Contrary to appearances on this blog, I do not spend most of my time hanging around the security queue at London City Airport. Nor is this the only place where anything ‘interesting’ happens to me.
On a wheelchair one cannot go through airport security in the same way as an ABP (Able Bodied Person). There’s too much metal. For some reason this means that the staff are extra-vigilant with wheelies, treating us to the full-body frisk every time. Of course, the seated position makes this a bit difficult, but they do what they can with their latex-gloved hands.
The nice young man had just asked me to lean forward in order to check my waist-band, for suicidal explosives no doubt – rational, really: who more likely to be a member of ISIS than the paraplegic 60-year-old white man checked on to a flight to Zurich? Who better to take down, in a clear message to the infidel world, than a plane-full of innocent fondue-eating Swiss? Anyway, he had just respectfully asked that I lean forward and we both noticed simultaneously that, not to put it with too much delicacy, I had wet myself. Strangely, you may think, I did a quick stock-take of what I had drunk that morning – cappuccino, glass of fizzy water, large slug of tap-water with pills, another cappuccino (they give them free to wheelies at Pret-a-Manger in LCY) – and concluded that there was at least 700ml of warm liquid in and around my lap.
I realised at once what had happened. My catheter had disconnected from its ‘flip-flow’ valve, essentially opening my bladder to the world; it must have happened when I was contorting to free my bag from the rear of the wheelchair.
We exchanged glances, the nice young man and I. ‘Just as well you are wearing those gloves’ I said, slightly grimly. Suddenly uninterested in my explosive potential, he wordlessly indicated that the search was over and I could progress to reclaim my bags from the scanner.
Another nice young man awaited, holding my wheelchair bag. This one always gets pulled out, not just because of the illegal shanks so often forgotten in there (see ‘Criminal Activity at London City Airport’), but owing to the two size-10 spanners, various other wheelchair repair items (incl. metals) and bladder and bowel management items (incl. liquids). The spanners, which are for my suitcase bracket, hold a strange fascination for the security fraternity, always requiring – but never yet having been refused – special managerial sanction.
As I approached his counter I said ‘hello’ as brightly as I could to this new nice young man, and, as soon as I came to a stop, unzipped my fly, unbuttoned my waist-band, recovered the flip-flow valve (indeed disconnected from the catheter) and pushed its errant end back into the port on the catheter. ‘Sorry about this’ I said to the new nice young man, who had taken an involuntary step backwards, ‘just a small plumbing disfunction’.
‘Do you want some privacy?’ asked the NNYM, slightly admonishing. ‘Nope, all done now!’ I said, more cheerily than I felt, zipping up. I hoisted my other rucksack onto my damp lap by way of camouflage. How was I going to clean up in time for a flight due to leave in 30 minutes? We went through the spanner-supervisor-sanction process (all clear, as usual; also as usual no hair was turned by my repair kit which includes a canister of polymer foam under sufficient pressure to repair a punctured tyre – better than any mace spray, I’d guess).
My airport assistant turned up, flustered, tatty hi-vis tabard unbuttoned. ‘Mr Carter? We’re late’.
That, my friend, is the least of our problems.
Of course I did not take that flight. BA agreed to keep my suitcase at the airport, changed my flight to one late enough to allow me to go home and clean up, generally treated me with respect, and did not charge me.
I realised after the event that although I felt some embarrassment it was minor and far from the main sentiment, which was more one of annoyance at a practical impediment. An occurrence which, had it happened to me prior to the spinal cord injury, would have left me riven with shame was in fact repositioned. Wetting myself became a shared problem to be resolved and nothing more.
Actually, I think I have repositioned myself versus the rest of the world as a result of my skiing accident; slightly less independent (I ask for help only when absolutely needed but with no hesitation), less apologetic (it is all too obvious what excuses underlie any transgression) and more assertive (I know my needs and must inform others clearly of them). I am more vulnerable, yes, but this makes me more open too. I am a threat to no-one and so no-one responds to me with circumspection. In fact, knowing this makes me ready to interact with anyone as an equal, regardless of race, gender, age or creed – from the homeless man who admired my Freewheel the other day (who also asked me for a pound) to the Chief of the General Staff of the British Army (rtd.) (who did not).
I do wish that those flip-flow valves were better designed, though.