Life with a quadriplegic is interesting. It requires constant adjustment to things that many people naturally don’t have to think about. Shoes have to be pushed out of the pathway if they hope to survive not being run over by a wheelchair. Necessary items like a pen or checkbook or bottle of water are kept on top of the desk or counter within easy reach. If not, I spend half my day fetching items. It might be easy for the rest of us to just grab our laptop while we lounge in bed in the evenings but for Jason, it’s virtually impossible without help. An iPad gives Jason all kinds of lightweight, easy-access, technical freedom that he has never had before.
We designed our home so that he could park his van on the correct side to access the ramp going into the house from his automatic doorway. Our bathroom sink was specifically built for Jason to fit underneath it while looking beautiful at the same time. The handles on all of our doors are levered – perfect for someone who can’t use his hands. We have lots of open space, few walls and minimum hallways to allow the wheelchair to get around effectively. To someone visiting, our home looks very normal and one in which any family would feel comfortable – but we have thought about every corner, every counter height, placement of each piece of furniture and accessory, the width of every door, a plan for every traffic path. Every nook and cranny was analyzed and planned for according to the lifestyle of functioning with a quadriplegic in our family. I prefer to help Jason to be as independent as possible, which in turn frees me up as well. It’s a win-win situation for sure.
All of these adjustments and modifications are second-nature to me now. I walk through the house tidying up as I go, moving this toy so Jason can get to his office door, shifting that pair of shoes so he can reach the light switch, sliding the pile of mail closer to the edge of the counter so he can reach it. Making things accessible. That’s one of my jobs.
I think about this idea of accessibility in relationships as well. For about the first three months of my illness I was in survival mode. I fell asleep about every 30 minutes. I stared at the walls, unable to even focus on watching television. A few sentences made up conversations but mostly on the part of the other people around me. Because of this, Jason was very protective of me and asked friends and neighbors not to visit. I simply couldn’t handle it.
As the months passed, I found that I was able to start adding things back into my life again. This included relationships. In fact, I used relationships as a tool for healing. When friends asked what they could do to help, we scheduled a time for them to come visit. I needed company to help distract me from the pain that has been a constant companion since May 1.
Then I got to the point where I could participate more in life and needed activities to do. Cole and I spent our mornings having “play dates” with other moms who have toddlers. And even though I have made a great deal of progress and can do more and more each month, I still try to keep these play dates with as many friends as possible. It has been a great activity for Cole but an even better one for me. After being deprived of the ability to pay attention to others, I have learned even more about of the necessity of being accessible in order to nurture relationships.
Creating friendships takes time. It takes effort. It’s hard work to focus on someone else and make your relationship with them meaningful. I have had many blessings and learning opportunities from being sick like this but one of my favorite blessings is the opportunity I have had to develop the foundation of friendship with women around me. I better understand the value of making myself accessible to others and inviting them into my life.
So as I walk through my life with Jason, sweeping shoes and toys out of his way, I am reminded of doing the same for friends and family. Making myself accessible. Pushing aside my fears of opening up and creating a clear path toward relationships that are tied at the heart. A little work goes a long way.