It's been over five years since I injured my spinal cord due to injury. During this time, I've thought differently about my recovery. I can categorize these thoughts into three stages. The first phase was hoping for a spontaneous recovery. The second phase, I'll refer to as the "quantum leap" phase, because I experienced rapid improvement during a short time. Phase three is my current and longest phase, which I will call the "kaizen" phase. This also summarizes my entire recovery.
When I first injured my spinal cord, I wished for a spontaneous recovery – hoping I would wake up one morning to find all my body parts working as they did before my injury. Even today, sometimes I will go to sleep and think, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if I could walk and pee efficiently when I wake up in the morning." For the first month or two, this was my dominant thought regarding my recovery.
About two months after my injury, I started to experience great leaps of improvement, especially with my legs. It seemed I made major improvements day-to-day, week-to-week. By three months, I was able to stand for a few seconds, and by six months, post-injury, I was walking short distances with only the aid of a quad cane, and at nine months, switched to a single legged cane. I stopped using a catheter, and bowel eliminations became less dependent on manual stimulation. I thought, "Boy, at this rate, I should be 100% pre-injury by my second anniversary."
As expected, the more I improved, the slower the improvements came. 16 months into in my recovery, I'd reached a point where I was satisfied with the amount I had recovered. It was at this point that I lost my motivation. I started practicing a passive recovery; I waited for things to improve than doing things to cause improvement. I needed a concept to re-motivate me into action. I found that concept in the Japanese term, "kaizen."
Kaizen, loosely translated, is "improvement through small gradual changes," resulting in a major improvement. I tested myself to see how well I performed physical tasks and realized that during even the most recent of months, I had been improving – it was just so incremental that I hadn't noticed. I renewed my efforts to seek out motivational aids, such as songs, videos and readings; I renewed my dedication to physical exercises.
In hindsight, Kaizen applies to the entirety of my recovery. None of my improvements were spontaneous; it took days for me to breathe on my own, weeks for me to move my toes, and months for me to walk using only a cane. Kaizen also applies to the efforts I made to improve myself. I tried to breathe on my own everyday. I tried to move my toes everyday; I exercised each day and when I reached a threshold, I made the exercises a little bit harder. Each effort, each little motivational pep talk - all contributed a small amount to my recovery. However, the sum of all these little improvements are greater than the parts. This is Kaizen.