In 1997, Stanley Brown was in a car accident. He suffered from severe spinal cord injuries, leaving him a high quadriplegic. The retired Army colonel and JAG lawyer now required constant care. To live his life to the fullest, he set up a rotation of nurses to help him.
Nine years ago, Theresa Richardson answered an ad in the paper for a position as one of those caregivers.
An eye-opening experience.
Before her time with Stanley, Theresa worked in a nursing home and through an agency. She started working evening shifts, helping with household cleaning, medications and other needs. Because Theresa’s daughter is grown, her job eventually evolved to traveling with Stanley on business as President of the Gateway Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America. “He’s really involved with the chapter and loves the golf tournament. And I’ve been able to get to know a lot of the members.”
She’s made about 20 trips so far and all of them have been an adventure, if not a challenge. “I do 99.9% of the travel with Stanley. He makes the arrangements, and I’m there to help out.”
It can be hectic and stressful, but it gives him the opportunity to fulfill his life and do the things he wants to do. I’ve been doing this for nine years, and I’m not going anywhere.
For Theresa, being a caregiver has been eye-opening. She never realized what people with disabilities had to deal with on a day-to-day basis. For example, a lot of time and effort goes into arranging travel for Stanley and Theresa. “I always say, it’s a good day if we don’t end up in the ER.”
Patience — an important virtue for caregivers.
For Stanley to fly, Theresa needs the assistance of the airline to get him on and off the plane. She and two other people use a sling to lift Stanley into the plane and help him get seated. “It’s a nerve-wracking task,” she says. “There have been times when he’s been dropped and other times when his chair gets broken.”
Once they make it to the hotel, Theresa redesigns the room, shifting furniture around and making sure the bed is the right height so she can move Stanley into it at night. Her rearrangements apply to restaurants as well. She moves tables and chairs to make room for Stanley and others in wheelchairs. “I never leave a room the same by the time I’m done with it.”
She says there isn’t anything particularly hard about the job; it’s mostly challenging. "You want things to go smoothly, and you do what you can, but if they don't, I know Paralyzed Veterans will be there to help us."
Her advice to other caregivers is patience. “I am a laidback person and happy doing what I’m doing. This isn’t a job for nervous people though.”
In it for the long run.
As part of a team of caregivers, Theresa is able to avoid getting frustrated. She can switch around her schedule a bit in order to give herself a break. She’s also been with Stanley long enough to know when they’re getting annoyed and can take a step back.
“It can be hectic and stressful, but it gives him the opportunity to fulfill his life and do the things he wants to do,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for nine years, and I’m not going anywhere.”