I took my uncle to his physical therapy appointment yesterday. It rained on the way to pick him up, then on the way to the medical center, and it was still raining as I unloaded his lightweight transport chair from the trunk of my car. Not complaining, though–I love rain!
An aside: This chair is probably 10-15 pounds lighter than his regular wheelchair. He bought it out of concern for me, not wanting me to hurt my back trying to lift his regular chair into and out of the car. The new chair has small wheels, footrests, and handles on the back for pushing. It moves easily, but is harder to push overall because of the small wheels.
I unfolded the chair and brought it around to the passenger door so Uncle could get into it. And we were off, both of us exclaiming about the windy rain. To me, it felt delightfully cool, the chilly tingle of the raindrops on my face and hands exhilarating. To Uncle, however, the rain and wind quickly became too cold. You’d think I’d realize by now—caring for him and my mom, both of them octogenarians—that they get chilled easily, their skin paper-thin. If I’d been thinking, I’d have taken the time to search for a closer parking space.
But, too late. We were about two long blocks from the physical therapy building, at the other end of the medical center campus. I decided to head first for the main entrance, which wasn’t too far away. That way we could walk most of the distance through the dry, warm inner halls, at least.
And here’s where I experienced, first-hand, poorly planned disability accommodations. Although the space I’d parked in was one of a bank of nice, wide handicapped spots, each with extra room on either side for loading and unloading, there was no accessible sidewalk. I had to wheel Uncle along the side of the single-lane, one-way, rough-surfaced, asphalt street, with cars passing uncomfortably close to us. Unbelievably, the VA medical center had neglected to provide a safe, smooth walkway for disabled patients to travel on from patient parking to the facility. And I’d estimate that a quarter of the vets it serves are disabled.
Although Uncle was wearing a jacket, by the time we made it inside he was cold. And to my dismay, five minutes of pushing his transport chair had awakened my rheuma-dragon. He was now aggravated and gnawing on my knuckles with hot glee.
Still, pushing Uncle’s transport chair was easier on the smooth facility flooring. I gritted my teeth and kept on, knowing I could rest my insulted hands once he was at his appointment. As we reached the doors at the far end of the facility, I figured we were almost home free. Just one more brief walk through the rain and we’d be there.
I hadn’t taken into account the continuing construction work going on all over the campus. Our local VA medical center has, over the last year or so, added several new buildings, a covered parking garage, and covered outdoor parking (which was all full when we arrived!). And the work is still progressing. As we came out the far door of the main building, we discovered that the usual walkway was blocked off with barrier fencing, forcing us to go all the way around what was once a parking lot to the new physical therapy building. Our first try for the entrance was a dead-end sidewalk. We turned around and went back. (cue in wind and rain here.) To my further dismay (and Uncle’s), we discovered that the only way to gain entrance was to walk all the way around the building so we’d be approaching it from the opposite direction.
A simple opening in the barrier fencing would have made that long, long walk unnecessary.
By the time we finally made it into the building, Uncle and I were both wet—and he was shivering uncontrollably with cold. My hands were aching like you-know-what. I helped him take his jacket off and draped it, warmed by his body, over his legs to help warm him up. It worked. Uncle was remarkably mellow—even cheerful—about the whole debacle.
When we left the physical therapy building an hour later, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. I had to put my sunglasses on. (I love springtime…) We went back to the main building and stopped at the lab so Uncle could have blood drawn for one of his upcoming appointments. And then we made it back to the car without any further trouble.
By the time I got home—smack-dab in the middle of rush-hour traffic—I was exhausted. My hands were stiff, painful claws at the ends of my arms. I won’t deny it. I took drugs.
Today I’m still pretty fracked. My hands are swollen and tender, but much better than last night. A nap is in order this afternoon. But there’s a part of me that’s proud of getting through yesterday’s challenge tired but still smiling. Life would be pretty dull without a little hassle now and then…