Friday, April 9, 2010
My MS Story Chapter 34- Tell Me About the Bathroom
A select few of us have legs that don’t work but a bladder that still does. I assume that we constitute a minority of wheelchair users in that way (although not so uncommon in the MS world). Because I have this versatile wheelchair that climbs curbs and stairs, the limiting factor of where I can go and how long I can stay is often bathroom access. My friends appreciate the incredible mobility that I have with my iBOT wheelchair, and often encourage me with phrases like, “Oh, you can get in there with your wheelchair, no problem.” But they don’t think about the bathroom. I, on the other hand, spend considerable time thinking about, wondering about, and strategizing about bathrooms.
New, public buildings are not the problem- airports, hospitals, shopping malls. The ones that make life interesting for me are the old buildings and the private homes.
Our favorite pub in downtown Portland is called Ri Ra. Up until a year or so ago, I could still manage to use bathrooms that required me to get up out of my scooter or wheelchair, struggle through a bathroom door, and use the toilet. When I could no longer do that, Ri Ra just wasn’t working for me anymore. Too bad, because it’s a fun spot to meet friends after work and a welcoming space to bring out-of-town guests for a cold brew.
So, as I’m driven to do by necessity sometimes, I became creative. There is a nice hotel directly across the (busy) street from Ri Ra. Now, anytime I’m enjoying my favorite pub and need to use the toilet, I put on my coat and gloves (if it is winter) and cross the street to the hotel. I carry myself as if I’m a guest while I zip by the check-in desk. Sometimes I even help myself to one of their complimentary chocolate chip cookies. They greet me with a “good evening sir,” or similar. I go around the corner to the lobby bathroom, use it, and then leave again. I can't tell if the folks behind the desk are naïve or compassionate. Who's fooling whom anyway?
John and Ann are good friends. Kim and I often visit their home to watch a Red Sox or Patriots game together. They have three steps up from their garage to their entryway, but this is no problem for the iBOT. Their first-story bathroom is accessed from a narrow hallway. I just can't quite make the corner into that bathroom. Until a few months ago I could manage to get out of my chair and slither on over to the toilet, but no more. So once again, I became creative.
The tightest turning radius in my iBOT wheelchair is actually in the balance mode. So at John and Ann’s house I now go into balance mode in the hallway, make my way into the bathroom, go back down into standard mode, transfer to the toilet, transfer back to the wheelchair, go back up into balance mode, exit the bathroom, and then go back down into standard mode. Piece of cake. It sounds like a lot of hoops to jump through in order to use the bathroom, but as a disabled person you either learn the patience required for these types of work-around plans, or you sit home all day.
Here's another problem I encounter sometimes -- low toilets. I visited some friends in Boston recently. Their condo was quite roomy. I could even get into the bathroom without going up into balance mode. The problem was, once I got situated on their low-rise toilet, it became very difficult to get back up. The vanity was to my right, so I had something to use as leverage for that half of my body. There was nothing, however, to support the left side of my body. I found myself stuck on their toilet for about ten minutes. I was on the verge having to call for help, something that personal vanity discourages. But, at the last minute I executed a successful, all-or-nothing lunge for my chair.
When I had my CCSVI procedure in Brooklyn in March, we met friends at a Manhattan restaurant for dinner. Kim and I arrived at the restaurant before the other six guests. After a rush hour drive from Brooklyn to Manhattan, I needed to empty my bladder. Unfortunately, the restaurant bathroom was inaccessible. I asked the maitre d’ if there was a handicapped bathroom anywhere nearby, and there wasn’t. Kim and I surveyed the situation in the restaurant bathroom a second time, and devised a strategy. Long story short- I held myself up by grabbing whatever I could (doorknob, countertop, Kim's shoulder) and Kim moved my feet for me one at a time, the 10 steps or so from the door to the toilet and back again. I nearly ended up sprawled on the floor a couple of times, but Kim propped me up (and I only outweigh her by 80 lbs). I refrained from drinking anything with dinner, as I didn’t want to wrestle with that bathroom again.
Last summer I was speaking with a friend of mine about my bathroom accessibility issues. She asked the question, "Why don't you just use a catheter and a bag?" One day I may have to do that, I explained to her, but as long as my bladder is still working I feel obligated to use it. So, for the foreseeable future, I'll continue to make the following request whenever we consider going someplace for the first time:
"Tell me about the bathroom."