When it’s a matter of life, death and wheelchair accessible vans.
“…Debbie’s been in an accident.”
My heart sank when I heard those words echo through the answering machine late last summer. They pierced my conscious like a bullet even though the tone was calm, almost melancholy.
Mom was the only one in the van, driving to work, where she’d recently been promoted to Program Manager at Dreams Go On. She was just starting to put herself back together following the death of her mother a few short months before.
She must’ve been watching over us, because I was planning to go with Mom that night but for some reason didn’t.
Forget about the ten years it took to get that van, I thought to myself. Forget about how easy it was to go places. Forget the van.
At this point, I didn’t care if I never went anywhere again. I just wanted to hear Mom’s voice. For the time being I’d have to settle for a family friend’s voice – the one who just so happened too see our van twisted and bent on the side of the road.
The words cut deeper as Dad replayed that message several times before darting out the door to my handicap-accessible entrance. I was suddenly left alone to play a shady game of ping-pong with my thoughts.
All I could think about was the old, oversized army green machine we’d bought in the summer of ’06, the letter Mom wrote by hand to the company that owned the green van, and the blue van that I imagined was a smoldering pile of scrap metal by now. The significance of vans.
The letter was written after we’d been told that certain parts of Pennsylvania didn’t make adaptations to wheelchair-accessible vehicles when in actuality they did. In addition, we had already waited the mandatory ten years to even try to apply for the van – required by state law – and even so, there’s no guarantee you’ll be approved. If anything, the letter was an attempt to not “scare” these representatives, but to no avail.
My parents were coaxed into buying that van because it was designed to be adapted for my motorized wheelchair. Moreover, they were promised that the work would be done in six weeks at the latest.
The van itself wasn’t exactly “user friendly” to begin with. It was big, awkward, and in hindsight, built for The Incredible Hulk. Parking was a chore, especially in tight spaces. Not only that, but my parents had to be on stilts to even get me into it. It was two about feet higher than the blue one we bought from another company that sold Braun Entervans – the model we were originally looking to buy prior to this ordeal.
I don’t use the word hate very often, but I hated that green van. I hated how helpless and vulnerable it made me feel every time I was in it. Mostly, I despised how my parents were sucker-punched, and that Mom blamed herself for ruining my proverbial sandcastle that took ten years to build.
I saw that same guilt etched on her face when she came home from the hospital the night of her crash with deep cuts and bruises on her face and arms. She hobbled into my room, sat on the edge of my bed, and simply said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK, Mom. You’re still here.”
Nothing I said or did seemed to dismiss her guilt. I knew I wasn’t the one hurt, but still felt helpless because I couldn’t change the situation. She tried her best to put on a brave face as she turned out the light.
Almost a full year since the accident, we currently have a used van with no adaptations. We can use a portable ramp if we have the manpower – one person to drive the chair into the back of the van and another to push with all their might.
It’s not a one-man job anymore. Gone are the quick trips Mom and I used to take. We’re waiting another two years to start the application process once again, but looking back on those few hours I spent alone in the house, I realize how selfish I was. I should’ve appreciated the independence I had while I had it.
Lesson learned. It’s amazing how far a spare wheelchair, a portable ramp, and a little bit of willpower can take you. Can’t wait to get my independence back!
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