top of page

Breath & Shadow

Summer 2014 - Vol. 11, Issue 3


written by

Debbie Johnson

BEEP-BEEP, BEEP-BEEP. The alarm clock rings and I pull the covers over my head. BEEPBEEP. After another minute, I tire of the alarm's incessant call. I crawl out of bed remembering today’s itinerary and wish I could just stay home. Taking a deep breath, I strive to remain calm and relaxed. Yet the anxiety begins.


As the time nears for the bus to pick me up, my heart races along with my thoughts. A dull headache has worsened throughout the morning just knowing I have to see HER.


Today’s trip is one of my least favorites. I find myself clenching my jaw, knowing I have little control over the outcome. As I get ready, I play out scenarios of what to share with the psychiatric nurse practitioner, and what her responses might be. If I act too nervous, she may think I need more medication. Or, she could decrease it if I appear to be doing well. If she senses I am too unbalanced, she could hospitalize me. I need to look pulled together, rather than scattered, which is how I feel.


As the bus squeals to a halt in front of the house, my dog barks frantically. She knows it means she will be alone until the bus returns me. It will likely take three or four hours for my fifteen minute appointment. The bus arrives seven minutes early, leaving me no time to double check that I have everything. I hurriedly throw my water and notebook in my bag to help pass the time.


I struggle to maneuver my electric wheelchair through the front doors and head down the ramp. The bright sun feels warm on my bare arms. Brian is driving today, and I smile. He’s friendly and usually has a funny story or two to share about his driving adventures. I see the drivers so often they almost seem like family.


But, I have a love/hate relationship with the bus. It is the only way I can travel with my electric chair. As I age, more of my friends and family are unable to lift my manual wheelchair into a car. As a result, I would be home-bound much of the time without the bus, but do get frustrated with their limited service hours and the long waits.


As I approach the end of my ramp, the smell of diesel exhaust permeates the air. I get onto the wheelchair lift which groans and shakes like a bad roller coaster ride. As I ride up, the driver is in my personal space as he operates the controls. Due to the design of the system, this is the only possible way. The ride up takes only a few seconds, but poses the awkwardness of where to look. Do I look at the bus driver, or stare at the sky and comment on the weather? Today I look straight ahead, seeing first the white paneling on the side of the bus and next the gray interior. I go to the nearest seat and transfer out of my chair, always longing for a change of position. As I fasten my seatbelt, Brian, once again invading my personal space, secures my chair. I stare out the tinted window as if there was something interesting to see. Once security is ensured, it’s time to pay for the ride. I feel a twinge of frustration that I have to pay while others qualify for free transportation. Somewhere in the governmental bureaucracy, they determined my above the knee amputation wasn’t a disability. The air is stale and sticky, so I ask Brian to turn up the air conditioning. A few strains of country music are heard over the chatter between the bus drivers and dispatchers on the two-way radio. After the noisy, bumpy ride, we arrive at the clinic. There’s a small step at the clinic door, but it is significant enough to jar my chair as I pass over it. Only the inside door into the clinic is wheelchair accessible. The outside door isn’t, increasing the time spent in rain and snow. There ought to be a law requiring clinics to be completely wheelchair accessible. Oh right—there is. My appointment is on the main floor. Getting to the basement requires going outside and around the building while negotiating a steep drop in the parking lot. It is dangerous on a sunny day, impossible when the pavement is snow and ice covered. Fortunately, I do not need the food bank, energy assistance office, or clinic classrooms located there today. Once in the clinic, I approach the reception desk. It’s well above my head, making me feel like a five-year-old trying to see over a bank counter. At times, I need to rustle papers or make noise so they know I am there. After I am checked in, the faceless voice behind the desk directs me to sit in the waiting room. Waiting rooms are often completely lined with chairs, leaving no logical place for a wheelchair. I try to find a spot where I will be out of the way. An hour passes while I leaf through a few magazines. The clinic isn't running late. To accommodate all the riders, the bus company schedules a wide time window. In other words, I’m very early. I sit, trying to be patient as I wait for my appointment. As if on cue, I miss the days when I could come and go as I pleased. 


The sun is setting. The clock says 5:30 meaning the fifteen minute appointment took just under four hours. Not the most productive four hours of my life, but I did get a good laugh when Brian told the story about the growling dog he had to outsmart by giving up his lunch in order to pick up a client this morning. I did come up with some interesting ideas for poems. Now I am at home, in my comfy chair, back in control again. I sit back and take a relaxing breath as Zoë jumps up to sit beside me.

Author Blurb

Breath & Shadow

Summer 2014 - Vol. 11, Issue 3

bottom of page