Disabilities And Traveling In A Wheelchair San Francisco to Dallas to Memphis
The Very Bad Week
What a week, this has been.
This trip took a whole new look two days ago. I discovered voting and handicapped parking spaces are dangerous. I caught the edge of the curb and rolled my ankle. It was one of those, ”Now you have really done it”, moments. I was a mile away from home with two dogs. My husband on his way to the gym was able to made a detour to rescue me. Thank God for cell phones.
Hobbling and in pain, I did manage to vote and hold the dogs while my son voted in his very first election.
If there is anything our family does well it is deal with breaks, sprains and road rash. Advil, ice, elevation and an appointment for minor injury the next morning was accomplished within 20 minutes of the accident. My youngest son, and broken bone expert, had my foot elevated, iced and had given me two Advil in no time. I was able to sleep through most of the night.
Orthopedic Boots Make Sitting In Small Cars Difficult
New Handicap - New Perspective
Just getting to the bathroom is difficult when you can't walk. The whole sense of independence was destroyed in a twist of an ankle. The logistics of getting into and out of small cars became a challenge. Since the big truck was in the shop we would have to go to the airport in the smaller car.
Crutches are the devil, crutches are the savior, arms ache from using crutches, but the crutches allow independence. The first night crawling to the bathroom was embarrassing and exhausting. Crutches give freedom to a limited extent. If you add pockets or a little bag you can carry just about anything. This broken ankle has slowed me down more than chemo therapy and the whole cancer gig. There is an airplane waiting for me. Panic sets in when I realize I don't know how to get wheelchair assistance at the airport. A search of the airlines website yielded nothing, but a quick phone call was all it took to insure a wheel chair would be waiting for me my entire trip.
I went from tall to small when I sat in the wheel chair at the airport. When you are in a wheel chair nobody notices you. That is until they nearly run into you. Of course when your leg is straight in front of you the first thing they hit is what pains you most. It happened yesterday in the hospital, then again in the in San Francisco this morning. We had to stop countless times in the middle of the walkway until people noticed they were about to crash into me. I usually like being unobtrusive, but this is ridiculous. Maybe I am just imagining I am invisible. My son's theory was nobody could see the lady pushing the chair, in San Francisco, because she wasn't much taller than the chair.
When you are in a wheel chair and can’t walk through the airport scanner you are automatically flagged for a pat-down. The only other pat down I have had was in Paris going to Africa. There at least I looked out of place. I wonder what the T.S.A. officer was thinking about my demeanor. I am generally a good girl and do what I am supposed to do, but security at airports makes me furious. They randomly pick people unless they are handicapped.
We safely arrive at the boarding gate. Peets coffee is conveniently just across the way. A mocha and chocolate croissant make everything better.
I text travel buddy to make sure she is well. Her ride forgot her; she had to drive herself to the airport. Oh dear! I still wish I was going to Hawaii with her even if she is just going home.
I am a big deal at the gate I can choose to be wheeled to the plane or use my crutches. I should have used the wheel chair. I am allowed to start down the ramp before anyone else. I only get there just ahead of the crowd. Why does anyone want to get on a plane any sooner than absolutely necessary? Luggage of course, You can get your luggage in place before anyone.
First trip to the restroom was interesting. Twenty something rows of holding onto the chairs and swinging down the isle was unpleasant. I was very relieved nobody was sleeping. It felt like I had run a marathon. The only place crutches fit on fully loaded planes is in the front coat closet. Second trip to restroom, I am allowed to use the first class head. In all my years of traveling I don’t think that has happened except maybe on an international flight. The first class seats are too far apart to use as supports, so I end up hopping the seven rows. Oh,so embarrassing!
With 50 minutes to change flights I am stressed and curious how we are ever going to make our connector through Dallas. It is the last flight of the day into Memphis.
The flight attendant magically shows up with my crutches as I am ready to get off. There is a nice young man waiting with a wheel chair at the door. In Texas they have seat belt laws for their wheel chairs. He rolls me to the next gate. Miraculously only four gates from where I am. All my memories of Dallas are running from on terminal to another. I am out of control here and I don't like it, but it works.
While waiting to board, Dicky’s BBQ entices us, so we grab a quick sandwich.
My name is called. My husband goes in my stead. Do I want to be wheeled to the plane or crutch? I have learned my lesson, I say "ride". Then I sit and wait for the attendant. Neither my son, nor husband can wheel me down the ramp.(Its the law) My family can move me in the terminal, but not down the ramp. I am glad I wait. A big guy rolls me down a long walkway backwards as he talks on a cell phone. The ramp is very steep. Seat 28 was a long walk, (Why didn't someone suggest I sit closer?) The plane wasn’t crowded; thank goodness nobody was in a hurry.
The hour flight to Memphis ends just as the full moon is rising. Spectacular.
My wheelchair is labeled with my name and waiting at the door of the plane. Everybody in Memphis is relaxed. The gal wheeling me is delightful. I ask her to verify my thought that people don’t see wheel chairs. She laughs. “You are absolutely correct”. She is five foot ten and they don't see her either. She delivers me to the pick up area, where my ride is waiting to whisk me to rural Tennessee.
Important Information to know before you go.
When you purchase your airline ticket on-line American Airlines asks if you need special assistance. If like me, you lost mobility shortly before your trip, call your airline to let them know you need assistance. There was no difficulty. They mentioned that reminding the ticket agent or skycap about the wheel chair would be good. My experience was extremely positive. I still wouldn’t recommend the wheelchair as being the ultimate way to travel. Flying with a disability you meet very nice people. Still traveling is more fun without the crutches.
The way home was similar to the trip there. After a week I was able stand long enough to be scanned avoiding the pat-down. Attitude is the key. Decide to make the best of the situation. I am fond of a disabilities advocate named Joni Eareckson Tada. Not long ago I heard her speak, her whole life has been a decision to make the best of the situation life has handed her. Attitude makes the whole of difference when you don't like your situation. My disability was short lived. Nonetheless, it gave me clear perspective on traveling with disabilities.
Traveling without being able to walk gave me new respect for people with disabilities. While the Americans With Disabilities act has been helpful in making the country accessible to handicapped people, handicapped ramps and bathrooms frequently do not have the most important items necessary to assist people in wheel chairs or on crutches. Handles in restrooms are really helpful. The height of the toilet is important as well. The needs of the disabled are so varied it is difficult to determine what is most important because everyone has different needs.
My boot fit into the leg space under the seat. A lady on our return trip, who had been injured on vacation, had a cast that stuck out 90 degrees from her body.she nearly didn't fit anywhere on the plane. I am an athlete and rather nimble on crutches. People who are frail need more assistance. As we head into the season of Thanksgiving I am so thankful I can put weight on my boot and walk. I am slow, but I am doing it on my own. Remember attitude makes or breaks a trip. As much as I love traveling, I considered canceling this trip, but it was urgent.
My admiration goes out to all who travel with disabilities and don't let difficulties keep them down.
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