Michael FranzEarly on after my injury, I faced a dilemma. My main caregiver was about to go on maternity leave, and her replacement had shaky hands. That mattered because at the time I had grown used to shaving with a traditional razor, and I still needed help shaving.

I realized that I had to choose between risking daily injuries to my face or finding a way to shave independently. I searched high and low for a suitable electric razor and sought advice on the pre-Facebook spinal cord injury internet groups. After much trial and error, I figured out how to attach a plastic hook to an electric razor and shave without assistance. I was proud of myself, as it was the first time I’d found a combination of products that improved my quality of life.

Dining With Dignity flatware mimics the natural grip of a fork, spoon or knife.

Dining With Dignity flatware mimics the natural grip of a fork, spoon or knife.

Over the course of the nearly two decades that I have been injured, I have encountered countless medical devices, gadgets and tools that were supposed to make my life with a spinal cord injury better. Some of these products have worked very well, while others have failed to live up to their lofty aspirations. With so many products out there, it can be difficult to sort through everything to determine which are worth trying out.

Not to mention, everything has a price, and nobody wants to waste their hard-earned money on something that is not going to work. As a columnist for NEW MOBILITY, my goal is to write about products that anybody with a spinal cord injury can use. I want to find the newest, coolest and most functional products on the market. I will do the dirty work so that everybody who reads this column won’t have to.

When I look for a new product, I am interested in a variety of qualities. The most important thing to me is how something will contribute to my independence. As a quadriplegic who requires assistance with many things on a daily basis, I try to identify tasks that I would like to be able to do on my own, or at least be a more active participant in. When it comes to my independence, I would pay almost any price. I have spent as little as $5 for an adaptive handle for my toothbrush and as much as hundreds of dollars to play Xbox independently.

Fortunately, independence can often be achieved for very little cost. One line of products that has made a huge difference in my life are the utensils from Dining with Dignity. Dining with Dignity offers utensils with metal rings that you put your fingers through to mimic the natural grip of a fork, spoon or knife. As someone who struggled with using a U-Cuff to eat, the Dining with Dignity utensils were a total game changer. Dining with Dignity’s products start around $20 each and are well worth the investment.

Another vital characteristic of any product I use is how it will affect my health and well-being. Like most everybody with a spinal cord injury, my biggest fear is skin breakdown and the complications that come with it. The integrity of my skin was a constant source of anxiety, as I developed my first pressure sore while in the ICU immediately after my accident and dealt with them recurring every few years.

After many pressure maps, cushion trials and one flap surgery (“Where to Turn When Wounds Won’t Heal,” October 2018), a physical therapist recommended the Java cushion made by Ride Designs. Since switching to the Java, my skin has never had even the slightest of irritations. The Java cushion is designed to completely eliminate the pressure in areas prone to breaking down like the tailbone and ischia. This is achieved by cutting out the area under the bony prominences and redistributing weight to the thighs, hips and upper buttocks. By removing the area under the ischia, the Java cushion has the added benefit of reducing heat and moisture buildup that can compromise skin integrity.

Workouts are easier with Active Hands.

Workouts are easier with Active Hands.

Finding products that can help achieve a variety of goals makes purchasing decisions easier. The General Purpose Gripping Aids from Active Hands are a great example of a single product solving many problems. Personally, I have used the Gripping Aids for weightlifting, cooking and adaptive sports. Coincidentally, the Gripping Aids also promote independence and health by allowing users to utilize many things that would be difficult to use with impaired hand function. Cooking healthy foods and exercising are perhaps the two biggest keys to staying healthy while living with a spinal cord injury.

I hope that through this column I will be able to share my experiences with as many products as possible and help improve the lives of the readers of NEW MOBILITY. As we all know, SCI life can be frustrating and challenging, and it requires a lot of improvisation and adaptation. Sometimes all it takes to overcome these challenges is something new and innovative. With so much available on the internet, it can be difficult to discover reliable information and quality products. I look forward to finding and reviewing the best products for all of us in the months and years to come.