How To Be a Good Friend to a Person Who’s Had a Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries often result from a traumatic blow to the spinal column, spinal cord, discs, vertebrae, and ligaments. These injuries will often result in dislocation, fracture, or compression of the vertebral column. In the United States, the most common causes of traumatic spinal cord injuries involve motor vehicle accidents, slips and falls, acts of violence—gunshot wounds, stab wounds—diseases—arthritis, osteoporosis, spinal disc degeneration, inflammation, cancer—and athletic activities.

If a family member or someone you love has suffered a spinal cord injury, here's what you can do to show your support.

Learn about their level of injury.

Suffering any form of injury is a traumatic experience that no one should have to go through. Unfortunately, when it does happen—especially to someone close to you—you may find yourself at odds with how to show support for your injured loved one. In some cases, this helplessness may turn you into a quasi-spinal injury expert, given all the maniacal “what is a spinal cord injury” Google searches your well-meaning desperation may have driven you to.

Worse still, this new knowledge may come with the need to wax lyrical about all you've learned about spinal cord injuries; herein lies the problem. Your injured loved one already has to deal with the changes in their body functions. Physical therapy, a dedicated rehabilitation team, loss of autonomic function—loss of bowel and bladder control, circulatory problems, muscle atrophy—pressure sores, blood clots, mental health problems, and physical pain are just some of the changes that your loved one has to get used to.

So, while a quick Google search or consultation with their doctor may help you learn about the severity of their injuries, try not to cram this new information down their throats. While this is good information to have, there are other ways to show your support.

Send them thoughtful or personalized gifts.

Time spent in the hospital is always difficult, especially if the quarters are cramped. Besides this, the sterile hospital decor doesn't do much for one's mental health. If anything, these limitations may only increase your friend's sense of isolation and loneliness. Knowing this, sending your friend a bouquet of fresh flowers may seem like a great gift idea, but there are limitations to this idea.

For starters, you should know that one of the side effects of an injury to the spinal nerve is the development of respiratory problems. So while fresh flowers may seem like a lovely gift idea, they could trigger some of the respiratory infections that your loved one has developed. An easy-care plant is a great substitute for fresh flowers, so check with your local nursery to see if they offer indoor plant gift delivery services.

If you've ever had a long hospital stay, you can attest to the fact that hospital food isn't great. Sending your friend a weekly food delivery from their favorite restaurant is another great way to show your support from a distance.

Stay consistent with your caregiving.

It often happens that people generally come together to show their support after receiving the initial bad news of their loved one's injury. However, this support tends to wane after some time. One of the habits that sustain friendships is consistency, so keep offering the same physical and emotional support you showed your friend at the time of their initial diagnosis.

If you're not in the same city, or can't take time off work to be with them every day, call or text as often as you can. If your friend can't always come to the phone, don't take it personally. Remember that they're going through a major life change, and your compassion could be the greatest gift you ever give them.

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