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Still Lives: Narratives of Spinal Cord Injury

Cole is a doctor in the UK who works with people with paraplegia [called tetraplegia in the UK]. In his attempts to understand how to assist people with disabilities he started talking to them about what their day to day lives were like, how they coped with the daily living issues we all face such as work, relationships and occupying free time. He talks to a wide range of people most of whom can’t move practically anything below their necks or shoulders. All the people he talked to were injured in some way, none were born disabled or became disabled as a result of MS or other diseases.

As with any cross-section of 12 people, some were upbeat and some were not. Some were coping well and some were not. Some had whole new post-accident lives carved out for themselves and some did not. They all talk pretty matter-of-factly about such touchy issues as bowel evacuation, sex and relationships, their time spent in hospitals and in rehabilitative therapy, and getting on with their families. Some of the people he talks to are more high profile -- have written their own books about their experiences or have been in the media for attempts to utilize technology to assist them in gaining more movement control -- and these people seem to offer the more polished interviews. Others are not having an easy time of it and their words reflect the “sometimes it’s good, sometimes it sucks” reality of living with a disability.

Cole is also interested in pain. His idea is that many disabled people live in some sense with near-constant pain that they attempt to put a more positive face on in the interests of being able to move about in “politie society” and not be seen as a burden or a downer. Cole specifically talks to each of the people he interviews about the pain they experience, how they cope with it and how it affects their ability to interact with the larger world. The candid looks at the lives of these people is well-done, with just enough of Cole’s personal thoughts and research interjected to give it the feel of a linear narrative.