Still caring after 14 years: Lisa and Angelo
“Angelo sometimes says, and I agree, that we are like a married couple,” disability support worker Lisa Jamieson says of her favourite client.
“Because we finish each other’s sentences. And we argue with the same sort of passion as a married couple. But then as soon as the argument is over, it is as if it never happened.”
Lisa, 54, has worked for the past 14 years with Angelo, 65. Angelo has lived with incomplete C5 and C6 spinal injuries since he was 30.
“The best thing that has ever happened to me is Lisa coming into my life,” Angelo says. “She is part of my family, just about. If it wasn’t for Lisa, I don’t know where I would be today. Maybe in a nursing home somewhere. Or probably dead.”
Angelo says he has feeling all over his body: “It’s like a dull feeling.” But while has some control of his arms and hands, he does not have enough strength to propel his wheelchair. Or to lift himself into it.
He needs care in the morning, after lunch, in the evening, and – so that he can turn over in bed – late at night.
He rates mutual flexibility – for example, with scheduling – as important for building an enduring relationship with a carer.
But he suspects as well that with Lisa, he simply got lucky. “We clicked straight away,” he says.
Lisa became a DSW at the age of 40, having grown weary of her work as a primary school teacher. Angelo was her first client. She liked him immediately.
“I think it is a friendship,” she says. “But I don’t like to use that word when I talk about work, because while it is nice to be friendly, you might take certain liberties with a friend. You can lean on people and ask favours of them.
“With someone you care for, it has to be a professional relationship. Although we’re friends, I try to keep it professional.
“Angelo is a good man. He is a kind man. He errs on the side of goodness – that would be another reason why I would say I am still with Angelo after all this time.
“My first advice to someone starting [as a DSW] would be to look for a person who you enjoy being with, or who you work well with. I think that is the key to longevity. It was because my first experience was so positive that I kept on going.”
Angelo had been married with two young sons, and well paid as a skilled metalworker, when in 1982 he set out in his van with some wood for his mother-in-law. He had been a street away from her house when a drunken driver crossed into his lane, and hit him head-on.
Divorced for 10 years, he lives in Melbourne’s northeast, in a house that adjoins his elder son’s. He keeps up with the footy, and names Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad among favourite series on Netflix and Foxtel.
On weekends he likes to look in on his elderly parents, and see his sisters. Lisa made sure last year that he could attend his younger son’s wedding. Like many of us in this virtually connected age, Angelo says he would enjoy more face-to-face time with friends.
High among the many benefits of his working for so long with Lisa has been the security he feels when he is with her, or when he is expecting her for a shift, he says. Lisa does two weekday mornings, and two mornings on alternate weekends.
Angelo knows that he can rely on Lisa. He knows she is competent. He trusts her. He can relax with her. When it is Lisa caring for him, he does not feel intruded upon.
“She’s brilliant. I couldn’t speak any more highly of someone,” Angelo says.
“She doesn’t see me like an injured man. She sees me like a normal person. I am close to my family, but it is only her and Vanessa [Angelo’s other long-term DSW, to whom Lisa introduced him] who see me like that.”
Lisa, who is married and has two adult children, knows that Angelo values her competence. But she knows too that this is no simple competence.
“When Angelo says that I know just what to do, he means I can read him,” she says. “I can walk into his room at six-thirty in the morning and I know exactly what mood he is in, and how he will want to do things.
“He has a rosy outlook, where he believes people will do what they say they will do – even after they have let him down. He relies on other people, and not everybody is reliable. I have to be that constant in his life. That is how I see it.”
Fourteen years is a long time for any human relationship, and the DSW-client partnership demands a lot of each side. If a time came when Lisa could no longer work with Angelo, how would it feel to part?
“I’d be devastated,” Angelo says without pondering. “I keep saying to her: ‘Don’t ever leave me while I’m alive. Please.’ I don’t know what I would do without her.”
Lisa, independently, uses similar language.
“If Angelo was no longer in my life, I would be devastated,” she says. “I’m such an integral part of his life, and he of mine.
“It’s the connection. You lose the connection to someone. There are not many people in your life that you are that connected to.