Why Routine Is Important for Paraplegics

Reading time: 5 minutes

When I was in rehab after my surgery, it was in-house. I proudly stayed at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago, which is not where chai tea was invented, but they do have yoga at Millennium Park.

I had my own room and accrued a lot more than I suspected. I basically moved in. I was also sent heaps of socks and hats from lovely fans on Instagram. I was there for four weeks, but it felt a lot longer, yet it’s now been over a year since I left rehab.

While I was at Shirley Ryan – rehab for short – I was put into a routine. Now, there are many books about habits and routines and how important they are, which is the foundation this article will be built on, but we’ll be talking about what it means to have a routine for someone in a wheelchair, and the importance of it.

The routine I was put into was on many levels. I had my personal routines that I held myself to, such as brushing my teeth at night, writing about my day every night, doing schoolwork because I started my next semmy at school, and reading.

The routines from rehab were going to the bathroom, throughout the day and at night, and in the beginning, I was woken up at 4am to go to the bathroom but that stopped soon. I had to drink water throughout the day – helping me heal – and I ate at the same times. I got to choose my meals, but I eventually found the ones I liked the most and stuck with those.

I also had some vitamins and medication that I took regularly. I had my blood drawn a few times, but not enough to count as a routine.

Each day in the morning I would be given my schedule for the day, it would say when and with who I have a physio session or some event. I requested the maximum amount of physio and whenever another person in rehab had to cancel a session, I was the first one called up to the plate and I aim for the stands.

Routine is specifically important for people in wheelchairs, paraplegic, quadriplegic, or anything else, because we have to know ourselves a lot more than the next person over.

If a certain food presages, we really need to know. We need to eat the healthiest foods for our bodies to heal as much as it can.

Athletes, the extreme and best, will typically do this. They have a diet they follow – the food and liquid intake and timing-  which leads them to have a bathroom routine. They will have a time for bed and waking up. They will structure their day around that because their body (depending on what athlete I guess) is their most important part and is everything for their sport.

When bodybuilder cut down for competitions, something I’ve done many times, every gram and ounce of food and water is measured and it’s all for the body to react to predictably.

If you eat a certain brekkie that’s both healthy and eaten at a certain time, you will know that you’re contributing to your health and a predictably timed poop, that is if you do the same for all your meals and drinks.

If you go to the gym, which also may contribute to pooping, then going at the same time will help with body predictability.

Why is this body predictability actually useful? Having a routine is useful when you have it and when you break it.

When I had my routine, which was built within four weeks, I was peeing at 4am, or at the least, right before bed and then again early morning.

When I left rehab and went home, I knew nothing about how effective and embedded my routine had become.

On my first night home, or one of the nights early on, I woke up peeing in the bed. A good thing to know that my bladder won’t explode, but a bad thing that I had my then-girlfriend and two foam mattress toppers with me.

If I were aware of my routine, I’d know exactly when my body would want, rather, need to go to the bathroom.

If you’re able to get a routine, and it’s very likely you can, then you’ll know when your body needs to pee or anything like that and it will help with structuring your day. If you have a routine to poop every other day, then you can plan a one-night camping trip on the night you don’t poop. Having routines like the examples above enable you to be certain (to a degree) about what your body will do, also, because you may know that you poop at 7:26pm, you can get in tune with your body and listen for any signs. In the event that you do something danger zone and fall out of the routine, you’ll then know the language of your body and the signs for when you need to poop.

I was with a good friend of mine sailing on lake Michigan, we went to a restaurant after for some drinks and I told him that I was going to need to use his bathroom as soon as we got back to his place.

A few seconds later and I realized that there was no such time.

I excused myself by saying, I’m gonna have to shit here man, and headed to the bathroom. I went into the stall, yanked my pants down, got over the toilet, and dropped the kids off at the pool. I got my pants back on, which is fairly easy, but hard enough that sometimes I wonder what would happen if I just went around without them, I did put them on though and then went back to the table.

Only about 9 minutes, maybe less, had passed. Most of it was the pants coming on and off.

If you don’t know how to listen to your body, you should probably wear a diaper. I wear them sometimes. Usually at a party where I may not be able to go to the bathroom or maybe I run out of catheters from peeing so much, or on an airplane where getting to the bathroom isn’t really a possibility, or if I’m ill, or if all my underwear is dirty and I need something to wear.

Having a routine is important and I made my case.

Here’s the take-out version.

If you have a routine, you’ll know when you’ve broken it and can prepare, you can also follow your routine and structure your day around it and without surprises.

When you do break your routine, which will happen if you are doing lots of cool things or something unexpected happens, be prepared for your routine not to break. If you know you’ll be busy at 12:29pm and that’s when you pee, then wear a diaper or find a way to pee within a few minutes of that time, because your body will do it.

Immediate actionable items: Figure out what you can put into a routine. Diet? Exercise time? Bathroom? Sleep? Anything.

Summary: Routines are important for you to know about your body and have certainty. With a good routine, you’ll be certain for when you’ll have to pee if you have a routine of drinking water or anything else. You’ll learn how your body reacts and learn your language. If you break your routine, you’ll

Overdeliver:  When you have a diet and exercise routine, you’ll be able to diagnose illness a lot better. There have more occurrences than I’d like of me having a bad reaction to food. Mainly the act of it going through me without much of any digestion, and sometimes regurgitation. But I was able to factor out the food in my routine and consider anything that I’ve added to my diet and stop eating it and see if my illness ends.


2 Replies to “Why Routine Is Important for Paraplegics”

  1. Hey Cosmo,

    Enjoyed reading routine… especially with all the Australian references.

    Hope your summer semmie went well! Finish strong!


    PS Got to get up early for my swim!

    Liked by 1 person

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