The following post is part of a blog swap. Jennifer Kain Kilgore is an attorney in the Boston area who writes, edits, and lives a good life in spite of a whole lotta chronic pain.
To see my guest post and check out her blog, visit: Wear Tear & Care.
Let’s begin with a simple visualization.
You are at the mall. You see that it’s crowded, so you begrudgingly park toward the back of the lot and begin the long trek to the door. When you get near the building, that’s when you see it: a seemingly able-bodied person parking in the handicapped spot.
That can’t be right. That is a reserved spot! How dare this person pretend he’s disabled? He isn’t using a cane or a walker. There’s no portable oxygen tank. There’s nothing visibly wrong. And if nothing is visibly wrong, then he must by lying.
Your sense of indignation is ignited. You dig a piece of paper out of your purse and write a nasty note, slapping it on his windshield with a burst of pride. As you strut away, you smile. You did the right thing. You called out the faker.
You get the form from the DMV. You bring that form to your doctor. Guess what happens next? That’s right: Your doctor certifies that you are, in fact, disabled. A medical professional promises the government that you are incapable of walking more than 50 steps without having to rest. Know what else? Medical professionals know more about your illness than random people in parking lots do.
He’s got a degree and everything!
Now I am going to paint another picture for you with the power of my words.
I am twenty-eight years old. No medical equipment beside the Quell I wear below my knee or the occasional back brace under my shirt. I can walk without assistance, though not for extended periods of time; sometimes I lose my balance and hit the wall. I don’t have a wheelchair or a handicap placard on my car. I have a day job as an attorney and look like the textbook definition of normal when I meet with clients.
(I don’t wear this when meeting with clients.)
For all of that, however, I am effectively disabled. The only outward hint of an inward struggle is the scar on my throat, which evidences the fusion beneath. Anyone looking at me only sees a scar; they don’t see the story.
They don’t see the two car accidents that decimated my spine. They don’t see the facet joints in the thoracic level that calcified around a cluster of nerves, the bulging discs in the lumbar region, and the metal hidden in my throat where bone used to be. They don’t see sleepless nights and pain-filled days. They don’t see the countless doctors’ appointments, the endless diagnostic tests, the injections, the nerve ablations, the surgery, the back braces, the medical devices. They don’t see pill boxes filled to the brim.
“But you look fine,” someone says in protest. Who cares what I look like? Do you know how much there is in a human body? The intricate systems of muscle and bone, the tendons and ligaments that hold everything together? Do you understand how much can go wrong in that meat sack without showing on the outside? Chernobyl Reactor #4 looked fine on the outside, too.
It’s why I avoid getting a handicap placard. I could use one, as walking for extended periods of time puts a bolt of lightning in my hip. However, I have heard the abuse that my fellow patients receive when they park in a handicap spot and don’t exhibit an obvious need for it. I’ve heard about angry notes left on windshields saying, “You don’t deserve this spot,” the lectures and yelling from oblivious wannabe do-gooders.
To those people, I say, “How dare you?”
I saw a story online about a man trying to remove a girl sitting in the handicap seat on a subway train. He said she didn’t need the seat. She took off her prosthetic leg and hit him with it.
Good on her, assault and battery notwithstanding.
The moral of the story: don’t presume to know other people’s pain. Don’t assume you know what’s going on in their lives. And most importantly, don’t be an asshole.