Since my accident in 1999, like many other things, the word friend has taken on a totally new meaning. Prior to that time I prided myself on being self-reliant and able to take care of myself and family in any situation. We grew or raised most of our own food and heated our house with wood we cut from our 40 acre wood lot. We took trips into wilderness areas of Canada and New York’s Adirondacks Mountains. Being a C6 complete quadriplegic and a big man (6’5” and 265 pounds), now it is difficult for me to do most activities by myself or just with the help of my wife. Friends have stepped up and offered their time and efforts to help me participate in the activities I love.
Although it’s still difficult for me to ask for help, I am definitely getting better at it. I’ve come to realize that friends enjoy helping me as much as I enjoy what they are enabling me to do. However, helping is not as cut and dry as one might initially think. People approach me with different attitudes and expectations. Some will wait to be asked for their assistance. Some will wait until you struggle and then step in. Others feel they need to do everything for you. It’s very easy for an individual with a disability to get frustrated with someone helping too much. Their actions could easily be misinterpreted as, “I don’t think you have the ability to do anything on your own”. I must remind myself of people’s good intentions and, when necessary, tactfully intercede on my own behalf.Just last week I went kayaking on a large pond owned by good friends of ours. There to assist me were three men, my wife and my nurse. The kayak must be setup with pontoons, stabilizing straps and a special seat to keep me upright. I then have to be lowered into it from a lift, secured and then dragged down to the water. Always people need to be nearby in case there is a mishap. Early in my effort to return to kayaking, I actually flipped over and could have drowned if it were not for the fast action of several people who were there helping me. When I’m finished everything must then be done in reverse. Friends stand ready to help me any time I need assistance. Without their help my life would be void of the activities I love and which give me quality of life. Often friends will offer to stay overnight with me (we call it adult sitting), so my wife can see her own friends and enjoy her own activities. This kind of respite helps rejuvenate her for the routine of our daily lives and is vital to her well-being.
Quadriplegia has taken many things away from me. Primary among them is the majority of physical contact I had with my wife. Marge remains beside me, takes care of me, but most importantly she is still my best friend. Other friends stand ready to give of their own time to help make my life more enjoyable. As a result of the forum I have on the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation website I have gained a new friend different from all others. He is a fellow in his 50s who contacted me to share some information he had on one of the topics that I posted. In an effort to communicate more directly we exchanged e-mail addresses and then telephone numbers. It’s probably been about four months since I met Andy, and we e-mail back and forth and make an effort to talk at least once a week. He lives in Utah and I live in northern New York, and although we are making efforts to get together, it will probably take some time for that to happen. Andy and I share many things in common besides our quadriplegia. He was injured in the out-of-doors doing an activity he loved as was I. We both share similar outlooks on life and philosophies about our ability to deal with the challenges that we face. Even though we’ve only known each other about four months and have just exchanged e-mails or have spoken on the phone, I feel a very close kinship with him. Only he truly understands what it is like to be in this situation. There are so many things that can go unsaid because they are not necessary since each of us understands the challenges faced by the other. This enables us to communicate in a way that I never can do with another able-bodied individual. He and I understand the frustrations and emotional roller coaster each of us is on, and there is no way that can be explained to anybody else. We both recognize the important reinforcement and support we enjoy from talking to each other.
Although I am no longer able to be self-reliant and provide for most of my family’s needs, my life has been enriched by the kindness of both old and new friends and their willingness to step up and help empower me. How very fortunate I am!