As promised, here is an edited excerpt from what will be my book! It is quite challenging to give you the full story in a shortened version…I think enough is included to give you the full picture. I hope you will share your thoughts!
Once I was approved for wheelchair transport (technically called demand response transportation or DART), I was assigned the same driver to, and from work, nearly every day I was scheduled. I still lived in Safety Harbor, so I was going from home to work and then from work to home with the same wheelchair transport driver.
Over the course several months, I probably got a little too comfortable with my driver. On the way home from work, I was always exhausted, vulnerable and probably shared way too much. He would often challenge me to get out more than just going to work. I would share how challenging it was to just get to work, but it didn’t matter to him. He finally talked me into going out to eat with him. I didn’t realize until a few weeks after I went to eat with him that he was actually hitting on me. I thought he was just being nice. I didn’t realize until years later that he had capitalized on the weaknesses within what I shared.
I found him often harsh when he was trying to convince me to do things I simply didn’t have the energy to do, but since I was so overly sensitive about everything, I thought sometimes he had valid points. Essentially, he was bullying me into hooking up with him.
He often said things like how much easier it would be to have someone around to keep me company and to do things for me. I was not at all interested in him romantically and for the longest time, I just thought he was trying to get me to stop thinking about limitations. Perhaps on some level he was, but he did have an ulterior motive.
I was really too tired to analyze it too much as it was happening. I didn’t want to presume he had ulterior motives and I had nothing concrete to base that line of thinking on really. His bullying was often subtle and he often spoke in generalities. One day, he came to pick me up from work.
As he was lowering the lift of the van for me to load onto it, he started trying to bully me into doing something with him. I was tired and was tired of him always trying to wear me down with his bullying. I blurted out a pretty rigid boundary for him—I was very clear that he and I were never going to happen. I did this as he was raising the wheelchair lift to get into the van. As I saw his reaction, I knew it was a mistake.
You see, the driver controls the lift. You and the chair are on a piece of metal that the driver controls electrically to make it go up and down. If you are not all the way up or all the way down, you cannot go anywhere in your wheelchair. Once you are in the van, the driver straps in your wheelchair. All four wheels of the chair are strapped to a hook on the floor of the van.
He stopped the lift, looked at me with anger boiling in his eyes, and said, “You won’t have much of a choice since I am the one strapping you into this van.” I said, “Excuse me?! Lower this lift, I will call and get another ride home from a different driver.” He said, “What? You think you can call and report me? No one is going to believe you. I am the golden boy of all the drivers. Besides, you can’t get another driver tonight. You are at my mercy.” I was really tired and wasn’t going to continue to engage him in this drama, but I also had absolutely no way of getting out of this situation either. I had experienced various degrees of vulnerability since this illness began, but now I was the most vulnerable I think I had been so far.
I was on the lift. I could not get off the lift even if I had needed to, so basically, I was indeed at his mercy.
This realization sent some serious chills through my body and I needed to try to use the only thing I had to help me in this situation—my brain. I changed my outward approach to one of quiet resignation. I let him think he had worn me down, even though I was scrambling my brain trying to come up with some way to defend myself should this continue to escalate. I dealt with clients in crisis all the time, but this was a little different.
I essentially apologized to him for upsetting him, acted as if I was the one in the wrong, and hoped that approach would work. Since he felt he had won something (not sure what), he seemed to calm down. My heart was still racing and I was still sitting at the edge of the inside of the van on the wheelchair lift. I felt like I would shake out of my skin, but was able to appear calm.
He said he was not serious about his threats and wanted us to be friends. I simply said, “Please just take me home, I am really tired.”
It was too late in the day when I got home to talk to a supervisor for the DART drivers, which meant that the same driver would be picking me up the following morning as well. Once I got into work, assuming that I got home safely on this evening, then I could call and report him.
…This added a completely new dimension to being vulnerable. I was a sitting duck in that chair and I was struggling with the notion that I was not even safe in the wheelchair transport van. These drivers literally could do anything they wanted and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It had never occurred to me before.
I could not get myself down off a wheelchair lift operated by the wheelchair transport driver. I had no way of defending myself against this sort of assault at all. I did not like this feeling. I had been overpowered only twice in my life, and had learned in my nonviolent crisis intervention courses for work how to never let that happen again.
… I had been overpowered only twice in my life, and had learned in my nonviolent crisis intervention courses for work, how to never let that happen again. But, I didn’t know how to prevent that or stop that from a wheelchair, with legs that didn’t work right and arms that couldn’t even wheel me in a manual chair.
He was right about his supervisors not believing me. They did not, and I wondered if they even filed the report. I had a sneaky suspicion that my name was somehow tagged with this information now, but it had to be done. The consequences of other drivers not liking me was better than the alternative of being at this driver’s mercy for safety.
The most I could get from the supervisor was to have this driver never be allowed to transport me again. I was assigned a new driver effective that afternoon to take me home from work. It took a while to get a regular driver for the trips to work and I spent a lot of time waiting for late drivers. I never knew if this was by design and was my punishment or not.