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My Story by Bill F.

by billf September 4 2012 18:02
My name is Bill Fullerton and I am a C5-6 quadriplegic. I have been paralyzed for 23 years.  I have sensation from the collar bones up. I have a pretty strong tricep in my left arm, but the tricep in my right arm is very weak. I do have strong biceps in both arms, but both of my hands are nonfunctioning.  

Growing up I loved motorcycles. I finally convinced my parents to buy me my first motorcycle when I was 11 years old. Within the first year I entered my first race and realized that is all I wanted to do. I was heavily involved in racing throughout my junior high and high school years. I also was big on riding my BMX bicycle. Unfortunately in those days wearing a helmet was not something we did when riding bicycles. Because of this I encountered about three concussions and numerous broken bones etc. I must admit that I kept my parents busy.   

Before my injury I was a student at the University of Oklahoma. I was in business school working on my degree in marketing.

The Accident
On June 7th, 1988 I started my first day of summer school and had one more semester to go before completing my degree. My friend and I had gone to the river to practice on a track that I had made. I was practicing for a benefit race for a former professional racer who had broken his neck a few years earlier in a motocross racing accident in Paris, France rendering him a quadriplegic. He was somebody that I had always looked up to.

After the first practice session my friend’s bike broke down so he decided to pack up and leave. He told me to go with him but I decided to stay and practice on my own. Unfortunately, the first lap I fell over in a corner and hit my helmet on a tree root that was sticking out of the ground. This resulted in a compression burst fracture of my fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae. I was wide awake throughout the whole ordeal. It felt like somebody hit me over the head with a baseball bat and electrocuted me at the same time. I knew immediately that I had broken my neck as I could not move anything. I thought was going to be there for quite a while as the area we were riding in was in the middle of nowhere. Luckily for me after about 15 minutes a trial rider came by and saw me lying there. I remember him asking if I was okay and I told him no, I broke my neck. He went and called the EMS and they came and transported me to the ER.  

I was in good shape and had no other complications from my accident. I spent about a week in ICU and then they did a spinal fusion and put me in my own room where I spent about two weeks. I noticed that I had a Foley catheter inserted in me and I didn't really think about it. I do remember wondering how my bowels and bladder were going to work, but at the time I was more focused on walking again.  

After the two weeks I was transferred to a rehabilitation center in Oklahoma City. The first couple of days in the rehab center they would not let me out of bed until I was evaluated. I was going crazy as I was ready to get in a chair and get things started. I remember when they brought my first manual chair to me. At first I was unable to push the chair very well, but I pushed as best I could as I knew I had to get my strength back. At the time I was the only quadriplegic at the facility.  I was in a room with three other paraplegics so I was always trying to do what they were doing but I soon found that to be impossible. It did help push me to do as much as I possibly could. I remember that between therapy breaks you had some free time to do as you wish. My paraplegic buddies would go to the room and get in their bed to relax while all I could do was sit in my chair and wish that I could be relaxing in bed also. The earliest the nurses would put me to bed was at 8:00 p.m. I was so exhausted everyday that I could not wait to be put in that bed!  

Learning to Catheterize
About the third day the nurse came in with a catheter, extension tube, urinal, and a dishpan with soapy water. She informed me that they were taking out my Foley and I was going to learn how to catheterize intermittently. I looked at her in disbelief thinking that I would never be able to do this on my own. She informed me that this was something that I had to learn to do. I remember the first time I was trying to learn I worked so hard at it that my muscles cramped up in my arm.  As a precautionary measure they took me and had an MRI done to make sure that everything was okay and that I was not losing function. Come to find out I was right in the fact that I had just seized up trying so hard to learn how to catheterize. In the beginning it took about 30 minutes to complete this cathing process. At that time it was considered to be okay to wash and reuse your catheters. This is the process I would go through: the nurse would prepare the dishpan with some hot soapy water and bring it to me. She would then get a towel and use it to hold my sweatpants open so I could access my urethra. I would then get my catheter that was wrapped in a towel and would rinse it out in the soapy water. I would then squirt some surgilube on a towel in my lap and I would run the catheter through it getting it lubricated. Then I would proceed to enter the catheter into my urethra until urine would start flowing into the urinal which I would hang on the side of my wheelchair or next to me if I was in bed. I figured out that I could get a good grip on the catheter by using the forefinger on one hand and my thumb on the other hand. Through the weeks I began to get a little bit better at it each time. Initially, they had me catheterizing every four hours. This meant that I was woken up at 12:00 and 4:00 in the morning to catheterize. I remember falling asleep during one of my cathing sessions. They also would come in every two hours to turn me so I would not develop pressure sores. It seems like I was always exhausted. I can't remember exactly how long it was, but I soon developed my first UTI. I remember not feeling very welland I was having problems leaking so I knew something was not right. After a round of antibiotics I started feeling like my old self again. At that time they would give us a new catheter to use once a week.  

Back to the Hospital
After about three weeks they took me in for another MRI and determined that my vertebrae were shifting. Because of this they decided that the neck brace I was using was not holding my neck stable enough so they put a halo on me. This required me to go back to the hospital. When I went back to the hospital they would not allow me to take the loaner wheelchair I was using along with the specialized cushion. The nurse at the hospital put me in a regular wheelchair with a pillow to sit on. Due to this I developed my first pressure sore on my coccyx. When I returned to the rehabilitation center they were very upset that this was allowed to happen to me. They began treating the wound but could not allow me to stay bedridden because I needed as much therapy as I could get before my insurance would quit covering the rehabilitation.  I worked really hard and learned how to do as much as I could. The best way I can explain how I felt is like I was a baby again. I had to relearn how to use the bathroom, how to eat, how to get dressed etc. Here are some of the things that I relearned in the rehab center: how to hold silverware so I could eat on my own, I learned how to hold a pen so I could write, I learned how to do transfers as best I could with a halo on. I wasn’t able to learn how to dress myself because it was impossible to do so with the halo. When they released me they wanted me to come back so they could teach me the things I couldn't do when I had the halo on.  

Life After Rehab
After about three months I was finally released from the rehabilitation center. I no longer had my apartment in Norman, Oklahoma so I moved back to my parent's house to continue outpatient rehab. I still had the pressure sore so I was also going in for treatments on it. About a month later I had my halo taken off. I then proceeded on getting myself moved back to Norman with my girlfriend. The way we found a house was she would take my wheelchair and see if it would fit through all of the doors. We finally found a nice old house that worked and a grant program paid to have a ramp installed so I could get into the house. I finally moved back in December.  

During this time I had a provider that would come out every morning to help me with my bathroom regiment and to help me get dressed. I hated being reliant on having someone do these things for me.  One day when I was out wheeling around in my chair getting some exercise I ran into a female quadriplegic who told me she was able to dress herself and take care of her needs. Something clicked in my head that day and I started learning how to do these things on my own. After about a month I learned how to dress myself and also learned how to perform my own bathroom program. This newfound independence was one of the biggest turning points since I had become disabled. Not long after that I got my first van and was able to get out and enjoy the world again on my own. I have to admit this was the biggest turning point for me. I no longer had to be reliant upon others to get to where I needed to go. What a relief!  Not long after that I started back to school and finished my degree. It took me longer than expected as I developed a pressure sore and had to have surgery done on it.      

23 Years Later
It has now been 23 years since my injury. I live on my own and am able to do everything for myself without anybody assisting me. My first job was at an Independent Living Center where I was in charge of the Assistive Technology Center. My job duties were to help provide those with disabilities with the necessary technologies available to them to help them with whatever their needs might be. Unfortunately I had to quit this job due to another pressure sore that required surgery. The next job I took was working for a DME company selling wheelchairs. After that, I worked for a company that modified vehicles for people with disabilities. While working there I was approached by Todd Brown to see if I would like to come work at 180 Medical. I took him up on it and have been working at 180 Medical for the last seven years. I enjoy working here because it allows me to help people who have to catheterize. I receive a lot satisfaction if I am able to teach somebody how to catheterize who would otherwise be unable to.  

My current hobbies are riding my handcrank bicycle and a little bit of weight training. I also enjoy swimming. I used to enjoy waterskiing, but unfortunately I broke my femur waterskiing last year so I have decided it is in my best interest to give it up. I have only been snow skiing one time and thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope to do it again.  I still love to watch motocross racing as once it is in your blood you can't get it out. I like to go and visit newly injured patients to offer them as much advice and encouragement as I can because I understand how important that can be to someone who is experiencing a spinal cord injury. I am also a member of the Central Oklahoma Spinal Cord Association.