Imagine ringing in the new year finding yourself on the floor of a strange bathroom, suddenly paralyzed from the shoulders down, with three people above you arguing about whether or not to call an ambulance.
“It was December 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I had been stuck in my apartment in Los Angeles for such a long time,” Chase Friedman, 27, told Newsweek, “A good friend invited me down to Philadelphia for a house party and although I was a bit worried about COVID, he reassured me that most people going had just got over COVID, so it would probably be fine.”
While at the party Friedman met some girls and ended up going back to their place to continue the festivities, before falling asleep on the sofa.
“I got up in the early hours of the morning to pee,” he said, “and the next thing I know I wake up on the bathroom floor, extremely concussed and I’m panicking. The three girls were around me and were freaking out. They’re telling me to get up but I can’t move, I can’t do anything. I was paralyzed.”
The doctors later told Friedman that he must have fallen and snapped his head back, resulting in full-body paralysis just below the shoulders.
The owner of the apartment was a lawyer and didn’t want to call an ambulance for fear of losing her license due to the clear evidence of a party, meaning that Friedman was on the floor of the bathroom for 45 minutes plus the time it took to for the ambulance to arrive.
When Friedman arrived at the hospital, the doctors informed him that he also had COVID.
“I really just wanted to die at that point, I was terrified that for the rest of my life I was just going to be a head.
“I remember the next day when they took me in for surgery, I was making eye contact with the anesthesiologist, willing him to make a mistake so that I wouldn’t wake up,” he said.
“But I did wake up.”
The doctors performed what is known as a spinal fusion, which is surgery to permanently join two or more bones together in the spine so there is no movement between them, placing screws and rods into Friedman’s back and neck to keep everything in place.
The prognosis wasn’t looking good for Friedman in early 2021 and doctors told him that he would most likely spend the rest of his life in a motor wheelchair, with only a slight possibility of being able to take steps again.
This year, he plans on running a 5K.
A Miraculous Recovery
Healthcare providers use a letter-number combination to talk about sections of the spine and related spinal nerves which range between C1 to C8. The fifth cervical spinal nerve, for example, is known as C5. Quadriplegia is defined as paralysis below the neck that affects all of a person’s limbs and “can happen when there’s a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury anywhere between C1 and C8. The higher the injury, the more dangerous the effects,” according to The Cleveland Clinic.
Friedman had spinal damage in C4 through to C7, only centimeters away from affecting his C1 and C2 nerves. Damage to these nerves is “almost always deadly without immediate care, especially breathing support. Injuries at this level can also cut off your brain’s connection to other parts of your autonomic nervous system, which manages automatic functions like sweating, blood pressure control, digestion, and the muscles in your bladder and bowels you deliberately relax so you can pee or poop,” reports the Cleveland Clinic.
“If I had injured myself only slightly differently,” said Friedman, “I almost certainly would have died with the amount of time I was on the floor before the ambulance arrived.”
After the accident, Friedman decided to stay in Philadelphia and recover at the XXXX recovery center, as they are one of the best spinal cord injury rehabilitation centers in the country. And since this was during the height of the pandemic, friends and family couldn’t visit him in recovery for about a month after the accident.
“It was really tough being away from family and friends,” he said, “I was in such a vulnerable state and I was completely alone, living in a hospital, miles away from my family and friends. For the first week or two I didn’t even video call anyone because my face was quite messed up from the fall, but when I did start talking to people again I was on the phone with people for about five hours a day which really helped me through everything.”
Friedman explained that he completely cut himself off from society during his three months in the hospital, and even missed hearing about the January 6th United States Capitol attack. “The only things I cared about were joking around with the nurses, watching funny movies and trying to stay positive and work on my recovery,” said Friedman.
He did, however, set himself three recovery goals as suggested by the doctors. “My goals were to be able to move my fingers to be able to flip people off,” he said, “walk up the 72 Rocky Steps in Philadelphia, and kick my friend in the balls. I am happy to say I’ve achieved all three of those goals.”
“When I had enough mobility back in my body to be able to kick my friend, he yelled, ‘Chase just kicked me in the balls and I felt so good!’”
When it comes to the girls who left him on the floor for 45 minutes, Friedman is magnanimous in his recovery. “I thought about suing her, but I didn’t think it would be helpful to my recovery,” he said, “A lawsuit just sounded like a huge hassle, and it would only have been for emotional damages. I just wanted to live my life.”
Friedman hasn’t spoken to any of the girls since—and doesn’t plan on it. “I don’t have any feelings towards them,” he said, “I do know that the owner of the flat has been completely dropped by her two best friends, as well as my friend who invited me to Philly in the first place. She lost her two best friends and that’s enough punishment for me.”
Not only is Chase now walking, but he only has a slightly noticeable limp. “I’m pretty sure the doctors haven’t really seen a recovery like mine from the type of injury before,” Chase said, “I never mentally accepted what happened to me and I still haven’t. People say ‘oh you beat being paralyzed’, but in my mind there was never a world where I wouldn’t.”
Despite “beating” paralysis, Friedman doesn’t find this attitude helpful. Although I had this tunnel vision, I don’t think it’s always useful to focus on how much or how little someone has recovered because what are we saying, everyone who doesn’t recover fully or at all is loser? No absolutely not.
“What matters is, can you mentally get passed it and accept whatever happens? Are you a person who happens to have an injury, or are you an injured person?”
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