If you want to learn how to get along with quadriplegics, read John Callahan

by CynthiaYockey on July 28, 2010

A cartoon by quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan with a woman behind a counter telling a customer, "This is a feminist bookstore! There is no humor section!"

A cartoon by quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan of two panhandlers next to each other on a street corner, both are just a head on a small box, but the one with two good eyes says to the one wearing an eyepatch, "People like you are an inspiration to me."

I see from a post by dear Fausta that quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan died on Saturday of complications of quadriplegia and respiratory problems. FYI, most quads can move their arms but lack dexterity in their hands. If you are wondering what kinds of complications quadriplegia has, he could have gotten sepsis from a pressure sore or a urinary tract infection (from his bladder stoma, catheter, tubing or catheter bag). Quadriplegia can make it hard to cough, which you need to do to clear your lungs, so that could have caused respiratory problems. Or the person reporting his death thought he had respiratory problems when really he had the death rattle common at the end of life.

Years ago I read Callahan’s first autobiography, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. He was unsparing of himself in writing about his life. The passages that come to my mind the most often were about the difficulty of getting a quadriplegic person dressed in pants and getting the creases and seams where they belong — I thought of that every time I dressed my late life partner, Margaret Ardussi, who was quadriplegic the last 10 years of her life due to MS — and the foods he could afford with his food stamps — beans were a staple.

If you understand the battle of the severely depressed to live just one more day — day after day — then you will get John’s song about how even the smallest waves of joy, and ordinary beauties, nourish the soul enough to regenerate the resolve to live. It is piercingly beautiful. (If you currently have depression, do NOT listen to this song, instead immediately click the “Humor” category in this blog and get the hell out of this post. Or scroll down to “I don’t know why he swallowed the fly” — FAST! NOW! GO!)

Update, 7/28/2010: I guess it makes sense that dear, irreverent Kathy Shaidle also was a fan of John Callahan’s. Do go to her place and read what she’s got, but also check out a story she links with the great headline, “Tales from the Crip,” especially if you were wondering about who dyed his hair. It’s not the kind of thing you notice unless you’ve lived with quadriplegia, but Callahan did NOT have the most appropriate wheelchair for his mobility, so it’s no wonder the one he had hurt his back and required him to be bedridden most of the time — he should have been in a tilt-in-space/recliner chair with electric leg lifts. Then he could have changed positions for pressure relief.

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