I somehow survived the smog in LA-LA land and have made it home safely. As a follow up to the last post, I wanted to reflect on my experience using a wheelchair in the airport.
After wheeling my chair and bag to the check-in zone at Oakland, I deposited the suitcase and asked for wheelchair assistance. I found myself telling a white lie to airlines personnel because I did not feel it was their business to know that I have an obscure cartilage and joint problem; I did not want to field questions from complete strangers.
Keep it simple, stupid: “I recently had foot surgery, so I’m going to need to use a wheelchair in the airport.” Man at ticket counter: “Soccer or basketball? I’m going to go with soccer because you look like you’d be a fast runner.” Had I said I was in a sports injury? I guess my yoga pants and tennis shoes led him to a correct conclusion. “Softball,” I muttered.
I was thoroughly impressed by my wheelchair man (is there a name for someone who pushes other people in wheelchairs? “Pusher” and “escort” both have awkward connotations…). This pleasant young man guarded my belongings at security while TSA frisked me and tested my brace for bomb powder. He then offered to stop at the ladies’ room and waited outside while I emptied a bladder full from chugging water in the security line. He noticed my empty water bottle and asked if I wanted to stop at a water fountain to fill it up. At the gate, which ended up being the furthest one from security (in other words, thank goodness I brought my wheelchair), he arranged for me to pre-board so I could check the chair and get a seat near the front of the plane (less walking required).
I was less impressed by my wheelchair man in Ontario, who left me at baggage claim without saying anything…probably because it was quite late at night and likely the end of his shift. A kind woman offered to help me. I thanked her and declined her offer, explaining that I could walk a bit and my suitcase was light.
Concerned about people’s reactions, I intentionally refrained from looking at anyone when I rose up from the wheelchair, picked my bag off the carousel, and wheeled the chair and luggage to my friend’s car outside.
Why are we so shocked when a person is not permanently glued to his/her wheelchair? Why do we assume that disability is an all-or-nothing, black and white concept?
Anyhow, many thanks to everyone who assisted me — especially to two dear friends who pushed me all around LA with love and laughter.