Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Itches, Scratches, and Acceptance

I'd like you to try something.

The next time you have an itch on your face, don't scratch it.

Pay attention to how it feels. Probably something like an ant doing a little dance on your face.

You can try to alleviate the itch by moving your facial muscles, even tilting your head back and forth to see if that will help. Stretch your face long, then scrunch it up tight to see if that works.

It's likely the itch is still there. And it's probably multiplied in intensity by now. Or spread so that other areas are starting to itch. Maybe it feels like a whole army of ants are now marching about your face.

When you have reached the point where you can no longer stand it, call someone in from another room, and ask them to scratch it for you.

Be sure to explain exactly where the itch is. And how hard they need to scratch it. Is it the kind of itch that needs quick intense fingernail action?  Maybe it's the kind of itch that would be best alleviated with a firm rub of the fingertip. Or maybe you need one of those roving scratches that starts out in one spot and gradually moves in a plane along your face. Be sure to specify if the scratcher needs to go right or left because your right and left will be opposite from the scratcher's. "Go right - no, MY right."

If you've made it this far without scratching any part of your body, you've done better than me.

I think my point is clear.

Can you even imagine not being able to scratch your own face? I can't. As close as I am to someone who is paralyzed, I myself am not. And I really can't imagine not being able to do that task for myself.

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a video about Travis Roy who became a quadriplegic in a college hockey game in 1995. (You can see the video here.) The video is very moving and contains commentary from people close to Travis, as well as Travis himself. His coach, Jack Parker, recalls visiting Travis in the hospital and tells about a moment where the reality of paralysis struck him.

"I used to go over every night after practice and visit Travis. About the fourth or fifth night I went over, it was the first time I was alone with Travis. He said to me, "Can you do me a favor, Coach?" I said, "Yeah, what's that Travis?" He said, "Will you scratch my nose.""

Jack Parker said it was in that moment he realized how hard things were going to be for Travis.

I think one of the greatest difficulties in living with paralysis is the realization that simple things like scratching your own nose is going to be accomplished so differently now. Your itches won't get the immediate attention that they used to. And not being able to scratch your own nose is just the tip of the iceberg.

Accepting a new way of life after paralysis is very difficult. But acceptance is a necessary part of moving forward. Jeff and I were just talking about this the other day. We realize that we've gotten to a point in this journey where we have accepted our new way of life, and that has helped us to keep going. Accepting something isn't the same thing as "liking" it or even truly being "okay" with it. Believe me, we aren't throwing any "Yay for paralysis" parties. I hate that my husband is paralyzed. Jeff hates it most of all. But in order to live with it, we must accept it. And that's what we've done.

Along with accepting comes adapting. And anyone who lives with a disability knows that adaptation is a necessity. In the face scratching scenario I described above, Jeff and I have come up with some ways to make this a little easier. We have key words and phrases to describe the location of the itch.

For example, what is the area called on the uppermost part of your ear, just under the flap? We didn't know either. So we made up a name. We call it the "high side." So when Jeff is squirming and making the I-have-a-crazy-itch face and he's saying "high side, high side!" I know right where to scratch. And if the itch is anywhere around his mouth, he just pokes out the spot with his tongue, and I know where to land the scratch. We'll be in the middle of a conversation and he'll poke out an itchy spot. I'll scratch it, and there won't even be a break in our discussion.

So as this day of Thanks approaches, I've decided to forego the list of what I'm thankful for because truth be told, I could write a list longer than Santa's. This last year and a half has given me more to be thankful for than all previous years.

I think what I'm most thankful for right now, at this particular time in my life, at this mile marker along our journey, is that Jeff and I have gotten to a place of acceptance. We are working together to adapt to this new life, discovering that teamwork is both a necessity and blessing. We have a deep mutual respect for one another, understanding that each of our roles is enormously difficult in itself.

We keep going because we have each other.

I scratch his itches because I know he would scratch mine if he could.

That's a lot to be thankful for.

You're my backbone, you're my cornerstone
You're my crutch when my legs stop moving
You're my headstart, you're my rugged heart
You're the pulse that I've always needed.
Like a drum, baby, don't stop beating
Like a drum, baby, don't stop beating
Like a drum, baby, don't stop beating
Like a drum my heart never stops beating ... for you

-Gone, Gone, Gone by Phillip Phillips

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