My husband was one of the most independent people I have ever met. He didn’t want to ask for help. He didn’t want to ask questions. Whether it was directions or how to rewire a lamp, he would figure it out without help, thank you very much.
He is one of 14 children. As one of the oldest kids, he was responsible early on for taking care of the younger kids while mom cared for the newest baby. He talks about the “Mt Everest of dishes” he had to wash. With so many kids, the oldest often had to fend for themselves. So he learned to take care of his needs at a very young age.
As he got older and lived alone, he didn’t count on receiving Christmas or birthday presents so he bought himself whatever he wanted. One year he told me he wanted a hand wax warmer to help with his arthritis. I said, “Great! Christmas is coming!” A few days later, one showed up in the mail. He bought it for himself.
He was used to shopping for himself, fixing his own car and making decisions on his own.
He was always helping others. When it snowed, he shoveled our sidewalk and driveway as well as those of the widows on the block. He helped friends move into and out of apartments and gave rides to friends when they called. He rarely sat still.
Until the accident. June 11, 2015. His motorcycle hit a guardrail and he was thrown over, landing in a ravine, severing his spine, leaving him a T11 complete paraplegic.
He was no longer independent. If fact, he was dependent on everyone else for everything. In the hospital, he depended on staff to bring him his meals and his meds. He depended on them to change him because he no longer had bladder or bowel control. He depended on someone to bathe him – on their schedule.
In the rehab facility, he depended on nurses and aids to bring a “hoyer” to lift him out of bed into his wheelchair. If two people weren’t available, he had to wait..and wait…and wait. Some days he never made it out of bed in time to sit with his visitors.
Very little was under his control. He couldn’t get out of bed by himself. He couldn’t reach the water if he was thirsty and it had run out. He couldn’t get a pen if it fell on the floor. He relied completely on others.
With lots of prayer and the grace of God, we moved back in together – 13 months after the accident. One of my goals was to help him regain his independence.
We call the 4th of July Arthur’s Independence Day because that was the first day he moved into our new home.
I was determined that this man would once again be independent.
What I didn’t count on was that he had gotten used to being waited on and taken care of. The first week in our new home, he asked me to get him a glass of water. I looked at him, in his chair in the kitchen and said, “Your wheelchair works. Get it yourself.”
He was afraid of many things. Cooking for example. Since I was working full-time, I asked him to make dinner. Did we get into some arguments! He didn’t want to burn himself. He couldn’t see into the pot on the stove. Valid concerns for sure but not insurmountable. We started with boiling a pot for tea, cutting up vegetables and putting them in the microwave. Tiny baby steps.
He was afraid to take a shower by himself. After 6 months of nurse’s assistants coming over every morning and being up in my business, I finally said, “Enough!” He let the aide go and I helped him bathe. He just needed the right chair. The one the occupational therapist suggested wasn’t working. I suggested he order a chair that slides. He balked. He ordered it. It was a game-changer.
He also relied on me to take him to his doctor’s appointments, which meant I had to take off from work. He could make some of his appointments with Metro Access, a transit system for the disabled, but the rest were up to me. After months of squeezing him and his wheelchair into my tiny Prius, I encouraged him to get his drivers license again.
He was so fearful. He hadn’t driven in 2 years. Baby steps. Call and find out what you need to do. It took nearly a year, but he took the required driving course and passed his driving test the first try! Fortunately, we were able to purchase a used van with a ramp and hand controls.
After he got his license, I asked him to go food shopping. He thought I was crazy! “How am I going to do that?!!” See that little red basket? Put it on your lap. When it’s filled, you check out.
This is our dance – I encourage him. He says, “I can’t do that!” I ask him to try. He says, “I CAN’T do that!” I ask him if he tried. He says, “I CAN’T DO THAT!” Then he tries, and he succeeds.
Four years after the accident, he is fully self-sufficient and can stay alone for several days when I’m away.
You see, I knew this man could be independent. He just didn’t know it. I I believed in him until he could believe in himself.
The best gift I could give him was his independence back.
The Italian Grandmama