The Beach and the Bedpan

Dana Carpenter

© Copyright 2020 by Dana Carpenter

Photo of a woman in wheelchair at the beach.
Being 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!

The 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! 

When 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 go. 

Sofia 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 hangout. 

Sure, 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. 

I messaged Sofia to say I was in! 


When 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 persona. 

I 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. 

Wait, what’re you doing back so early?” Chelsea asked. “Are you ok?!”

I’m 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. 

Of course!” They said in tandem. 


Twenty 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. 

About 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 night?” 

For 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 the sand! 


Everyone 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.

We 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. 

The 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! 


The 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?” 

Growing 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.

His smile loosened a bit. “Alrighty then, what do you folks need?”

There 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 bedpans?” 

Oh!” 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.” 

A 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, “Bed pants?” 

No, a bedpan.” I corrected her. 

Umm, 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. Thanks for that,” I said with cheeks reddened.

Two more employees rounded the corner and joined us. “Now, what’re you looking for?” asked one of them. 

Here 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.

Then one of the other ladies piped in, “Oh bed pads, they’re right here!” 

NO, bedpans, like pots and pans!” Chelsea interrupted.

There was a pause and then Michelle says, “No I don’t think we have those.


Chelsea 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. 

Since 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. 

During 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!

The 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 bucket  “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!”

There’s no way that I can pee in a BUCKET!” 

Unexpectedly, 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?” 

He just chuckled and said, “When you gotta go, you gotta go!” 

We 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!”

Relief 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.


Though 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!

I 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 have our fur-babies, and according to one of my baby nieces, "I'm the best Aunt Dana!"  

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