Being in a wheelchair, you just can’t get away from the inevitable question – “What happened to you?” Out to eat, at school, even in the parking lot, no matter where you are, there will always be someone who will want to know ‘why’ (oh you pesky human curiosity gene). It won’t happen every time you’re out, but it sure happens a lot.
How do you feel when it happens? For me, it’s all about context and where I’m at specifically. About 4 months ago, at my doctor’s office in a huge downtown hospital, the secretary (while I was checking-in) decided to drop the big “What happened to you?” question when I got to the front of the line (and embarrassingly loud). She said, “Hello, what’s your name?” and then (after glancing at my legs), without skipping a beat she asked, “What happened to you??” Unexpected interrogation. Nice.
Suffice it to say, the secretary did NOT get an answer, but she did get something from me: A nice tongue lashing. In my mind, there really should be places where you are free from rude questions regarding your disability, and the doctor’s office (along with the hospital) should be included in this list, but with employees everywhere dropping in quality, these questions may happen a lot more in the future.
I ended up asking the secretary (as a rebuttal), “What do you mean there’s something wrong with me?” and then I very succinctly informed her how inappropriate it was she asked. In this moment, you have to make a choice: 1) Let yourself be treated disrespectedly or 2) Risk seeming like a jerk. The younger version of myself would have never had the courage to say what I said to her (I likely would’ve just given her the short-version of my injury, and left it at that).
But now – being older, wiser and more confident – the fear of “What will they say?” or “How will I be perceived?” no longer has a swaying power over me. To sum it up simply: I don’t care anymore if they think I’m a you know what. I no longer have patience for prying questions. If you don’t know me, you have no business asking. Everyone loves a dramatic sob story. I just refuse to entertain people with mine any longer.
But if you do know me – new PCAs, friends, co-workers – and don’t know my diving story yet, I never mind when these folks ask. But even though, they still need to ask in a respectful way. Asking the question, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how did your injury happen?” is a great way to ask (and will get you a response). I so wish more people just knew the right way to ask.
I’m not completely unreasonable. I know some people just want to know the basic story, and don’t need the gory details, and those folks are great. But to question us suddenly, especially when we’re complete strangers, it just blows my mind what people think is appropriate.
How do you feel when people ask why you’re in a wheelchair? Will you only answer folks you know personally?