Laughing At My Nightmare: Disabled Man Says Strangers Constantly Assume His Girlfriend Is His Nurse

Shane Burcaw, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy, is not letting his disability get him down. In fact, Burcaw is an author, columnist, and has a beautiful girlfriend named Anna. Though Shane and Anna are in a normal, healthy relationship, Burcaw says that people can’t seem to grasp the concept that Anna is his girlfriend, not his nurse. Burcaw talks about his struggles with his disability and the humor he has found in it all.

Shane Burcaw has a regular column on The Morning Call. In recent article, “Strangers Assume My Girlfriend Is My Nurse,” Burcaw discusses one aspect of his life as a disabled person that many people seem to have a hard time understanding: his relationship with his girlfriend, Anna. Burcaw says that frequently, when the couple are out on a date together, strangers will ask if Anna is his sister or nurse. Burcaw says that there is nothing “inherently wrong with this question,” but notes why it has solely to do with his disability.

“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.”

Burcaw notes that the reason strangers automatically make assumptions about his girlfriend is due to the fact that people don’t see individuals with disabilities as having the ability to be involved in a romantic relationship. However, Burcaw says that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Burcaw says that able/disabled relationship can be more satisfying than the average romance.

“The mindset that causes a stranger to automatically assume that any female in my presence is a nurse, or family, is one that ignores the reality that people with disabilities can and do have ‘normal’ romantic relationships. I place normal in quotations because I’m not sure if there is such a thing when it comes to love. Today, I live with the firm belief that an able/disabled relationship can be even more satisfying than your average romance.”

Burcaw says that the relationship is more satisfying because it relies on a heavy closeness. There are things that, as a disabled man, he will need from his partner that require a deep level of trust and understanding. This “helping stuff” is what Shane feared for so long would keep him from finding his other half. However, he has found that there are plenty of women in the world that can see past the disability and don’t mind lending a helping hand. Anna, apparently, is one of them.

“In fact, one of our main sources of bonding became teaching her how to keep me alive, like how to brush my teeth without choking me, or how to put my shoes on without snapping my ankles, or how to shave my face without slicing my jugular. She deserves an award for putting up with my relentless teasing.”

If you read through Shane’s entries, it is evident that he uses humor as an outlet to deal with frustrations in his life. His romantic relationship is no different. He notes that there are lots of giggles and laughter in his relationship with Anna, and that the pair have found ways to “simply make it work.”

The happy couple: Shane and Anna

Dating and romance aren’t the only issues that Burcaw has dealt with in his life. In fact, Burcaw has authored a book titled Laughing At My Nightmare that discusses a variety of problems he has overcome in his battle to live the most fulfilling life as possible, despite his disability. He has also set up a non-profit, with the mission of helping others with disabilities overcome adversity with humor.

“We’re on a mission to help people overcome adversity through the use of humor, while also raising money for families affected by Muscular Dystrophy.”

Are you guilty of pre-judging the romantic relationships of disabled individuals? What do you think about Shane Burcaw’s opinion that abled/disabled relationships are many times more fulfilling than a “normal” relationship?