The love and support of family and friends can help cushion life’s cruel blows.

Sometimes I feel as if I am all alone and the whole world is caving in on me. Nobody can understand what is going on in my mind, nobody can even come close to seeing how I see myself. These are the thoughts that haunt me a year after that fateful day or should I say more accurately, that night when everything changed and nothing will ever be the same again for me.

A year ago on April 7, I was unable to sleep due to severe back pain that had been bugging me for the past 10 days. I was 26, and in good health. I had never experienced backache up till that point. In fact, I thought it was normal to have backaches once in a while. I attributed it to overwork. Perhaps I just needed rest.

But how wrong I was. That night, I tossed and turned in bed but within hours, the back pain had become so excruciating that I was paralysed from the chest down. I was rushed to hospital, and admitted into the intensive care unit. 

An emergency MRI scan showed a massive blood clot in the extradural space in my spinal cord. The blood clot had compressed the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis in the lower part of my body.

My blood pressure dropped dangerously low, despite being given resuscitation fluids. I could not breathe properly as my chest muscles were paralysed, too. The doctors told me they might need to intubate me if my condition deteriorated. I was on the verge of going into spinal shock. After the MRI scan, I was transferred to another hospital as I needed emergency surgery to remove the blood clot, not only to keep me alive, but also to improve my chances of recovery.

I was at a crossroads. Surgery might or might not give me the chance to lead a normal life; I might go blind or my hand function might be compromised. I remember choking on the anaesthetic gases and telling myself: I will be all right. Thankfully there were no complications during surgery. When I came out of the operating theatre, I was still paralysed. I could not even move my toes, no matter how hard I tried.

As my parents put it, the worst is over; I had survived the surgery. But for me, the battle has just begun. Rehabilitation is a lifelong battle. It requires not only physical strength, but a persistent mindset with a clear goal – to be normal again. I will not accept anything less.

It was probably a very ambitious goal, given that I could not even sit up, or wriggle my toes. When my blood pressure reading picked up enough for me to be in a wheelchair, I was brought to the gym for rehabilitation. 

I did physiotherapy and occupational therapy seven hours a day, five times a week. That was my daily routine during my three-month stay in hospital.

How do you move a limb that you cannot control? It is at times like this that I realise we often take the smallest things for granted. And it is the small things that are an essential part of our lives. I had to learn to stand, walk, lock my knees, raise my feet, flex my ankles, the whole works.

It wasn’t easy. 

Imagine the spinal cord as the superhighway connecting the brain signals to control body movements. If that highway is damaged, the signals cannot get through. That was the situation I was in. My legs were not listening to my brain.

I slowly regained my ability to walk, thanks to tremendous support from family members, friends and even the hospital staff. It was hard work. People often do not see beyond physical disabilities. A spinal cord injury can affect certain physiological functions which have an impact on daily life, and one’s emotional state and self-esteem.

I am still working towards my goal of leading a normal life. I am lucky I am able to walk. I spend half my time on rehabilitation exercises. I yearn to lead a normal life just like everyone. I want to go out as I please, do things I used to do and eat the food I like to eat before all this happened. But I can’t. I have my limitations.

People always tell me I am lucky to pull through and there are people who are worse off than me. There are times when I am glad to have recovered to some extent, but there are also times when I feel that life is unfair because I have to work so much harder to do routines that others often take for granted. I am torn between accepting myself for who I am, and striving to arrive at the level I was before this medical crisis.

Along the way, I’ve learnt that life is unpredictable. I’ve learnt that there is no greater love than the love of one’s family. I’ve learnt that true friends act as a pillar of strength in trying times. Finally, I’ve learnt that nothing is more important than one’s own health.

We live in such a fast-paced and demanding world that we miss out the little things that are far more important and valuable in life.

After what I have been through, I can see clearly what really matters most in life. Everyday, I try to live life to the fullest.

Beyond Barriers is a platform for sharing and raising awareness on disability issues and any chronic medical condition. We welcome contributions from readers who have a disability or any special needs, caregivers, advocates of disability groups, or anyone living with any chronic medical condition. E-mail your stories to Contributions which are published will be paid, so please include your full name, MyKad number, address and contact number.