Thursday, August 14, 2014

Difficult Questions - Honest Answers

I've encountered this quote several times lately, and it reminds me of both the difficult questions and equally difficult answers my family has endured this last year.

Questions you never imagine in a million years that you'll have to ask. Questions you can't believe you have to provide an answer for.

Every one of my family members has had to both ask and answer these questions. I don't back down from the tough questions like I may have in the beginning. I both ask them and field them with determination. And I always answer honestly - even if my voice shakes.

. . . . . . . . . .

I remember the first impossible question I asked following the accident. I was standing in the corner of Jeff's ICU room, hugging my hunched body close to me, trembling with fear and disbelief. Doctors and nurses were getting ready to intubate Jeff with a breathing tube. He was still conscious and repeating hoarsely, "I can't breathe." His eyes were unfocused and full of panic. I looked at the anesthesiologist standing next to me and asked meekly, "Is he going to survive?"

I was met with an answer that relieved me to my core.

"Oh yes," he said turning to me and placing a caring hand on my shoulder. "I'm so sorry no one told you that. Yes, your husband will survive."

. . . . . . . . . .

A few days after the accident, Jeff lay in ICU heavily sedated in a halo traction unit with 30 pounds of weight hanging off his head in an effort to realign his cervical vertebrae and relieve the pressure on his spinal cord. We were alone in the room, and I wanted so badly to reverse what had happened to him - to us - in the last three days.

What do I do? I asked myself.

So I did something I've never done - I sang outloud to him.

We had been watching a lot of the movie Tangled at our house in the months prior to the accident. Evie and I often sang the songs together. In the movie, Rapunzel uses her magical powers in her hair to heal Flynn Rider. It turns out her tears also have the power to heal.

I thought it couldn't hurt to try with my own:

Flower, gleam and glow
Let your power shine
Make the clock reverse
Bring back what once was mine

Heal what has been hurt
Change the fates' design
Save what has been lost
Bring back what once was mine...

What once was mine.

. . . . . . . . . .

After Jeff's second surgery to stabilize his neck, the doctors lifted the sedation enough where he would be in and out of consciousness. We were alone again in his room. It was the first time he and I were able to "talk" since he arrived at the hospital. He wasn't able to speak yet, but he was able to mouth words.

I had no idea what he knew. Even though he had been conscious and talking after the accident, I didn't know how much he remembered - if he even remembered it at all.

I didn't know if he knew he was paralyzed.

He asked me two questions which assured me he knew much more than I thought.

"Will I move my arms?"


"Will I hold my baby again?"

These two questions were by far the hardest - to date - for me to hear and to answer.

I leaned in to him, stroked his forehead, and whispered the only answer I could.

"I don't know."

. . . . . . . . . .

Even our precious Evie has had to both ask and answer some loaded questions. I've written about them in a couple previous blog posts you can find here and here.

Just the other night, out of the blue, she asked my mom ...

"So Daddy will never walk again?" She asked it matter-of-factly. No sadness - just curiosity.

My mom was caught off guard not having anticipated the question. She answered that we all hope one day he will, but if not, he has his chair that helps him get where he needs to go.

Evie was perfectly satisfied with this answer.

. . .

In my effort to educate Evie on Jeff's injury, I believe in explaining it to her honestly. In terms she can understand, using the correct terminology. I've been doing this from the beginning. And I'm still astounded by what she's able to process.

A few weeks ago, I was attempting to explain to her what a spinal cord injury is. I asked her, "Do you know what it is Daddy has?" My question was worded strangely, so I thought I would get a puzzled look from her as a response which would then be my segue into the definition of SCI.

Instead, she hunched her shoulders, stuck out her neck, and looked up at me with only her eyes that stared from beneath her furrowed brow.

"A ventilator," she said robotically. "He's on a vent."

Translation: Duh, Mom.

I left it at that. Her learning curve is obviously coming along quite nicely.

. . .

Still, I can't help but have anxiety over the questions I know she's going to get. She starts kindergarten in a few weeks, and I don't know exactly when these questions will start coming or how they'll be worded, but I do know that it's not a matter of "if" - it's a matter of time.

I'm sure that most of the kids' questions will purely stem from curiosity. But I also think that, unfortunately, some will be rooted in cruelty. And it is my hope that when some punk kid asks Evie why her dad is different from other dads, she can school him with her answer. She's definitely got the smarts and spunk to pull it off.

. . . . . . . . . .

I don't think we'll ever stop asking or answering the hard questions. They are just a part of this new life we're living. And honestly, we don't mind them. We have to keep asking so we can keep moving forward. And we have to keep answering to pass along our knowledge and educate others.

That being said, we invite our friends and family to ask us questions. There's nothing we won't answer. Questions about our life, about spinal cord injuries, about Jeff's abilities, what it feels like to be paralyzed, or what it's like to be married to someone who's paralyzed.

Before all this, we didn't know anyone with a spinal cord injury. Now we know lots. Maybe Jeff is the first guy you know who's paralyzed. It's our hope that maybe someday when you're talking to some of your friends, and the topic of spinal cord injury comes up, you can join in the conversation by saying, "Hey, I know a guy who's paralyzed and he's pretty amazing ..."

So ask away, and we'll answer - the only way we know how.



  1. Could you write about the day Jeff had his accident?

    1. Thank you for your question, Anonymous. I have been thinking of writing about the day of Jeff's accident for a while - mulling over the details in my head. It's definitely a subject I plan to tackle and post on the blog - probably within the next couple months.

    2. Thank you for your answer! I live in Finland and just happened to come across your blog. You write extremely well and you have an amazing family. You are truly inspiring and I Wish you and your family all the best.