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Why I'm Reluctant to Pick Up the Disabled Placard Application Sitting on My Printer

OK, so I’ve printed it out.

The application for a disabled placard for my car is sitting in my printer right now, just a few feet away from where I’m sitting.

But somehow, I can’t seem to muster the will to go over there and get it, to fill it out, to bring it to my neurologist. It’s not that I can’t get that piece of paper, it’s that I’m not sure I really want to. In reality, I don’t think anybody wants to have to get that form from their printer.

More times than not, I look like anybody else who appears to be walking around with ease. People may be mystified to learn that I am even considering applying for such a placard, especially when I frequently wear chunky wedge shoes instead of flats or sneakers.

However, if you watch me climb some stairs, ascend inclines, or try to simply walk “normally” in the heat or high humidity, it will quickly become apparent that I am not like a garden variety, able-bodied person. In those moments, I am not walking around with ease. Why? I have a relapsing remitting form of multiple sclerosis and, during bouts of hot and/or humid weather, I quickly succumb to heat sensitivity which weakens my legs, makes me light-headed causes bright spots to appear in my field of vision, and prompts me to become nauseous, – sometimes to the point of vomiting. Every day, regardless of the weather, my disease makes stairs incredibly problematic for me; high heat and humidity amplify my stair-climbing challenges by a factor of a thousand.

When you mix trying to get to work on hot days when one has to park far away from the office, then throw in a couple of sets of stairs, that equals incredible physical difficulties for me…difficulties that can seriously compromise my ability to do my work. Here’s a snapshot of what this is like:

While working at a university last fall, I struggled with ascending stairs and with heat sensitivity after parking a half-mile from the building in which my class met. It happened to be an unusually hot and sticky autumn and I frequently found myself having to take a break when I was only halfway to the academic building. I routinely sought refuge inside the nearest air conditioned building, sipped a cold drink (I always brought one with me), and pressed ice packs to my face and neck, praying I would regain my equilibrium before I got to class. Eventually, I would summon the energy to plow through the thick air and walk the rest of the way to my destination. By the time I got there, I was faced with climbing steep stairs to the second floor, where I would be teaching my 90 minute class to 50 students. (There was no elevator that I could find on the first floor.) My ascent up those stairs was glacially slow, as I hoped the anti-nausea medicine I took before coming to campus would prevent me from getting ill in the hallway outside of the classroom, which would be no way to start a class discussion. By the time I got home from teaching during those hot and humid days, I would retreat to my bed. At 7:30 p.m.

Throughout last summer and fall, there were many occasions when taking stairs or simply walking in heat and humidity made me fall ill, depleted my energy before I even got to where I was going. The negative impact of being so physically drained could linger for as long as the next 24 hours as my body would feel battered, rendering me unable to do much of anything.

Which brings me to the matter of obtaining a disabled placard for my car to use during hot or humid weather: It would allow me to utilize my limited energy for my work, not expend it all on simply getting to the classroom. Friends and family members have been urging me to just get the placard already. My neurologist weighed in positively during our previous consultation. “Give me the form and I’ll sign it,” he told me.

The application form speaks pretty plainly: “Disability license plates and placards allow a disabled person to park in a designated parking space.”

My reluctance to this? If I actually apply for a disabled placard, if I submit a completed for to the state government, one that declares me to be a “disabled person,” I will be admitting something I don’t want to admit – something that I already know intellectually, but can’t yet face emotionally. I recognize that this period of “choice” about how to identify myself is a blessing, an option many folks don’t have. However I am clinging to the fact that, for much of the time, I can maintain an illusion of health that others cannot, unless, of course, you send me up a flight of stairs or take me for a walk on a hot day. Even if I obtain the placard and don’t use it, I will still know that I’ve “crossed over” somehow.

I seem to be the only person in my life who is balking at applying for this placard, maybe I’m the only one in my life who doesn’t see what others who know me do. Maybe I’m the one who’s trying to convince myself to buy this so-called “illusion” of health.

Perhaps it would be wise to knock it off with the hemming and hawing and instead simply see the placard as a tool which, in the face of stairs and/or hot days, will enable me to focus like a laser on the things I need to do, like teaching my students how to understand and interpret the daily news.

Now, if only I could bring myself to get that form from the printer.

Getty Image by Akchamczuk