Dealing with Public Insensitivity Towards MS

  • Forgive my sensitivity, but… Ever have one of those mornings?


    You know the kind where if something can go wrong, it will. Or a morning where you are running late for your something or other, and you’re not sure why. Or if you try to use your hands to hold something, and it continues to slip out of your stupid MS-numbed fingers.


    Those mornings are so frustrating! Sadly earlier this week, I was having one of those mornings — several days in a row. It was making me so upset. So much so that I even exclaimed, “I need therapy!”


    Yes, I probably would benefit from speaking with a trained professional, but that was not the kind of therapy I needed. Neither was a visit with Jaren, my physical therapist, or a session with Mike, an occupational therapist who’s been treating me.

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    I wanted some retail therapy.


    I was certain that getting out of the house and looking at cute clothes was just what the doctor would have ordered.


    So my caregiver and I set out to do just that. I was checking out the lastest fashions and my mood was improving. Sure, I wasn’t buying a lot of what I saw, but I’m social and I love to chat with other women seeking retail therapy as well.


    There is a joyful sisterhood us women share when we’re looking for a good bargin and a stylish item of clothing.


    But as I was shopping and searching and chatting, it took just one comment to darken my light mood.


    That’s why I’m wondering if I was being a little oversensitive. What do you think:


    Finishing up at the cash register, I overheard a women saying, “See she’s got the right idea. Wish I had one of those things.” And she was motioning toward me and my wheelchair.


    Generally I would have ignored her comment, but she wasn’t happy just saying it once. She repeated her ignorance again, only louder this time for the benefit of the other shoppers in the vacinity. Even the store’s deft salesperson chuckled and added, “Yep. She’s got the right idea. Ha, ha.”


    My blood is boiling as I recall the events, which makes me even more proud of my response.


    At that moment, I stopped my wheelchair. I looked the women straight in her eyes and with firm conviction in my voice said, “You may think that. But after not being able to walk at all for the last 10 years, I would love to feel as tired as you feel if it meant I could still walk.” And I shot a quick you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourself glance at the salesperson too.


    The women stammered something. Not an apology mind you but something about how she didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But it IS a big deal, and this was my teaching moment because that sort of insensitivity is not okay.


    After all, on a sunny day you’d never hear someone tell a blind person wearing sunglasses, “Gosh I wish I had a pair of those today.”


    So why is it okay to say something as equally insensitive to a person using a wheelchair? I don’t have a choice in whether or not to use my wheelchair. It’s a functional tool that enables me to get around independently.


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    Either way, this incident made me think about my life and my chair, and I hope sharing my experience makes you think as well.     


Published On: May 29, 2012