My Road to Pride and Recovery

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on June 28, 2021 # Relationships, Lifestyle

By Guest Blogger: Howard Menaker

Almost seven years ago, I was living my life pretty much like anyone else: socially active, in a great marriage with the man I have loved for decades, and involved in many interests.

Then, I had surgery on my back; “routine” surgery. But it did not turn out routine for me. During my surgery, an infection bruised my spinal cord and paralyzed me from the chest down.

In addition to the trauma, I had the added concern that will be familiar to anyone in the LGBTQ community: how would I be treated? And even more so, how would my husband be treated? Would we have to prove we are married? At my worst moment, would I be forced to produce a medical power of attorney or other documents so he would be considered my family?

But I am one of the lucky ones. One of the nation’s premier spinal cord injury centers, the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI), is based in Baltimore. In the weeks following my surgery, KKI admitted me as an outpatient, and never once questioned my husband’s role in my recovery. He has taken me to physical therapy sessions, and has been with me in every doctor’s appointment. From day one, he has been recognized as my full partner in everything I do. I know this is not a universal experience, and that many of us, especially in the trans community, are still treated with discrimination and disdain by health care professionals.

In the years since my surgery, I have routinely returned to Kennedy Krieger for physical therapy and to work with my personal trainer. As a result, I have gained strength and function, regaining much of my mobility.

Last October, for the first time in six years, I walked on my own – no walker, no crutches, no cane. Just me…on my own legs. It wasn’t graceful or pretty. But it was walking with no assistance. It was the most amazing feeling! And my husband was there to see it as it happened, welcomed by my physical therapist. Throughout my recovery, there have been many milestones, but this one was mind-blowing. And he was there with me, as I had hoped.

I have a long way to go to be free of my wheelchair, but I have learned much from my recovery: Good doctors and great therapists have been instrumental in my progress. Modern technology has helped me in ways that would never have been possible a few years ago. There is a community of people with spinal cord injuries who freely share experiences and show incredible fortitude. My friends have celebrated each step along the way. And my husband has been my rock, my at-home therapist, my nurse, my best friend and my chief cheerleader.

Above all, I have learned to stay positive and to approach my life with gratitude. As you can imagine, there were very dark days after my injury. But I told myself I would recover. I work hard at my therapy and my personal training and in my everyday life at home. And I am grateful for every accomplishment along the way. They say that attitude makes a significant difference, maybe the greatest difference, in any recovery from illness or injury, and I believe I am proof of that!

I will never again look at life the way I did seven years ago. However, I now know that my loving husband, my own strength, my own determination, and my own optimistic attitude can get me through even the most nightmarish events. I am blessed. I am strong. I am walking.

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.