Author and columnist Shane Burcaw, 22, has been in a wheelchair since he was 3 years old due to a condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and whenever he takes his girlfriend Anna on dates he is bombarded with the same question – “Is she your nurse?”
Burcaw, author of the book "Laughing At My Nightmare" and frequent online columnist, has been dating his girlfriend, Anna Reinalda, for months. The two often go out on dates, and Burcaw said that he and Anna are constantly asked different versions of the same question by fans and passers by.
“I was recently out on a dinner date with my lovely girlfriend, Anna, when a stranger approached to have a friendly conversation. He said he was a huge fan of my column about life and disability. He turned to my girlfriend and asked, ‘Are you his sister?’” Burcaw wrote in a recent column. “Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with his question, but if I saw two young people out having a nice meal together, I would probably assume that they were dating. This, however, does not seem to be the assumption people make when you throw a wheelchair into the picture. On various other occasions my girlfriend has been asked if she was my nurse. Once, a person blankly asked if she was ‘the one who takes care of him.'"
A situation such as this would understandably be frustrating for anyone, but Burcaw said he and Reinalda often just laugh it off or find humorous ways to respond.
“We've gotten used to this bizarre, recurring question, and often find ways to poke fun at their ignorance," Burcaw wrote. "‘He's my dad.’ Anna will answer with deadpan perfection. ‘I just pay her to be my friend,’ I will say.”
The 22-year-old author said he’s come a long way from the child who believed he’d never be able to find someone who could love him for who he is. He even convinced himself that if a girl ever went on a date with him, she would have only been doing so out of pity.
“Then college came and my brain opened up to the real truth. I met some spectacular people who helped me shake the notion that love was only for the physically-abled,” Burcaw said. “Sure, I can't hold hands in the traditional sense, but we make it work. To be fair, our fingers look like a catastrophic train wreck once they are intertwined in the precise position that I can manage. I can't pick her up in my car, but so what? She enjoys driving and so we make it work. Today, I live with the firm belief that an able/disabled relationship can be even more satisfying than your average romance.”
Burcaw said he and Reinalda have taken steps to learn the right ways to care for each other, and each partner is equally invested in making the relationship work. Burcaw revealed that he initially had concerns that Reinalda would become turned off by him for having to help him cut his food and take sips of drinks, but she maintained that she was genuinely excited to be able to learn all the ways she could assist him.
“There is something profoundly intimate about a promise like that," he wrote. "On my end, I felt a deep sense of serenity that could only be attributed to trusting her with my car. ... That is why I get confused when strangers assume that she isn't my girlfriend, because to us it has always seemed so normal. It is fun and it is silly and it is beautiful, and we never think twice about the fact that our relationship is abnormal in any way. We simply make it work.”
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