I had always been uncomfortable around people in wheelchairs. As a kid, I was flat-out afraid of them. This may have been exacerbated by a Girl Scout trip to sing carols in a nursing home, where a fairly senile old man in a motorized wheelchair yelled and chased me and Trina down the hallway, effectively scaring the bloody hell out of us and making us both afraid of not only wheelchairs, but also nursing homes.
Anyway. I got a little older and wasn’t afraid of wheelchairs or their passengers anymore, but I was still awkward, like so many people are. I encountered very few wheelchair users in my everyday life, and I wasn’t sure how to act. I couldn’t quite make eye contact. I found myself at a loss for words.
In my training for my brief stint as a Target employee, they told us that we should kneel down when talking to wheelchair users, because they’d feel better if we approached them on their level. I don’t know – that seemed awfully patronizing, like how you’d approach a dog or a little kid. I never had the chance to try it out, though.
I was really worried that seeing Ginny in a wheelchair would freak me out, that I wouldn’t be able to handle the sight. But I think that after seeing her go from being completely unable to even move or feed herself, to spending the majority of three months confined to a hospital bed or a giant orthopedic stretcher chair, seeing her in a wheelchair is a huge improvement and one hell of a triumph.
Even better – she can bear weight on her right foot in water, and her first pool therapy session was Friday. She said she walked all around the pool – the first time she’s walked since March 1st, and she was thrilled about it. And we’re thrilled for her. She’s going to have pool therapy three times a week for the forseeable future, in order to help strengthen her right leg for when she’s ready to bear weight on it.
For now, though, she’s mostly in the wheelchair. She’s gotten really good at getting in and out of it and rolling around and stuff on her own, but she still can use a little help sometimes.
Yesterday she wanted to go to the movies, and because I’m completely broke ’till Wednesday, she said she’d pay. Sammi is at basketball camp this week, so Jamie and Ginny and I got ready to go to the 4:30 showing of Mean Girls at the Cinema Grill.
The Cinema Grill is unique because it used to be a regular movie theater that closed down a few years ago. They re-opened it a while later as a combined restaurant/movie house with tables and chairs in its auditoriums, and they serve food and alcohol while you’re watching the movie. And the movies are really cheap. The March 1999 issue of E.S.P. has a good little story on the Cinema Grill’s conversion, if you’re interested.
We called ahead to make sure it was handicapped-accessible (all places are supposed to be, but you’d be surprised), got in the Jeep, and headed over.
(Side note: My parents’ Jeep Grand Cherokee is the transportation of choice for Ginny, as it is high enough for her to get in and out of easily, big enough to hold the wheelchair as well as people, and has handicapped plates. But it’s totally weird to get used to since I normally drive a small sedan. Anyway.)
People were all really nice and helpful. We were actually joking around that our waiter was being extra-super-special nice to Ginny because she’s crippled. It’s funny.
There were a handful of other people there, all with kids. Um, I don’t really call Mean Girls a children’s movie, but whatever. We ordered our drinks and food (hey, their cheese fries are AWESOME) and the movie started. About ten minutes into the movie, the film suddenly bubbled and burned right on screen. I knew exactly what was happening, and for a moment I got paranoid and worried that there was a fire in the projection room and began to mentally make plans for how to get out of there quickly if need be. But all that happened was that the film was old, the projector was old, and it got too hot. Apparently it had happened before.
They let us know that they couldn’t fix the film in time and apologized, offering free passes and inviting us to go next door to watch the other movie if we liked. The other movie was Van Helsing, which we had no desire whatsoever to see, so we passed and decided to just eat our food in there and go. Everyone else declined too. Notably, the woman with two little girls pitched a bit of a fit about how she had children with her and Van Helsing wasn’t appropriate for them, like, hello, you brought your ten year old girls to a movie rated PG-13 for “sexual content, language, and some teen partying” and in the first ten minutes we’ve already seen the sex ed scene and heard some language, so whatever, lady, because Van Helsing is also rated PG-13. Incidentally, she was also really angry about the movie being broken and personally offended that the management would be so audacious as to burn a film right on screen when she had brought her daughters out to see it!
Please note: The people whose crippled sister really wanted to see this movie, since she was in the hospital when it was in the theater, and for whom going anywhere is a major undertaking, weren’t complaining a bit. I’m just sayin’.
But I digress. (When do I ever not digress?)
We decided to go to the theater near the mall to see Harry Potter. And that turned out to be just fine – Ginny was even able to get into the theater seat there, which was slightly more comfortable than two and a half hours in a straight-backed wheelchair would have been. Sitting four inches from the theater screen took some getting used to, though – I thought I was going to get motion sickness during the flying scenes. Also, this is totally the best Harry Potter movie so far, and it’s a damn shame that Cuarón has said he won’t be doing another one.
The point (if there is a point) is that people everywhere were so friendly and helpful that it was really heartening. We had a complete stranger offer to help us when we were getting Ginny back in the wheelchair after the movie, and while we didn’t need the help, the offer was just so nice. Sure, a few people stared, but it didn’t bother us a bit. I think it helps, too, that we’re so positive about it and that Ginny goes around telling people she’s in the chair because she’s lazy, or because she wants attention, and at first they seem a little shocked, like how can you joke about being in a wheelchair? but it seems to put them at ease, too.
I freely admit that it might be different if Ginny looked ill, or if she were older, or if the wheelchair were permanent. People’s attitudes might be different, and so might ours. But this is working out just fine for us so far, and it’s kind of weird and cool to take Ginny back into a world she’s been missing for four months now. Crazy little things like going to the grocery store really excite her, and that’s fun.
Except when you’re pushing her and she keeps clamping down on the wheels to make you stop so she can dig through the $6.00 DVD bin at Kroger for shitty movies and you’re trying to push as hard as you can and then she puts the damn brakes on and people are looking and you threaten to wheel her directly into the next wall you see and leave her there. But then everyone laughs and it’s all okay.