Thursday’s Special Feature: Joyce Gatschenberger

The Blue Cubicle Held My Destiny

My outlook was oblivious to what life would be like with a disability. Waking up with swollen hands and feet gave me pause. For a moment, I couldn’t quite decide if I was still in my dream or the twilight of waking. Flexing my fingers and toes offered instant pain.  Attempting to shift my stiff, aching body was like heaving a load of wet laundry out of an old wash tub.  A vision of soaked cloth slapping on the concrete as the load found relief, developed in my mind’s eye.

Medical tests confirmed Systemic Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.  How could this be?  An accomplished woman “at the top of her game.”  My life changed literally, overnight. Boy, was I pissed – and still am. It wasn’t fair.  It wasn’t right. Admitting that the situation was real overwhelmed my ability.   My only option was to learn to live with it – which I didn’t want to do.

No one could visually see that I was disabled. All of my appendages were connected to my body. My posture was straight, with effort, when I walked or entered a room.  I didn’t need a wheelchair when I reserved a seat on the airplane. People couldn’t see the disability – therefore it wasn’t there.

The final indignity came when the doctor offered to fill out the motor vehicle disability placard application, with me.  Sitting motionless in the clinic chair, I knew that this would make the disability “real” for both me and the world.

I envisioned myself slowly driving my car down the row of parking spaces and finally locating the blue marked spot. The government had authorized boldly marked parking spaces with blue paint displaying to the world that the person driving this car is authorized to park in this special space.

Circling twice and then three times, I couldn’t encourage myself to pull into the marked space – each time driving slower and slower.  Coming full circle, I stopped the car – in front of the first blue-marked space.   Slowly, and with great physically and emotional effort, I turned the steering wheel.  Pulling into the space felt like I was a long-haul trucker driving an 18 wheeler and just lost my air brakes. Turning off the key, the car engine ceased.

Looking up I came face-to-face with the blue figure that would announce my arrival for the rest of my life – the disabled parking sign. I was a disabled person!


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