How a Cold Can Affect A Quadriplegic

It’s been a minute. Actually, 20160 minutes. But, I have good reason.

When I caught the munchkin’s cold two weeks ago, I knew I was in for wild ride. Double duty = double whammy. But when my sinus and allergies decided to join the party, my symptom management got ten times worse.

It’s a cold. What’s the big deal, you ask? Managing any type of sickness with a spinal cord injury is tricky, but particularly for a quadriplegic or tetraplegic.

Quads are easily susceptible to respiratory problems like pneumonia because of the inability to produce a strong cough (paralyzed abs). It’s called a quad cough: an ineffective, light cough that barely makes a sound. In the hospital, the therapists would do a heimlich-like maneuveur called an assistive cough to get the gunk up. For me, I’ve worked on my nothing-close-to-a six pack for a stronger cough. When that doesn’t work, leaning forward applies more pressure and will produce a better cough. I just have to remember to have a tissue nearby — can’t spoil the shoes if the volcano erupts!

Don’t you feel better when you’re warm and toasty? Well, this feels nearly impossible when most quads have a cold — or even worse when you have a fever. The spinal cord injury causes a few “fuzzy signals” in the body, complicating the body’s ability to regulate body temp. On a normal day, anything below 75 feels like 55 to me — which triggers nerve pain so intense I feel like a viciously poked voodoo doll. So when a cold or fever take effect, I sip from a never-empty pot of hot tea in a hoodie, under the covers, with the heat on BLAST! And when I’m still cold, I place a ThermaCare heat patch on the back of my neck. Usually, a warm neck will help control a quad’s temp.

Trying to stay warm is miserable. Not only does it intensify my nerve pain, but it also keeps me burrowed under my layers of blankets. That becomes an even bigger problem when there’s stuff to do because the bed will suck the energy right out of you. Having spent many months in hospitals, I know the importance of getting out of the bed. In almost every situation, I was told to get out of the bed: post-physical therapy, post-surgery, post-pregnancy. So, I got up. I got up to work. I got up to not help my sick child when Daddy had to work. But after a week of pushing through it, my body “warned” me to chill and be still. And I listened. Who needs another hospitalization!?

Although a cold is common, it can be a lingering devastation for a quad. But what’s a mom to do when the three year-old petri dish wants comfort because she’s sick? Open your arms and pray you can fight off the germs.

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Update: Here’s another unconventional way to get warm: a soft bonnet hair dryer! I know too many people that have burned themselves by placing blow dryers under their covers or leaving the heating blanket on their legs too long. The soft bonnet hair dryer keeps my neck warm while I set my twist/braid out. Double score!