There have been many stories in the media this past year about people with disabilities experiencing disrespect and maltreatment from law enforcement during times of crisis. I’m fortunate to have a different story to tell.
Those of you new to my blog may not remember that I started 2016 with the discovery of a theft. I returned home from vacation on January 3rd and learned over $1000 was missing from my checking account because a blank checkbook was stolen. Officer Mike Dilbone responded to my call when I reported the theft. I ranted about the inconvenience of returning from vacation to discover a crime. I spouted off for several minutes before apologizing for swearing.
You think that’s the worst I’m going to hear tonight? I just started my shift a couple hours ago and guarantee I’ll hear worse.
Officer Dilbone (we weren’t on a first name basis then) followed up with me throughout that week as he gathered evidence and subsequently made arrests in the case. During his visits, he asked about my home care staff and the steps I was taking to prevent future burglaries. I’m pretty sure he didn’t like all of my answers, but he was respectful and, unlike other law enforcement officers I’ve known, did not attempt to tell me what he felt I “ought” to do.
I figured that would be the end of my police contact for the year. But of course, the following week I fell and called 9-1-1 for an ambulance. My Personal Assistant answered the doorbell as I lay sobbing and writhing in pain on my bedroom floor. I heard the door close and the squeak of leather as the responding officer walked through my apartment.
Denise – what happened?!
A hundred thoughts went through my head, something like, “Crap. It’s Dilbone again. And this time I’m half naked. And I’m bleeding because I just got my period. And there’s snot running down my face into my hair. And this man has already seen me raging and crying once this year. He’s going to think I’m crazy and incompetent. He’s going to think I’m crying because I’m in pain. He doesn’t realize I’m crying because life as I know it is over. He’s just going to see a vulnerable person. This is a life-changing fall. I won’t be able to drive if my leg is broken. I can’t live at home if I can’t transfer in and out of my wheelchair without a mechanical lift. I know what this injury means, and I don’t have the strength to deal with it right now. And I can’t breathe because my nose is clogged. And I really need a tissue because now there is a bubble of snot coming out of my nose. And I don’t want to be this crazy woman who is always crying and raging whenever I call the police!”
I think I actually said something like, “What are you doing here? It’s not your regular shift.” The exact details are fuzzy because all I really cared about was stopping the agony.
After giving me an update on the ambulance, Mike helped cover me up and then crouched down next to me. He grabbed a tissue and gently helped wipe my face clean, holding my hair out of the way when I complained about the snot running down my face. He encouraged me to just keep breathing, while asking me to relate what had happened. I flashed back and forth between telling him about the fall, and directing my Personal Assistant who was trying to pack a bag for me to take to the hospital. I did my best not to be consumed by the fear of what this would mean for my future if my leg was indeed broken, but just before the rescue squad arrived a fresh round of tears and sobbing came on. I was tired, overwhelmed, embarrassed, and angry. 2016 was not off to a great start – a theft, a sinus infection, and unexpected wheelchair repairs. Now, on the 13th day of January I was half naked on my bedroom floor with snot in my hair and a potential broken leg.
“I can’t do this,” I wailed. “I’m not strong enough to do this.”
Mike calmly said something which stayed with me during the weeks to come.
Denise – yes you can. You’re a strong woman. You’re going to be OK. You can get through this.
Police officers often calmly tell distraught victims of accidents and crimes they will be alright. At least, the ones who have responded to me when I have called for assistance have done this. I usually discount these attempts to keep me calm, but on January 13th I clung to Mike’s words as the emergency medical technicians assessed my wounds and worked to get me onto a gurney and into the ambulance. I’m pretty sure I repeatedly told him I wasn’t strong enough.
But Mike, then a relative stranger who didn’t know much about me, was willing to issue a challenge. That is how I viewed those words – a challenge to make it through what was happening. It didn’t matter if I felt weak, terrified and vulnerable. Someone who saw me at my absolute worst, in a pile of blood, snot and tears on my bedroom floor, thought I was strong enough to get through my latest obstacle. I have never backed down from a challenge, and I was not going to prove him wrong.
Thank you Mike for being calm and rational when I was at my most vulnerable. You ensured the rescue workers listened to and honored my requests. You may not have known you were issuing me a challenge on that horrible January afternoon, but it was exactly what I needed. I appreciate your ongoing visits throughout my recovery, and your assistance as I moved into town this summer. I’m grateful for your friendship and support throughout this difficult year. Here’s hoping I have no reason to call you in a crisis in 2017!