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OT: My best friend is paralyzed


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One of my very best friends from high school is paralyzed. He hurt himself mountain biking about 10 days ago, going over the handlebars on a steep slope and landing on his head. He has spinal damage in the 5th/6th vertibrae and is currently immobilized with a steel "halo" bolted to his head, attached to a chest plate.

He has some mild feeling in his hands and feet. Doctors are reluctant to predict whether he will ever recover the use of his body or walk again. Apparently his mind is unaffected, and he has full speech capability.

I just found out about this yesterday morning. My friend (call him "Jason" as a pseudonym) is in a fairly distant city in the U.S., and his wife chose not to contact me and has not returned my calls. I talked yesterday with Jason's parents, who flew from D.C. to see him, but who have been encouraged by the wife to leave town. The wife (call her "Kate") told the parents-in-law that she and Jason want to be left alone to deal with this themselves.

After having had surgery, Jason was transferred today to a rehab hospital, where he is projected to stay three months minimum.

I'm at a loss as to what to do. This is an enormously important friend whom I've known for 25 years; we were best men at each other's weddings. But the friendship has drifted in the last three years, and I'm not at all close to his wife. My friend is in no position to take telephone calls, and Kate seems uninterested in my contact (she said as much to my friend's parents).

Obviously I can do some basic things like send flowers and a note of concern and support. But beyond that I'm stumped as to what to do. A visit seems unwelcome at this point. Even a conversation seems impossible without the active help of Kate -- and I get the feeling that she's simply not interested in that right now. She's obviously overwhelmed, and I understand her lack of interest in distractions, but at the same time I want to support my friend in some meaningful and ongoing way.

For what it's worth, my friend is a big Redskins fan from our growing-up years in D.C. So this is a request to other Skins fans for any ideas of what I can do to help a fellow Skins fan and his wife at this dreadful time and in the recovery months to come.

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That's a tough one ASF.

I have an inkling of what you're going through. My Grandmother just had a big stroke Sunday and is likely done talking and walking. She's elderly but she's always been a fiesty, idependent thing and none of us now how she's gonna deal with this.

Hope your friend hangs in there and gets some good news.

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ASF. This can't be easy and sorry to hear about your friend. It's a fine line you walk here. Trying to support him while respecting the wishes of his wife. I'm not sure what to tell you there except maybe, without appearing as though your pestering, (sp?), periodically offer the "olive branch" to the Mrs. As for something for him. Let me suggest this to you as well as any members who may read this. Perhaps someone who will be at the camp this month, could attempt to get an autograph or 2 for him/you with /without picture. Just a thought.

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Originally posted by Park City Skins

Let me suggest this to you as well as any members who may read this. Perhaps someone who will be at the camp this month, could attempt to get an autograph or 2 for him/you with /without picture. Just a thought.

What a great idea. I would be delighted to pay for a football and team/player photos if someone could help get them autographed. Great idea, PCS.

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I think maybe it would be best to send the flowers and cards and give the wife a little bit of time to adjust and then maybe calling or going by in the hospital.

I would like to offer my prayers to your friend and his wife and the rest of his family and friends. Be strong man, he will need some support but right I think it would be best to stay back a little for her sake but send the cards for his sake.

This is just my opinion man, good luck

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Once he gets to the rehab hospital, give them a week or two (or more) to get settled into the routine there. Then you can visit during normal visiting hours. Plan on making your visit short and sweet. Dont offer sympathy. Let him and his wife know that you will be there for them whenever they ask, and leave it at that. That is the best you can do.

It he does not recover neurologically, then he will be entirely dependent on his wife to take care of him. And it will take some time for her to adjust to this radical change in lifestyle.

At some point in the future, they will be ready to let people back into thier lives. But they need time to cope and mourne the loss of what was a 'normal' life.

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ASF, pulling for your friend. I have a sister that is just getting back "close" to normal as far as nerve damage goes. She has had a series of strokes over the past few years and my mother past last spring, but also had a stroke prior to diabetes complications.

I myself have sciatica for life on my left side. I have minimal to no feeling in my calf most of the time, with abdominal, hip, buttock and thigh to calf loss of feeling at times. This is why I can't drive a standard transmission, because missed signals cause problems with my foot. I am not supposed to run, due to my foot's coordination with loss of signals in nerves, when the foot strikes the ground. Numerous ankle sprains trying. I still walk, but even that has gotten more complicated over the years and can be bed ridden about 3 times a year, from lumbar complications.

Still the fight continues, for what is life without living. I will pull for him and am glad for your compassion for another! ;)

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Thanks to everyone for your quick and thoughtful notes of support. Blade, Skins57 and Park City, your suggestions for approaching my friend and his wife are particularly helpful, as is the great idea from Park City for signed Redskin memorabilia.

My sympathy to Brave for your grandmother -- sounds like you're in a similar situation. And good luck to indy with the sciatica.

Any other ideas, please let me know. Thanks again to all.

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Hello Atlanta Skins Fan - I am not a regular poster her, as I am fairly new to this community. I truly feel for you and for you friend and both of your famiies. I know that must be a hard situation. All you should do is visit your buddy as much as you can and attempt to do what you can with his family. Speaking from personal experience and a death in the family (my sister, New Year's Eve 2000) within rhe recent time, that a "family" can be very hard at first. I think that it is the fact that trhey think that nobody can possibly relate to what they are dealing with, etc. whether it be a death or a paralysis. Be patient and, al will be well. Your buddy will appreciate you being there for him, I am sure of that.

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ASF,

If it was me, I'd be walking past the wife right into your buddies room and let him know that you're there for him. OK, I understand that the wife is also going through significant changes and traumas but, that does NOT give her the right to put any walls between you and your friend. In fact she might find out that you're there for her too and might be VERY grateful after all.

Maybe that's a little short-sighted, selfish and arrogant but well.......oh well. She is not the only one effected here.

Good luck in whatever you choose.

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Originally posted by fish

If it was me, I'd be walking past the wife right into your buddies room and let him know that you're there for him. OK, I understand that the wife is also going through significant changes and traumas but, that does NOT give her the right to put any walls between you and your friend. In fact she might find out that you're there for her too and might be VERY grateful after all.

Maybe that's a little short-sighted, selfish and arrogant but well.......oh well. She is not the only one effected here.

I've got a bit of that feeling, too -- hell, I was best friends with the guy years before she first laid eyes on him. But the reality is that she's far more important to him at this point than I am. And with me a thousand miles away, dropping in on him would be quite an event and could bomb if not handled right.

One of the weirdest aspects of this situation is the realization that I may forever completely depend on her good grace simply to be able to speak to my friend again -- since it's possible he won't even be able to pick up a phone again. So I need to proceed in a way that she will respond well to.

The other strange realization is that I have no idea if my friend even wants to see me right now. He's immobilized in a bizarre contraption, can't even control his bowels, and has no idea if he's ever going to improve significantly from the state of his paralysis. He has led a very active life, and this paralysis has to be a crushing and bewildering blow. I'm not sure in the same position if I'd even care about friends until I got over the shock and had some idea what my life was going to look like in the future.

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One other thought -- this accident has some hideous ironies. My friend had just bought a small high-tech bicycle shop in a little town in the mountains. He was planning to transition over time from managing a business in the city to doing something more fun and outgoing. And now the thing that he planned to do has wrecked his life -- and he's left as the paralyzed owner of a bike shop he can't run. (He's also the primary breadwinner, which leaves them with more problems.)

Also, I almost managed to avoid the entire accident. My wife and I invited him and his wife to go camping over the 4th of July holiday weekend. But they ended up declining so he could spend time setting up his new business. During that same weekend, he took time out with his lead tech to go mountain biking -- and then had the accident. I keep replaying this in my mind -- had I managed to float the invitation just a little bit better, or a little bit earlier, this never would have happened. I'm not blaming myself, but yet I know how close I came to diverting him from this fate.

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Hey Atlanta.

I feel for you. That's an awful situation. I want to help, but I feel caution, given that none of the rest of us really know the situation.

That being said, have you tried brutally honest and heartfelt communication to his wife, e.g. a letter?

She's obviously going through a lot of sh!t (like you), and the two of you might not like each other at all ... but does she know clearly that, despite your differences, you will show respect to her situation and newfound responsibility if you see your buddy?

You may have already communicated this. I don't know.

Good luck, buddy!

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I like Blade’s suggestion. I would send a card and visit later without being obtrusive. Anything said or done now will be wrong. But it would be quite a statement to take a trip to a distant city for a short visit when their life isn’t quite so chaotic. It's not just a knee-jerk response to your own grief, but a thought out statement that you’re willing to go out of your way for them. They may or may not need your support, but they’ll know they’ve got it.

And I would completely respect his wife. She doesn't have to make sense to anyone else but her and “Jason.”

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I have worked with many parapalegics/quadrapalegics who are ventilator dependant in a rehab center in the DC area. Blade's suggestion about giving them some time to adjust to the new place were right on. However, it is imperative that you do whatever you can to let him know that you're there for him (and her as well). The autographed skins paraphanalia idea sounds like a wonderful one. Also, if you have a color printer it might be a good idea to print out some pictures (full 8 1/2 x 11 size) of the two of you together, other friends etc.

Since you served as best men at each other's weddings, I'm assuming that you two were very close friends even though you mentioned that there was some distance between you over the past few years. Given that, you really should do all you can to make some sort of contact. If that means eating some of his wife's sh1t for a little while so be it. Remember, she may very well be eventually wiping his so she deserves some deference. I hate to be so graphic, but them's the facts.

Anyway, try to look on the bright side of things. He was very fortunate that his spinal injury wasn't any higher or he most likely wouldn't be able to breathe/talk on his own and his prognosis would have been worse. Also, there remains the possibility that he may in fact over time get some function back. I've seen it happen. It depends on the type and location of the injury as well as the individual, but about that end of things I'm not an expert.

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I like Yusuf's suggestions. I'd also keep Kate's feelings in mind...she's facing years of caring for a life partner who's become an invalid. Cut her a bit of slack for the moment and give her some time.

But...

It's unfair of her to cut you out. If you can gradually build up some trust with her so you can maintain the relationship with your friend, that seems to me about the best you can do.

Don't discount the power of prayer, either.

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Sorry to hear that about your friend ASF hopefully there will be a return to normal life for your friend.

I personally would have a hard time staying away if one of my friends went thru that.

I agree with the grace period but if she continued to keep the wall up it would get ugly.

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One of the weirdest aspects of this situation is the realization that I may forever completely depend on her good grace simply to be able to speak to my friend again -- since it's possible he won't even be able to pick up a phone again. So I need to proceed in a way that she will respond well to.

with the above statement in mind, you may want to focus on the wife at the moment. make sure whatever you decide to do doesn't place additional pressure or emotion into an already emotional nightmare. send flowers with a message of support for HER. right now there isn't much you can do for your friend, that's the docs' job at the moment. serve your friend by supporting his most important person.

the skin autographs etc is an excellent idea too, but right now the wife would be at the front of my mind...

my deepest sympathy

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ASF,

Keep your head up buddy, and think positively that he will recover. Additionally, do just as Blade suggested. He's your friend, you care for him and are concerned for his well being, so you go there to the rehab center AFTER they have settled in and you give them your support. You tell "Jason" that you're there to help him in any way you can, and that you're confident he will recover. Then, you pull his wife away and you tell her that you are there to support her during this difficult time. Tell her you're only a phone call away.... and that you'll help her in anyway you can. Keep the visist short, for it's already been a tiring experience for both of them, as you know they need time for themselves.

Good luck....

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Originally posted by dchogs

with the above statement in mind, you may want to focus on the wife at the moment. make sure whatever you decide to do doesn't place additional pressure or emotion into an already emotional nightmare. send flowers with a message of support for HER. right now there isn't much you can do for your friend, that's the docs' job at the moment. serve your friend by supporting his most important person.

Again, thanks to everyone for your words of support and advice. This particular advice from dchogs and similar sentiments from others are particularly helpful. I'm now thinking that I need to support my friend and his wife equally and also separately, with notes and calls to the wife as well as to my friend.

Some good news -- I got an email from the wife today, sent to me and a few of their closest friends. She says, "I can't tell you how far he has come already; it gives you new faith in modern medicine and the persistence of the human spirit." As for their privacy, she's requested at least another week before any visits, and indicates that this privacy may be his request: "He's still trying to find out who and what the new [Jason] is and how much he can do, and trying to get some of his dignity back. I know that isn't important to all of us, but it is very important to him."

She also provided a hospital room telephone number, address, and my friend's email address, which seems to indicate she's not resisting a call and will be passing on email. So I'm encouraged that she plans to be fairly open for the support of others.

On the Skins memorabilia front, I had an idea that I might send a framed fine art poster print of Riggins from Super Bowl XVII -- that was a big deal for us back then, from our senior year in high school. The photo is shown below. I've located a source for the poster, but I was thinking it would be great if Riggins could autograph it and possibly even add a personal message, such as the one I wrote below. Does anyone know the best way to bring this request to Riggins? If you don't want to post Riggins's contact info publicly, feel free to send me a private message.

riggins_superbowl.jpg

"To Jason -- on the longest yard of your life, we're pulling for you -- John Riggins"

(Feel free to suggest a better inscription, if one occurs to you.)

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I found myself in a similar situation in 1988, July 15th as a matter of fact. Vertebrae C5/7 were broken and I was in traction for about six weeks.

Evidently in this type of accident your body produces some kind of an enzyme or chemical that distroys the nervous tissue in an attempt to protect the victim. Nowadays it is my understanding that if they get to you in time they give you a shot to prevent this. There is also swelling involved that will subside and possibly allow more feeling to return. Sometimes the nerves are smashed or torn and sometimes they are not.

Once you get to the rehab hospital you get into a routine to relearn how to do things, stretch your limits and see how stable your injury is. I had a roommate that was worse off than me but he ended up walking out of there. His wife's sister was also VERY nice. In fact there were lots of people who were worse off in a lot of ways, you don't have to go far at a rehab to find them.

Some ways of thinking can be helpful in a situation like this. Your dead! Forget your past life! It's gone! You are, however reborn like a newborn baby. You have to relearn EVERYTHING, get over all kinds of hang-ups you didn't know you had and get on with life. Forget about the thousand things you can't do and look to the tens of thousands of things you CAN do.

It sickens me to think that there are still people out there who assume that a person with a spinal cord injury is destined to be dependent on others. This is simply not the case.

Another thing I notice is when people try to do everything for you it only makes things worse. Fresh Quads have to figure out for themselves what works and what doesn't. The best thing a family member or a friend can do is communicate your availability and back off. It takes time.

It's also important not to lay around feeling sorry for yourself Get back at it as soon as possible. I bet your friend could build sport wheelchairs. There is a demand and if nothing else it would hook him up with people who are not losers. There is lots of information on the web.

Anyway, this is a tough time for everyone involved but life, in this case, does go on.

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