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December 2005


by Anthony Trocchia

I recently rented The Brooke Ellison Story on DVD (Christopher Reeve's last directorial effort). It's one of those syrupy based-on-actual-events Lifetime cable movies.

Brooke becomes disabled at a young age as the result of being hit by a car and is severely disabled. She can do nothing by herself whatsoever. Fortunately, her cognition is not affected. She is so bright, as a matter of fact, that she attends Harvard University for undergraduate and graduate studies. This is where the story gets sickening.

Brooke's mother serves as her Personal Care Attendant throughout her college years. She leaves her husband and children behind to ensure her daughter makes it at Harvard. Excuse me, but I fail to see the achievement here on Brooke's part. Her mother is her PCA. It's important to mention that Brooke's mom is an educated woman (she was a teacher).

Anyone who depends on PCAs knows what a fine line he/she must walk (pardon the pun). It's all about communicating one's needs and working together. If you hire your own PCAs, like I do, you have the responsibility of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, supervising, and, when necessary, terminating/replacing. The process never ends. Sometimes (actually, most of the time) this happens when it's least convenient. At any given moment, the situation may become unbearable with your PCA and you know you need to find someone else. I call it a sixth sense since I'm almost always able to predict when the end is near for me and a PCA. Brooke didn't have to worry about that. Her mother would never quit on her and leave.

Additionally, Brooke's mother was able to meet her daughter halfway intellectually in regards to doing research. I've been in situations where I have had to do research for school and I'm providing Orientation to Library Services to a PCA who has never been in a library and wouldn't know a call number from a telephone number! I've needed my PCA to be with me since I'm not physically able to handle books, journals, and magazines to make copies, nor can I physically manipulate a microfilm reader. Brooke had her mom beside her all the way.

Apart from screwing up any chance of having a social life, having your mother as your PCA ensures you have dependable care available all the time. That's because a parent performs the duties out of love, not for the money.

I'm sure Harvard could have paid for her to have student aides which would have assisted greatly in her quest to become independent, if she truly desired to be independent. Brooke required a high-level of care, but so do most disabled folks who have 24 hours of service per day.

I tip my hat, not to Brooke, who had an ideal arrangement, but to the many disabled individuals who have learned to work with their PCAs and have acquired the crucial skills of interviewing and articulating one's personal needs over and over and over.