For the first time in her life, Mina told me, she began to really realize, emotionally realize, what her husband faces every day. If it was Mina’s husband who was trying to get to the second floor, how would he have gotten through the doors? What if he had needed help and called out? What disaster might have happened if the wheels of his wheelchair had gotten caught in the elevator opening? What if once on the elevator he could not reach the button? Each “what if” left Mina cold as she realized she had just walked through, for just a few minutes, something her husband and all handicap people face 24/7.
Mina was married for over 36 years. For almost 25 of those years, her husband had a worsening chronic illness. He has been in a wheelchair for the last several years. Mina told me that he was very independent, despite the chair. He shopped by himself, drove from the wheelchair, worked full time etc. In all those years he had had many harrowing experiences. Occasionally a wheel fell off the chair, leaving him on the ground and at the mercy of bystanders, or he might get a flat tire and need assistance. Once he went through a newly cleaned sliding glass door, thinking it was open. Sometimes Mina was with him, and sometimes he was alone. Despite her own experience with the catastrophes, Mina told me that she really never fully understood her husband’s day-to-day challenge, until last week when she was alone and came as close to his experience as a person could.
Mina was shopping in a very upscale shopping center. She had her 18-month-old granddaughter with her. The child was in her stroller. Mina entered a department store she occasionally shopped at. This particular store was known to be very posh. From the high quality of the items for sale, to the glistening displays, to the attentive sales people; this store’s service was impeccable. Needing to go to the second floor, and not finding an elevator for the stroller, Mina decided to venture up the escalator. She was immediately stopped by a very concerned store manager who, fearing for the baby’s safety, assured Mina that the store indeed had an elevator. Politely, he told her to go to the china department and follow the red line from there to the elevator. Following the instructions, Mina quickly saw she was in the wrong place. Asking another sales associate, she was sent back to the same general direction and told, this time, to follow the yellow lines. After a few minutes, Mina thought she had found the place, but knew she was wrong when the yellow line led to a seedy looking storage door, behind which were empty boxes and bins. And so Mina returned, yet again, to find directions to the elevator. Mina was shocked to discover that she had been given the correct instructions each time. It seems that the only elevator in this upscale store was a freight elevator. The freight elevator was located at the end of the red line. The red line had intermittent yellow lines as well. It looked as if someone had run out of red paint every few feet and used yellow. Mina followed the lines on the floor until she came to a big ugly door. She had difficulty opening the heavy door and manipulating the stroller through it. Once inside she was shocked at what she saw. On one side of the door was an elegant store and on the other a dump, literally. What Mina saw was a huge warehouse with unpainted cement walls and unwashed floors and very poor lighting that barely illuminated the dark and dingy warehouse. Bins of merchandise were strewn about, and she could not see or hear anyone. Mina was surprised and somewhat frightened. She continued to follow the red/yellow line through dark twists and turns, sidestepping boxes as she went until she finally came to the biggest elevator she had ever seen. Looking around, she found what she thought must be the button for the elevator and pressed it. Slowly, creaking all the way, the elevator doors opened. There was a bit of space between the floor of the elevator and where she was standing. Mina was concerned about the stroller possibly getting stuck in the opening. She thought about calling for help, but she hadn’t seen or heard anyone and couldn’t really decide if calling a stranger would be a good thing or a dangerous one. She manipulated the stroller onto the elevator, pressed “two” and listened anxiously to the strange noises as the elevator creaked its way to the second floor. Once there, she experienced the same scene she had on the first floor, until she finally opened the door and like Dorothy in Oz was once again in the luxurious store.