"I want to understand if this isolated feeling is normal." That’s what Rachel Swidenbank wrote to me just six weeks after a cycling accident left her husband, Hiroki Takeuchi, paralyzed from the waist down.
The accident happened last summer, less than a month after Rachel and Hiroki got married. They'd also recently bought their first home. Quickly, almost everything in their lives changed. After major surgery and five weeks in the hospital, Hiroki had to learn to navigate the world in a wheelchair. He couldn’t dress himself or use the bathroom without help. Rachel shuttered her company, a tech startup, so that she could spend more time with him.
Physical intimacy is different, too. "We're still in the stage of sort of shock, when it comes to that regard," Hiroki told me. Rachel added, "It's probably the hardest thing to deal with in the relationship." They're not sure how Hiroki's accident will affect their sex life in the long term, and how it will affect their chances at becoming parents.
Rachel says she's gotten angry at Hiroki about the accident. But there are ways it's strengthened their bond, too. "The emotional connection that we have is so much deeper than it’s ever been before," Rachel told me. And despite all the changes in their relationship, some things have managed to stay the same. Hiroki is still learning how to manage his wheelchair one-handed, but he makes it a point to bring Rachel her morning cup of coffee every day, just as he always has, even if it means spilling a little bit of coffee on the kitchen floor. "It is very bittersweet," Hiroki said, reflecting on the accident, "both survival and loss mixed into one."
Update: When we checked in with Rachel about a year after this episode was released, she told us that "things are still challenging"—including travel and dealing with grief when thinking about their lives pre-accident. However, both Rachel and Hiroki are now back at work full time, and Hiroki's physical strength has increased—making things like travel more possible. They also plan on starting the IVF process soon.