March 23, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy
It’s fairly obvious that a paralyzing spinal cord injury is going to be a major life-changing event for the patient. Among the most dramatic lifestyle changes is the need for constant support and assistance in one’s daily life. If you’re a caregiver of someone who has lost the use of their legs, you know all too well that it’s a huge change to your lifestyle as well. Caring for a paraplegic puts demands on you physically and emotionally, and is a huge commitment of your time as well. Performing your job successfully is going to be a great effort, and will require developing some new skills. Here are five practical skills that will be helpful for caregivers of paraplegics.
When you’re a caregiver for a paraplegic, a lot of what you’re going to do is going to involve lifting. The person you’re caring for has lost their ability to stand, so help is going to be needed every time they need to go from the wheelchair to the bed or the bathroom or back. A number of lifting devices will help with the transfer, and others are designed specifically for dressing, and will certainly make things easier for you. But sometimes, you will need to support the patient’s weight on your own. It’s important to learn to lift properly, to avoid strain or pulled muscles in your arms, shoulders, and back.
If the person for whom you’re caregiver is paraplegic, and not quadriplegic (with complete loss of the use of their arms as well as their legs), they’ll probably be able to manage moving about in their wheelchair for the most part. But there will certainly be times that it will fall upon you to push the wheelchair. Even if you’re not going to push it, you should be comfortable with its workings. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the machinery of the wheelchair, how it moves, and how the brakes operate. You’ll need to get a feel for how it steers, for the times that you’ll need to maneuver in tight spaces. And you should know how to move the footrests, which you’ll certainly need to do when transferring the patient.
As a caregiver, there are going to be some long days, and likely some sleepless nights as well. Your responsibilities are going to be physically taxing, and emotionally challenging. And you’re in it for the long haul. There is no “cure” for paraplegia. You’ll need to learn to pace yourself, and to summon your energy when you need it, no matter how tired you are.
A paraplegic has found him or herself unable to fend for themselves, usually quite suddenly and unexpectedly. This often leads to frustration and depression, and they may lash out at you. As caregiver you’ll need to remain patient, regardless of what the patient says to you or how they say it. You’ll really need to develop some degree of empathy for their situation and what they’re going through. You need to learn to stay calm and as maintain as positive of an attitude as possible, and try to impart that to the person you’re caring for.
Your task is not easy. It’s going to take its toll on your body and mind. Tomorrow, you’ll need to get up and do it all again. You’ve got to learn to live with your new-found stresses and responsibilities. Make sure you get some time for yourself. Rest as much as you can. Eat well. Do some meditation or yoga to help you stay focused and calm.