DISABILITIES WEEK 98
By Daniel J. Vance
Jan and Nathan Burr are doing their best caring for each other.
Nathan in 1976 was a gas station manager in Nashville, Tennessee. Late one evening he noticed two men walking toward him; one was carrying a gas can. "I thought they wanted gas," said Burr, now 66 and living in northeast Ohio near Erie, Pennsylvania. "Then they asked for the money in my shirt pocket. As I was reaching for it, one of them shot me in the chest. They took seventeen dollars."
Doctors were able to re-inflate only about "one-fourth" of his damaged lung. He nearly died.
"After getting out of the hospital, I went to court," he said. "I returned to the same job and gas station for five years but eventually couldn't handle it. I was paranoid. I had it in the back of my mind that [another shooting] could happen. Maybe next time I wouldn't be so lucky."
He later had other health concerns, including a 1988 heart triple by-pass and further lung problems. "When moving [from Tennessee to Ohio in 1997] we purchased a home that had roaches," he said. "The exterminators told us to leave for five hours and open the windows on returning. The chemicals used caused my damaged lung to act up. I turned bluish gray from lack of oxygen and spent 11 days in an ICU."
Today he is on oxygen day and night, yet still manages 20 hours a week making change for players at a games arcade. "There is nothing else I can do [for work]," he said.
Jan Burr, 46, has a disability, too. "In 1994 we were working at Opryland," said Nathan. "Jan was supervising three restaurants and carrying stock when she slipped on ice cream, hitting her head hard on the floor. The blow pushed her skull into her brain."
Doctors inserted a brain shunt. She has Arnold-Chiari malformation, which means her cerebellum protrudes into her spinal canal; and syringomyelia, a disorder in which a cyst has formed inside her spinal cord. To get around she uses a motorized wheelchair and for household chores an aide visits regularly.
"I look after her, and she tries with me," said Nathan. "But it's hard when two people with disabilities are trying to care for each other." In December 2004 the Burrs will have been married 17 years.