John and Donna Rush

John and Donna Rush try to keep their spirits up through laughter six months after after John endured a fall that left him quadriplegic. 

Without legs that are strong and steady, and functioning hands to twist off lids to spices, John Rush can’t do what he loves most — stand in front of the stove and stir steaming soup or open the oven to slide in a casserole.

Instead, he sits in his wheelchair directing his wife to not crank up the heat because she wants the food to cook faster.

“The most frustrating is cooking. I can’t do it,” he said.

The accident happened in March.

After returning home from a long day of cooking more than 200 Reuben sandwiches at the Bellevue Eagles Club , Rush fell and hit his head on a counter top that resulted in a high-level C4 central cord injury. He was left a quadriplegic.

Two weeks after the fall, Rush was transferred from the Nebraska Medical Center, where he underwent spinal cord surgery, to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital-Lincoln Campus where he stayed for three months. After that, he was admitted to QLI in Omaha.

When he arrived in Lincoln, Rush could only wiggle a toe. After six months of recovery, he can move his limbs, but is still unable to walk or complete daily tasks without assistance.

“I’m not going to let it bring me down. I can’t change it,” he said. “All I can do is move forward and try to make better with the use I have.”

Before the injury claimed his mobility, Rush was an active member and trustee of the Bellevue Eagles Club. Taking inventory, placing orders, cooking and serving meals, Rush said he spent more time at the club than at home.

To John and his wife, Donna, the Eagles is more than a club. It’s a place they met people they consider family . The couple met at the Eagles Club 16 years ago.

Over the past six months, Donna has been his caretaker.

“There’s always something every day. People to call, doctors to talk to, equipment to get, supplies to get, lots of paperwork, but it’s getting better,” she said.

In the morning, it takes Donna three hours to get John ready for the day.

When the alarm goes off, she knows it’s time to get John dressed, check his skin for bed sores, clean him, move him from his bed to the chair, feed him breakfast and get his teeth brushed.

“Anything he needs, it’s me,” she said.

Through the trying months, Donna said, they try to laugh often.

“We keep a good sense of humor about this because I think it’s important,” she said.

John takes 57 pills daily to help manage pain and muscle spasms. The first two years, doctors said, are the most significant to focus on improvement.

There is potential for improvement, Donna said, but doctors cannot guarantee that he will regain mobility.

“My brain tells me I can pick up that piece of paper and flip it,” John said looking to the coffee table in front of him. “You can’t grab stuff and turn pages. That’s very frustrating.”

Since the accident, modifications have been made to their home. Doors were widened, Eagles Club members helped build a ramp up their driveway and a bathroom was remodeled to accommodate his chair.

Friends and kind strangers who have helped him, John said, have gotten him through a lot .

“Thanks just doesn’t give enough,” he said .

As time passes, John hopes to give hugs with arms that open wide and cook with hands that can grasp a spatula. Until then, he is making the best of what he has.

“I’m grateful,” he said. “Very.”

Get the latest health headlines and inspiring stories straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.