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  • Writer's pictureNate Methot

An LAX Bathroom Scene

We arrived at the gate about ninety minutes before takeoff. It was at the very end of the terminal, up one flight from the rest. (I don’t quite understand how that could be. The runways are all on one level; how could the jetways be different?) After finding a couple empty seats amongst what was apparently an early arriving crowd, we sat for a bit before deciding to seek out a bathroom before our flight.

We quickly discovered the upper level was not equipped with so much as a single stall. (Erica was visibly annoyed—a rare occurrence—prompting me to pause and ask, “You okay?” Dragging both carry-ons back to the elevator was not her expectation.)

Airport terminal bathrooms, if you don’t know, are often separated by some distance; men’s and women’s rooms may not be side-by-side. We came to the women’s room first and without exchanging a word, Erica peeled off and I continued through the crowd. The men’s room wasn’t far and I maneuvered my chair down its hallway.

The single handicapped stall—the only one large enough to (hopefully) fit my chair—was directly in front of me as I turned the corner. And occupied.

I took a quick spin past the stalls, urinals, and sinks, and made my way back to the entrance to wait. It wasn’t a short time. And it was immediately clear that the sole handicapped stall was occupied by an able-bodied man and his rolling bag.

He made a bee line for the sinks and though I imagined it was to avoid eye contact with the guy in the wheelchair directly in front of him, it’s certainly possible—given that he was in a stall and perhaps not looking through the quarter-inch gap in the door—he never even saw me. Either way, you know, fuck that guy.

Hooking my foot under the oversized door, I backed up a few feet to open it wide. (The chair beeps in reverse.) With the door open to the wall, I creeped my way in, carefully turned around and pulled the door shut the same way. Well, almost.

When I released my foot, the door settled a few inches clear of the latch. I tried again with my foot, but it still wouldn’t stay. What if I just left the door cracked. What’s the difference? I don’t care. I realized I should try to grab the handle; fortunately, it was fairly low on the door. Holding my right wrist in my left hand, I lifted my hand to the handle, grabbed on, and pulled it shut.

I’ve been doing a lot of this stuff a long time. Trying to navigate in unfamiliar surroundings, my “adaptations” have become instinctive. With almost zero use of my shoulders, it’s often impossible to reach things, especially from a sitting position. Like using my nose on the airplane touchscreen, I knew how I’d get this done.

I’ve used restroom stalls in the past without locking the door. Because it was easier not to. Holding the door in place, I leaned forward and pushed the latch left with my head. Easy. On to the main event.

Fortunately, with my much-smaller travel chair, I had plenty of room to turn around and stand up. Though, because it’s significantly lower—about the height of an average chair; my feet easily rest flat on the floor—actually getting to my feet is not a given. In this case, wearing shoes helped keep my feet in place as my legs pushed back against the chair until I found my center.

I was wearing sweatpants for the flight. They were new, their waistband still tight. Grabbing at the material with both hands, using what’s left of my triceps to push, I got them down quickly and easily. (This isn’t always the case. Sometimes, my palms are dry or otherwise lacking tactile strength, and I struggle to get a grip on the fabric.) Another step done, I lowered myself onto the seat.

If you’re thinking that public toilet seats are gross, and there is no way you would willingly touch bare skin to one—that you would use a seat cover or toilet paper array to protect yourself from any transitive contact with the unwashed masses—well, I’m not equipped to handle such phobias. As it was, I sat a bit nervously, waiting for my business to come, thinking Relax, this is the easy part. And within a few minutes, having seemingly calmed, I was done with my downtime and on to the next.

Reaching things is very difficult for someone whose shoulders don’t work—toilet paper dispensers included. This one was particularly awkward, just off my right hip. After choosing a plan of attack, I was able to pull the paper across my lap with my left hand. It was very thin, and unable to neatly fold the sheets together, I unrolled an almost comical amount and formed a big clump in my right hand, resting on my thigh.

Maybe you’d rather not read about wiping my ass. I’ll just say I can grip with (the middle and ring fingers of) my right hand, and I still have enough core strength to lean and expose the necessary area. It’s a fairly normal procedure; it just takes me a lot longer. With a bidet at home, cleanliness is assured; I just have to wipe myself dry.

After two or three bunches, relatively certain of my relative cleanliness (every toilet should have a bidet; it’s cleaner and less wasteful), it was time to stand up. I’d say that the toilet seat height in the handicapped stall in this particular men’s room at LAX was pretty average; not so high that my feet couldn’t rest flat on the floor, not so low that I felt like I’d have to call for backup. There was a grab bar to my right, but I leaned my weight forward and stood up without needing it. (There have been times when I’ve failed to get to my feet and fallen back onto the toilet. It’s not a big deal; I reset and try again—like getting up from any other chair. However, one time, alone in my house in Monkton about five years ago, I made a particularly half-hearted effort, fell back and to the side, bounced hard off the seat and fell into the space between the toilet and the wall. Wedged in tight with my pants around my ankles. Somehow, I wormed my way out, discarded my pants (easier), and dragged myself to the living room to get to my feet. I’m not sure how that didn’t make the book.)

I’ve learned that the best way to pull up sweatpants and underwear is all at once. Though the double waistbands provide more resistance, fabric slides over skin and gets caught on other fabric. It’s not quick and easy with these new pairs, but I know, eventually, I’ll get them up.

A dozen tiny shuffles of the feet and I dropped myself back in the chair, lifted right wrist with left hand and pressed the power button with my right thumb. Spinning the chair, I tried the lock with my head, but it wouldn’t budge. I again lifted right arm with left, grabbed the handle, and pushed the lock to the right with my head. The door was released and I kicked it open.

Though I’d already spent more than enough time in the men’s room, I scooted over to the sinks to complete yet another procedure. (The unavoidable tedium of simple tasks is endlessly annoying. In case you were wondering.) Finally finished in the bathroom, my hands mostly dried on my pants, I expected to see Erica as I emerged.

She wasn’t there. I made my way through the crowd to the women’s room entrance and couldn’t find her. I must have missed her; I bet she’s back by the men’s room waiting for me. I drove back, and further; didn’t see her. Would she really go back to the gate—up the elevator—without me? I didn’t know where else to look.

I hit the elevator button with my foot (again, no shoulders), it opened immediately, and I rolled on. Turning to the controls, I lifted my foot yet again, trying to tap the “2” with the toe of my Puma, and I heard Erica’s voice. Somehow, I tapped the “door open” button and, dragging our carry-ons behind her, she joined me in the elevator.

It turns out there was another men’s room nearby the elevator. She’d been waiting there.

Thank you for accompanying me in the bathroom.

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Sarah Price Hancock
Sarah Price Hancock
Jun 01, 2023

So relatable. Public bathrooms aren't all that accessible. I'm surprised how many aren't large enough for a power wheelchair. I particularly have problems locking stalls, finding sinks I can actually reach & leaving bathrooms that have doors which swing inwards is particularly difficult. Sweats are my friend, too! Falling between the toilet and the wall is a nightmare I've not yet experienced & hope to avoid--but given my history of falling backwards... it may only be a matter of time.😬

Thanks for sharing. I am grateful you can still travel by plane! Hope you had fun!

Nate Methot
Nate Methot
Jun 02, 2023
Replying to

It was helpful to be traveling with my smaller chair, because I'm not sure my Permobil M3 would have even fit into the hotel bathroom. Don't fall backwards! Or forwards!

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