A Taste of China Part – II

Andy has allowed me to take over the blog again so that I can write some more about my experience in China as a participant on the Kunming Walking Programme. I have spent some time browsing some of the various SCI forums online as there is always so much talk about the various ‘recovery’ therapies available. The Kunming Walking Programme is often discussed and I have to say I have read many more negative comments about it than positive. It makes me quite angry, but I guess I should laugh because the people writing these comments are basing it all on pure speculation as there is very little information available about what the walking programme actually is.

It is a well known fact that there is no cure for paralysis at the moment. We all wish there was, but the reality is that no stem cells or exoskeletons or special treatments will ‘cure’ anyone with a spinal injury and make them return to their pre-accident self. However, I am a great believer (and I know that Marrianne and Andy are as well) in small improvements and little milestones, which are pretty incredible in themselves. Anything that makes life a bit easier or reduces pain is, in my eyes, fantastic progress, and so I find it quite frustrating when people judge some form of ‘treatment’ as being pointless just because it hasn’t ‘cured’ someone.

This leads me back to the Kunming Walking Programme. I am currently back in England for two of my sister’s weddings, but I will be returning to China in a few weeks to pick up where I left off at the end of May. I spent 14 solid weeks in the gym, working harder than I ever have in my life at anything. I had ups and downs… lots of frustrated tears but also lots of laughs and proud moments. No, I cannot walk independently, and I have not overcome my injury, but I have most definitely made some great progress. I am such a perfectionist and I tend to hate watching my progress videos as I always see what I’m doing badly as opposed to what I am doing well. But even I feel quite proud when I watch this montage video that I made…

Before pressing play on the video, please note that there are some clips from my spinal surgery, which are not for the faint hearted!

I could spend hours analysing how and why I may have made the improvements that I have. I can look at it in a positive and encouraging way, or I could be really cynical about it, but I made the decision months ago that I wouldn’t do either. On the whole I don’t tend to talk about my ‘progress’, I just talk about the experience that I am having out there. I don’t know what my body is capable of, or the full extent of the damage in my spinal cord…there are just too many questions and too many possible answers. I started off in China by asking all the time what they thought would happen and how far they thought I could progress, but the simple answer is that no one knows. And the more you speculate, the more you drive yourself crazy! And the more I just got frustrated when I was having an ‘off’ day in the gym (which happens fairly regularly when you are there almost all of the time and pushing your body to its absolute limit!)

So I look at the walking programme purely as an experience, and it has been incredibly positive so far. I have absolutely loved having the opportunity to exercise all day every day, and it makes me feel like I am making the most of my time. I am doing everything I can, and for some weird reason I love collapsing into bed every night completely exhausted both mentally and physically. I have tailored the walking programme to be what I want it to be, and I plan to modify it slightly when I go back out there in July. The therapists, on the whole, are great. I have really lucked out and my physio is probably the best one there and we make a great team (with her limited English and my limited Chinese!)

Aside from the exercise, there are other positive aspects to my time out in China. I think my attitude to life has changed a lot over the last few months, and for the first time since my accident I am a lot more optimistic about the future. Regardless of what happens to me physically, I have learnt that there is more to life than my injury. For a while after my accident I didn’t think that I deserved to be happy and that my accident had happened for a reason. But now I am starting to see beyond that, and I am starting to make longer term plans that aren’t affected by my ‘disability’. I think that if I hadn’t have gone to China then I would still be stuck in a negative rut where I didn’t like thinking about the future. If I can survive living by myself in China, I can survive anywhere!!

The walking programme is far from perfect, and I count myself lucky to have gained so much from it. Kunming is so different from anywhere I have ever been, and the way Chinese people live their lives is very different to Westerners. The hospital have tried to accommodate the ‘foreign’ patients and there have been a few changes, but if they plan to encourage more foreign patients to the programme then they will have to do a lot more. The programme offers great potential for those who want to really push their mind and body, but the decision to go out to Kunming should not be taken lightly.

The Kunming Walking Programme in West Sussex!!

I am at the stage now where I am able to recreate almost all of the exercises I do out in China here at home with the help of my family and my personal trainer. This gives great potential for the future, as although I do enjoy living out in China, I do miss England a lot, and it is a lot cheaper to workout at home! In a few weeks I will be flying back out to Kunming, and I am really looking forward to it already. It has been nice to be home and have a bit of a break, but I am keen to get back on the programme for another few months.

The Kunming Walking Programme in West Sussex!! Recreating some of the exercises I do out I China with the help of my family and friends.
Recreating some of the exercises I do out I China with the help of my family and friends.
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