My name is Elvira Popa and I have been a wheelchair user for many years, living in Râmnicu-Vâlcea, Romania. Life has been very harsh most of the time and here I am telling one of those episodes when I was kicked down to the ground and left alone to find my way back.
The dawn of February 22, 2020 didn’t foretell anything bad. No sign seemed to indicate that my universe, my entire life built with so much effort, would be upside-down again.
Some hours later, I was pushing my wheelchair along the sidewalk, when suddenly a woman assaulted me brutally, struck my head, grabbed my hair and slammed me down from my wheelchair, where she kept on hitting me until someone saved me from death. I sustained multiple injuries, such as headaches, a broken spinal cord wire, a broken leg and so on.
It’s been 18 weeks since then and I am not well at all. The authorities behaved as if I didn’t exist. They hid behind the status of irresponsibility of the aggressor and behind the crisis of Covid-19. They also considered that as long as I have a disability, no care is needed and I was left to find ways to recover by myself.
As if this hadn’t been enough, a lot of troubles and abuses followed the assault.
There has never been enough medical attention and care for my needs. A person in a wheelchair is of no interest to the society and its policies. A person in a wheelchair is a second class human being who has to be content with the leftovers.
The day of the assault, I went twice in the same day to the emergency department.
The medical staff treated me very carelessly. They let me wait in a wheelchair for over 3 hours and although I insisted several times to have my lower part of the body (the already paralysed one) examined, I was offered only a superficial neurological examination and a radiography for my spinal cord where I had symptoms. The medical staff concluded nothing serious had happened. They told me I was just frightened and sent me home.
Back at home, I realized that my left leg had a blockage and couldn’t be moved from the wheelchair, so I called the ambulance again and was taken back to the hospital. This didn’t please the medical staff, who started shouting at me.
They realized they had made a mistake and were afraid of accusations. They shouted in spite of the fact they knew I had just been brutally assaulted, had a serious impairment and might have been even more injured.
They took an ultrasound of the swollen part of the left leg and I had it operated in two days. A metal part was placed in my leg. During the surgery, I lost a lot of blood, so I was given some blood and then was sent home to recover.
In two weeks, Covid-19 crisis started in Romania, too, and everyone was preoccupied only with this. Hospitals were kept empty, although in my town the maximum number of Covid-19 patients was 21 and they were kept in another hospital. I was given a new ultrasound on the 16 May, after almost three months, and no one could say where the pain I felt came from. I was told that they operated only what they saw on the ultrasound and I was advised to look for another doctor, for a second opinion and more thorough examination. So I went back home with the same pain and fear and I started looking for an orthopaedic consultant and a neurosurgeon in the capital city of Bucharest.
Looking for doctors was extremely difficult. Most of the Covid-19 patients were treated in Bucharest. There were travel restrictions in place for moving from town to town and inside the towns. Besides, some hospitals did not take in patients at all. In addition, I had to look for doctors who could examine and treat people with my type of impairment. Finally, I got appointments on 25 and 26 of June. So, now I am writing from another hospital room.
In addition to this, I had to arrange a hotel in Bucharest and the transport to get there. The distance from my town is about 200 km and there is no accessible public transport. The train takes a long detour of about 5 hours, the doors are too narrow for my wheelchair, and the buses are not accessible at all. What to choose between the two?!
3.Lawyers, complaints by the police, and prosecution
At the very beginning, as it was too much for me, I contacted a lawyer I knew. But when he saw what it was about, he stepped back. He said that if I take this further, it will make my situation worse. He was sorry for me and advised me to leave the country. He added that the system is not friendly at all for people in my situation.
The second lawyer also stepped back and the third even said that unfortunately, in Romania, persons who are considered of ‘unsound mind’ cannot be prosecuted. He said that was the law.
I was torn. Either to go further all alone with my complaint and suffer because of the “unfriendly system”, too, or to give up any complaint and focus only on medical issues. As I couldn’t accept the situation and be complicit to such a criminal deed, I went further without a lawyer.
The “unfriendly system” started with police interrogations. No sooner had I got home from the hospital, with my leg operated and feeling very weak, the police “interrogated” me. Initially, they kept saying my attacker was unknown, people did not know her, there hadn’t been other complaints against her and so on. Later, after having sent my complaint directly to the prosecutor, the policeman changed the story completely. He said the attacker was well known, there had been other three complaints against her, she was violent, her parents were doctors, she had been hospitalized many times.
At the beginning, he tried to make me give up on the complaint. I told him repeatedly that I had just come from the hospital, but he barely heard. My injuries did not count.
The policeman asked for my medical documents, too. He said a forensic medical examination was needed. After several days, he informed me he had obtained the medical certificate in my absence. The certificate foresaw 80 days for my recovery. He mentioned that they had to quickly hospitalize the attacker. When I asked him why only 80 days, he said he didn’t know, but he would ask for another medical certificate at my insistence. Later, on I found out from the Forensic Medicine Service that he hadn’t placed such a request.
The “unfriendly system” continued with the prosecution. I wrote to them twice asking for the CCTV recording of the assault and for the documents on file. I received the answer that my request was approved, but no documents. After several days, I received the decision of the prosecutor, in which she wrote the case had been closed. So, the prosecutor closed the case without sending me the documents I had asked for and using a medical certificate issued in my absence.
When I called the prosecutor, she was not in the office any longer. I was told she was already on leave. Another prosecutor kept saying that due to Covid-19 they had “to close the file quickly”. He did not know why the documents in the file hadn’t been delivered to me before their decision.
Some documents from the file were sent to me later, on 30 April. Anyway, I couldn’t understand much, as the information related to diagnosis of my attacker, the names and other information were erased due to data protection. So, I had the right to get informed, but not the right to access the information I needed.
I contested the decision of the prosecutor and I asked again for another medical examination. My complaint was rejected again and they wrote down that, “due to Covid-19, they closed the case quickly”.
By the end of May, I was still lying in bed in pain, still in need of medical care, no one in charge had asked me about my health or anything else. The case was closed based on a medical certificate, which did not reflect the reality. The authorities “washed” their hands off the case using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse.
Now, my complaint is before the judge.
The moment I had the video, I started writing letters to institutions and NGOs. I also posted it on my Facebook page, papers’ pages and TV stations. I sent it to public figures, too. I received two reactions of sympathy from outside the country. No reaction from within my country. No institution considered that my life and suffering deserved any attention. In spite of it, I continued to post the video weekly on my Facebook page. Mainstream media also didn’t pay attention to what had happened to me.
5.How is this possible?
Obviously, this wouldn’t have happened without the complicity of institutions of state and social and health care services. The police had three other complaints against the same attacker, beginning with May 2009 and they did nothing to prevent the attack from happening. If they had acted in time, they could have provided her with the treatment she needed and other support. But they haven’t done their job.
Also, the institutions in charge of protecting the rights of people with disabilities and NGOs, in fact, do not care at all about people with disabilities. They did nothing to integrate this person in the community and others with similar support needs.
Moreover, the doctors who treated her also could have foreseen that she would become a public danger, but probably they didn’t care that much. Besides, the influence of the family also plays its role. In this case, parents of the attacker are doctors, too.
Finally, the society regards people with disabilities as second class citizens. They do not care. For the whole society, people with disabilities are either “mad” or “handicapped” and that’s all.
6.No justice and no excuse
It was not for the first time I was abused. My wheelchair was grabbed many times before this attack and I called the police, but in vain.
I also wrote a lot of letters in the past to the Romanian institutions and told them about the abuses I experienced. I even wrote complaints to the courts. I found out painfully that they were all on the same side and I was alone. I was ignored, victimised, criticised, stigmatized, intimidated and so on.
I lost completely the trust in institutions and laws and NGOs, and from a certain moment I got the deepest feeling I do not belong in this world. This is why I consider there is no excuse for what had happened to me.
I want my health back and justice for all the suffering.
The assault and the comments can be watched on my Facebook page.
This article has been written by Elvira Popa, a disabled woman living in Romania.