Adapted in TC: When our reaction matters

Featured in The Record Eagle on April 8, 2018 WRITTEN BY Susan Odgers, local columnist

The Record Eagle newspaper logoMy meeting in the maze-like office building is over. Before heading to the bus stop, I need to find a restroom. I discover one at the end of a long interior hallway.

“Wow. This restroom door is hard to open. Let me hold it for you,” says a tall woman exiting.

Inside the accessible stall, I hear high heels clicking on the tile floor as women arrive and depart. When I emerge, the restroom is empty. I wash my hands and brush my hair. The last woman’s rose-scented perfume floats in the air. It reminds me of summer.

Wheeling my chair to the door, I reach up, grab the vertical long black handle with my right hand and pull. The door creaks in its wood frame but doesn’t open. Hmmm, I think. Maybe more leverage? Moving my purse from my lap to my wheelchair foot pedals, I pull the door handle with both hands. It opens an eighth of an inch, then springs shut.

Looking at my watch, it’s 5:40 p.m. My bus has left, but there are two more. I have errands to run and my husband isn’t expecting me for hours. Regardless, he should know where I am. Looking at my phone, I realize it’s dead. Is my charger at home?

I’m stranded in the restroom, but for how long?

My main concern is getting someone’s attention. I pound my fists against the metal towel dispenser. I yell, even sing. Because I’m recovering from a head cold, I can’t hear how loud I am. There’s also a continuously running fan. I’m tempted to light a match under the smoke detector, yet worry I’ll start a fire. Why don’t I carry a personal alarm?

After the first hour of nonstop noise making, I’m tired and want to lay my head on the counter and nap. But what if I miss a rescuer? This isn’t like a movie — not like spending an overnight in a museum. There are no windows and I’m feeling claustrophobic. The room has gotten colder. I continuously press the hand-dryer for warm air. To keep the lights on, I have to repeatedly activate the sensor near the door.

After the second hour, I inventory my purse for snacks and medications. I find a paperback. Reaching for toilet tissue as Kleenex, the book falls into the toilet. It swells to three times its size. I write grocery lists and poems, notes to loved ones, even ideas for improving restrooms. To further distract myself, I count wall tiles, refill my water bottle and wash my hands until my fingers are wrinkly. My used paper towels cover the lid of the foot-operated trash can.

In the mirror, I can see myself from my nose upward. Staring, I contemplate crying, but wonder how it will help. I try to convince myself to use this private time to ponder life’s existential questions or minimally, the book I’m writing. I remind myself to breathe deeply. I try to meditate. Will anyone believe this happened to me, I wonder. I yell for help.

After three and a half hours, I fall asleep. The woman janitor pushes open the door. There’s a sign taped to the outside of the door “Restroom closed tonight for cleaning.” When she sees me, she screams.

Contact Susan Odgers at odgersadapted@yahoo.com.

She is a 31-year resident of Traverse City and has been using a wheelchair for 42 years. She is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College and Grand Valley State University.

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