Though she loves him, Susan Phelps admits being a caregiver to David overwhelms her.
Her beloved husband of 33 years was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2012 and has been wheelchair-bound nearly that length of time.
“Our daughter got married in 2012 and he walked her down the aisle, but that was about the last time he walked, or what you would call walking,” Susan said.
David has also had three strokes and his mobility and ability to help her help him get around has progressively gotten worse.
They have a truck with a lift, but it’s difficult for her to get David inside the truck.
“I get him up beside the truck, then use a slider board. He comes off the board and ends up on the ground or in the floorboard of the truck …”
She cries, and then apologizes for it.
“It’s just getting terrible and I don’t know what else to do. I need help.”
‘He loved me, too’
Susan and David met in the ‘70s when he worked with her first husband at a gas station. That marriage didn’t last, but their friendship did.
“We knew each other for 15 years before we got married. After my divorce, he came by to check on me and my
Kentucky Fried Chicken,” she said, laughing.
One day he when he stopped by to check on Susan, she was preparing to leave and register for classes at State Tech. She invited him to ride along.
When they arrived the school was not yet opened, so they sat on a bench to wait.
“We were talking and he said, ‘You’re always so happy to see me. Why are you so overjoyed?’ I thought about it for a beat, then said, ‘Well, David, I guess it’s because I love you.’”
David, she said, didn’t say anything in response.
“I thought, ‘Oh no! I shouldn’t have said that! I just destroyed our friendship!’ But he said he didn’t say anything because he was just in shock because he loved me, too.”
They’d been in love with one another for 13-14 years at that point. David said he wished his mother could have lived long enough to see him marry Susan.
“She knew Susan. Susan and she knew that I liked Susan. I think she would have been so happy for us.”
They were married soon after, in 1987, and moved to the Ray Bluff area from Frayser in 1997.
“I always wanted to live out in the country, so this was like moving to Heaven. It’s just the best place.”
About a year after she graduated from school and began her career, she began having problems with her back. Surgeries followed and David had to take care of her.
“First it was me, now I’m taking care of him.”
Her days center around being his caregiver. His limited mobility, and her difficulties with transporting him, means they were spending a considerable amount of time at home even before the pandemic.
“It’s hard to get him in and out of the vehicle to go to the doctor’s office, so I can’t even just take him out on a ride. He just sits, watching TV, in the house. That’s not a good life.”
Being the sole caregiver is difficult – a couple of times she’s been so overwhelmed she pulled the angel statues from her well-decorated yard and smashed them in her driveway.
Usually, though, she visits her flock of backyard chickens to escape for a few minutes. They’re her babies, she says, as she feeds one treats.
Susan truly doesn’t mind taking care of David, but she needs help.
Having a minivan with a ramp would help alleviate some of her stress, would make transportation easier and give David a better quality of life.
“I have a lift in the house, so I can keep doing what I’ve been doing, but a van with a ramp would be life-changing for us.”
And she means that.
Susan uses a board no wider than a 2×4 to transfer him from his chair into their Ford Ranger, but David has fallen on numerous occasions. The fire department has had to help Susan pick him up.
It’s become dangerous and overwhelming for the woman who just wants to live out her vows.
She’s hoping anyone who can help with donations for a minivan – a larger van will not work with their gravel driveway – would email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I don’t want to send him to a nursing home; I’m keeping him home. He’s the love of my life.”