03 December 2010

Ride a mile on my wheels?

I've been a gimp before. Many years ago I was classed as permanently disabled. I had chronic pain and inflammation. I had doctors willing to give me fentanyl patches for pain. It was Not Good. I walked with canes or used a wheelchair, and couldn't do much for myself. Snap knew that if she wanted a hug, she had to climb up on a chair first, because Mama wasn't bending down. As it turned out, it was severe reactions to gluten and dairy. Mostly gluten. Once I got it out of my diet, I was much better. I still have some issues. If I eat food that is even processed on the same line as food with gluten in it, I get all the pain and fatigue back.

Anyway, that's the backstory. I know the feeling of being disabled and thinking it will never go away. Now, I am temporarily disabled. I know that in a few weeks (5!) I'll be able to put my foot down again. I'll be able to get into the bathtub myself, drive, look after the kids, etc. And it's reminding me how much it sucks, and how hard people with permanent disabilities have it. The dependence alone is infuriating. But the way other people treat them is incredible.

When I walked with the help of canes, I regularly had people tell me I was too young to need canes. This was really a passive way of asking why I needed them. Depending on my mood, I'd say anything ranging from "And you're too old to be so ignorant" to "Pain doesn't age discriminate" to "I KNOW! It totally sucks!" I almost never was offered a seat. And the pitying looks were really annoying. When I used a wheelchair, I found that people either failed to notice me entirely and talked to my husband instead of me, or they treated me like I was too stupid to walk rather than too infirm. These people touched me, pushed my chair without asking, used baby talk, etc.

Now that I'm using the chair again, I'm getting the same thing, except for one thing: they can see the cast on my foot, and so when they give me the look, they get the look of understanding in their eyes.

I'm not exactly complaining here, btw. Just pointing out what my experience has been. And that I'm getting a reminder of it now. So I'm making a set of rules:

1) Look at pwc (people with chairs) the same as you look at everyone else. No cloying smiles, pitying frowns, judgmental mutters about crutches.
2) NEVER touch someone's chair without asking.
3) If you see someone struggling, it is okay to ask if they need help.
4) Take no for an answer. Don't be a dick.
      "Need some help?" "No thanks." "Okay!" = YES.
      "Need some help?" "No thanks" "Oh sure, just let me... *grab chair and push* = NO!
      "Need some help?" "No thanks" "FINE! I WAS JUST TRYING TO HELP! You know, being in a chair doesn't give you the right to be an asshole!" = OH HALE NO!
5) Clear a path. Chairs don't maneuver like feet. (read: Get out of the fucking way and don't be a douche about it)

I'm sure there's plenty I've missed. I'm not a full-time chair user. I'm not permanently disabled. And I don't claim to have an inside look at what that's like. I only know what I've experienced.

If you're so inclined, use a chair for a few days. Go shopping in it. See how people treat you.