My eyes squinted as they adjusted to the sun as I wheeled my chair outside for the first time in months. I was ready to be back in the real world after being sequestered within the confines of a hospital for the entire winter. Food was on my mind. I salivated as I ordered a chocolate milkshake. The response of the waitress caught me off guard: “Would you like a LITTLE milkshake or BIG milkshake?” I would’ve given this waitress the benefit of the doubt had she not enunciated her words as if I was a toddler and showed me exactly just how BIG their milkshakes were with exaggerated hand motions.
After having spent the previous four months in hospitals around medical professionals and others with similar medical conditions, getting acclimated back into society was a rude awakening. I was not exactly prepared for how differently I would be treated now that I was sitting in a chair immobilized. Being taken aback that day revealed how differently I was looked at by outsiders and was my introduction to what would become the norm.
The crazy milkshake lady was only the beginning. Over the past few years I have gotten my fair share of comments that make me want to say:
“Were you drinking when you got into the accident?”
A fair question. At the right time. From the right person. Not when I am hooked up to machines fighting for my life. (Click here for the story behind this genius)
“So how is Ryan doing…mentally?”
Another reasonable question…except it was asked to my parents right in front of me, as the person smiled at me as if I was the newborn they were cooing over.
“Wait, let me get this straight, this is a REAL dating relationship?”
Well, actually, my girlfriend just “felt bad” for me…so much so that she has sacrificed the opportunity to date other people over the past year for the sheer purpose of pity.
“We did not just bring double bacon pizza…we brought Quad Bacon for you, Ryan!”
I didn’t realize pizza places were now naming their food after quadriplegia. I will have to see if Multiple Sclerosis Cheese and Stroke Sausage are on the menu.
“Thanks for allowing my child to be around you. It really is great for them to get experienced with the handicapped.”
It was a pleasure mentoring your child. I’m glad you saw the value.
“Would you like to be in my documentary about mental disabilities?”
Actually, this was not even said to me. It was said to my friend sitting next to me at dinner; as apparently I looked incapable of even formulating a sentence.
“You look great!”
Probably the comment I get more than anything. And no, it’s not because I belong in GQ. This question is more humorous than bothersome, but it essentially sounds as if “compared to what I think you should look like” is left off. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to look like I’m on death’s door or if I shouldn’t shower, shave, or ever see the sun. I can’t help but laugh at this one. Is there any other scenario where it is socially normal for a 25-year-old male to get told so randomly and frequently by people of all ages in all settings how good he looks?
“Whenever I think my life is bad, I just think about yours.”
I’m just here to help. What would you possibly do without me?
I could go on, but I think that’s enough. You get the idea. Looking back, it’s actually been quite amusing remembering the comments. Seeing the face of family or friends after the words were uttered and having a story to share later, “Can you believe this person said…” However, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that cynicism or offense may have been the first defense mechanism and festered in the time thereafter.
So what am I supposed to do? Respond like this game show host on “Billy Madison?”
On second thought, telling someone they’re an idiot probably wouldn’t be too helpful.
If I went on the words above, my identity would be summed up by my medical condition, I’d be incapable of having a romantic relationship, and my purpose would simply be for people to look at a pitiful situation to feel better about their own lives.
The Bible says to take every thought captive. Rather than dwell on the words of others and start to project them on myself, I’ve learned to ask, “What is God’s truth about this?”
Thankfully comments like those above no longer affect my psyche and instead simply provide comic relief. I am more in tune with knowing the truth about who I am, rather than having to worry about what others say or what they think.
I’ve often debated whether or not to sarcastically quip back to make someone extremely uncomfortable…but I think I’ll pass. And just continue to share them with you.
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