It was tough. I had to pee during a lay-over while flying from Boston, MA to Portland, OR, a coast-to-coast urination holding-off marathon. It was an uncomfortable situation to be in, at the same time it was wonderful . True, I wasn’t given the help I needed, but I made a new friend among those who denied me. Oxymoronic? Yes. Well . . . . No, as the following chronology will show.
Those of you who have followed my blog, The Thin Edge of Dignity, are aware of my special needs in my Waste Disposal System: you have read how I’m wheelchair bound, and unlike others of my gender I have to sit on the toilet to urinate. I also need to have my britches and jockey shorts pulled down, and wiped if I’ve had a bowl movement. That (among many other reasons) is why I live in an Assisted Living Facility. ALFs hire Caregivers to do the intimate but necessary – if ya gotta go, ya gotta go – and dirty jobs.
But I was flying from “sea to shining sea?” Alone. Caregiverless.
I had a lay-over of three hours between the two legs of the flight.
Time unneeded if you’re in a hurry to make a connecting flight. Just right, if you’re the last one off the plane and have to wait three hours. But it’s a long time to go peeless. Worse, I had just flown three hours and had another three hours to fly. Ouch! Deep down in the bladder it hurt.
As I was being pushed to the gate of the last leg of my flight, I turned and looked up at the young woman who was pushing me, an Airport Service employee. I told her I had to use the bathroom, and asked if there was a disabled-unisex-family bathroom. She acknowledged that there was and began to push me towards it. When we got to the door, I told her – in the gentlest way I could – that she will not just push me in; I need her, or her co-worker, to lead me into the stall, wait till I get up and reach for the grab-bar. Then, she or he need pull down my pants and underwear, and help me sit on the toilet. It didn’t help the moment of her astonishment at realizing what she had to do, for the automatic toilet to flush as I stood in front of it.
As the flush roared, Semin stood silently. She turned to her colleague, Yismah. There was no movement. Bewildered, they exchanged excited words in Ethiopian. Uh Oh, I thought. They’re not American They don’t know what to do next. They’re trying to figure it out. In perfect English, the young woman says she regrets she can’t help me. Neither can the young man. They passionately explain their desire to help. But they must check with their supervisor.
These Airport Services employees are aided by modern technology. The call their supervisor on iPhones ; they record what’s happening on mini-pads. The supervisor shows up. A spate of Ethiopian vocalization follows. He kneels down to my eye level, in broken English tells me profusely how he wants to help me – if he could. He must speak to his supervisor, an airline official.
All three gather round. They reiterate their desire to help before it’s too late.
I calm them and tell them that after many years of ALF dependency I have trained both bladder and brain. No fear.
The circle in front of the bathroom grows when the airline official joins the waiting crew. “Oh,” I think. “Now there’ll be action: he’s wearing a tie.” A red tie, to be exact, on a white shirt under a red blazer. “Way to go,” I thought. He bent his tall frame, hovering over my wheelchair. “I’m Alan,” he said, smiling and shaking my hand. He asked what he could do for me. I explained. He stopped smiling. Apparently, he, too, had a supervisor.
Thus, as my bladder started shouting, I prepared myself for my third supervisor – another red tie, white shirt, and red blazer, but a she. A statuesque blond, official, but not officious, gentle in her questioning, but tough in here perseverance to get me on the toilet.
STOP THERE. I’m not sexist: the male, too, had aesthetic physical qualities. Alan, too, was tall and solidly framed, a handsome African American man. He appeared friendly and welcoming: he just needed higher authority.
Methinks the game is: who is liable?
Apparently neither the airline nor Airport Services were willing or able to be responsible for pulling down my pants and helping me onto the toilet. Who would? I couldn’t believe it. An EMT was called to the airport to toilet me. He did. And that made my bladder happy.
But a strange thing happened while we waited for the solution of how I could get on the toilet: a friendship developed between me and the young woman employee of Airport Services. Well versed in English, she talked about the role she played in aiding the elderly who needed wheelchair assistance. She said she didn’t consider those who she helped as just passengers, but people who need assistance that she wanted to give. And she hoped those in wheelchairs would not look upon her as just one who pushed wheel chairs, but as a person committed to help others. In short, she viewed the experience as a humanistic empathy.
As a result of our time together, we became Facebook friends and exchanged email addresses. Since we talked about my life in an ALF and the way old people are put into some kind of Long Term Care facility, we compared the life of elders in America and the African culture of respect and care for elders in the family or “village.” I recommend two books bearing upon our conversation.
I had made a new friend.
All the while, I didn’t even think about peeing.
I had a headache, though; but that was addressed in the previous blog.
When I returned to my home in Oregon, my Assisted Living Facility, I called up my facebook and found the friend request from my new live friend. After confirming our virtual relationship, I emailed her employer, Airport Servces, praising the quality of effort by their employees. I decided to express my gratitude toward the airline by posting on their facebook page, broadening the number of people who would learn of its employees who persevered in their dedication to get me on the toilet.
It’s said that we learn by experience. Therefore, I should have a lesson to show for the succession of events that landed me on a toilet seat. BYO is out-of-the-question – although Amazon has a translucent urinal (with a cover no less) for under $5:00, and a friend told me how on a long trip, following a hospitalization from a disabling accident, he used such an instrument to pee - much to the chagrin of his first class seat mate.
What I learned is simpler: fly non-stop and hold it in.