September 29, 2005

 there's something happening here

i can't stop thinking about the man in the wheelchair.

or, more to the point, i can't stop thinking about our reaction to him.

it happened in the waiting room at my dermatologist's office yesterday morning. i love my dermatologist, but i find i always have to wait to see him, no matter what time of day my appointment is or the time i get there. i've arrived 15 minutes early, 15 minutes late, and i've even tried scheduling my appointment first thing in the morning, before they have the chance to get backed up. no matter what i do, though, i still end up waiting for at least 20 minutes. i've waited up to an hour before.

the only reason i bring this up is that all of the other patients experience this, too. the waiting room becomes really crowded as all of our appointment times stack up. consequently, there were a lot of people in this tiny room when the man in the wheelchair came in.

his chair was being pushed by a caretaker. he had some sort of severe palsy which kept him mostly immobile. his arms would gently spasm and he could move his head a little, but it was clear he could do little else. his eyes were deeply sunken and he couldn't speak. the caretaker parked his chair and walked over to the receptionist.

perhaps it was because she'd left his side. or maybe it was because he was left, exposed, in the middle of the room. it may have been some sort of cry for help, i don't know, but the sound he made was inhuman. the sound was like a croaking bullfrog in distress, a deep and raspy sound from the bottom of his throat. again and again and again. it was loud and impossible to miss. it went on for probably close to 3 or 4 minutes.

yet none of us looked at him. no one tried to make eye contact. no one said a word. we went on reading our golf digests as if nothing unusual was happening.

the caretaker didn't seem to be disturbed by the bullfrog noise. perhaps it was the only way the man could communicate. maybe she knew what it meant. i guess we were all assuming, hoping, she knew what it meant. but none of us looked at her, either; his handicap was just too much for us to process, and her proximity to it made us uncomfortable.

no one wanted to look at him. none of us wanted to imagine what life would be like with his disability. and i can't stop thinking about that.

Posted by xta at September 29, 2005 11:04 AM | TrackBack

why couldn't she have left what she was doing for a moment and addressed him?
if he were a baby, squawking for attention she might have taken a moment to resettle him...if only for the sake of the others in the room.

I cannot even imagine how I would explain the situation to Youngest, for example, who would look at me with fear and curiosity.

Posted by: blackbird at September 29, 2005 12:43 PM

well, he was within her realm of responsibility, and not yours. what could you have done, really?

for about a year i read a blog called the 19th floor, which is written by a man about our age who is wheelchair bound and on a ventilator at all times due to a degenerative muscular disease. he's also a lawyer and extremely articulate.

reading his blog helped me a lot in how i view disabled people. i probably would have found all of that just as disturbing as you did, but knowing that he was cared for would be enough for me in that situation.

Posted by: lisa at September 29, 2005 04:42 PM

Honestly, you did fine. It's very likely that no one in the room was trained to do anything useful for him (except his carer), and that your anxious attention would only have made the situation worse by turning it into a spectacle.

My son's got CP, uses a wheelchair, and can't speak, but he can sure make a lot of loud noises that alarm people unnecessarily. Sometimes, he's flailing and doing what we call his "happy shreik," just being exuberant because he likes something he sees, and people stare at me. I know they're thinking "do something, he's calling," but he's not. He's fine. He just shreiks and flails when he's excited. Unless he's in a place where people have a reasonable expectation of silence, we let him do his thing. (Does it alarm some folks? Sure. Not my problem. Got enough to deal with, thanks.)

Posted by: Penny at September 30, 2005 10:12 AM

I'm glad that Penny wrote.

Posted by: Phil at September 30, 2005 02:04 PM
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