We got to the gate in Boise in plenty of time. We are always careful with time as, being a wheelchair user, things can more more slowly. Just before boarding we remembered that my wheelchair had not yet been tagged so we approached the gate and got the paperwork done and the tag dangled off the arm of my chair. Travelling by air isn't even slightly glamourous. It's cramped and uncomfortable, sweaty and frustrating. But it is, at least, quick.
We arrived in Buffalo on a plane that was jam packed full. We always wait until everyone else is off, I don't move quickly in the first place but I move even more slowly after having my legs squashed up against the seat in front of me. When I stepped off the plane onto the jetway I noticed my chair was not yet brought up. I asked the flight attendant about the chair and before he could answer the pilot said, "I'll go down and find out what's keeping it."
Seconds later he was back telling me that the chair was the first thing brought up, there was only one chair. At that point the Skycap guy sent to push me said, "They must have used that chair to take the other passenger down." I got very upset and said, "But that's my personal chair." The Sky cap guy said, "Well, it wasn't tagged." I assured him it was tagged. Thereby began a discussion between Skycap services and United Airlines about the chair and how it wasn't tagged. I said several times, "It was tagged," but no one heard me. It was like I was in a parallel universe where I could see them and hear them but they could not hear me. Finally, I screamed that we needed to stop talking and get down and get my chair back.
I was plunked into an extremely uncomfortable chair and we headed off in chase of my chair. The Skycap guy radioed ahead saying, "The chair you are using belongs to my customer, don't let go of it." When we got down the elevator he noticed something and ran out of the building. He walked back in with another Skycap and my wheelchair, almost. It turned out that another passenger claimed the chair was his and was taking off with my chair. They wrestled my chair out of the trunk of their car but had forgotten, as I was now hysterically pointing out, the footrests. They ran out again but the car was long gone.
We are sent over to baggage where I make a big fuss. I still have a week to go, travelling or lecturing every day, and my wheelchair is fine for sitting in but impossible to move in. I can't hold my legs up and push at the same time. In fact, I can't hold my legs up and have Joe push either. I don't have that kind of strength in my legs. I am trying to explain, without crying, that my mobility is now gone. I keep getting told to calm down. I keep explaining that they gave my legs away. They gave my movement away. They gave my mobility away.
Finally there was nothing to do but leave. They promised to pay for replacement feet but there was nothing they could do, or would do now. They wouldn't even look at airport wheelchairs to see if they had a set of matching legs. I was just to go away and stop being upset.
Immediately I got a sense of what the week was going to be like. The place where the van was to pick us up to take us to the hotel was at the far end of the airport. It was labourious and difficult to make it there. I had become disabled, crippled, unable. I cried publically for the first time in a very long time. The next few days have been difficult physically and emotionally. I now sit in the car rather than go in to rest stops or stores like I normally would. It's too hard to get around. It's too frustrating to not be able to move, to participate. I sit in the car and cry.
Who would steal a wheelchair from another person? Why wouldn't a skycap check a tag to see that the right person is in the chair? Why couldn't they understand what they had done to me?
We don't get back into Canada until late Thursday and we will order footrests immediately. But I have two more days of inability ahead of me. We had planned for a full day off tomorrow. We were going to go to a movie and to shopping. But now, I may end up just sitting in my hotel room, unable to get very far, unable to do very much. I know that part of this is because my spirit has been battered and maybe even permenantly damaged. I know that part of this is because of a deep depression that is settling around me.
"Wheelchair bound" ... that's what people say of me.
"Wheelchair liberated" ... is what I am.
Or rather, what I was.