I received this letter from someone who had just become a quadriplegic six months ago:

Dear Dr. Dan,

I guess I am really looking for signs of hope that my life will get better, and I will have fun and enjoy life again. I have been told that you have up to 2 years to get returns from your injury. Is this really true, or is it something that we are told to pacify us? As I wrote before I just got my lower abdominal muscles back, which is really helping with balance, and my bowel program. I am really hoping for more return since it has not been a year yet. I know that I won't be like before my accident, but I am hoping to get closer than what I am now. I was always working, swimming, traveling, etc. and now I get on the city bus and go to therapy and that is it. I know I should be happy that I am still here, and deep down I really am, but it just has to get better than this! Thanks for listening.

Well, the answer to your first question is easy. I'm not able to walk. I am a C5-6 complete. But I don't think they are giving you hope just to pacify you. I am told that it takes up to 18 months for swelling in the spinal cord to go down. I wrote a story in "Letters to Sam" about how when I was going through rehab they were giving me arm strengthening exercises and after one week, I was able to turn pages in a book independently. They were all so happy, but I was angry. I told them that just a few years ago I had written a 300 page doctoral dissertation, how could I be happy about turning the page? But then a couple of years later I was in my office and I was trying to move a file from my desk to my lap and I began to lose the file. So I slowly slid it down the side of the desk and got it on the floor so that it was leaning on the desk and after a few minutes I was able to get my thumb under the file and get it back on my desk. I was exhausted, but I felt pretty good about my accomplishment. So what was the difference? Back then, I was trying to be the person I had been and I was failing. But later, I was trying to be the person I had become and was succeeding.

I have no idea what your potential is for functional return. I had none. But I know you have the same potential for happiness that you did before the accident. As a matter of fact, I am probably happier than I was before the accident. And why? I've had no choice but to become the person I am and have done a pretty good job of it. I like who I am, I like the contributions I am making to help others, and I love the fact that I am truly grateful for so many things in my life. It took a lot of time to get here, but it has been worth it. But please know that I went through everything you are going through and it was terrible. And please don't give up hope to one day you will smile knowing that you have discovered something precious that can never be taken away