Handicapped Access or Excess?

Every time I rode a NYC bus that stopped for a wheelchair-bound person, I cursed silently, despite my better self. It seemed to take so much extra time for the driver to park the bus, get out, lower the lift at the back door for the wheelchair, flip up a seat, get the person in and secure the wheelchair. And then get back in the driver's seat. The clock was ticking and time was a wasting for me. Why weren't there separate wheelchair vans? Why did I have to be inconvenienced by someone else's handicap?

Then nearly two months ago, I saw the light. I reached for a hanger in my closet and suddenly felt pain so awful I literally saw stars. My Achilles tendon had ruptured. After surgery, I was in a cast and not permitted to put any weight on the repaired leg for at least six weeks. So I was thrust into the world of the handicapped. With my walker I hopped around on the good foot and held the injured one up. Empathy for others comes fast when you are also suffering.

I'm lucky enough to know that eventually this will pass and I'll be back on two legs again. It's been an ugly winter in NYC, so I haven't been compelled to go out. I don't have to go to work outside the apartment. I can hop back to my computer and write and email from the comfort of home. As for food and groceries in Manhattan, you can have most anything delivered.

Yesterday I ventured out to have my hair done. One of the salon employees helped me out the door and into a cab. She advised to me have patience. She had had toe surgery that went awry and wore a cast up to her thigh for a whole year. That put a quick stop to my feeling at all sorry for myself. I'm sure she didn't have the luxury of staying home for a year. She was a middle-aged African American woman who cleans the salon. I have health insurance, I have a housekeeper and I have enough money so that I can take cabs. My guess was that her year was a real hard one. My temporary handicap was a piece of cake in comparison.

Looking back, I am shocked that I could be so unfeeling as to begrudge a few minutes on a bus to someone in a wheelchair. After all, I spent several years taking care of my late husband, who suffered from multiple myeloma, and looked out for him as he got weaker and unable to manage the things we take for granted. So if I could be a Scrooge on a bus, it's not so hard to grasp how the opponents of universal health care can be such hard liners. How quickly we can turn off our compassion when we are inconvenienced. And how easy it is, when we have health insurance ourselves, to begrudge others less fortunate. Why should we care? The hard line opponents seem to live in a world of me first and me only and the hell with the rest of the population.

What I wonder is, do these opponents of universal health care have enough insurance to cover a catastrophic illness? If their mother were denied the necessary chemotherapy to save her life because it wasn't cost effective, would they accept that as the fair price we pay for capitalism? It's almost as if the opponents of universal coverage need to get really really sick to bring them around. I see how I could be impatient with handicaps until one effected me. Don't Republicans and Tea Partiers have a compassionate side? So many on the right profess to be good Christians. Where is their empathy for those millions of Americans whose only choice of medical care is to go to the ER?

Those of us who believe that everyone is entitled to affordable health insurance and good medical care need to constantly emphasize empathy and compassion. Partisan politics is getting uglier by the minute but maybe if we Democrats tried harder to appeal to the hearts of our opponents we'd get a little farther. It's worth a try.