Theresa Richardson — A Caregiver's Story
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 and assistance to live his life to the fullest, so he set up a rotation of nurses to help him do just that. Nine years ago, Theresa Richardson answered an ad in the paper for a position as one of those caregivers.
Before her time with Stanley, Theresa worked in a nursing home and through an agency. She started doing the 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 his business as Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Gateway chapter president. “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.”
Being a caregiver has been eye-opening to Theresa. She never realized what individuals with disabilities had to deal with on a day-to-day basis. For example, a lot of arrangements go into Stanley and Theresa’s travel. “I always say, it’s a good day if we don’t end up in the ER.”
For Stanley to fly, Theresa needs the assistance of the airline getting him on and off the plane. She and two others lift Stanley in a sling onto the plan and aid him to his seat. “It’s a nerve-wracking task,” she says. “There have been times when he’s been dropped and others 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 assist 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.”
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.”
Ellen Blash is an English major at George Washington University.