Invisible Illness and the Public: She Hit Me with Her Cane

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cane assailant Southwest Airlines OrlandoTomorrow I’m traveling to San Diego for the ACR annual meeting. I’ll be taking a proverbial chill pill (and some real meds) and hoping all goes smoothly. For weeks we’ve done all we can to be ready! This story occurred a couple of months ago…

Did anyone ever give you a dirty look for using handicapped parking? Or express disbelief that you needed help? Or refused to share the preferred seating on a bus or train?

Avoiding crowds and public spaces is one solution, but it’s not always possible. And it’s not a good option if we have places we want to go. So, I’ve learned certain strategies and precautions to make things as smooth as possible and avoid being knocked down.

1) Allow plenty of time and patience. That way, if the crowd rushes in front of you for the elevator or the shuttle, you can wait for another. And you can stop to rest when you need it.

2) Ask for help. Whether it’s a restaurant where you’d be comfortable in a different booth, or you need someone to put your groceries in the car, speak up. Let the airline staff know you need to board early or to have a wheelchair available.

3) Avoid mean people. This one is tougher. You can’t just make a list or plan ahead for bad people to stay away.

She hit me with her cane

On our way to Phoenix this past May, Katie Beth and I took every proper precaution. We notified the airline ahead of time that I was a passenger requiring assistance. We arrived early, and let the gate personnel know I needed to board early. But that didn’t prevent the worst kind of ugliness from a stranger who didn’t think I looked deserving of help.

I sat and waited close to the desk as instructed. When the Southwest staff called for pre-boarding, I stood up. Two women who were sitting about 20 feet away ran forward and shoved in front of me. One of them glared at me, and the other struck me in the ankle with her cane. They complained loudly to the Southwest staff that I should not be there and they should be first. The Southwest woman and I were both dumbfounded, but when I said, “She hit me,” she just told everyone to calm down. I think she was afraid it would escalate.

The “running” women were already in the front seats by the time KB and I made it down the ramp and onto the plane. We walked by without looking at them. Then a man approached us with his business card from Workers’ Comp in New Mexico. He said he saw what happened and was willing to be a witness of my injury.

After we arrived in Phoenix that night, KB and I stopped to rest and get our bearings in the airport. The witness stopped to talk with us. I joked about how funny it was that the woman with the cane had dashed 20 feet as fast as I could stand up, and that she still felt she deserved pre-boarding more than I do because she can’t see my illness and I don’t carry a cane. I explained to him that I can’t even carry a cane because my hands and shoulders are as bad as my knees and feet.

Rheumatoid Disease Awareness Card - sample

Then he told us he guessed I had RD when he first saw us in Orlando. He is the primary caretaker for his mother-in-law who also has RD. I gave him some an RPF awareness card (click to enlarge) and asked him to send her our best. He had awareness you can only get from living with RD, so he saw what happened with eyes of compassion that others around us missed.

Of course I didn’t need a witness because I didn’t sue anyone. The RD in my right ankle already hurt worse than the left one that had been hit. KB and I are making lots of preparations to travel to San Diego for ACR and we’ll prepare as well as possible. But I’m reminded that we are working for long-term change that will improve awareness to make things better for all people with Rheumatoid Disease.

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 at 4:44 am and is filed under Communication and Inspiration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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