Please pay attention, there WILL be a quiz at the end of this story.
When I came out of the hospital after having fought off a dangerous infection and landed in a wheelchair, I was due to make an annual lecture tour of the UK. I had four solid weeks of lecturing booked and had been excited about making the trip. This would be the first time I'd ever attempted a for week lecture tour. I'd done three week tours of the US and Canada several times, but four weeks - that was new. I had been worried about maintaining the energy throughout the four weeks before I got sick. Now, it seemed overwhelming. So, I called the host agency that put everything together, told them I wanted to come, but also told them that I might have to shorten some days and give my self extra breaks. They were really good about it.
The doctors had told me that I would feel my energy return fairly quickly. They had figured out why I kept getting these infections and had put together a packet of medications that I would continue taking for the rest of my life. That along with the medication for the infection made med time like meal time. But as I travelled, rather than get more and more tired, I felt more and more energy. It was working. I was amazed.
At the end of the third week we were staying the weekend in Carlyle, just south of the Scottish border, and it was a big weekend for me. I knew I was going to make the four weeks. I was feeling stronger than I had in a long time. I had finished the meds for the infection - which meant I could drink again. I hadn't had a beer in a very, very long time. So we checked into a hotel that wasn't much by appointments but was incredible with location. It was right across the street from a great looking pub.
The bags were dropped in the room, we hit the street heading for the bar. Wonder of wonders, it was accessible. There was soccer playing on every television screen and the bar was packed with young folk between 20 and 40 all in the mood to party on a Friday night. We were in the mood too. I knocked beer back with a rhythm you could dance to. Quickly, I was feeling the alcohol. Quickly I figured how great it was to get drunk in a wheelchair, you don't fall, you don't stagger. Too, I got to use the loo that was on the main floor and everyone else had to climb stairs, "Take that!"
A few hours later, I looked at Joe and said that I thought I'd best be getting back to the room. Joe pulled his face of the table and agreed. We headed back to the bar. I had forgotten the cobblestone streets and realized quickly that I should have visited the 'little boys room' before leaving. But the hotel was across the street, no big deal. We got in and headed towards the elevator. I was wheeling myself and Joe was walking with a decided list. As I got to the tiny elevator I saw an elderly woman watching me. She had that 'oh, dear, look at the delightful disabled lad' look that I had yet to recognize in people's faces.
I wheeled past her and got into the elevator. Even though I was driving drunk, I did a good job of getting the chair into a space that was quite small. She leaned in and said, "Everything alright chicken?"
Chicken. CHICKEN. She called me "Chicken."
I was dumbstruck and just sat there staring at her as the elevator door closed. Joe took the stairs, there was no way he'd fit in the elevator with me. It wasn't the fastest lift I'd ever been in and Joe was leaning against the wall on the second floor waiting for me. I pulled off the elevator and he said, "What a nice old woman."
"Nice? Nice?" I spat at him, "She called me chicken."
There I was a man. A man. An adult boy. A grown up. I was out on the town on a friday night. I was doing adult things, getting drunk in a pub, smoking cigarettes. I was back. I was off the medications and on with my adult life and she called me "Chicken."
In a single word it seemed as if she had taken my adulthood from me. As if she had taken my manhood away from me. As if she was addressing a little child, not a giant, grown up, drunken, man.
It was the first time I really felt the emasculation of the wheelchair. The first time I realized that I was perceived differently. Really differently. Up until then I was just grateful to be alive, grateful to be moving around. And now, I was being made childish, childlike, by the word - chicken.
So, a few weeks later I told this story in a lecture. Using it as an example of how disability changes perception. I told the story to illustrate the point that it's hard to negotiate adult rights for a people seen to be less, different, dependant, childlike. This is true for all with disabilities but especially those with intellectual disabilities. The reaction to the story came in the lecture feedback forms.
People were outraged at my interpretation of the events of that night in Carlyle. They said that she was just being nice. That the term 'chicken' was obviously a term of affection. That I was being hositle. Whoa! Really? So, I've been a bit shy of the story ever since.
Here's the quiz ...
Now, a guest blogger at here at Ouch, I thought I'd ask the disability community and other readers. What say you? Was she being patronizing? Was she diminishing me in some way? Or, am I being overly sensitive? Overly critical? I'd really like to know your opinion. Let me know what you think.
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