by Dorothy Saunders, a Quad's Spouse

I know that it can be emotionally difficult to spend time with a quadriplegic.  The experience forces you to realize how precarious your own good health and good fortune are.  That is an unsettling thought which most people prefer to avoid.  But the reality is that life is indeed capricious.  Yet for the time being at least, you are gloriously able-bodied, while someone you care about is living a life of unrelenting adversity.

I'm asking you to put yourself in a quadriplegic's shoes.  Imagine the depths of despair one sinks to when faced with such an extreme loss of independence.  Imagine trying to maintain one's dignity when not even being able to blow one's own nose.  Imagine the fortitude it takes for a quadriplegic to continue to say "Yes" to life, to still find life worth living, in spite of all the obstacles involved in even the most mundane tasks. 

To persevere without bitterness or self-pity under such circumstances is a remarkable act of courage and character.  I'm asking you to comprehend that the spouse of a quad who tries to honor their marriage vows and be a true helpmate experiences the brutal impact of the quad's losses right along with him, as well as a host of other uniquely personal losses.

Currently there is no cure for a severed spinal cord, so quality of life improvements are all that a quad can attain.  You do not need to have a medical degree to help a quad have a better life.  You just need to have compassion.  Simple acts of kindness can go such a long way in lifting a quad's spirits, towards making a really bad day tolerable.

I'm asking you to reach out and make the effort to be supportive.  Do not become complacent after the crisis of the initial injury is over, and the quad and spouse have "adjusted" to the disability. A couple living with quadriplegia needs a continuous show of support, for it is a life so daunting that it should never have to be faced alone.

Drop by with a pre-cooked dinner once in a while.  Offer to stay over for a weekend so that the spousal caregiver can have some respite.  Offer to do a few household chores or run errands.  Include the question "What can I do to help?" in your conversations with the couple on a regular basis.

For a real gesture of caring, strive to expand your comfort zone.  If you are squeamish about emptying a urinary bag or brushing someone else's teeth, try you hardest to get over it.  Remember that if you were the one in need, it would mean the world to you to know that your loved ones would do these small acts for you.

The fact is that, after providing some temporary assistance, you get to walk away from this most challenging situation, while it is our permanent reality.  We feel so alone -- please find it in your hearts to lend us a hand.