What happens after a spinal cord injury in a car accident?

A violent and jarring impact, the sound of crunching metal and smell of automotive fluids may be the first signs that you’ve been in a car accident. You never saw it coming… You may try to move and realize that you can’t.

As you wait in fear for emergency medical personnel to arrive, you wonder whether the fact that you can’t move comes from your inability to get out of the vehicle or from an injury to your spinal cord. When emergency responders arrive, it becomes clear to you that there is more to it than being paralyzed by fear. You may have suffered a spinal cord injury.

Before you leave the scene

Getting you out of the vehicle requires extreme care. Emergency responders may go ahead and put a cervical collar on you before removing you from your vehicle. Thereafter, personnel will place you on a backboard while they stabilize you for transport to a hospital.

The first hours and days at the hospital

The impact that caused your initial injury constitutes only part of the problem. Doctors need to take whatever steps deemed necessary to prevent further damage to your spinal cord. This often includes the administration of medications. You may need other medications for infection and pain, among other things. 

Doctors may also sedate you to prevent you from causing yourself any further damage by moving. Other medical devices may serve to immobilize you as well. Other measures may help control swelling and keep your body temperature from rising to a dangerous level.

Once the emergency passes

Doctors need to classify your injury, which means determining the severity and extent of the damage to your spinal cord. This may occur through imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs. A neurological examination will measure the reflexes, sensation and muscle tone in your torso and limbs.

Surgery

Depending on the outcome of testing, a surgeon may talk to you about surgical options. You may need surgery due to the presence of one or more of the following:

  • Blood clots
  • Bone fragments
  • Foreign objects
  • Spinal tumors
  • Fractured vertebrae
  • Herniated disks

Surgery addresses anything that may be compressing your spinal column or to stabilize your spine in an effort to prevent deformities and future pain. Implants such as screws, plates and metal rods may provide much needed support to fuse the spine into place. Surgeons may use bone grafts for this purpose as well.

Recovery and future medical needs

Depending on the location and severity of your injury, you may face a significant recovery period, if you fully recover at all. Your need for medical care may continue for months, years or a lifetime. This means significant changes to your life, at least in the short term. How will you pay your medical bills? How will you support yourself and your family?

You may find the answers to these questions by filing a personal injury claim against the party or parties deemed responsible for your injuries. If successful, a Hawaii civil court may award you compensation that could cover your financial losses and future monetary needs.