When a Disability Comes Home

Picture of a hospital room, symbolic of a disability coming to a family

Adult In-Home Care Supervisor, Jeff Nunham, share his personal experience with disability and how it changes everything when a disability comes home.

My cell phone was sitting on my computer when it went off. “Hello?” It was my nephew, a seasoned police officer and a member of the Tri-County SWAT team. “Uncle Jeff, I’ve got some bad news.” My mind came to attention and my thoughts instantly went to a vision of DEATH. I braced myself. There was a pause; I knew he was trying to get the words out and was fighting to keep himself from sobbing. “Dad has had a stroke and it’s very bad. They’ve taken him to the hospital.” Now I was having trouble speaking, stunned by his tone and the message.

As a former minister, I have walked through the emergency room doors countless times. I have been with families who are huddled around the gurney, contained by the curtained room, looking down on their loved one in stunned silence. When they see me, they sigh and wordlessly ask through tear-gorged eyes, “Why?” These are moments you never forget. I will never forget the day that “disability” came home to my family.

In speaking to care providers and other groups, I have often referred to a disability as something which is living. I have said, “When a disability comes to a family, it takes something from every member of the family, not only the person with the diagnosis.” Disabilities are obnoxiously rude and insensitive. They have their own will, making choices without consideration of anyone but themselves.

Now, I believe that I have been altogether too kind in my representation of a disability. It is all that I have said, but much worse than I could have known. The reason for my enlightenment? The disability has come to visit MY family. He has robbed my brother of all but life itself.

So, for this Supervisor of In-Home Care for Adults with Disabilities, I have been thrown into a larger than life crisis that brings all the talk and discussion about disabilities right into my lap. This “disability thing” does not go away at the end of the work day. Neither does it subside like a bad case of the flu or even a life-threatening heart attack. My brother is completely paralyzed on one side of his body, cannot speak and can barely swallow. This isn’t going away anytime soon.

For all of you dear ones who love and care for a family member or friend with a disability, I know more about you now than I did a few weeks ago. I am more fully aware of the power over your life that a disability exerts. I ask questions now which I never asked before and hear doctors give their vague and hopeful answers. I am witnessing daily the power of care providers who lift so much more than lifeless limbs. They lift the spirits of those who are disabled and those who love them. The word care has come to mean so much more to me than I could have ever imagined. The word miracle is no longer just the work of an unseen and benevolent Power, but is the fruit of steady, compassionate care, given at the right moment and in the right way.

Words are weak and helpless agents for expressing the gratitude I have for every person who loves and cares for a person with a disability. I see my brother each morning at the hospital for about 20 minutes. The staff who serve him have become dear to me. They are amazing. I have always been impressed with and grateful for our care providers at Helping Hands Respite Care. But now, I see them differently. To me they are saints who are the hands of God. I honor you who care.