11 September 2013

Incomplete gestalt: Sunday 8 September 2013

My daughter is quadriplegic (unable to use any of her limbs) and spends much of her life in her wheelchair. We have a VW Sharan that has been converted to carry her sitting in her wheelchair towards the back of the vehicle. She enters through the rear hatch door, up an extendable ramp, aided by an electric winch. When the vehicle is in motion, the ramp is folded in half and sits vertically between the wheelchair and the rear hatch door, providing some level of protective safety in the event of a rear-end shunt. When my daughter is boarding or disembarking, the ramp extends about two metres beyond the car. We often choose to park the car bonnet-to-tail with other parked vehicles (serially), leaving a gap of several metres at the back of the car to allow the ramp to be extended and for our daughter in her wheelchair to be lined up in preparation for ascending the ramp. However, in supermarket car parks, parking is in parallel with other vehicles, and when the ramp is extended it protrudes, by about two metres, into the driving lane. As I do not expect motorists, especially those who are looking for a car parking space, to be alert to a ramp temporarily protruding into their path, while my wife secures and loads our daughter and her wheelchair into the Sharan, the process takes a couple of minutes, I stand sentry at the end of the ramp so that there is a sizable object visible for which a motorist in a car park will be on the look-out: me. I typically face in the direction of any oncoming traffic so that I can deliver a Paddington Bear-like 'hard stare' at any motorist with insufficient patience who considers trying to scrape past, although my ploy is not always successful. At worst, in the unlikely event of physical contact with another car, then at least it would be me who was hit and not our daughter.

We were in the supermarket car park of Sainsbury's, Canterbury, having just completed our shopping, moving through the process of loading our daughter and her wheelchair into the back of the Sharan. I was indeed delivering a hard stare at a motorist in a white sports car who was eager to be past. Suddenly I felt a jarring thump on the back of my calves: a car from the other side of the driving lane had reversed into me, and unbelievably was continuing to do so. My wife screamed. Although I felt no pain, I was in a state of shock. Our daughter was in danger from the reversing car. I pummelled on the rear window of the Mini, which then stopped and was driven slowly back into the parking space from which it had emerged. Then, nothing. Neither the driver, nor their passenger, got out of the Mini. The driver of the white sports car, who must have witnessed it all, but did nothing, continued to do nothing, with the implied threat of squeaking past if I moved from my sentry position at the end of the ramp. My wife hurriedly loaded our daughter and her wheelchair into the Sharan. Once it was possible to do so, I part-folded the ramp, at which point the white sports car reversed a few metres and drove down a side lane to search for a parking space elsewhere.

I walked over to the Mini and was ignored. I tapped on the driver's window, which was reluctantly would down. I told the driver, a young woman that she had reversed her car into me and hit me. She said that she was very sorry. I told her that had she not hit me she would have hit my daughter in her wheelchair instead. She said she was very sorry. I asked her how she could not have seen me. She said that she had checked in all the mirrors, but I must have been standing in her blind spot (thus making me responsible). All the while, the young man of about the same age as the driver said nothing. She repeated that she was very sorry, not in a way that was insincere, but without any depth of feeling behind it. Being in a state of shock, I was unable to think clearly, and in fact unable to think of anything further to say, so I walked away.

I felt indignant that it was left to me to take responsibility for addressing the issue, when it was not me who was culpable. I felt discombobulated because the outcome of addressing the matter had been so unsatisfactory. I felt let down because a driver had witnessed the event from t minus one to t plus one, and had done nothing to prevent it or to offer support afterwards. I felt dissatisfied with myself because I had been unable to imagine, never mind bring about, a satisfactory resolution. I cannot even feel consoled that the driver will learn to drive better as a result of the experience, because it seemed that in her view she had done everything correctly. In trying to find some closure regarding the experience, all I can hear are trite clich├ęs such as: "Well, at least you weren't injured." and "It could have been a lot worse had you not been standing there." and "The poor woman was only young. Maybe she'd only recently passed her driving test." usw. In conclusion, I am left with an incomplete gestalt for which I am unable to find adequate closure.

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