Spinal Cord Injury: A Wife’s Perspective

January 23, 2012

Dana Brown Ritter and Mike Ritter

Two years ago, I married the man with the prettiest blue eyes I could find. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s sweet. He’s handsome. And he gets me.

He does all of this, from a wheelchair. When Michael was 17 years old he broke his neck in a gymnastics accident. He’s a C5/6 quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down, with limited use of his arms and hands.

I am not sure just how much my perspective as a wife of a man with a spinal cord injury varies from the wife of any other man, because this is all I have ever known, but here goes.

There is certainly a lot to get used to. Not everyone will agree with this assessment, but to me, as we were settling into that first year of marriage, it sort of felt like we had a third person along for the ride.

That third person being my husband’s disability: the special needs it has, the equipment it requires, and the patience and effort required on my part to accommodate it. The catch was, unlike an actual person, the disability doesn’t communicate. You can’t reason with it. You can’t compromise. You can’t take turns. You just have to move out of the way when it is going a certain way. When it slows you down, you just have to slow down. When it goes haywire and changes your plans because of a bodily or equipment malfunction, you have to go with its flow. It doesn’t care if you are sick, or tired, or need a break. It must be handled first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and whenever it wants. It often cannot be “prioritized” or manipulated.

This was a major adjustment, especially for a control freak like myself. Because with other situations in life, you can plan ahead, you can work harder, think faster, be smarter, and get your way.

Being the wife of someone with a spinal cord injury can provide you with great perspective. Nothing like waking up every day next to someone who can’t move to make you realize whatever you are dreading or are afraid of that particular day, doesn’t really matter. But, if you’re not careful, that “perspective” can make you feel like you don’t matter.

I learned, not so quickly, but eventually, to not take the third person “personally.” It took time. And lots of love from a husband who was not willing to let his disability swallow his wife.

It is so cliché’, but communication really is key. Communication is key in any marriage, but in a marriage where a lot of the physical activity falls on one partner, because of a disability, communication is the glue that holds you together.

Just as it is important for the able bodied, ”caregiving” spouse to make sure all of the needs of the disabled partner are met, it is important for the disabled spouse to make sure the caregiver is taken care of.

There is so much support you can give, even if you have a spinal cord injury. My husband has found dozens of creative solutions to contribute. His legs may not work, but his ears do. He is an excellent listener.

There have been times when I have felt third in line in this marriage, behind him and his disability. Because he was able to see me, and hear my perspective, he was able to change it. To make me realize that we are a TEAM. There’s nothing either of us did to deserve this. It’s not anyone’s fault. But neither one of us is in this alone. We are on the same team.

Being part of a team is empowering. When you are weak, the other is strong. Two heads are better than one. Another cliché, but all of that is true. And when you’re dealing with a hard-headed non-compromising wildcard of a third person, you need as much power on your team as you can get.

My husband and I write a candid blog about our life called “Love Like This Life.” We write about life, love, faith, work and disability. We put ourselves out there in the hope that we will connect with others and encourage them along the way. Come rock this out right along side us!



10 responses to “Spinal Cord Injury: A Wife’s Perspective”

  1. Joyce Smith says:

    Great article. I think that your insight is amazing. Keep up the good work.

  2. I was really inspired with the the GREAT LOVE U2 have for each other. It is hard to have a disability and having people who don’t understand it. PEACE BE WITH U2 FOR YOUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER <3

  3. mbantseev says:

    Thanks for sharing this Dana! My perspectives as a wife of a quad are very similar as we have shared with one another and found out. I am so proud of you getting the word out, and sharing your heart. Keep up the good work. I love you. P.S. I TOTALLY agree about the communication thing. hugs – mb

  4. spinal cord trauma says:

    Thanks..Nice blog.

  5. Eve says:

    My husband and I were married two months when his injury happened
    We were our horse back riding he got thrown off twisted his neck and couldn’t move instantly
    He had swelling on his spine from c2-c7 they shaved out the bones to relive the swelling on the hemi cord lession

    He was parallized for 1.5 weeks wore a neck brace for 3 months
    And had to live in hospital for 1 month in a half .
    He has nerve pain on left side of body and spasticity and pain on right side
    It’s been a year and he’s mentally deteriorating

    Till death do us part!!!

    I need help handling this please help

  6. Mike says:

    Story made me sad.. ima T-9 of 8 years been married 5 years i would rather not be married if my wife felt like that

  7. k.A says:

    i am disable gay .even my parents stigmataized me high moral stupidity is coming to me what shall i do my age is 25 and it is from rural area at Ethiopia

  8. Peter says:

    Living with the results of spinal cord injury is just about the most difficult thing I can imagine, mentally and physically. Those who survive and get on with their lives have every reason to be proud of themselves as they learn the true meaning of words like “love”, determination, perseverance, and accomplishment. I believe that when all is said and done, the experience actually enriches one’s life. I say this as a T4-5 “complete” paraplegic for 39 years, caused by a fall when I was 26 years old. I think it has helped me to look at all the difficulties as challenges to be overcome. However, everyone is different. I have sympathy, empathy, and the best wishes for everyone.

  9. Taylor says:

    Our daughter was 6 months old when my husband fell from a tree and disclocated his C5. Thank you for writing this. We are now 10 months into finding our new normal but you’re words are helping me find “perspective”. Bless you

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