Aretha Franklin sang about it. Rodney Dangerfield joked about it by saying he never got any. The Boston Red Sox got it after finally winning the World Series again in 2004. The “it” I’m referring to, of course, is respect.
A recent trip to the airport by my wife, Jill, serves as a great reminder to all of us about how important respect is to those with a terminal illness. Before I get to the incident that triggered this post, I should provide the big picture about how stressful traveling has become for her, and how a lack of respect can be crushing to someone who already is stressed.
Firstly, getting to the airport is an adventure. And by adventure, I mean you have several ways to get there. You can ask a friend or family member, which used to be normal but now seems a little odd with ride-share being so ubiquitous. Or do you drive your car to the airport? The cost to park can be more than the plane ticket, and the car could be dinged by the time you get back — because paying for the parking does not guarantee its protection. Jill says it is like paying for a babysitter and arriving home to find your children with broken bones — or worse, missing because the babysitter was too busy talking selfies for social media.
When you arrive at the airport, you are faced with more stress. If you have to check luggage, managing the self-serve kiosk is like trying to do your own dental work. The kiosk usually works for the person in front of you, giving you hope as you try to check your baggage. But the kiosk doesn’t work for you.
By then, the line at the counter is really long. When you finally hand your bags over, you pray that they make it on and off the same plane you’re on, because once a bag is lost you’re treated as if you loaded it on the wrong flight.
Once you’re done with baggage, you deal with the security checkpoint challenge. First, you have to find it. Security is easy enough to find; it’s just fraught with false entrances. There are 10 airline VIP areas, where the potential to get yelled at is high if you mistakenly attempt to stand in one of their typically empty lines.
So, you go to the last open line you find. As you wait in this long line — worrying about making your flight, whether something will go wrong, and all the variables you can’t control — you inch forward until it is your turn to place your items on the belt.
You are surrounded by noise. People talking, children crying, and even the noise of the security belt can be overwhelming. Then you grab a bin. You hear several agents yelling out what you are supposed to do, but it’s hard to hear and focus on what they are saying with the chaos around you. You remember that you have to take off your shoes and belt, empty your pockets, and pull out your electronics. You put them all in a bin. Then you put your suitcase on the conveyor belt.
Now imagine if the security guy standing there said, “Put your suitcase in a bin. Not on the belt alone. What’s so hard to understand about that?” That is what Jill said she saw happen to the man in front of her during a recent flight home. She was upset by the agent’s attitude, and I could sense that there was something more to her anger. When I asked what bothered her the most about it, she said that it was because she could eventually be the person who gets treated that way.
She understands that her cognitive abilities will slow, but that wasn’t what upset her. What upset her is that the security person was cold and rude to someone who may have cognitive issues. She wishes that others, especially those who are in some position of power, understood that people are different and should all be treated with respect, no matter who they are.
Jill was traveling alone during her recent trip, but based on how upset she was by the way that traveler was treated, it served as a reminder to me that she will become more self-conscious in the years ahead while her brain won’t be its normal brilliant self. As her caregiver, I must make sure that she remembers that the world can be cold and cruel at times, but what really matters is how much she means to me and that our love will never diminish.
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