Friday, October 10, 2014

The Name I Dreaded Hearing

Before Jeff's accident, we didn't know anyone with a spinal cord injury. No one in a wheelchair, even.

There was really only one person we knew of who had lived with this injury. Who had been thrown from a horse years before, who breathed using a ventilator, and who had died from complications due to paralysis. He had become the face for those who had suffered this type of catastrophic injury.

In the days and weeks following Jeff's accident, I had thought of this person, but wouldn't let my mind dwell on him long enough for reality to sink in. In those early days, I was still holding on to hope. Clinging to the idea that Jeff just might walk out of the hospital, and with some time and effort, our life would go back to normal.

I remember one of the ICU nurses talking to me about a week after the accident about looking into getting Jeff transferred to a rehab hospital. She named a couple that were relatively nearby, and I listened to her with a pleasant look on my face as if I were hearing her every word. What I was really thinking was Rehab hospital? My husband doesn't need rehab. Once he starts regaining feeling, once he starts moving his arms again, we're going home. 

I didn't even really know what a rehab hospital was.

But even then, deep down, I knew that that ICU room was just the beginning for us. But I had to go through the denial like everyone else who experiences a life-altering scenario.

After about a month in ICU, Jeff was transferred to the 4th floor where he was under close observation. Every day, countless doctors, nurses, therapists, and aides paraded in and out of his room. We got to know these people - their personalities. We got to know their schedules.

One night, late in the evening, Jeff was almost asleep, and a night-shift respiratory therapist came in to administer a breathing treatment. She was one of the more - truth be told - annoying therapists. She always talked too loud, and her stories tended to linger just to the edge of my patience.

Like the nurse in ICU, she started in on the topic of rehab hospitals. After a minute or so of hospital chit chat, she looked at me and said, "You know, Christopher Reeve considered coming to Southern California for his rehab before deciding to go to one in New York."

I didn't hear anything else she said.

That name - Christopher Reeve - was ringing in my ears.

My heart was pounding heavily. I hoped Jeff was asleep and didn't hear her because he and I hadn't yet talked about that name.

I wanted to smack the therapist across the mouth as if she'd said the dirtiest of words. While she chattered on, I was screaming at her in my head Shut UP! How DARE you say that name in front of my husband! Don't ever say that name again! My husband is NOT like Christopher Reeve!

But of course, that is exactly who he was like. And as annoying as that therapist was, she was the first one to make me face that reality. Like Reeve, my husband - my super man - was stripped of all his physical ability and strength in the blink of an eye. And in the prime of his life.

That evening, after Jeff was asleep for the night, I Googled Christopher Reeve for the first time and read the details I didn't want to know, but knew would open up a whole new world for me.

I remember hearing of Reeve's accident when it happened in 1995. I was just out of high school, and was shocked at the news wondering how something so awful could happen to someone so vibrant. I recalled seeing pictures of him in his wheelchair with a tube coming out of his throat. I even recalled seeing his wife Dana by his side - knowing only her name, that she and Reeve had a young child at the time of his accident, and that she had tragically died just a year after her husband.

I laid in the cot in that tiny hospital room with tears trailing down the sides of my face wishing I could talk to Dana right now. If anyone could understand, surely she could.

But unlike me, Dana had no organization to turn to for help, advice, information, or just to find people in similar situations.

So Dana and her husband created one. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

And for the first time, I visited that website and my mind was spun by what I saw - stories of injuries, pictures of people in wheelchairs living, actually living, with paralysis, statistics on spinal cord injuries, and endless information on things like medical research and financial assistance.

It was all too much to take in at one time. But what I did take away was that Jeff and I weren't alone in this. There is a whole community of people dedicated to helping those with spinal cord injuries maximize their recovery and learn to live again - due in large part to one man: Christopher Reeve.

Today, we have a magnet on our fridge of Christopher and Dana Reeve. She has her arms around him, and they are both smiling. When Evie saw the magnet, having no clue who these people are, she simply said, "Oh look, he's got a vent, just like Daddy."

THAT RIGHT THERE - Evie  being able to recognize that there's other people out there like Daddy - that alone makes this journey just a little easier to bear.

I am still learning about Christopher Reeve and his wife, and the legacy they left behind. Today is the 10th anniversary of his passing, and his foundation is rolling out some exciting news in the SCI world about the latest research and therapy.

My husband is not a famous actor. He's not an acclaimed director. And it's unlikely he'll ever start a foundation that will change people's lives. But he is forever linked to Christopher Reeve by the stark fact that they share the same catastrophic injury with almost identical outcomes: total body paralysis.

The main thing I take away from all this is simply that even though Christopher Reeve was an accomplished individual before his accident, he was able to continue those accomplishments - and more - even after becoming a quadriplegic.

And in that, I find hope. And the acknowledgement that there is, indeed, life after this injury.

Thank you, Christopher Reeve.

Thank you.

Photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders from

My Super Man


  1. This is so good and true, Kristen. I didn't have a name, but someone said the word "quadriplegic" to me the DAY after Jimmy's accident and I almost went ape shit.

  2. If you go back on my blog 8 years ago, you're post could have been mine. In the waiting room the first night I looked at my best friend and I said I am not going to be Dana Reeves! I liked living in denial, in fact I made myself at home there! I didn't want the consults and I didn't want anyone talking to me about what our "new" life was going to be like. Those feelings seem like yesterday but somehow God paved our way and Joy came creeping back in. Great post Kristen!

  3. Hi Kristen,

    When I saw this article about Christopher Reeves last night--I thought about your post and wanted to share the link to the story with you. It is pretty amazing!

    I have been following your blog for a little while but have never commented. I want to let you know that your posts are so real and so full of love. More than once I have had tears in my eyes when reading them. Your daughter Evie is a sweetheart!