Dear Stranger: My Disability Parking Permit Is NOT Up For Judgment

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse

It was a typical weekend Target run. Or so I thought.

My oldest two daughters were anxious to spend their birthday gift cards and had spent most of the morning reminding me (read: annoying me) that they “needed” to go the store. Eventually, I changed out of my pjs into a pair of ripped jeans and t-shirt, loaded up in the minivan, and drove to our local store.

It had been two days since I’d a long enough kid-free break to focus on my physical therapy exercises from my recent hip surgery. The tightness in my left hip joint was bothersome, reminding me that I needed to pay attention, but I knew that I’d have a few moments that evening to get onto the exercise bike and do a few floor stretches.

We pulled into the parking lot and found an accessible parking space near the cart corral. I pulled my disability parking pass out of my backpack purse, the necessary purse I had acquired when I was on crutches for a month.

My girls zipped their coats and hopped out of the van. I slipped the disability pass hanger over my rearview mirror, slid out of my own seat, and locked the car doors. Then I held each girl’s hand and we walked into the store.

My daughters carefully chose what to spend their gift cards on, and I tossed into my cart the odds and ends that big families always need. We paid and walked back to the parking lot, loading the trunk space with our bags. I placed our cart in the nearby corral, and then I got into the van to see that there was a notebook piece of paper under my windshield wiper.

I got back out of my seat, grabbed the sheet of paper, and got back into the van and read: “Entitlement doesn’t make you handicap!” For emphasis, there was an exclamation point at the end, and the words were circled.

My girls, piping up from the backseat, asked, “Mom! What does that note say?”

I read it to them, and then they asked me what it meant. And I told them, “I honestly don’t know. I guess the person who left it didn’t like that I parked in a handicap parking space. Remember I had hip surgery? My doctor said I needed to use a special parking pass until I was healed.”

Someone was so angry that they took the time to find a sheet of paper and a pen, and craft an angry note that they then had the audacity to leave under my windshield wiper, located just inches away from the bright red parking pass hanging from my rearview mirror.

My main reaction was fear. As a mom, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was watching us when we got our of our van and walked into the store. Were they watching my kids to see if they appeared disabled? Were they watching me? Did they then decide we weren’t worthy of a disability pass? How creepy is that?

My second reaction was reflection. The thing is, this person who left the note has no clue. No clue. I’ve been through hell and back. But you sure wouldn’t know by looking at me.

For starters, I’m a type 1 diabetic. I was diagnosed on death’s door twelve years ago. I’m not exaggerating. I was supposed to be dead. Multiple doctors and nurses who visited me in ICU said, “We don’t know how you are alive.” My body was toxic and shutting down due to my body’s lack of producing insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that has no cure. I wear an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor at all times, stuck to my body, in order to stay alive. And as if one disease isn’t enough, last summer, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a bi-lateral mastectomy.

Diabetes about broke me. But breast cancer? That did break me. The physical pain post-op was excruciating, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish a woman goes through when she hears the C-word and then has her breasts removed? That’s traumatizing, life-altering, and terrifying.

When I was finally healed enough from my mastectomy, I moved forward to have the torn labrum in my left hip repaired. I’d been in pain for two years, and I was tired, so tired, of pain. Many torn labrums are the result of an athletic injury, but mine was from carrying babies on my left side for ten years. The wear and tear was too much on my body.

In June, I underwent a three-hour surgery to repair the damage and hopefully eradicate the pain I was in all the time. That was followed by a 14-week recovery including physical therapy three times a week. The exercises for my hip aggravated my left shoulder injury I had sustained in the mastectomy surgery, and so I’m currently in physical therapy for that injury.

Yeah, I’m just a ball of fun, aren’t I?

So here we are, fifteen months post-mastectomy and five months post-hip surgery, and I’m at the tail-end of a long, traumatizing past two years, when some judgmental stranger decides to try to put me in my place and let me know I am “entitled.”

You know what? You are damn right, stranger.

After going through what I have, and sometimes needing the closer parking space in order to minimize the pain I experience on a daily basis for almost two years, I’m not ashamed to need help sometimes. And if that means parking a little closer so I can spend time with my girls, helping them choose special toys for their birthday, than yep, I’m going to park where I am damn well entitled to.

Why someone decided to use their time and energy to judge me is something I will never know. And it’s probably best. Because the last thing I need is more reminders of the day I was told I had cancer, or the reminders of “you should have been dead,” or the months-on-end when I wasn’t allowed to pick up my baby girl.

After years of medical hell, I’m ready to be free.

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