I do not pretend to like physical therapy. I demand it, though. For decades, the ability to ask for a yearly refresher course in keeping my limbs active justified outrageous direct-pay insurance premiums. Now I have passed the magic age after which the medical care which should be the right of every US citizen comes to me at a lesser premium. I therefore jumped on the chance to again submit to torture in the name of Living To Be 103 and Walking Every Day of My Life.
Here’s the thing: Big buildings confound me. Such monstrosities cannot be truly accessible for mobility impaired humans. They can merely proclaim themselves “ADA compliant”. Deity-of- Your-Choice bless the authors of the ADA, but for someone who busts her behind to remain ambulatory without the cumbersome, brain-confusing burden of a “gait aid”, minimum compliance standards with all of their associated exceptions just do not make the grade.
I inch my way down a long hall twice-over to get to the newest torture chamber, once on the first floor, then in the opposite direction on the second. I grit my teeth as I strain to remember all of those muscle movements which most folks carelessly execute: Turn your feet out; drop your shoulders; swing from the hips; heel to toe; and breathe, damn you, breathe. Frankly, neither cane nor walker would help that litany or serve its goal of correcting six decades of spastic ambulation. If I am to remain vertical, I must walk “correctly” — I must beat the pronation, the rotation, and the discombobulation. A walking stick interferes with the process of forcing my brain to get it together and stay focused.
On Friday, I nearly collapsed in the hallway outside the suite. The whole time, images of my husband Dennis in his manual wheelchair surrounded me. I heard his voice, grumbling, demanding that we never again patronize any facility which he could not independently navigate. My chest constricted. Echoes of his pain seared my heart. The indelible scarlet of shame stained my face. I discounted his complaints. Worse; I allowed myself the sinful luxury of embarrassment. Twenty years later, complicity in his sorrow dragged on my weakened muscles.
But I persevered in my journey to my therapist’s office last Friday. I made it to the far end of the second floor. When I gained access to the inner chamber (Covid questions, temperature, new mask, check check check), I stared in dismay at the obstacle course which the therapist expected me to surmount: Weights on the floor, stack of exercise balls, four other patients with their workers, rolling laptop stands. I stood for a moment, watching her walk ahead without a backward glance.
She made it halfway across to her office before realizing that I had not followed. She returned and said, Is something wrong. I gestured, groping for my calm voice and summoning Marshall Rosenberg to guide my comment on the obvious and absolute absurdity of the unrelenting barriers.
She seemed to understand. She chose a closer platform for the day’s effort. I started to speak, intent on articulating my dismay but in a peaceful manner. She cut me off, snapping, I don’t have any control over that. I tried again, and again she interrupted, You can use your cell phone to call us and we’ll bring a wheelchair down next time.
Then she started instructing me in the day’s routine. I remained motionless, my eyes fixed on her face, until her words faded. I sat; she stood; no one spoke.
Then I said, quietly, so none but she could hear: First, as a disabled person, I can tell you that I do not want you to bring me upstairs in a wheelchair, to steer me past all this rubble in that same chair. I want you, and your employer, to give some thought to the environment which you are creating and my need as an independent human being to be able to move through that environment as close to alone as possible. Second, as that human being, I just want to be heard. I want to know that you hear me.
My voice fell silent. Neither of us moved. Then she blinked and whispered, I hear you. The world shifted. She turned away. But I had seen, and she knew that I had seen. The knowledge of that solitary second sufficed to carry me through the rest of my day.
It’s the fifth day of the ninety-second month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
My fascination with the birds of the Delta continues. Could they, like me, long to be seen and heard?