Sunday, March 27, 2011

People Suck... Except When They Don't

+The Indefinable Dr. S.+
It turns out that she's likely from the "Health Management Company" so some of her behavior takes on new meaning in that light. We started off pretty rocky when I returned from my room after practicing with the wheelchair around the hospital corridors (I wanted to figure some things out BEFORE being released into the wild). She was sort of waiting for me and the first thing out of her mouth seemed to be "I don't know why you weren't discharged on Friday." What the-? Friday noon is when the amputation was-- and I was still on IV antibiotics and I didn't have a wheelchair that fit (standard size doesn't work for 6' 4.5" guys). I hadn't seen any of the PT/OT folks until Saturday and it wasn't until Monday afternoon that the current better-sized chair arrived.

The next encounter came Tuesday morning when she came in with my chart to lecture me about something. "Your hygiene is poor and you're obviously a smoker..." The smoker part was the straw that snapped my patience. I'm usually very considerate to others and I don't get into strangers' or authority figures' faces unless it's something totally outrageous. I smoked 2 cigars in college after big tests-- that was nearly 20 years ago (geeze! I'm olde!) - and I let her know it. Then she went back to the desk after explaining that's good I don't smoke (no apology for being an ass and NOT READING THE CHART). After a few minutes the hygiene remark was gnawing at me more and more, so I rolled out to the desk and asked how she came to that assumption. Was it the long hair and beard? Was it because I had only had sponge baths the past week? Her clarification was that she meant FOOT hygiene because I didn't go to a podiatrist. What the-? My feet are messed up and I don't have the money to go to a podiatrist, but she thought that was a poor excuse.

Finally the Wednesday encounter. I knew I was getting out that afternoon, so I was in an okay mood, just a little anxious about getting around in the chair. Dr. S. walked past my door and then came back. She smiled (it looked kinda fake) and said something about how I was going to get discharged today. Then she said something like she was glad I was doing better. Then, I kid you not, she informed me that "I'm chatting and socializing with you" before heading off. What the-? If you need to tell someone that you're chatting and socializing with them then you're obviously doing it wrong. I later discovered that most people have a problem with Dr. S.'s general demeanor, so my paranoia was proven correct this time...

+Ignorers (Blatant and Otherwise)+
I've noticed that a good percentage of 'legged' folks tend to simply pretend that people in wheelchairs don't exist. I first noticed it rolling around in JCPenny looking for a tie. Maybe 45% of the people in the aisles would glance and then look away like they didn't see anything OR just continue to look straight ahead like there was nothing there to see. That's fine unless they don't move their bleeping carts or selves when there's not enough room to get past with a chair.

Then there are those who bump into the chair because they didn't see it or they weren't paying attention or they're just generally a-holes. It's usually younger people that do this. I'm thinking "you never learned how to avoid obstacles when you were little?"

+Fake Helpers+
There have been many genuine offers of "can I help you?" "can I get that door for you?" and the like. But there have been a few people who simply pretend to try to help out while not doing anything remotely helpful.

This usually takes the form of someone coming out of a door when I'm trying to go in. They push the door open as they come through like you'd do for a 'legged' person walking towards the door. THIS DOES NOT WORK for someone in a wheelchair. Sure you can get some speed on a nice flat surface, but entering doors is usually NOT nice and flat. Most doors have a lip that you have to power yourself over. Pushing the door open only makes it take longer for someone in a chair. You have to wait for the door to close or roll up to it and try to 'catch' it before it closes. Then you still have to pull it open.

If you're gonna 'fake help' you might as well push the chair backwards or throw a stick in front of me....

+Actual Helpers+
Despite the unhelpfuls and just-plain-rude people mentioned above there are good people who actually help out or genuinely offer to help. Alice (the Purdue student who helped out finding the wheelchair entrance), that guy who held the door at Burger King, and the lady who helped get the chair out of the crappy McDonald's doors/obstacle course all deserve kudos for being there and providing help without being asked. Good people seem to be rarer but maybe it's just that the crappy people make more of an impression.

Although sometimes the offers of help seem sort of silly and tedious (I can change the toilet paper-- I'm going in there to USE it that's why I asked for some) I realize that they're genuine offers and I do appreciate them. I really need to take advantage of these simple offers more often rather than doing everything myself that I CAN actually do. It makes those helping feel good and it'll probably rack up some karma points I could use later on....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Purdue Campus Adventure

So the first full day out of the hospital was pretty interesting. When I was in the hospital I got a message from one of the Purdue jobs I had applied for recently. i called the guy back then and told him the situation but I'd try to make it to the interview (just in case, he gave me his cellphone number).

I don't usually get dressed up, and I forgot to get a tie from storage to go with my interview outfit. How much would a tie cost? A lot bleeping more than you'd think! Since I'm pretty tall I figured the best place to go would be the Big&Tall store on 52. The little strip mall it's in has ONE ramp in the middle of the building far from the designated handicapped parking. Fine. But it's been there for a very long time and weathering has turned its edges into a crappy un-ramplike surface. A bit of struggle with the parking lot and the "ramp" and it was into the store... $30 for a tie?! Well there were some clearance ties, but they were all $17 or more. That's way too much for a tie and the guy was nice enough to suggest checking out JCPenny at the mall.

Off to the hated mall (I don't "do" the mall even when I can walk but I figured it would be worthwhile to see how accessible or not it was). The handicapped spaces were placed more for mall access than for JCPenny access, but it wasn't that far to roll across another slightly crappy parking lot (off-road!) and up the not too bad ramp to the sidewalk that went to the JCP doors. The double-doors didn't have a button to automatically open and if I were on my own they would've been bleeping hard to get through. The main thoroughfares were mostly fine (except for the few oblivious people who didn't "see" me in a wheelchair rolling along) but amongst the racks and display tables it was a very tight fit or totally impassable. Eventually we found the ties and there was one that looked pretty good with the shirt I would wear. $6 for a tie is more like it-- but it was the only one in their tie clearance area for that price, the rest were $15-$17 - outrageous!

I got all gussied up without much trouble and it was off to the Physics Building. We'd scouted the area before and there was a little wheelchair sign with an arrow pointing at the ramp area we decided would be the best place to drop me off. I rolled past one set of doors to the main entrance where there was another little wheelchair sign with an arrow pointing back the way I had come. BLEEP! So I rolled back to that first set of doors that I had dismissed only to find that they were access to a big stairwell. There was another little wheelchair sign with an arrow pointing toward the ramp drop-off point. BLEEP! I started to back out to the main sidewalk and there was a female student walking up.

"Can I help you find the entrance?"

"Sure, thanks. I guess it's around the back or something?"

"Let me go around and find it so you won't waste your time searching for it. These signs are pretty misleading."

So Alice was gone for a couple of minutes and when she returned she explained where the entrance with a ramp was on the other side of the building. I had about 10 more minutes before I had to be in the building for the interview. She asked if it would be offensive if she pushed me and I said no but I could make it if she had someplace to get to. I thanked her for her help and she went on her way.

The trip around the building was interesting with two or three other passers-by asking if I needed any help- who knew Purdue folks were so nice. Finally i got to the ramp- an obvious afterthought to the original building design. It was a bit narrow and I'd hate to navigate it when there was snow or rain. The door had a button for automatic opening and I was then confronted with the lift.

There was a small flight of stairs and a monstrous lift with a joystick on the wall to bring it up to the door level. I rolled into the little lift and, because I'm so tall and the leg supports stick out a bit further than the normal wheelchair-bound person, I was slightly jostled while the lift went down because the leg support and the wheels were too close to the front ramp and the back wall. No damage done though.

Before I reached the ground (only 5 feet or so from the door) I saw a female student or staffer going by the doorway to the lift room. "Excuse me, do you know where room 34 is?" I later learned that nobody but the guy I was interviewing with knows the room numbers in the building. The numbers were going lower around the corner and around another corner until she left me to find the way on my own because she was going to the elevator. I finally came to 34 and the door was open. I think they were a little surprised I was in a wheelchair but the interview went well.

The guy who did the interview let me use his phone to call my ride, then he showed me a shortcut to the lift. He pushed me up up the ramp and over to the curb where my ride pulled up.

It was interesting to see the difference in attitudes toward the chair on and off campus. Maybe 60% of the people off-campus ignored or stared at me while only about 20% were like that on-campus. It could've been because Spring Break but I think it's probably like that all the time....

Friday, March 18, 2011

How'd YOU End Up In a Wheelchair?

Well, I'm diabetic and I had some sores that got infected on both feet. I had been getting them treated for over a month and then the wound guy said "It looks like the infection is back in these three toes. I'm going to send you to the ER and have them get a specialist for this." The infection had gotten into the bone at the tip of the left big toe (or "great toe" if you're a medical professional) and there was a sort calloused dome in the center of the right foot just under the toes (one doctor said you could fit about 10 dimes in the hole that's there now) that was trimmed up so it could heal. The left big toe was removed to the first knuckle, so there's about half of it left and it looks like a bad horror movie special effect.

A little over a week later I'm in a wheelchair out in the wild. I'm supposed to keep weight off the left foot and I can use the right heel to transfer in and out of the chair. The Doctor said that I'll need to stay off of them anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, so this will get interesting. It's only been about 3 days and I'm learning that many so-called wheelchair accessible places aren't. I've already had some interesting experiences with the general public that I plan to share here.

But the first gripe I have are those air-power door closers that most places have on their doors. Those things are really hard to push open from a chair with wheels. And they usually close right away so if you're alone or don't run into a kind passerby you're screwed.

And the automatic door openers that you hit a button for at some places weren't thought out enough. Some of the buttons are right where the door will open so you need to hit it and roll out of the way before the door swings open and sqashes you like a bug.

Many places that you'd think would have these sorts of problems in mind and would have them conquered don't. Like at the hospital, I was trying to get a feel for the chair and how to do various things I thought I'd encounter out in the wild. So I went to one of the wheelchair sign bathrooms and it had an air-power door closer thing that made it IMPOSSIBLE for someone in a wheelchair who was alone to get into. Between the lack of traction from the carpet and the placement of the door and the cramped space to maneuver in it was an obstacle that I had to conquer-- I didn't but I gave it many a tenacious try. And this was IN THE HOSPITAL. The nurses and physical/occupational therapy people all heard about it and sent their concerns up the chain of command, so something should be done about it.

A lot of this stuff has made me pretty mad even though I'm only gonna be in the chair for a short time. My concern is for people who are in chairs for the rest of their lives. I'd never thought about it much except to make a joke or two about "Damned wheelchair people get the good parking spots." I realized at the time that they NEED to park close but I have an even deeper understanding of just how much of bitch it is to get out of a vehicle in a crappy parking lot and try to roll across uneven ground to the ramps that are poorly maintained and or poorly built in the first place. I think I'm becoming a wheelchair advocate...

Next up-- The Purdue Campus Adventure