Road Trip! | Elena Pauly

Posted by Reeve Staff in WAGs of SCI on August 20, 2019 # Travel, Caregiving, WAGs of SCI

My name is Elena Pauly and I co-founded the international support group for Wives and Girlfriends of Spinal Cord Injury; WAGS of SCI with Brooke Page. My boyfriend, Dan Duffy sustained an SCI on January 2, 2016, after a shallow diving accident left him a C6 quadriplegic. In November of 2017, WAGS of SCI was born as a result of lack of support we as caregivers and lovers are left within our community after our men sustain a spinal cord injury.

After my partner sustained an SCI, travel was the last thing on our minds. We were forced to sell his townhome and move from a small city in the country called Chilliwack, B.C to a much larger city called Vancouver. In Chilliwack, we spent our summer days re-doing the backyard, BBQing, walking the family dogs in the picturesque and lush farm country, and having Italian family dinners and games nights at his parents (who lived just a few blocks away). We had what we thought was the perfect setup. I mean, every day with the Italians is a day worth celebrating.

Driving home to Chilliwack is actually still our favourite weekend getaway. One of our first concerns was how we would transport Dan back and forth between the two cities. The first year he would hop on the Greyhound bus and I would meet him with our dogs at his parent’s place. The journey took Dan much longer than it took me. By the time he would load on and off, waiting for other passengers to get dropped off along the way, he would arrive well into midnight. It was exhausting but we really couldn’t afford even entertaining the idea of purchasing an accessible van and Dan was not ready nor strong enough to transfer into my small Hyundai, a Veloster hatchback. That was until one early morning when we signed up to participate in the Wings for Life Work Run. The run began at 4:00 am our time and there were no taxis in sight- so we attempted and successfully executed a sliding board transfer. What does this mean? It means that Dan put a little skateboard size piece of wood under his bum and I slide him from his chair into the passenger seat of the car, take apart his chair (wheels, cushion, and fold it up) and put it all into the trunk of my little car with our luggage. It forever changed our lives and allowed my partner to actually sit next to me in the car and enjoy the freedom and independence of just getting up and going whenever we felt like it.

Over the years, Dan’s parents have made minor changes to their home which has made a HUGE impact on what we can do and how long we can stay at their home. Luckily, the door frames are all wide enough for his wheelchair to fit through, for those of you without a spinal cord injury- this is something we have to think about all the time. Imagine all of your friends and family being able to walk into any room, any establishment regardless of the width or number of stairs leading up to it. This is something we have to call ahead and ask about, everywhere we go. Meaning, there is no room for surprise anymore for us, everything needs to be planned and pre-planned.

The changes that his parents made to their 80-year-old historic home allowed us to spend weekends overnight. Like I said before, this is HUGE. We are now able to get into the home with an outdoor power lift, shower, do the bowel program, sleep and eat and even cook here. The basic human needs that most of us without a disability never really have to think about.

know that this may sound cliché, but creating a new normal while still doing the things you once loved is possible. Yeah, your body looks and acts differently, and maybe the activities you once loved now also look differently. Maybe you have all sorts of adapted equipment, straps and gadgets hanging off you. Or maybe you can only perform the activity for a very short time. But, please don’t let life hold you back or keep you down. And you know what, sometimes enjoying life means feeling blessed being present in the company that surrounds you. Sometimes, it’s simply being able to transfer onto a comfy chair without nerve pain or a sore bum and just enjoying everything that life has to offer you. Sometimes, it’s just being with family.