The Beach and the Bedpan
Copyright 2020 by Dana Carpenter
in a wheelchair my whole life has led me into some peculiar
situations! Some of the more outrageous ones I like to write out and
share with friends. Enjoy!
way Ella, my personal care attendant (PCA), burst through my bedroom
door, I knew she’d overslept again. This meant my morning would
follow a familiar pace, hectic. She had worked with me for almost
three years, though, so we were like a well-oiled machine by now. We
rushed through my morning routine and crammed some breakfast into me.
Somehow between not finding anything to wear and needing to stop for
gas, I managed to only be 10 minutes late for work!
we arrived at the office, Ella set me up at my desk and then left to
run errands. Since we lived in the same apartment complex, and she
usually picked me up at the end of the day, it was easier for her to
hold on to my accessible van while I was working. I had just started
checking my messages and emails when I noticed something from my
friend, Sofia. She emailed to say that she had the day off, was
considering a day trip to the beach, and wondered if I wanted to
and I met in college many moons ago. She was the roommate of one of
my PCAs, and we just clicked whenever we were together. Back then, we
were always up for an adventure. Whether it was getting last-minute
tickets to see a favorite band, or late-night ice cream runs during
finals, nothing was off-limits in the name of fun! But now that we
were adults with adult responsibilities, we rarely had a chance to
I missed my friend and would love to see her, but it didn’t
seem feasible driving three-hours there and three back to only spend
a couple of hours at the beach. As my mind debated itself, I glanced
over at the stack of reports on my desk and realized I was foolish to
miss out on an adventure like this! Thankfully, my boss approved my
unexpected time off request, and Ella was still in the area and could
scoop me back up.
messaged Sofia to say I was in!
I got home, my younger sister, Chelsea, and our ex-gangsta friend,
Mike, were playing video games. Chelsea had come to stay the summer
with me. It was nice to have the company and extra help; plus, it
gave mom a break from single parenting. Mike was Ella’s new
roommate. He’d recently moved from California to Austin for a
fresh start away from bad influences. A little rough around the
edges, yes, but you could tell he was a good guy underneath the hard
was greeted with a couple of barely audible grunts. Chelsea and Mike
were hunched over their game controllers, eyes glazed over, with no
concept of time. Their generation was doomed I thought to myself.
“Earth to my couch guests? Helloooo, reality calling…”
They slowly turned their gaze to me looking a bit confused.
what’re you doing back so early?” Chelsea asked. “Are
fine! Just took off early.” I proceeded to tell them about
Sofia’s email and the drive to the beach. Their eyes began to
clear, and a flicker of delight spread across their faces. Poor
teens. They were so bored. I quickly considered the options: there
was plenty of room in my van for a couple stowaways, it wouldn’t
cost much more than food if they tagged along, and mom would probably
not be thrilled if I left Chelsea unattended all evening. It was
settled. “Want to come along?” I asked.
course!” They said in tandem.
minutes later, Sofia pulled into the parking lot with her yellow lab,
Maggie, and our friend Travis in tow. I hadn’t seen Travis in
years, but we had that kind of friendship that could just pick up
where it left off. After a few introductions, Sofia got in the driver
seat, Travis took shotgun, and the rest of us loaded into the back of
my van. We set out on this adventure with nothing more than the
clothes on our backs.
100 miles into our journey, Sofia locked eyes with me in the rearview
mirror and said, “I probably should’ve mentioned this
earlier and all, but what do you think about spending the
most, this would’ve been a no-brainer… get a hotel room
and spend another day at the beach. For someone in a wheelchair,
however, this was a loaded question. I’m pretty independent
once I’m in my chair, but the longer I’m away from home,
the more “accessories” I need. After much internal
debate, I concluded that the only thing I couldn’t do without
was my bedpan. Not thinking a basic piece of medical equipment would
be hard to find, we decided to take the chance and drove straight to
went straight to the surf when we arrived. I found us a quiet spot on
the beach where the sand was packed tight, wheelchairs sink in the
soft stuff. Enjoying the serenity of the moment, I closed my eyes and
spent the next hour listening to the waves carry my stresses away.
All too quickly, however, the sunlight faded away, and it was time to
find a hotel and get something to eat. I had not used the bathroom
since that morning, but things were still manageable.
circled the island twice looking for a place to stay, but every hotel
in a 10-mile radius was booked solid. After an hour of hopeless
searching, we elected to eat next, then look for more options
mainland. That pesky bedpan search was still ahead of me, but my
bladder of steel was holding strong. We regrouped and ended up at a
local seafood joint.
restaurant had a wait, so the hostess set us on the patio and
encouraged the adults to have a few cocktails. After what felt like
an eternity, we realized we’d been forgotten, so we went in,
grabbed menus, and seated ourselves. Despite the delay, dinner was
great, but those cocktails had kicked my kidneys into overdrive. It
was time to find a bedpan!
last bedpan I bought was at a chain grocery store, so naturally, we
decided to try there first. We didn’t have a game plan at that
point, so when we got there, everyone hopped out of the van and
headed towards the store. The moment we stepped inside, an older man
in a red vest and striped bow tie made a beeline for us. “Hi,
folks! The store is closing in five minutes, and I’m ready to
head home. Can yall come back tomorrow?”
up with a significant disability, I’ve learned that you much
sacrifice some things in life. One of those being modesty. As if it
wasn’t embarrassing enough that my friends were driving me
around at midnight looking for a bedpan, but now I had to explain
myself to a total stranger. “We only need one thing and promise
to be quick,” I replied.
smile loosened a bit. “Alrighty then, what do you folks need?”
was a long pause. I looked at Chelsea, and she looked back at me.
Then we both looked at Mike for some reason. There was another
awkward pause until I finally broke: “A bedpan... Do you sell
He stammered and patted his pockets as if looking for something.
“Hang on.” He walked a few feet away and picked up an
indiscrete wall phone. We heard him page someone in pharmacy, and
after a brief conversation, he walked back over to our huddle to
informed us that they don’t carry “such devices.”
little dejected but not deterred, we piled back into the van and
headed to a 24-hour Walmart down the street. To keep the spectacle at
a minimum, just Chelsea and I went in this time. We went straight to
the pharmacy, but after a pretty thorough search, we didn’t
find anything. I stopped an employee walking briskly by and asked if
they carried bedpans. She got a confused look on her face and asked,
a bedpan.” I corrected her.
this isn’t my section,” she said as she took a few steps
back. “Heeeyyy Michelle, do we have any bedpans?” She
yelled across the store.
Thanks for that,” I said with cheeks reddened.
more employees rounded the corner and joined us. “Now, what’re
you looking for?” asked one of them.
we go again, I thought to myself. “A bedpan. I NEED a bedpan!”
Without uttering a word, she motioned for us to follow her. And like
a conga line, we followed her… right to the adult diaper
section. “No, a BEDPAN.” I repeated. Again.
one of the other ladies piped in, “Oh bed pads, they’re
bedpans, like pots and pans!” Chelsea interrupted.
was a pause and then Michelle says, “No I don’t think we
and I headed back to the van feeling defeated. After talking things
over with the rest of the gang, we collectively decided to just turn
around and go home. It was late, we still didn’t have a room,
and I really needed to relieve myself. Needless to say, I felt awful
for ruining the fun, but everyone assured me that my health and
comfort came first.
Sofia was already tired and frustrated with driving, Travis decided
to give it a go. He did great for the first 20 miles or so, when all
of a sudden, he pulled over and started slapping his face. Sofia
asked if he was ok, and he explained that he was too tired to drive,
and it would be unsafe to continue. It would be so easy if I could
use the regular facilities, but my body just didn’t work that
way. Running out of options we figured the best thing to do was turn
around and head back into town.
the drive back towards the gulf, Sofia got on her phone and tried to
locate a 24-hour pharmacy. She called several places before finally
finding an open Walgreens, but of course, they had NO bedpans! Then,
out of nowhere, a light bulb must have gone off in Chelsea’s
head. She blurts out, “I idea! We should try a hospital!”
Genius! A little late, but still!
time was now 3 a.m. and my bladder was about to burst! Luckily, the
nearest emergency room was nearby, so we headed directly there. This
time Travis and Chelsea elected to go inside to inquire about a
bedpan. Awhile later, they came back with a small plastic
“The lady inside didn’t want to look for a bedpan and
said if you really needed one, you’d have to register as a
patient.” Chelsea sighed. “When we told her that wasn’t
very feasible, she just handed us this bucket!”
no way that I can pee in a BUCKET!”
Mike jumped up out of the van and vowed not to come back without a
bedpan! In jest I said, “Wait, what will your homeboys say if
they hear you got arrested for stealing a bedpan?”
just chuckled and said, “When you gotta go, you gotta go!”
watched Mike disappear inside the ER and hoped that he’d make
it out unscathed. Within minutes, he reappeared carrying something
behind his back. Sensing our anticipation when he claimed into the
van, he explained that when he approached the lady at the front desk,
he simply said he needed a bedpan and would go find one himself if he
had to. “It must have done the trick,” he explained
pulling a bedpan out from behind his back! “Success!”
washed over us, but we still needed to find a bed. After searching
for another half hour, we ultimately found a place to stay. Mike and
Chelsea managed to get me into bed, and then we asked the guys to
leave while I took care of long-awaited business. Ironically, the
bedpan was so small that we had to dump it 6 times before I finished
going! Finally, we let the guys back in, and we all managed to get
some shuteye around 5 a.m.
this trip was a short one, I learned lessons that will last a
lifetime. First, I can be a spontaneous person. Life does not always
have a master plan. Second, humor can make any situation bearable.
Laughter really is the best medicine. Third, that instinct to run
home when faced with adversity is not always the best way to solve
problems. By charting unknown waters, your adventures will be
limitless. Forth and most important, great friends make the world go
around. Once you find them, never let go because they truly are rare
and precious gems. And finally, the last thing I learned is: always
carry a spare bedpan!
am a 43-year-old woman living
my crazy yet beautiful life with SMA. I have been in a
wheelchair my whole life, but it hasn't stopped me from accomplishing
what I want to. Been with my partner for 14 years, no children, but we
our fur-babies, and according to one of my baby nieces, "I'm the
best Aunt Dana!"
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher