Eric rolled me to the desk and left me for a few seconds. I told the assistant that I needed to make an appointment for an ultrasound. As soon as I finished the sentence, Eric came back. That was enough for the assistant; she addressed him to ask about preferred dates and his contact information. His arrival was enough to make me vanish. All of a sudden, I was transformed into a “she.” Anger and frustration drew me into silence. The next day, when my nurse aid asked me how I had faired, I told her all about my experience with the assistant, and she got really angry. Then, I repeated the story to my occupational therapist. (Two therapists are coming to work with me – a physical therapist and an occupational therapist.)
The therapist’s response gave me a lot of food for thought. She told me that when she was going to graduate school, students had to spend all day on a wheelchair as a way to see the perspective of their patients. It was her turn to sit on the chair. It was summer, and she and a friend went for ice creams. She ordered one to the employee behind the counter, but he paid her no attention. Yet, when her friend came in, he immediately asked her what type of ice cream she wanted. And my therapist ended her account with an observation: what had mattered in this incident was that she was on a wheelchair and her friend was not.
Having heard this story after I’d undergone such a frustrating experience at the clinic brought to mind many instances of the same kind. Furthermore, it reminded me of the reactions I had had when I was young and healthy toward people whose disability was apparent (I write about this in another chapter). This led me to conclude that the wheelchair stood between the person with disabilities (I, in my case) and the healthy ones. The wheelchair is a big sign they (we) carry that reads: I’m not “normal.” They (we) don’t fulfill expectations; they (we) deviate from the definition of “normality.” Abnormality of any kind sets up a barrier; it intimidates. For this reason, the wheelchair makes them (us) invisible, and relegates them (us) to the third-person world.