On the 20th of September 2016, I celebrated my 40th year of living with a spinal cord injury. In 1976, I was in a car crash. I had a complete C5/C6 spinal cord injury. I was put on traction for weeks. I was lucky that I learned to accept my disability quickly and never blamed anyone for what had happened. It was much harder for my family and friends as they had to look at me in bed and then in a wheelchair.
It was hard coming to terms with being paralysed at the start. I was, and still am, unable to do anything for myself independently. Someone has to feed me. To get out of bed, I have to be dressed and hoisted out. Today’s electric chairs have improved things a lot.
Originally, when I sustained my injury, there was no accessible public transport and no accessible taxis which made getting around very hard. The first time I went home was the worst, I realised for the first time that my life would never be the same. We had to move house and my family had to slowly learn how to look after me. I can’t take a break from my disabilities, I’m still paralysed but I’ve learned to cope.
Over the years, I have studied many things. I studied Computer Programming and worked at it for two years. I studied at The Open University and got a degree in Social Science. I took up watercolor painting and had success with a solo exhibition in The Guinness Hop Store in Dublin.
The greatest thing that happened to me was meeting my now wife. We have been together nearly 25 years. She has put up with me and cared for me through many ups and downs.
I have travelled all over the world from Australia to America, from camping in France to a safari in Kenya. I have been to many sporting events; including the American Cup in Rhode Island, Euro 88′, Italia 90, baseball at Fenway Park and a Soccer International in Lansdowne Road (you could drive into the grounds and park between the stands in 1979).
For 10 years, I campaigned for rights for people with disabilities (mainly with the Forum of People with Disabilities). We got to sit with the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and got the Cabinet to agree that a percentage of civil servants would be people with disabilities. We also got the Cabinet to agree that public buildings must be accessible to all disabled persons, that building regulations would be changed, that Dublin Bus would only buy accessible buses and that curbs would be ramped. I had many letters and articles published and appeared on TV and radio. I hope I did my bit for the cause. But after all those campaigns, a lot more still needs to be done.
The greatest thing that happened to me was meeting my now wife. We have been together nearly 25 years. She has put up with me and cared for me through many ups and downs. She has encouraged me to keep going and we now have a son who has changed my life.
In recent years, I have spent a lot of time in General Hospitals with pressure sores. Unfortunately, they still do not know how to look after people with SCI in general hospitals. They get used to you but showering and bowel management are nightmares. Then you have the problems of the HSE and the government. They keep changing the rules about grants and what you are entitled to. A SCI is not recognised as a long term illness and unfortunately you are not entitled to a medical card. Moreover, it’s almost impossible to get health insurance for a person with a SCI.
After 40 years, life is a struggle but well worth fighting for. I am one of the lucky ones. I have family and friends, live independently, and thankfully I am not totally dependent on the State or charities.
Martin Sinnott BSc.