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Pandemic has paralyzed veterans feeling trapped and terrified

Posted at 10:39 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 22:39:07-04

Being isolated and stuck at home is hard for everyone, but for those who are paralyzed and depend on others for their daily needs, the pandemic creates an entirely different kind of fear and anxiety.

Stan Brown has been quadriplegic for almost 24 years.

Life changed for him in the 90s, when he was young and busy. A car accident while Brown was driving to work took away his mobility.

He speaks through voice software and said he relies on a small caretaking network for all of his daily needs. He can do a few things by himself, but not much.

Caretakers “get me dressed, get me up, feed me, if I need to go somewhere and at night reveres the process,” Brown said.

Suddenly, one of those caretakers he relies so heavily on was infected with COVID-19. Brown felt his whole world cave in.

“There’s always that last little thing at night when you turn the light off and there’s no TV distracting, it’s creeping in,” he said. “If you have an extra blanket, and you’re too warm do you have the fever or if you ate too much. And your stomach, is it there?”

Luckily, she recovered and he never got it.

The coronavirus crisis is multiplied for those who can't do much for themselves. There's no safety net, and what are you supposed to do when there's no one to care for you?

“This is difficult times (sic) for everybody but for those veterans, disabled, paralyzed, your risk is so much greater,” Brown said. “Not only older, but automatically most of our lungs are severely comprised.”

It is a constant worry. One that Tom Wheaton says has kept him and his family confined entirely to their home. They've not seen anyone, not gone anywhere on purpose.

“Us who are paralyzed at various levels we have respiratory issues we’re the most vulnerable group out there right now- we hear about the senior citizens we have the complexities of all our health care needs,” Wheaton said.

Wheaton was hit by a drunk driver while on duty in Australia in 1988, just after his 22nd birthday. He and Brown both rely on the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

“What are your needs are you holding up okay, do you need groceries or medical supplies, the wheelchair repair that you need,” Wheaton said.

Wheaton normally keeps an active lifestyle, doing wheelchair sports. He even travels for the Paralyzed Veterans, dedicating his time to encouraging and mentoring people who are newly paralyzed who are trying to navigate a new sense of "normal."

“It’s great to be able to show case there’s fulfilling life ahead of us in spite of our injuries no matter how horrific they might be for us and those who surround us,” Wheaton said.

But none of that is happening right now, and he says, perhaps worse than the isolation, is the mental battle within.

“If you add the military PTSD along with being a quadriplegic, the thoughts of anxiety and depression and PTSD unfortunately thoughts of suicide might come to play,” he said.

He says the P.V.A. has been a lifeline to so many.

“We always talk in the military about comradeship and we’re just losing that when we don’t have it face to face. We’re doing zoom and phone calls to make sure we’re not alone and isolated during this time.,” Wheaton said.

It brings hope and togetherness, and life to those who critically need the support. Especially when that one phone call or virtual visit is all you have.

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Data from The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.