Adapted in TC: When our reaction matters
Featured in The Record Eagle on April 8, 2018 WRITTEN BY Susan Odgers, local columnist
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.