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To the Man Who Said, ‘There Are People Who Need This Parking Space More Than You’

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My mom and I both had some grocery shopping to do on a warm spring afternoon, so I rode along with her to the local supermarket. It’s usually busy, but we were lucky enough to find a handicapped space right up front. As mom reached into her glove compartment to hang up her handicapped placard in the rear view mirror, we heard a rapping at the driver’s side window. A man, maybe 80 or so, was standing there looking peeved.

“Do you have something that says you can park here?” the man asked in an accusatory tone. He was wearing a black jacket, jeans and a veteran’s cap — definitely not a police or security officer.

“Uh, yes,” my mom answered, pointing to the sign dangling from her mirror. “What business is that of yours?”

“There are people here like me who need that space more than you,” he spat.

I started shaking and felt a hot anger build up in my neck and face. “She can’t breathe!” I shouted at him from the passenger seat. “She has a disease that affects her breathing and she can’t walk across the whole parking lot! Who do you think you are?”

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The man looked surprised, then kind of chuckled at me — a woman, five months pregnant and visibly angry, shrieking like a banshee. Mom quietly said to him, “You need to move along,” and rolled up her window.

If I hadn’t been so blindsided with anger, I could have told this man exactly why she has every right to park in that space. For 20 years, my mom has been dealing with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA). It only affects about four in every million people. GPA is an inflammatory disease that affects the blood vessels. It can be widespread throughout the body, attacking the lungs, kidneys and nervous system, or it can be limited, which means it “only” causes problems in the upper respiratory tract, the nose and trachea, as well as the eyes and ears. It not only restricts blood flow to the organs it involves, but causes granulomas (firm nodules of extra tissue) to build up as well.

My mom is fortunate enough to have the limited type, which is not fatal in and of itself, but can definitely cause some serious problems. She has a 75 percent hearing loss in the left ear, and a 40 percent loss in the right. Hearing aids have helped but her eardrums are prone to rupturing, making the aids uncomfortable to wear and difficult to keep clean. The cartilage in the bridge of her nose has collapsed, giving her the classic “saddled” look. Plastic surgery could fix its appearance, but could trigger a whole host of other issues, so she decided against it years ago.

The most troubling aspect of her GPA is it causes nodules to build up on her throat, which, on a good day, is about the circumference of a coffee stir stick. With so little room, the space those nodules take up can quickly become life-threatening, especially during humid weather when the inflammation is worse. She has laser surgery at least once a year to give her trachea some extra breathing room, literally.

Still, with all of those problems going on inside of her, my mom does not look anywhere near her actual age of 63. She has few gray hairs, even fewer wrinkles and dresses stylishly. People are shocked to find out she was born during the Truman administration and even more surprised to learn she’s chronically ill. So I guess it’s no surprise this guy reacted the way he did to an attractive, well-dressed blonde lady pulling up and parking in a spot normally reserved for people who “obviously” need it.

I haven’t really had a reason to stand up for my mom this way before, but I’m not sorry for how I handled it. In fact, I kind of wish I had more time to set the record straight with him. My mom doesn’t need to explain her disease to people who think you need to look a certain way to qualify for accessibility. That’s not for them to decide. She manages her condition with dignity and grace, and she needs that parking space just as much as someone who has tangible evidence of a disability.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 16, 2016
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