By Talia Lavin
“Here is just a short version of what I had to teach myself again.”
How to dress, to put makeup on, to do her hair — everything became complicated after Manon Slomkowski was in a motorcycle accident in March 2014. But she has adapted. The proof is this video, published on Slomkowski’s Facebook page and on YouTube a year later. Posted on March 1, the video above has already attracted more than 3 million views.
On March 21, 2014, the 20-year-old Slomkowski was the victim of a serious road traffic accident in a tunnel in Nanterre, near Paris. Ever since, she has suffered from brachial plexus palsy, or damage to the set of nerves that control the arm. This is a serious injury because she cannot use her left arm.
“Normally, we need five nerves to control one arm; four nerves from my marrow have already been torn off, so they are not recoverable, and I have already undergone two surgeries, one of which was a nerve graf,” wrote the young woman in a description accompanying her video. These nerves, she said in a email to The Huffington Post, “are connected directly to the cervical spinal cord. In my case, I only have a small part of one nerve out of the five; the rest are completely dead.”
In spite of the recent nerve graft, Slomkowski’s chances to recover her arm completely are slim. “I had to wait a lot of time, see many doctors and undergo lots of tests before I understood my palsy in more detail,” she told The Huffington Post. “It’s been a year since my motorcycle accident, and many things have changed, if not everything. I don’t go to work anymore, and I am caught up in an insurance and compensation claim process.”
“What I find most difficult today is how to bear the phantom limb pain.”
Today, the young woman suffers from neuropathic pain, a syndrome that touches people who had their limbs amputated. It is often described as a stabbing, burning, or electrical shock sensation, often accompanied by tingling and itching.
“When I first came back from the hospital, I remember going up to my room and bursting into tears. This is when I first realized what had happened to me and that my life would completely change. It took me a while to recover my life rhythm, to eat again, to sleep, and to slowly reduce the doses of painkillers. At first, I had a hard time doing things by myself and everything felt painful, every movement or gesture. I couldn’t find pleasure in doing anything.
I started following a re-education program in the hospital. My need for health care diminished gradually, and starting from that moment, I have begun to settle back into the normal rhythm of my life. What’s been the most difficult, and still is today — all people who have paralyzed or amputated limbs will back me up on this — is how to bear the neuropathic pain, also known as ‘phantom limb pain.’ This kind of pain is very difficult to manage and some people are completely unable to bear it. But there are techniques to help us relieve this pain. Most of the times, I can manage it, so I’m OK.”
Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop Slomkowski from living. On the contrary, she explains, if she “can live with it,” this means she “has accepted it.” The accident “has changed my lifestyle, my activities,” she tells The Huffington Post. “Before this happened all I did was ride my motorcycle; now I’m thinking about my motorcycle and drawing. I have always had a penchant for drawing, and now, having so much spare time, I’ve taken this seriously and I have improved a great deal.” But, she still has to work on reinventing her everyday habits.
“I am teaching myself every day how to support myself, how to find solutions,” she says. “You can see in my video, for instance, the solution for my bra: one of my friends, who is able-bodied, gave it to me, because I was tired of always waiting for somebody to help me hook it up! I have always hated somebody else helping me do something or doing it for me. This encouraged me to make an effort to support myself.”
“Otherwise, there are tons of activities I still cannot do by myself. My single real fear about the future is for when I become a mother and I need to take care of my baby as a single-handed mother… Fortunately, I have heard from mothers suffering from plexus palsy that they generally do very well.”
To conclude her email to HuffPost, Manon emphasized a wish already expressed in her video.
“If I had to give advice to all the people who have suffered from injuries caused by any kind of road accident, I would tell them ‘Be happy and fight for your lives,’ because you still have the chance to see tomorrow. To all road drivers, remember that you are not untouchable, and the 30 seconds when I thought I was almost killed me. You don’t want that, so drive slowly and carefully.”
This article was originally published on HuffPost France and was translated into English.
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