When my Limited Body Was No Match for the Limitless Love of my Daughter

My daughter is only allowed to watch a small number of television shows (yes, I am one of those parents). One of her favorite shows is Paw Patrol; I don’t use the word favorite lightly – she owns Paw Patrol dolls, pajamas, figurines, vehicles, stickers and don’t forget the light-up tennis shoes!! Nearly 4 months ago, I saw an advertisement stating that Paw Patrol Live! was coming to our city for the first time ever. I jumped on the chance to buy tickets but was faced with a decision: I usually use my power chair in public and especially at big events like this; it’s safer for me and ensures that I’m comfortable during the show but also don’t suffer pain & fatigue afterwards. However, this particular theater only has wheelchair seating in the very back – WAAAAAY back. Should I get tickets in the orchestra section where we’d be close to the stage and have a great view? Or should I get seats in the wheelchair section like I normally do? It seemed like a difficult decision to make… for about 2 seconds. I wasn’t going to Paw Patrol Live! for me – I was going so my daughter could be filled with amazement, joy, excitement and so that I could witness these feelings as they melded across her face. Yep, orchestra section it was!! Besides, I’d just ordered a sturdier, safer cane and was still walking pretty well for the most part. Some physical pain & discomfort were a small price to pay in order to see my daughter enjoy the show up close. I thought, 4 months ago, “I can do this! She’s worth it!”

Did I mention that was 4 months ago? Four long months in which my body regressed further in unexpected haste. When the day of the show came, I was walking very little, even at home. The only place I don’t take my chair to at all is a meeting house because I’ve yet to measure the doorway to make sure it will fit. I hadn’t realized I’d be this further into my illness & disability when I purchased the tickets. I’d felt so sure of myself then; when showtime came, I was much less confident.

Tickets in hand, excitement in our hearts, smiles on our faces, we went to the theater. My mother drove us so I didn’t have to deal with parking. We walked into the lobby where there were NO seats available! Not that people were sitting in them – the lobby was simply void of benches or rest areas!! I stood with my daughter in line to enter the theater and gave myself an internal pep talk, trying to feel capable of the physical task before me. When we got into the theater, I realized I’d gotten us FANTASTIC seats!!! But fantastic seats were more than halfway down the section and in the middle of the row – go mom! My sweet little girl waited so patiently as I made my way down the steps to our row, urging me to “go slow,” “don’t let go of the railing” and to “be careful.” I made it!! Then we awkwardly walked to our seats (well, she walked a lot less awkwardly than I did; I took out several adult feet and some small toes with the tips of my foot base!).

The show was AMAZING (and I strongly urge families with young children to see it)!!! Our seats were INCREDIBLE!!! The joy and awe on my little one’s face was worth every step cautiously taken!!! We had a BLAST!!!¬†

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Afterwards, I made it painstakingly up the steps, back out into the lobby to wait in a line for slightly overpriced merchandise (because we needed one more Paw Patrol doll, of course!!) and then waited on my feet for nearly 15 minutes before my mom pulled up to whisk us away. My lower body literally felt like it was on fire; I ached like I hadn’t in a long time; my toes & feet were numb but tingling painfully yet we had the time of our lives and inside, I couldn’t have felt better!! I don’t know if I’ll be able to do something like that for my daughter again and if so, for how long. But it was done the other day and I’ve cried while thanking God for the ability to walk, stand and go up & down stairs even though it hurt and was hard. I know one day, I wont be able to do any of that any longer so I’m grateful for every movement I CAN make and every ability I still possess.

My ability to love completely outweighed my inability to move like I once did – how can I not be thankful for that?!?!

What My Father Taught Me About Invisible Illness & Making Assumptions Within the Disabled Community

An entire month has gone by since my last post. I will not apologize for that – On December 4th, my dad passed away suddenly after a moderately short battle with a chronic illness. The week of Thanksgiving, my family was told he was in complete organ failure; his body was filling with fluids released by his liver; his hernias had shifted & fluid was going into his lungs – we knew he was not going to be with us for more than a year, but were not prepared when he fell, causing his body to shut down. He died quickly, and I’m thankful he did not have to suffer more than he already was.

In reflecting on my dad’s illness and the effects it had on his body, I realized I’d made quite a few mistakes during his last year – especially within the months leading up to his death. When people see me park in handicap parking, it is obvious when I get out of my van that I’m honestly, legitimately and legally permitted to park there. When I use designated stalls in restrooms, no one questions my necessity for those accommodations. My illness and my disability are not invisible. Rather, they are glaring and direct.

My dad, however, did not use adaptive mobility equipment until one month prior to him passing. At the end, he had trouble walking and required the use of a rollator. Before that, when he’d park in a designated spot, here is what people saw: An obese man with no clear physical limitation walking into an establishment. There were times, early on, that I (embarrassingly enough) bristled when I saw him park in handicap parking. Before knowing what was wrong with my dad, I thought he used obesity as the criterion to gain certain accommodations – I hate that I thought these things and am loath to admit them, but am sharing in hopes that someone who reads this will better understand my overall point.

My dad was actually not obese. He had several large abdominal hernias and as I’ve previously stated, his body was filling with fluid. If a person were to look at his face, arms, legs and neck, it would be obvious that he was in fact thin. The “weight” he carried was solely in his torso. Furthermore, to a stranger it may have seemed that he walked just fine. But, to those of us around him, we’d watch in horror and helplessness as each step caused his breathing to become more and more labored (recall the fluid build-up in his lungs).

There are times that people make assumptions about what it means to “look sick.” Assumptions are also made about what qualifies as a “disability.” I’ve heard people grumble about “that heavy-set woman using the handicap stall” or “the fat man who just needs to lose weight so he wont be disabled.” It’s not that those exact thoughts have come into my head, but I’ve already admitted that I myself, as a member of the disabled community (and one who doesn’t need to carry a membership card since I’m rolling along through life) have also wondered why a seemingly healthy and able-bodied individual is using a space or stall or other modification meant for ‘us.’ This is plain prejudice (yes, I admit that!). It’s stereotyping, generalizing, assuming and jumping to conclusions about things I have no right to nor expertise in!!

Whether you are chronically ill, disabled or healthy and able-bodied, I ask that we all cease to pass judgments on people who use services for the disabled community. There’s usually a lot more to the person’s story than their body is able to convey to our untrained eyes.

 

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In Loving Memory of my dad, Rob Sasser, who taught me a lot, even when he didn’t know it. May 12, 1952-December 4, 2016

Not All Spaces Are Created Equally

Yesterday, I was out running errands and stopped at one of the stores on my list. There were two handicap parking spaces available, but I couldn’t park and do my shopping. Why? Because I drive a wheelchair accessible van and can therefore, ONLY use VAN accessible spaces. The store had one van accessible space, but it was being used by a compact car.

Many people do not realize that there is a difference between regular handicap parking and handicap parking that’s accessible for vans. Before I began using my power chair, I myself was guilty of parking in any open handicap spot on the days I needed one, unaware that if I parked in a van accessible spot when there were other spots available, I was potentially¬†blocking entry or exit into that establishment for someone who used a van.

The tale-tell difference between the two types of handicap parking is the width of the slanted lines next to the parking space. In order for a spot to be van accessible, the lines must be wider than they are for a typical spot. The reason? In order for me to exit my vehicle, I must have room to lower my ramp/lift (most often found on the right-side of the vehicle) and then have more room to roll completely off the ramp/lift. This is especially important to me as a parent with a young child, who I must keep safe.

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Drivers of modified vehicles CAN NOT use a regular handicap parking spot!

Back to my errands: I pulled in a spot directly across from the parking space I needed and waited…

and waited…

and waited – a full 10 minutes!

Finally, the lady came out of the store and began to unload her groceries. As she finished, I pulled out and signaled that I was waiting for the space. The lady was elderly and when she noticed me, she wagged her finger at me while giving me a disapproving look; no doubt believing I was ‘too young’ to need that space. She got in her car and proceeded to put on make-up, read mail and make me wait an additional 8 minutes! Thank goodness I was spiritually fit and sat there patiently – no fingers flew up; the window stayed up; my mouth stayed shut and I didn’t even toot my horn!! She finally pulled out and drove past me slowly, shaking her head.

If you must use a handicap parking space, bear in mind the next time you’re out & about, that if there are other spots open, to use them. Please leave the van accessible spaces for those of us who need the extra-wide slanted lines in order to safely exit our vehicles, some of us with our small children. Thanks!

Rollin’ Forward

So, welcome to my new website! I’m really excited and hope that you as readers/followers and I will gain much from this site.

The decision to begin a website came about as another transition I’m making into the world of disability. Since becoming sick 8 years ago, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cycled through the grief process. I’ve had to adapt to and accept each new phase of my illness & disability as my body’s steadily declined. I’ve coped through humor, faith and hope and am now entering a different phase – one of desire to educate & advocate, giving another voice to the disabled community to promote awareness and gain accessibility.

As a disabled parent, I find there are limited resources for my population. Public places that I’ve needed or continue to need access to do not meet ADA requirements due to what I consider to be inconsiderate & insufficient regulations. Some places claim ADA accessibility but are not, leading me to believe that businesses are not strenuously monitored or regulated.

My future goals are to advocate for stricter and more suitable ADA laws by lobbying at the Congressional level. I’m also looking into the Miss Wheelchair Tennessee pageant, as that would broaden my platform and help me reach more people.

I look forward to continuing to blog about being a parent with special needs and am excited about using this site to further awareness & education for all of us in the disabled community! Feel free to share your comments with me!! And, thank you for visiting my site!!!

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