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Family Matters a new blueprint Jennifer Bridgman

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hris lay motionless on the dusty motocross track. An ambulance wailed in the distance. Twenty minutes later, in a room filled with medical personnel, he said the words I never expected to hear: “Babe, I’m so scared ... I can’t feel my legs.” It was Feb. 20, 2010, and I was eight months pregnant with our first child. Life as my husband and I knew it had come to a screeching halt. Neurosurgeons whisked Chris off to the operating room to decompress and fuse his spine. Despite familiar faces around the waiting room, I felt like a ship lost at sea. What I didn’t know was that we had already joined a new community — a diverse group comprising 1,275,000 people in the United States living with a spinal cord injury. Our admission to the SCI community was involuntary, but the benefits of belonging to this group would become as potent as anything doctors prescribed. We learned that spinal cord injuries are like fingerprints — no two cases are identical. We longed to become part of the lucky minority who recovered from spinal cord injury, but doctors offered vague hope at best. Instead, Chris and I looked to our new community, where people shared success stories and encouragement generously. We recognized the choice before us: to wallow in the quicksand of self-pity or redesign our blueprint for the future. The arrival of our wondrous child — our “sonshine” — made our decision an easy one. We took crash courses on wheelchairs, transfers, catheters and commodes. We modified our home, our vehicle and our dreams. We resolved tricky insurance issues, researched outpatient rehabilitation programs and reviewed the latest medical studies. All while experiencing the smiles and trials of new parenthood. Chris counts his blessings before his hardships, refusing to be enslaved or defined by his paraplegia. He returned to work full-time to support our family, and he hits the gym so frequently that I’ve threatened to have his mail forwarded to 24 Hour Fitness. His sense of humor has only strengthened as neuropathic pain zaps his atrophied legs. Paralysis is no joke, but laughter is the fuel that keeps our faith burning. Chris, a T10 para, transforms his wheelchair into an amusement park ride for our squealing son. He pops wheelies and spins donuts in our living room during impromptu family dance parties. And there is nothing more attractive than my husband in his faded

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There is nothing more attractive than my husband in his faded T-shirt with the universal blueand-white handicapped symbol emblazoned across the chest: “In It for the Parking.” T-shirt with the universal blue-and-white handicapped symbol emblazoned across the chest: “In It for the Parking.” Ingenuity helps, too. One afternoon when Chris’ shoulders became fatigued, we invented the “Bridgman Party Train” — I serve as the caboose, pushing my husband down the sidewalk in his wheelchair, while he in turn pushes the stroller. Now that we are parents, date nights are few and far between, so we make them count — an outdoor music concert, a Cessna ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, a catamaran sail across Lake Tahoe. As a mother, I am reminded that life is beautiful even when it’s not easy. As the wife of a paraplegic, I have a front-row seat to the human spirit at its finest. As a writer, I am motivated to capture the views that make the climb worthwhile. With faith, humor and ingenuity in our family’s toolbox, we have constructed a new frame of mind. It may be different from our original blueprint, but its foundation remains rock-solid. Jennifer Bridgman is a freelance writer based in Mountain View, Calif. You can learn more about her writing at www.jenniferbridgman.com. Send your “Family Matters” essay (600 words by or about a family member) to editor Ian Ruder at lifeinaction@unitedspinal.org. J U LY / A U G U S T 2 0 1 1 • L I F E I N A C T I O N

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Life In Action, Jul-Aug 2011  

Life in Action is the membership publication of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, a program of United Spinal Association. Our mis...

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