Word of warning: This is a tad different than my “usual” post. But than again, I guess that’s the cool thing about a blog. It can be whatever I want it to be. This happens to be more of a “day in the life” kind of post. A bit more of a what-is-it-REALLY-like-to-be-you kind of writing. So, here goes 😀
“And that about wrap’s up this lecture. Why don’t we take a little break and start back up at 10.”
Perfect, that should be just enough time for a bathroom break. I back my wheelchair out from my front row spot – the only place I can sit in the lecture hall – and roll out into the hallway. I brace my footplate against the bathroom door and with a swift press of the handle and a bit of rapid finesse to get my chair moving, the door opens with ease and I’m inside.
I choose this particular hospital bathroom for a few well-thought out reasons. First, its close proximity to the lecture hall where I hear the majority of lecturers teach their part of the second-year medical student curriculum. My “process” for performing this seemingly simple and vital bodily function takes a bit longer than it used to, so cutting out any unnecessary travel time is imperative.
Second, it’s size. It’s a six-stall bathroom, one of which my wheelchair and I are grateful we can use. Lecture breaks are for the entire class and I certainly don’t want to take up a stall in a location where there aren’t many extras to go around. Just inside the door, I check my watch.
I round the corner and let out a breath, simultaneously reminding myself to relax and stay calm. Five empty stalls, doors wide open – a clear invitation for entry. One stall, closed for business. It’s the only stall I can use.
My class is in a hospital building, plenty of patients with disabilities are seen here on a daily basis. I have no issue waiting while one of my disabled-peers performs their own “process.” After all, everyone has to wait in a public restroom once in a while.
There’s a rustle of a coat or some other form of clothing. Oh good, they’re almost done. And I see two high heeled shoes walk across the stall under the door.
Breathe, I remind myself. Maybe they have another reason to use the only accessible stall in this bathroom when all the other stalls are vacant.
I have a relatively new opinion of and relationship with bathrooms, of both the public and private variety. Having had a spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis in 2013 and now identifying as a paraplegic, simply going to the bathroom is no longer simple. I don’t even want to admit the amount of time I spend thinking about or planning when and where I will go on a daily basis. Plus, it just takes longer.
A friend from class walks in, looks at me and shakes her head, a mutual acknowledgement of how frequently this happens and how unnecessary it is. She walks into one of those five empty stalls and closes the door.
Apparently they weren’t almost done. I look and see those high-heeled shoes, still on the side of the stall where the sink and mirror are. Maybe it’s a business woman, here to give a presentation and wants to make sure her make-up and hair look okay. I try not to think about the obvious fact that task could easily be performed at the communal sinks, but who am I to judge. I know I appreciate having the sink within the stall, but not hearing running water, I’m guessing she isn’t using it for any of the tasks that make me grateful of its presence.
Then the heels move, now they’ve made their way to the toilet.
I still have five minutes. I’ll be cutting it ridiculously close and I really don’t like entering class late since I can’t exactly sneak into the front row, but it’ll be fine. It’s way too late to move to a different bathroom now. I sure hope I don’t regret the coffee I had to keep me awake this morning after yesterday’s long hours.
A toilet flushes and my classmate exits from her stall. She washes her hands and returns to class, leaving me alone with my thoughts and all the open stalls I can’t use.
Perhaps this woman doesn’t realize how her decision to use the only accessible stall is impacting another person. Maybe she doesn’t know any better and I should educate her. I should advocate for myself and for other wheelchair users – especially if this woman doesn’t truly need the stall. I should say something. I need to say something.
A toilet flushes and the heels move back to the sink side of the stall and water begins to run. Okay. Get ready, this is your chance to make a difference.
I hear a rustle of clothing, then there’s a pause. I’m imagining they’re making a few last-minute adjustments. I gear up, prepared to respectfully but purposefully educate this particular individual.
The stall door opens and a woman in a long white coat walks out. A physician who has given lectures earlier in my medical training. An attending physician I will likely encounter again when I transition into the “high stakes” clinical years and may have a say in the grading and assessment of my skills.
“Oh! Sorry bout that.” She says as she glances at me and rushes out the door.
Maybe next time.