Tuesday, November 09, 2010

the chair man

I saw her and my jaw dropped.

Well, that's not quite true. I saw her chair and my jaw dropped. She was in a power chair! A power chair!! I guess that's not, in and of itself, uncommon but we were at the airport in the departures area. Her chair wasn't one of those nifty little chairs that fold up wallet size. It was a big ol' power chair, just a tad smaller than mine. I couldn't imagine travelling with my power chair. I simply don't have the courage.

I desperately wanted to chat with her about her experiences and to learn how to deal with transport particularly with airlines.

So ... I did.

She was an elderly woman, someone who had aged gracefully in a life lived well and kindly. She understood my curiosity. She answered in a voice that had a slight tremor and was breathy as if it took extra energy to speak. She seemed to welcome the intrusion and was very willing to speak of her travels and travails.

As it turned out she was not at all new to disability as some of the elderly are. She had never known walking. Had never had the experience of typical movement. She had travelled the ramp from Childhood to Adulthood on wheels. After we exchanged bit of our histories with disability, we returned to the topic of travel. She was just about to tell me of how she arranged travel with a power chair when she was joined by a big strapping man. Her son.

As an aside, I sometimes wonder if small women, mothers of large men, tall with powerful shoulders and strong, long legs, ever wonder at the idea of having birthed creations of such size and strength. Anyways, he came into the conversation, then took it over. She fell silent as he talked about the chair and the airlines and the attitudes and the process and procedures for gtting about.

She gave me a look.

Mothers are good at looks that speak in paragraphs.

Her look said, 'I know, I know, but let it go.'

Probably a lifetime of being a woman, of being a disabled woman at that, had led to an expectation of, if not acceptance or comfort with, being silenced. So he talked of his experiences, not knowing that his story is and was not the same as hers. He spoke of transporting the chair, she would have spoken of the chair transporting her. The concerns of one do not equal the fears involved in the other.

I had to head to my gate, they to theirs. As she pulled away she stopped and put her hand on my arm, a brief touch of affection, 'thank you' she said. As they left, I heard him say, 'What did you thank him for?'

She answered him ...

with silence.

7 comments:

Heather said...

This year I travelled with my big ol' powerchair for the first time and it revolutionised my travelling experience. My husband and I went to New York and although it was nerve-wracking at the planning stage, it was well worth the effort. The transfer onto the plane was no more difficult and 'Percy' arrived unmarked at our destination. The only drawback was that we couldn't use the yellow cabs but the bus system there is so good it didn't hold us back any.
If you're interested I blogged it here
http://ohwheely.blogspot.com/2010/07/our-bite-of-big-apple.html
I would definitely do it again next time.

Heather x

Lianna said...

This post is a good reminder for those of us that feel we need to speak for those that are living the experience! Good post!

ivanova said...

Love the family dynamics!

Cyndi in BC said...

Great post! Actually I've travelled quite a bit with my powerchair. Takes a bit of planning and patience but it can be done. Occasionally, I leave my powerchair at home and have a rental waiting for my at my destination. This works fairly well too.

Anonymous said...

wow a lady of wheels,you have the most wonderful chance encounters Dave.

Kristine said...

I'm so glad you were able to connect with the woman. :) Family dynamics are something... It STILL surprises me how little my family actually "gets" about the entire disability experience. They fancy themselves experts, having lived it with my brother and I all of our lives, but they really are pretty clueless.

I always travel with my power chair. It's... an experience. I won't go with a manual chair though. I don't have the strength to push a manual chair myself, so why should I be rendered helpless the entire time I'm away from home? So I take the risk. Generally, the bigger the plane, the better the experience. A big plane on an international flight has plenty of room in their luggage department, so there's no good reason why my chair shouldn't be cared for properly. On a small, domestic flight, the chair often gets tipped on its side to make it fit... and it's not pretty. When I used to fly back and forth between home and college, I'd actually make the appointment at the wheelchair repair show before even getting on the plane. I KNEW there would be something to fix when I came off. I like to claim that I'm Delta's least profitable customer! Every time I fly, they pay more for my chair repairs than I pay for the ticket. You'd think they'd want to fix that....

Brenda said...

What an interesting, and eye-opening, encounter. To answer your question..."As an aside, I sometimes wonder if small women, mothers of large men, tall with powerful shoulders and strong, long legs, ever wonder at the idea of having birthed creations of such size and strength."...yes, we do. My boys were 9.5 lbs. and nearly 11 lbs. at birth, and are now both over 6' tall. I'm 5'2" and my husband is 5'8". And yes, I often look at them and wonder how on earth such big boys came from such stumpy parents. But more often, I look at them and marvel that they are such kind, intelligent, lovely gentle-men. Of course, I *might* be just a teensy bit biased. :)