical and occupational therapy in order to help them regain or maintain even limited range of motion, and to adapt to their new physical circumstances. Medical complications and secondary conditions caused by tetraplegia or paraplegia can vary in severity and may change over time. Among the most common are:
- Bed sores – These pressure sores and other skin lesions may develop as a result of an SCI patient’s time spent in one position, whether that is in bed or in a wheelchair.
- Blood clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – A lack of regular motion can cause complications such as blood clots and DVT.
- Blood pressure and heart rate – Tetraplegia may affect a person’s ability to maintain healthy blood pressure and a normal heart rate.
- Breathing difficulties – These may be limited to coughing or shortness of breath, or may be or become serious enough to require a ventilator, particularly for people suffering from tetraplegia.
- Difficulty swallowing – A person with tetraplegia may need a feeding tube in order to gain proper nutrition.
- Lack of sensation – A person suffering from paralysis may be unable to sense heat or cold or to feel touch in the paralyzed area.
- Muscle atrophy – The inability to move one’s limbs in a typical fashion may lead to muscle atrophy or wasting, as the lack of regular use weakens the muscles.
- Muscle spasms – Also known as spasticity, muscle spasms are involuntary muscle overactivity that results from the disruption of communication between the brain and the injured spinal cord. While it can help tone muscles, spasticity can also cause pain, fatigue, and other problems.
- Nerve pain – The spinal cord injury may result in nerve pain in the areas where the patient still has sensory feeling.
- Incontinence – A person with paralysis from an SCI may not have control over their pelvic organs. This can lead to a variety of complications, such as bladder infections, kidney stones or infections, bowel impaction, and other gastrointestinal tract issues.
- Sexual dysfunction – Depending on their specific injury, someone suffering from tetraplegia or paraplegia may be unable to perform sexually.
Treatment for SCI may go beyond the physical
The physical impact of a catastrophic injury such as paralysis from an SCI is obvious. However, these injuries can also take a tremendous toll on the mental health of the injured person and their loved ones. Suffering a spinal cord injury that leaves one fully or even partially paralyzed changes a person’s entire life. Suddenly, they are no longer able to do everything they used to do in the exactly the same way they used to do it. They may be unable to take care of themselves, their family, or their home in the way they did before being injured. Previously simple tasks like getting in or out of bed, using the bathroom, or feeding themselves may now be beyond their ability or may have to be done in a different way. Depending on the physical requirements of their job, someone with an SCI may be unable to return to work – at least in the same capacity as before their injury – and therefore may need to find a new job or career.
All of this can leave a person with an SCI suffering mentally as much as physically. They may need therapy or counseling from a mental health professional to help them adjust to their new reality and deal with the fears and anxiety that accompany a catastrophic injury. Likewise, the partner and other loved ones of a someone who is paralyzed following an SCI may also need assistance adjusting to their new life and role as caretaker and the responsibilities that come along with that. The severity of their loved one’s injury may mean that the future they planned to have together will be different in many ways. A mental health professional can help everyone who is affected by an SCI deal with their new realities.
Should I hire a Los Angeles SCI attorney?
If you or a loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury such as an SCI due to someone else’s negligence, it is important to consult with personal injury lawyers who understand the realities of the situation. The financial burden of a spinal cord injury and/or paralysis is substantial.
Calculating the true cost of treating and taking care of someone who has a SCI can be challenging. The life-saving measures taken immediately after the injury occurs are merely the tip of the iceberg. Anyone who suffers an SCI is in for a potential lifetime of medical complications and expensive treatments; may require ongoing physical and occupational therapy; and will likely need help from a mental health professional in adjusting to and accepting the changes in their life due to their spinal cord injury.
The changes and potential complications that can result from an SCI are not limited only to one’s physical and mental health – even your home may be affected. Depending on the type of paralysis and the structure of your home, you may need to make some changes. This could include adding a ramp to enter the home, taking up carpeting to make it easier to navigate your home in a wheelchair, adding special lifts and safety features in the bathroom, and making space for a special hospital bed or other equipment. Depending on the size and style of your home, you may even need to move to a new place, if possible. A home that is all on one level, for example, may make more sense for someone with paralysis.
The Los Angeles spinal cord injury lawyers at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP have extensive experience fighting for victims in catastrophic personal injury cases. We know that an injury like this can devastate you and your family – emotionally, physically, and financially. We work hard to hold the people or entities responsible for you or your loved one’s injury accountable and secure the monetary compensation you deserve. Complete our contact form or give us a call at 310-474-1582 to schedule a free, remote consultation with one of our Los Angeles SCI lawyers today.
Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.
For more than three decades, McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP has built a reputation as one of California’s leading law firms. Founded by a family of attorneys spanning three generations, John McNicholas and sons, Patrick and Matthew, have tried hundreds of cases to jury verdict on behalf of clients. Learn More about McNicholas & McNicholas