Lessons in internalized ableism

Names have been changed.

I volunteer with my local mutual aid group. One of the ways I help is by assisting people with rides.

On May 3rd I confirmed with Gail via email that I would be her driver for her May 25th appointment. I did not receive a response. I sent another email the morning of the 23rd asking for confirmation. A few hours later, Gail texted me to say "I understand that you are not the only driver for the MAG. What is the general contact phone number?" I replied that the other drivers deliver goods and that I was the only one who had volunteered to provide her with a ride. I gave her the phone number and she said thank you. I assumed she was going to contact the group to request a different driver for Wednesday. She did not explain why.

Therefore, I was surprised when Gail called me directly this afternoon to ask for a ride to the pharmacy. She said it was urgent but that the prescription she needed would not be ready until 5pm, at the heart of rush hour. I told her I would help her out. I picked her up from her place and drove her the 1.5 miles to the facility where the pharmacy is located. She fell while getting out of my car. I couldn't help her up, being an ambulatory wheelchair user myself, though I tried.

After I yelled for help, nurses on site pulled her up while chewing me out for not helping her. I kept explaining that I physically could not. Once on her feet, Gail insisted she could walk, but because she was shaky the facility insisted on putting her in a wheelchair, which I cannot push, as I tried several times more to explain to the staff. The nurses informed me that someone must attend Gail in and out of the building henceforth, though Gail insists she is fine. The nurses said she needs a nurse or aide to be with her. One of the nurses who chewed me out included that she was off the clock and it was not her job once clocked out to assist with patients.

Apparently, she only helps people when getting paid, so don't need medical attention around this nurse while out in the world or you won't get any help. Another nurse told the folks who had gathered to help that I "refused" to go inside and assist Gail; this was after I had told them multiple times that I could not push Gail's wheelchair because I am myself a wheelchair user. A third nurse berated me for not dropping Gail off at the door, which I would have done had Gail indicated in any way that she needed or wanted.

Gail is medically frail, of which the mutual aid group was not aware because Gail had not disclosed it.. I think she has reached a point in her life (as many of us do) where she needs more help than she is willing to admit to herself, let alone others. She qualifies for rides and other supportive services via her Medicare plan, but she has to fill out the paperwork to get the Medicare plan started. When she and I spoke weeks ago she said she hadn't done the paperwork yet and when I asked about it today she said she still hadn't. Finding an insured volunteer group or agency (which I have given her resources for via email and she ignored) to help her out are also options for assisting her. But she's very stubborn, rude, and potentially has a short term memory issue, so I don't know how much luck anyone will have with having her sign up for Medicare or an agency.

At any rate, the pharmacy ended up not having Gail's medication because her doctor's approval for the prescription had not gone through. Gail then asked me to drive 40 minutes (in rush hour which would actually take an hour there and an hour back) to other pharmacies which, according to her, might have had her prescription approved. I declined to provide a ride to the distant pharmacy as I injured myself trying to lift Gail off the ground before I was able to get help from other people in the parking lot. It's been three hours, 20 mg of Flexeril, and an edible later, and I'm still in pain. While driving Gail back to her home she called the mutual aid line to ask for urgent help... and she told me I shouldn't be helping people because I'm disabled.

When I look at Gail, I see what I have often seen in other elders, and what I fear for myself: pride and internalized ableism causing us to refuse to come to terms with ageing, with disability, and with the need for help in the form of accommodations. This stubborn refusal can hurt us and others around it. It literally killed my grandmother. I'm terrified of that being me: my stubbornness preventing me from asking for help when I need it, eventually leaving me alone, medically unable to help myself in sticky situations, let alone emergencies. My stubborn disposition resulting in the actual cause of my death.

The meds have kicked in, now four hours later, so this isn't much of a finish. In summary, internalized ableism hurts us all.