Steps to Becoming Independent

Enabling Series.

Part IV


Meena Dhanjal outlaw

There is nothing more devastating to a fully able individual than to lose their independence.
Having a spinal cord injury is a disability where paralysis can occur in some parts if not all parts of the body. The higher the paralysis, the more assistance a person most likely will need.
However, does this mean that they cannot have a life and be productive? Absolutely not! In fact, there are many people with high levels of paralysis that go on to be extremely successful and productive members of society. Many also have relationships
Including marriage and children.
The biggest concern for anyone that has a spinal cord injury is how he or she is going to manage. This thought happens most often in the early stages of their recovery.
When I had my spinal cord injury, I couldn’t do much for myself either. After having a back fusion surgery where rods were surgically placed all the way down my spine, I had to wear a TSO cast that encased my entire upper torso. It gave time for the rods to fuse with my spine. During this time I was under many restrictions, such as, when I wasn’t wearing it I had to remain in bed and could not even turn myself.
After twelve weeks I was completely free from having to wear this cast, but I still couldn’t lift more than five pounds.
As much as I appreciated all this attention to detail, my biggest concern was that I had infant children. My youngest was a newborn who had never been less than five pounds.
So, I had no choice, but to hire help. It was the only way I was going to have any chance of working on me.
I was in a rental wheelchair when I went home from rehab. I was also sleeping in a hospital bed until the orthopedic surgeon felt it was safe for me to sleep in my own bed.
Before I had left rehab, I had hired a home health aid. She wasn’t trained in personal care such as bladder and bowel, but she was willing to learn. So the rehab trained her.
At home, she helped me shower, take care of my bathroom needs, dressed me and helped me into my wheelchair. Once I was in the wheelchair, I was at least mobile.
I hired a nanny to live with me so that she could take care of the baby at night. During the day they went to a daycare. Then, I learned to drive.
I received assistance from DARS now known as Texas Workforce. They helped pay for the hand controls to be installed in my car, and the lessons it will take for me to learn how to drive a modified vehicle.
Later on, when I chose to go back to college, Texas Workforce helped pay for courses and books that I needed. When I went on to get further education to write for teenagers and children they continued to help me in achieving my ultimate goal, to be a full-time writer. I chose to work from home, so with their help, I had my office set up with adaptive equipment including an ‘uplift desk.’ There was no excuse for me to be productive, so I went to work.
Going back to work was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself, along with learning to drive. The sense of independence I felt was heaven sent.
Within months my confidence as a writer grew. With continuous physical therapy, I also gained upper body strength so that I could take care of my own needs.
I wasn’t shy in seeking psychological help either. After all, I was grieving the loss of my legs, and how my injury affected my life thereafter. Everything changed for me, and I could either sink or swim.
After my youngest reached four years old, I let go of the nanny. That had been one of the many goals I had set for myself. So from that point on, I was taking care of my two children alone.
I’ve always said that life is about choices, but my thought process became warped when I had my injury. Eventually, I gained hope, which ultimately gave me strength to keep moving forward. I went on to marry again and have another child. With all, I have learned I needed no help this time around with caring for my third child.
What I have learned the most throughout my journey of self-discovery is that there are some really nice people in the world. One of them I married, and the others are my closest friends. I also found that the more I do, the more respect I gain from those who don’t quite understand my disability. However, what they do see is a self-sufficient, strong, confident mother of three that happens to be in a wheelchair.

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