Tuesday, October 26, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 46

Cougar Comics Online
Moeller on women

Theriault on life goals

Staff Editorial

Editorial Cartoon


About the Cougar

The wheelchair-bound deserve a little respect

By Wendy Miller

In the spirit of Oct. 24-31 Disabilities Week at UH, here are some insights into human nature that I have acquired as a result of a spinal cord injury.

First, there is a new species of human I have begun to notice -- a breed that has stare-itis. The looks that a wheelchair draws amaze me, but they do not anger me.

I almost understand it. My injury is concealed (I look healthy) and lookers are just trying to figure out why I require a chair. Two versions of this phenomenon exist: the direct gaze and the cover-up gaze.

Usually landing in the direct stare category are children, and I totally forgive them and applaud their natural curiosity. However, the image of an adult gawking is sometimes unnerving. I have chosen to believe that adults who practice this stare are rude by nature and are probably rude to everyone.

The ones in the cover-up category make me giggle. People look comical trying to walk forward while they stare out the corner of their eyes. I see a lot of people trip trying to attempt that feat.

Next, I ponder what makes people ask goofy questions. Well, I think I know why it happens to me. There must be ultraviolet rays emitted from wheelchairs that turn an interesting conversationalist's thoughts into mush. I am confident that these individuals must have had something fascinating to say to me at one time. However, as they approached my chair, it turned to nothingness.

I am exaggerating for entertainment purposes. It does not happen all the time. I have had engaging talks, but I have also had silly ones. Here are a few excerpts from the brain-numbing.

"When you broke your neck, did it hurt?" Duh. Next question.

"Did you enjoy your stay in the hospital?" Let's evaluate this question.

A stay in the hospital is not a picnic. The food is bland and predictable. One does not go there to rest. There is an unwritten law that patients cannot sleep longer than two hours. Like clockwork, when I fall asleep, someone will poke or prod me.

Also, patients seem to move in and out of an "invisible" zone. The nurses and nurse assistants are under the assumption that patients cannot hear -- especially if your legs are paralyzed (it must mean that you are deaf, dumb and mute).

If two nurses are in the same room, in minutes they will reveal to the listening (and now invisible) patient all of the hospital gossip. The not-seen rule also applies to physicians. A doctor will walk in my room and 'poof' I am vaporized. The doctor will look right over me to my boyfriend standing by the bed, and ask, "How is she feeling today?" Ahh! Ask me, for heaven's sake. I'm right here!

Additionally, I resent that I am expected to leave my modesty at hospital registration. I feel as if more people have seen me naked than Tommy Lee. So, the answer to whether I enjoyed my hospital stay is always a firm but polite "no."

"Do you miss walking?" This is a no-brainer. Here is a test for those at home to try. Exhale all the air out of your lungs, then hold your breath and slowly count backwards from 100. Now tell me, did you miss breathing?

My vote for the all-time stupid statement has to be the next one. I was at the mall and a strange woman walked up to me and said, "You are too pretty to be in a wheelchair." Now, how was I supposed to take this? Was she saying that the beautiful ones are exempt from tragedy? Was I to suppose that it should be a requirement for ugly people to be in a wheelchair?

Without missing a beat, I flashed the lady an innocent thank-you smile and devilishly thought, "So, where's your wheelchair?"

Miller, a junior philosophy major,
can be reached at laurana@ev1.net.

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