Using a Hanicap Parking Sticker

The handicap parking space, is so close and convenient. On a rainy day, who hasn’t quipped, “I wish I had a sticker so that I could park there.” In fact there are people who do not even see the sign and park there anyway. There are others though who see it and think, “I’ll just be a minute.”

It was difficult for me to adjust to using a handicap sticker six years ago at the age of thirty-seven. Old people with walkers, or the folks who drive vans equipped with a hydraulic lift for an electric wheelchair is who I thought needed them. The concept that because of my anemia every step saved ultimately extends my energy level throughout the day was difficult to grasp. One less step here while holding my twenty-six pound baby means an extra step later in the day.

Of course it is not just anemia, but the lack of energy due to water gain or because of a recently completed dialysis run which can leave one drained, or fluctuating blood pressure. Also, the number of surgeries that I have had over the past six years is staggering and has frequently rendered me in a state of recovery. What makes the use of the handicap parking space particularly difficult is that I often do not appear handicapped. While I’m not aware of anyone staring and wondering to themselves, “why does he get a handicap sticker,” I am often self conscience as I get out of the driver’s seat under the power of my own legs.

This concern for how others might judge me was particularly true when I first used the handicap privilege at Disney World. But now that I’m a veteran of the privilege, since it is one of my family’s favorite vacation destinations, I understand that without it I would only be able to get to few of the rides and attractions before becoming exhausted or having to go and dialyze. I’m afraid my son and daughter will be very disappointed on the day they go to Disney World without me- only then will they get the full Disney experience.

While at Disney World, I have had only one person say to me, “how do you get one of those passes?” To which I calmly replied, “loss your kidneys, is how I got mine.” I don’t recall what he said after that, perhaps, “sorry to hear that,” or “tough break,” the conversation trailed off quickly. My wife who is always sensitive about other people’s feelings squirmed when she heard my answer. I explained to her that I was not trying to be mean or defensive rather factual. I feel an obligation to educate people about kidney disease.

However, I do have a limit to my obligation. For example, I always look for handicap stickers on cars parked in handicapped spaces. I do this even if I’m not in a need to use my privilege. When my blood count is relatively normal and everything else is stable, I choose not to use it and instead take advantage of the exercise I get from parking further away. Even though I take note as to whether a car is or is not legally parked in a handicap space I generally do nothing further if it is not. I have found that people generally do not react well when their shortcomings are handed to them on a plater, especially by a stranger.

Yesterday I made an exception to this rule. One of my vices which I have convinced myself is a necessity to make it through the day is espresso. I usually have a triple shot to start most mornings and by afternoon I’m stopping by one of my favorite coffee bars for a double cappuccino. Things were no different yesterday. After my son and I picked up my 2 year old daughter we stopped by Beaner’s for a quick “lift me up” and a snack for the kids. When I pulled into the parking lot I noted a pick up truck in the handicap spot that I often use. Instead of using that one which is right in front of the door, I used the one on the opposite side of the parking lot. This just means that I have to carry my daughter while holding my seven year olds hand as we come across the snowy parking lot. When we walk to the parking spot in front of the door I carefully check the license plate of the truck to see if it is stamped with a handicap sticker. It is not. I next check the dashboard and review mirror for the blue hanger. Nothing. Now I’m thinking to myself, since the car is running, its owner is probably standing in line. Because I may be able to identify the transgressor I am wondering if I should confront him/her. The answer gets clearer when in the corner of the windshield I spy a hospital parking permit. As we walk through the door it becomes crystal clear when I see a man in hospital scrubs with a stethoscope around his neck. When I see this I feel like a young hunter who on his first stepped into the woods sees a twelve point buck. “Holy, cow!” I think to myself. “Is this a doctor who is not handicapped and using the handicap space?” Now I have to say something.

I ask the kids to get a table for us as I stand in line behind the doctor. I politely say, “excuse me, are you handicapped?” I didn’t want to be too presumptuous. He turns to me his face bright red and embarrassingly responds, “no.” I am relieved that he is only embarrassed and not hysterically angry. I say to him, “I am.” “Are you a doctor?” I ask. After confirming that he is, he immediately starts to apologize and lets me know that he was just running in for a quick coffee and that he thought he’d only be a minute. It is right there, the rationalization, where the problem lies. Even though one makes the decision to use the spot rationalizing that they will only be a minute, one has no information concerning what someone else will be doing in that same minute. For example, an anemic man on dialysis with his young family looking for a place to park. It doesn’t matter whether the spot is used for a minute or for half a day, once it is in use, no one else can use it at the same time.

We both stood in line for what seemed like an eternity. While I knew the point was made, I couldn’t help myself from making one more comment, “you are suppose to be setting an example.” I rationalized this comment by assuming that he was probably a resident grabbing some joe on his way to another thirty-six hours of rounds and that perhaps it was an educable moment. I felt safe in this assumption because he was driving a small pick-up truck and that there are two medical schools at Michigan State University, but primarily because of the pick-up truck. He immediately began to apologize again and I regretted my comment. I really didn’t want to make him anymore uncomfortably, I was just having difficulties absorbing the fact that a doctor illegally parked in a handicap spot by rationalizing that, “I’ll only be a minute.”

Erich, thanks for that post, it reminds me a lot of myself. My son sometimes gets embarrassed when I need to use a cart at Costco, or feel the need to utilize the handicapped sticker I have. He, luckily, sees me as healthy, and doesn’t get those days when walking to the back of the store seems like miles.

My problem is low blood pressure, primarily, and ankle, hip and knee pain, on other days. I too feel “watched” and judged when getting out of the car and/or when using a cart (not often, just one or two days a month now do I feel that bad). However, like you, at theme parks etc., using my own cart allows us to do the whole park instead of me sitting most of the time waiting for my kid to come off the ride.

I am going to have my son read your post for more understanding, and try to overcome my guilt at being “disabled”.

home hemo 9/04

It took me eight years before I got my placard. Finally things were so bad I got a temporary one. It was hard at first, especially on days when I felt better just not good enough. People look at me bad all the time, even now with my cane. Some how they seem to think age has something to do with a persons right to a placard. I have a permanent one now that I have a fractured hip that won’t heal and have to walk with a cane. I used to try and not use it, but I have to walk so much anyways I use it now to give me some help in my tasks. On Current Tv( a channel we get in the bay area) they have a commercial called invisible dissability. It really hits this whole topic home. Here is a link to it . Very cool pod.
oh and yes I to find myself checking for placards. Not sure what I would do though if someone didn’t have one…

Great Public Service Announcement. I posted it on my blog.