The Lady In The Wheelchair At The Airport

Sunday is the day we returned to Nashville from Los Angeles. Have you ever flown to CA from TN or anywhere around it? With Fibromyalgia? After the Saturday that I had at Six Flags I decided I was going to get a wheelchair to help me. Now when you get a wheelchair at the airport people are gonna look at you and wonder what’s wrong with you. I mean, don’t you do that? If you don’t see a cast or a cane don’t you wonder what’s REALLY wrong with them? Don’t you find yourself, whether you have an Invisible Illness or not, wondering what’s so special about them that they get to pass through the security ahead of all of you who have been standing in line forever when they look perfectly fine?

There’s that whole judgmental thing popping up again. I am especially disgusted with myself when I wonder the same thing. Although it doesn’t happen as much as it used to now that I have experienced so much fatigue for the last 8 months or so. But I do find myself being judgmental about a lot of other things – which I hate about myself. Just being honest here, after all this IS my blog and I AM allowed to express myself honestly here. I am not perfect – although I do try to convince Ron otherwise (he doesn’t fall for it – UGH). But I know that Matthew 7:1 warns me that I should not judge others lest I be judged as well.

At any rate, I spend my time rolling through the airport in a wheelchair wondering what someone else is thinking about me. I obviously don’t have on a cast and I don’t carry a cane. I imagine them saying “who does she think she is”. Don’t you wish you could have a sign that says “I have an invisible illness that you have no idea about so stop judging me”? One of my tweeps asked what I do when I see someone roll their eyes at me. I told them honestly that I don’t look at other people. I spent the time trying to notice there were even other people there. Yes, I felt GUILT for having to use a wheelchair in the airport. Is that what it’s come down to for those of us with Invisible Illnesses? Must we see and feel guilt for doing what we need to do to get through something?

I think my feelings were pretty much in line when we finally got to our gate (in the end of the terminal of course – why can’t we ever go somewhere that leaves from a gate at the FRONT of the terminal?) and Lauren mentioned how easy it is to get a wheelchair at an airport because it doesn’t look like anything is wrong with me. BINGO!!! I told her that was “the story of my life”. Just because I look fine doesn’t mean I am!

While in the pre-boarding area I met another “spoonie”. She was lucky enough to have a cane so I’m sure she was easier for others to understand. We began chatting about our flying experiences with our illnesses. I’m not sure what all is wrong with her. I have my suspicions. But we didn’t have a chance to get into all of that. She did ask us what we saw to eat in the terminal. She mentioned she was on a low sodium diet so she and I discussed what her options might be from what we saw. She decided on a salad from McDonald’s. My sweet Lauren offered to go get it for her and bring it to her. I was so proud of her. It even cost more than the money that she gave Lauren and Lauren paid the difference and refused to accept it from her when she returned. She was extremely grateful and said that she was glad I was there to have someone who understood. So, while I might could have eventually gotten to the gate by walking. I’m glad that I was there for her – sitting next to her in matching wheelchairs.

I think my children learned a lot that day at the airport while Mom rode in a wheelchair LOOKING perfectly healthy. I hope that others around me weren’t actually as judgmental as I imagined them to be. I hope that they were sympathetic and understanding. I was doing what I had to do. All I can do is all I can do. If they really thought about it I’m sure they would figure that out as well. That’s what I want to believe.


10 thoughts on “The Lady In The Wheelchair At The Airport

  1. Thanks for sharing your wheelchair experience with us, Pam! I’m so glad that you used one with how you’d been feeling! That was vert sweet of Lauren to act the way that she did to your wheelchair buddy?!

    • I was very very proud of her. She has been surprising me in a good way quite often lately. She is trurning out to be a sweet young lady! Thx for the idea to share this. It was a great idea i’m not sure I would have thought of it.

  2. I have a different perspective on this. While I have many invisible illnesses, I am not able to move about outside the home without a mobility aid of some kind. So yeah, I’m either the “lucky” one with the cane, or with my rollator, or on really bad days, in my own wheelchair.

    I don’t think that most people see anyone in a wheelchair in an airport and care whether you are “worthy” of being in it. From my experience they’re more interested in trying to guess what is wrong with you. I think there is such a stigma about the whole “stuck in a wheelchair” thing that most healthy folks would not even consider using a wheelchair service just to skip security lines because it would be such an “awful” experience for them to be seen in public looking like a cripple. Frequent travelers with some perception will also know that those waiting for airport staff to help them have loads of waiting around time that more than makes up for the time saved at security. So I don’t really think anyone would consider someone being pushed in a chair as anything other than sick, it’s not a realm where we see fakers and fraudsters often. And after all, you are jumping the line in security so that your *staff attendant* doesn’t have to waste time in line. If you’re solo in your own powered chair it’s hit or miss as to whether you jump ahead. But if you have staff with you, it’s their time that is considered valuable, not yours :/

    Two other points:

    1) Why does it matter what random people think about you? You don’t know them, they don’t know you, the 30 seconds of their mental time that you might be in their brain is immaterial. Please don’t waste your precious energy worrying about them 🙂

    2) If it really is a huge issue for you, buy a $15 folding cane, just to take to airports or any other places where you want to be more “visible”. (Very handy, for example, on public transport when you want one of the reserved for disabled seats!) You genuinely do have problems walking, so it’s not a lie. (Plus many people I know who have fatigue issues often need a little bit of stability against “the wobbles” where a cane can be quite handy. Who knows, you may find it a useful addition to your arsenal 🙂 ) After all, walking sticks used to be fashion accessories, no reason why you can’t use them primarily as a shorthand communication tool 🙂

    • Excellent points. I wish I didn’t give others so much power over me to care abt what they think. I think it has a lot to do with certain situations that occurred in my past. And I must admit that I love the idea of a folding cane for times like this. LOVE THAT ONE! Thank u so much for stopping by. I have enjoyed our visit here. Heeheehee

      • Just one more note. I don’t know you and don’t know the history of why you fear the judgment of strangers, but I can tell very quickly from your blog that you are both a resident of the US and a devout Christian. Both of which are things that can be ridiculed, and putting them both together opens you up to scorn of a vast chunk of the world. (It sadly only takes a few bad apples to make the whole barrel look fishy! And there are many out there who think that all American Christians are ignorant or sheep. I can only personally speak of my life in Europe and Australia but outside the US, Americans have not had a good rep for a long while and American Christians take the rap for every decision made by the Bush Administration, a lot of which were highly unpopular with the rest of the world. Totally unfair, but just sayin’…Also I doubt that this is news to you that Christians get attacked for their beliefs, moreso today on the internet than in the last several decades put together, but I type it here in case your readers don’t know 🙂 )

        Your faith and your decision to display it proudly are choices, something that you have intentionally set out to engage in and wear as an identity. Yet I’m guessing that you are not ashamed of your faith, no matter what other people may think of you for holding it. Am I right?

        If that is the case — and you are willing to make a stand for something you believe in despite the potential for ridicule on the net, etc. — then why are you ashamed about *something over which you have NO control*? You didn’t choose your illness, why do people’s thoughts and opinions about your illness matter to you more than people’s opinions about your faith?

        I’m not saying this to harass you but just to challenge your perception a little. You’re already brave in my eyes for standing up for what you believe. Now you just have to keep standing up for who you are 🙂

        THERE IS NO SHAME IN BEING ILL. THERE IS NO SHAME IN ASKING FOR HELP. And it is nobody’s business as to whether you are “worthy” of that help or not! I can tell that you already know this or you wouldn’t be “out” on your blog, but sometimes we need to remember that it applies to 100% of our lives, not just to those people we feel we can trust 🙂

        Best wishes to you and if you ever need tips on *really* long haul travel (TN to CA — bah! 😉 ) I’d be happy to help. Right now my husband is two flights totaling 24 hours of travel time away from me, but when I join him it will be my parents on the other side of the tin can in the sky so no matter what I spend more time than I like shuttling back and forth across the globe :/ But on the bright side I have learned a lot of tips 🙂

        My love to you and yours,

        –J / @TheSickChick

  3. Pam, you have found a friend in TheSickChick! Much of what this dear person says is so, so true! I hope you can continually be encouraged by these thoughts.

    And I fully intend to thank Lauren for her intuitiveness. She gets it honestly!!

    Our families’ love to you and the family!

  4. Hi Pam!

    I may not be entirely coherent here, no matter how many times I check this reply through, so I apologise in advance! I suffer from CFS bordering on severe, so I completely understand where you’re coming from in many ways. When I do use crutches or a walking stick I’m almost always asked what I’ve done to my leg! Then I have to go into “well, it’s not my leg as such…” It is handy in prompting people to give up the disabled seats for me on public transport though, I will admit. Not that I can use it (the buses/trains) often, but once in a while I have no choice.

    I’m getting off the point. Whatever your reasons, some people always glare at you for jumping the queue (though most people are honestly sympathetic from what I can tell!). There’s always a few who think it’s not fair that they have to wait and I don’t. I’d offer to swap for one week with anyone who thought that me getting two minutes of “preferential treatment” is so much harder on them than living with my illness. I wouldn’t wish this on *anyone* permanently, but I really think it would do some people good to see what it’s like from this side of things.

    The decision to use a wheelchair – even occasionally when you really can’t manage any other way – is always a heavy emotional struggle. I’ve even had people tell me to my face I was ‘giving up’ by getting one for myself. I tell them it’s quite the opposite: it’s an assistance item so I can do more and get more out of life. Without it I’m even more limited, and letting that situation stand? Missing out on everything I can manage to get out of life? I think *that* would be giving up.

    You made a hard, necessary decision to accept help so you could physically make it to the flight. You should be proud of yourself. As for those who know no better, let them judge, but don’t let it affect you. The opinions of people like that don’t need to matter when you have such supportive people (like Lauren!) around you.


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