Lessons I’ve learned since the day my life changed forever | by Brooke Pagé

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on April 05, 2019 # Caregiving

If someone were to tell you your worst fear would come true, how would you handle it?

My biggest worry in life has always been the safety of the people I love. Worrying about their well being, hoping that nothing bad would happen to them. And when my worst fear suddenly became reality five years ago, I did not think that thing that brought us to our lowest lows would eventually become something that would change the course of my mind, body and soul forever… for the better.

My husband Evan (boyfriend of five years at the time) was paralyzed in a work accident five years ago. He was a Construction Superintendent on a project building a new school and was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a load of unsecured gymnasium flooring weighing 3500 lbs. fell on his head. His hard hat was shattered into a million pieces, and he was instantly paralyzed at the C4 level.

I remember where I was when I got “the call” - I was at the bank going over mortgage paperwork as we were in the process of purchasing our first condo together. As a couple, we had our lives fairly in order. We were both working full time in amazing careers, each of us hoping to save up enough money to travel the world eventually. We had a great relationship and were young and in love. Our lives were planned out in our minds, and we had big goals and dreams just like any other couple our age who was doing well in life.

Lesson Learned: life has a strange way of taking you on journeys you never thought you would be on. At the end of the day, nothing is really in our control (as much as we love to think it is).

Looking back to the beginning of our journey with paralysis, I had no clue what I was getting into - all I knew for sure, was that I would never leave him. I knew that it would be hard, and I knew our life would not look like others lives’, but I also knew with 100% certainty that we would make the best of our situation and live our lives to the absolute fullest.

Something clicked during those first few weeks after he was injured. From endless sleepless nights at the ICU to dealing with the complete crumbling of our lives as we knew them, I knew that something inside me had changed for the better. My worst fear had come true, yet I was still here, fighting for both of us. I was confident in who I was and who I had become almost instantaneously - a strong, capable, resilient woman who would fight to the death if needed for my husband.

Lesson Learned: you really have no idea how much you are capable of. You are stronger and more resilient than you can imagine.

As time went on, and my husband went through rehabilitation, I learned as much as I could from the nurses and doctors. I wanted to know what they knew - I wanted to be able to do it all myself. From the very beginning of this journey, I was interested in not only HOW to help with all his medical and personal care needs but also how I could do it better. I was a woman obsessed. I would show up at his inpatient rehab facility every morning at 7 am with all his meals prepared, and spend the entire day by his side watching, learning, doing, growing. I wanted to be able to learn about everything to do with this new life we would be living, as I was determined to take what I learned and turn it into a life worth living. I wanted to travel, I wanted to see the world. I didn’t want to have to bring a nurse with us everywhere as he now required 24/7 care. I did not want to subscribe to the sterile life that was portrayed to us through the hospital - I would NOT let this injury get the best of both of us, no matter how stressful times may be.

Lesson Learned: perspective is everything. When life throws you a major curveball, it’s up to YOU (and only you) as to how you view the situation and the world after.

Before I knew it, six months had gone by and the routine and safety of the rehabilitation centre was past us. We were now at home, trying to establish a “new normal” together. I was SO glad to be back home, but something inside of me was craving connection with someone else who understood what I was going through. There were times I felt guilty, times I was so stressed I could barely think, times I felt like I was legitimately drowning. My friends and family were wonderful support systems, but there was still something missing for me. There is only so much they can understand, and at the end of the day when everyone goes home to their “normal” lives, it was only me who saw everything and was still there, living this unique and demanding dual role relationship of caregiver and lover.

Fast forward two years into my husband’s injury. We had been to a rehab centre in California for treatment, traveled to Florence to get married, had moved to a great accessible apartment, got a puppy, and built a pretty good life together. I was working for myself from home again, and we were both doing quite well considering what had happened to us. We were grateful. But, I still found that something was missing. I didn’t have anyone to discuss this life with… someone who understood the caregiver/wife role…someone who had gone through what we went through as well.

One day, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and saw an image of a guy in a wheelchair. I clicked on it and it turned out, my mom was following this profile. I investigated further and saw that the page was run by a girl named Elena Pauly. I scrolled through her photos and saw that she lived in British Columbia (where we live), and she and her boyfriend Dan were similar in age to us. I followed her and messaged her. After a few chats, we both realized we lived just blocks away from one another in Vancouver, and we had been craving the same thing since our partner’s injuries: connection and sisterhood.

We started going to yoga together, meeting for coffees, going for walks together - it was nice having someone who finally understood my life, and who could relate to crazy schedules, last minute cancellations, and the need to “get in self-care” and personal time whenever we could. I no longer felt like I had to explain things. We had a similar sense of humour, similar interests, extremely similar outlooks on life, and our partners were roughly the same ages. I could just be myself and she understood. I felt like my prayers had been answered because I had wished for this for years.

Lesson Learned: be careful what you wish for. It may come true :)

This is when we began WAGS of SCI (Wives and Girlfriends of Spinal Cord Injury), a sisterhood and support group that serves to provide outreach, community, and connection to women in with partners who have Spinal Cord Injuries. Since we met on Instagram and we believed in the platform for spreading positivity, we started an Instagram group @wagsofsci in hopes we could find more women out there like us i the Vancouver area. Well, turns out, there were a few more out there than we expected. We found a few hundred women through searching online, and then found thousands more when Garrett Greer, a World Series of Poker player and Quadriplegic posted on Valentine’s Day about our group (thank you so much Garrett). We began leading sponsored events at local establishments and worked on our community outreach efforts using posters and other marketing materials at local hospitals and rehab gyms daily. We lived WAGS of SCI pretty much 24/7 - building our community was all that we wanted. We were determined to find all the WAGS of SCI out there, so that no woman would ever feel alone again.

We now have women all around the world who have connected with our group, and post daily on our experiences as “Quadwives” as well as tips/tricks and advice. We feature new couples on our page from around the world weekly so that other women can find them, and they don’t feel isolated. WAGS of SCI now has ambassadors in various cities around the world - inspiring women who serve their communities as the main point of contact for new WAGS who need support. They also run events, and lead outreach in their cities. We recently have launched our website platform www.wagsofsci.com and are working with the Reeve Foundation as Content Leaders for their online forum, Reeve Connect, and social media.

Our community is constantly growing, and we feel so proud to now have a voice in the SCI world. We are determined to spread awareness, change people’s perceptions, as well as normalize “inter-abled” relationships around the world. We focus on providing positive, loving and caring support for other women with no judgments. We also get messages and letters from men who are paralyzed all over the world who say our page inspires them that they will find love again after an SCI.

Lesson Learned: you CAN accomplish anything and make a big change in the world. It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from.

So, there you have it - this is my story thus far. Our journey has NOT been an easy one. We have hiccups all the time as a couple, and as individuals. I am constantly learning how to be a better person, how to channel my frustration when things don’t go as expected, and how to grow from every experience. I haven't figured it all out. I don’t expect to because ultimately, that wouldn't be much fun would it?

So, what is the biggest lesson of all that I have learned by living this life? You ARE capable of turning every single bad situation into something of growth and new opportunity IF you let yourself. You can find a way to live your dream no matter what cards you have been dealt - no matter how small or big your dreams are. You CAN pick yourself up after even the worst tragedies and find strength in who you surround yourself with.

- Brooke

You can connect with Brooke in our WAGS of SCI group in our online forum, Reeve Connect.