"I'm sorry ma'am, but there's nothing I can do. We stop running at two o'clock."
I grip the receiver tighter, as though physical pressure will change the dispatcher's mind. My mask is starting to puff outward with each breath. Brandon stands beside our cart of groceries with a look of worry.
"The driver who dropped us off said he's on duty until four!" I reply.
"He's out of town on another run," the dispatcher says.
I do not ask why the driver is picking people up out of town at 3:15 if they stop at two.
"We would've been done well before now if the bus wasn't an hour late picking us up."
"What? Well, there's no one in town to get you."
"Listen, I'm in a wheelchair with a cart full of groceries two miles from home during a pandemic. It's been storming on and off all day." I look towards where the doors are located as though I can see the fickle July sky from Wal-Mart's service center.
I know I'm not going to get anywhere. As the dispatcher resumes his nothing-I-can-do speech, I slam the phone back into the cradle so I don't scream and draw attention.
Then, I do something I dread and call the accessible van service in our town. They abhor having bags in their vehicles (something they chastised me for in the past). Not sure how they expect crips to go grocery shopping...
When I told the receptionist at the van company I needed a ride home, she said it would be no problem. I mentioned my bags. She became silent and went to check with someone. She came back on the line and said I needed to clear it with my insurance team because it was considered an "emergency trip". I was given a toll-free number for my team. The number wouldn't go through.
At this point, I'm nearly hyperventilating. I call my brother in a panic and ask him to take Brandon home with our food so it doesn't spoil. I wait for their return, and Brandon and I make our way home on foot.
The storms stay away long enough to walk back to our apartment. The sidewalks are rough (and we have to take detours because of construction), so my pain-infused body has compounded agony. But, we make it. I need almost a week to recover.
I email my case manager at the insurance company a couple days after the incident. She says there is no need for extra authorization because I'm already on the books with the accessible van service. I was lied to because they didn't want to take me (probably my bags) home.
I already can't leave my town unless it's for medical appointments due to lack of money, limited transportation, and chronic pain. Now, I'm almost too scared to go anywhere or shop for anything I can't manage from just my wheelchair. Brandon wants to try again late next month, but I'm not so sure (even with assurance from my case manager that it will be different). If this were to happen in winter, we'd have to stay at a hotel near the store because the sidewalks would be impassable in my wheelchair.
End note: An accessible van costs $30,000-$50,000.