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Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis Resource Center

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I'm Still Going to Carry the Pizza

My new friend Tara McNeely.

My new friend Tara McNeely.

By Saralee Perel

Last week at the supermarket, a young gal named Tara who was bagging my groceries said, "Can I help take these to your car?"

As always, for the eight years since my spinal cord injury I said, "No thanks." But that particular day, I was in trouble. I had overdone exercise the day before. Hence, I couldn't lift my feet to walk and had to shuffle instead. Tara could tell I was hurting. "Let me just help," she said sweetly.

When I finally said, "I'd love your help," I should have felt a great sense of liberation because it was the very first time I had agreed to someone helping me in all of these years. Instead, I felt like a failure.

Tara taught me something
On our way to my truck, Tara and I became friends. But at my truck, 19-year-old Tara became my teacher.

When I eventually agreed to her suggestion to sit in the front seat while she loaded the groceries, I put my head in my hands and cried. "I feel like a two hundred year old helpless wreck. I hate that someone's putting my groceries in the truck."

She stood by the open door where I was sitting. "I know you could have done this yourself," she said. "But it was so much easier to let me do it." And then she said a life-altering sentence, "Getting help should never make you feel bad. It should always make you feel good."

I will never forget her words.

She tentatively moved her arms to hug me. When we hugged, it was one of the most meaningful hugs of my life.

Saralee and her husband Bob petting Gracie.

Saralee and her husband Bob petting Gracie.

My favorite "plunking" spot
At home, I plunked myself down on my favorite "plunking" spot. It's in front of the fireplace where I hang out on large pillows. My husband, Bob, came in and plunked next to me. When I told him about the groceries, he tenderly brushed away my tears with his fingers.

"Sweetheart," he said. "Why is it so hard for you to ask for help?"

"Probably denial about my physical state."

"I think it's two other things," he said. "One -- asking for help makes you feel inferior and two -- you think you're bothering somebody. And three --"

"You said 'two.'"

"I just thought of a third."

"I'd so love to hear it." I covered his face with a pillow.

He took the pillow away and said, "If you do that again, I'll -- "

So I did it again.

He managed to say, "Is this subject a tiny bit touchy?"

"I can handle it," I lied.

"The third is that asking for help reminds you of all the things you have a hard time doing or can no longer do at all."

This time I covered my own face with the pillow and said, "I hate this!"

"I know." And with that, he helped me to a standing position. That's something he's done hundreds of times. Yet I have felt guilty every single one of those times . . . until now.

It was because of Tara that I changed. I told Bob my new conclusions: "By asking for help, does that make me inferior? Of course not. Am I bothering someone? Who knows? But if I am, whose problem is that? Will asking for help remind me of the things I can't do? Heck, yes."

Trip to the pizzeria
Bob knew my crusade was successful because of a pizza.

When he opened the pizza box I brought home the next day, he was astonished and said, "It's round! You asked for help!"

You see, before I met Tara, I'd never let anyone carry a take-out pizza to my truck. Instead, using my cane with my right arm, I'd awkwardly carry the pizza box with my left, resulting in the box constantly tilting one way and then the other. By the time I'd get home, that round pizza would be a smushed pile of cheesy red gunk in the corner of the box.

Bob and I plunked down in front of the fireplace and ate.

"How did it feel to accept help?" he said.

"Well, my new way of thinking helped. But the part about reminding me of things I can't do? Like carry my own pizza? That didn't feel good."

Never be afraid to ask for help
He took cheese off my chin and ate it. (We eat like monkeys.) "Sweetheart, you may never get used to the things you can't do. But it's better to be aware of that, than to hide under the pretense of 'I don't need help.'"

And so, I have learned the following:

1. It does not diminish me to ask for help.
2. A 19-year-old gal was more influential than the shrink I saw for two years.
3. A round pizza doesn't taste nearly as good as a pizza all smushed up into a luscious gooey pile of cheesy doughy gunk in the corner of the box.

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at sperel@saraleeperel.com or on her website, saraleeperel.com.

Saralee welcomes friends on Facebook. Please click "Like" on her new Facebook Fan Page titled, Saralee Perel Presents Gracie, My 4-Footed Coach.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Adjustment to SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Aging with SCI (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Autobiogs or Biogs (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Chat Rooms (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Research (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Tutorial 101 (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on SCI Videos (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors (PDF)

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on Deep Vein Thrombosis (PDF)

Arkansas Spinal Cord CommissionThe mission of the Arkansas Spinal Cord Commission is to administer a statewide program to identify and meet the unique and lifelong needs of people with spinal cord disabilities in the state.

CareCure CommunityCareCure Community features a SpinalNurse bulletin board with informed comments on matters of the bowel, and all issues of paralysis.

Canadian & American Spinal Research OrganizationPromotes and supports funding research to ultimately find a cure for paralysis. Also publishes journal of latest research they fund. Call (800) 361-4004 or use the link above.

Canadian Paraplegic AssociationAssists people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities to achieve individuality, self-reliance and full community participation. Call (613) 723-1033 or use the link above.

Craig HospitalWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body. Use the link above and click on SCI Health and Wellness.

Determined 2 HealProvides helpful information for the newly spinal cord injured.

FacingDisability.comFacing Disability is a web resource with more than 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts. I know that this is a lot to ask, but we'd be so grateful for your help. I'm looking forward to discussing this link with you, and to answering any questions you may have.

Model Systems CentersA federally funded program of 14 specialty medical and/or rehabilitation centers across the US. The SCI Care System collects and submits acute, rehabilitation and follow-up (annual, long-term post-discharge) data on SCI patients who received care in the these centers following injury.

The Miami Project to Cure ParalysisThe Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has studied functional electrical systems for exercise.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC)NSCISC supervises and directs the collection, management and analysis of the world's largest spinal cord injury database. Headquartered at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA)At NSCIA, we educate and empower survivors of spinal cord injury and disease to achieve and maintain the highest levels of independence, health and personal fulfillment. We fulfill this mission by providing an innovative Peer Support Network and by raising awareness about spinal cord injury and disease through education.

New York Online Access to Health (N.O.A.H)Offers information and links related to spinal cord and head injury treatment, rehabilitation, and children. Materials in Spanish.

Neuroscience for KidsOffers an understandable look at the segments of the spinal cord; from University of Washington.

Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA): Spinal Cord InjuryFor more detailed information on the clinical practice guidelines on respiratory management with spinal cord injury you can request booklets from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. These booklets also provide guidelines on proper weaning from a ventilator.

SpineUniverseAt SpineUniverse our goal is to help patients and their families understand their back or neck problems. In clear, straightforward language we aim to explain what causes spinal problems and how they can be treated. We are committed to ensure that all of the information we present is trustworthy and of the highest quality.

Spinal Cord Injury Information NetworkThe Spinal Cord Injury Information Center features clinical information about bowel management and all other medical issues of paralysis.

United Spinal AssociationOur mission is to improve the quality of life of all Americans living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and post polio.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Fact Sheet: VA and Spinal Cord InjuryOf the more than 250,000 Americans with serious spinal cord injuries and disorders, about 42,000 are veterans eligible for medical care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

The information provided in the Paralysis Resource Center was supported by Cooperative Agreement number 1U59DD000838-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the Reeve Foundation and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.