Saturday, June 29, 2019

Journeys without wheelchairs

Writer's block... I've attempted to write this a bunch and here it is - maybe someday I'll put all of this together in a book and rewrite much of it.

During late spring this year, I faced my fear of flying and we traveled (two separate trips) to New York state to see my cousin get married, and then to my awesome alma mater, Kenyon College, which is somehow always a magical place for me.

Before we left, I had several conversations.  I told my husband that I really couldn't imagine wheeling through the airport when I could walk pretty far, and I hate sitting for any period of time. I told my physical therapist that I wondered if I could do trips without my wheelchair, "Nemo." I told a few other people similar things. No one said that I needed to take my wheelchair and it was suggested that I really wouldn't know if I needed it until I tried. And so for the first time since I have had Nemo, I left him at home and made my way through airports, retreat places, a mall, more airports, the Kenyon campus, hotels, dorms and dorm rooms, restaurants, bathrooms, and more airports - without Nemo. I survived. There were some interesting times. And I am glad Nemo stayed home. Here are some highlights of the trips.

The journeys began at the Denver airport. Our family of three first took an overnight flight to Newark. I hate to fly - it's my biggest fear. Flying overnight worked because I took medicine which calmed me but also made me very tired - so this method works best if I am flying when I should also be sleeping. Walking through airports - it's a lot of walking - the Denver airport is under construction, so there was a lot of walking there. Security - that should be a different blog. But know that no one who has a walker will successfully blow up a plane because people with walkers undergo more security than anyone else.

We made it to Newark without me pushing the flight attendant button to ask if the slight turbulence was normal (what I like to do on airplanes) and without me giving anyone next to me the death grip as we took off. I walked onto the plane, and I walked off the plane, without any assistance, which I could do because I didn't have to use Nemo. And then we had to go to another gate...... a gate that was a long distance from where we were, and my sleep medicine was still working well. I remember walking, and walking, and walking, and being in a complete fog. And then I was told we were where we needed to be, and I fell asleep with my head on my walker, zonk. I didn't wake up until it was time to get on the next plane. Got on that plane, fell asleep, woke up when we landed (lucky flight attendants didn't have to deal with me pushing the button since I was asleep).  More walking! But my medicine had worn off so I was awake.

And to that point, I had walked a lot, much of which I was in a zombie-type state. But Albany - more steps - to the car rental! Then breakfast, and then we were off to the beautiful Catskills! That weekend was great. Really Nemo would have been in the way. Where there were steep hills I took a car.

And then... "Hey, Beth? It seems your walking stick broke." What?! Somehow it broke. I took this as a sign I shouldn't be using them anyway because my knee had been injured and I had been told to cut back on using them. Bart (walker) went everywhere from then on, that weekend. We had a lot of fun. My cousin got married. My daughter sang a song at the wedding. We ate great food. We danced to great music. We attended a book club. We stayed in an awesome cabin. I had no trouble navigating without Nemo. We made it home. Lots of walking. I think we got into the furthest gate from the parking lot in Denver.

Next trip. Kenyon! Another overnight flight. Continued construction at the Denver airport. More observations that people who use walkers will not be able to blow up planes due to high security. Bioness devices do not make it through metal detectors and are tested to make sure they don't have bomb-making stuff on them. Also, with Bart I haven't taken the moving walkways. But I get more exercise by not taking them - I keep telling myself that to make myself feel better... as people on the moving walkways move past me while just standing still.

We took another overnight flight and this time went first to Washington DC, where I took my nap, and then after 3 hours flew to Columbus. I remember the Columbus airport being much smaller! But again, Nemo would have been in the way. We rented a car and drove to Kenyon, registered for the weekend, and figured out where the electric scooter they had for me was. But I never went to pick it up. Since it was alumni weekend I could drive certain places and then walk.

And I did walk. It had been 4 years since I had been to Kenyon, and I parked in the wrong place, so we had to walk further when we first went to rehearsal. Lots of construction was there - I figure I got to see the construction up closer than most people saw it that weekend since I parked right next to it.

We also sang, and sang, and sang more. We stayed in the dorms and I used the dorm showers - that was an adventure. And I visited people - I loved that - my college roommate, my first college advisor, my running coach, my Economics professor, my choir director (good thing I had missed getting a picture with him, so I got to meet with him again and visit for a bit and get a picture), a good friend who also went to Kenyon. I missed my doctor who was in Colorado while I was in Ohio, and then there was a tornado so I didn't get to see my Statistics professor because he had to help his son whose house got hit. We drove on all of the old running routes I used to take. It was beautiful. We got out of the car. We took pictures. I have great memories of those routes.

While visiting with my Economics professor, I talked about the time I had spent, while in college, going to medical appointments. And I realized that I had never been back to the place of all those appointments. So we had a bit of extra time and we drove to the Ohio State University medical area. And then I had to find the Wendy's where I used to park when going to appointments because I refused to pay to park at the medical center. It took a while to find it, but the Wendy's is still there. I have memories of walking to and from that Wendy's, the last time being when I was diagnosed, and the walk back to Wendy's feeling like a dreaded finalization of what had been happening for years. Driving through this area was emotional - feelings surfaced that hadn't for years - of how many times I had to go and have tests which brought no answers - feeling at some points that many did not believe me while knowing that my best friends, my family, my Kenyon doctor, and my running coaches knew something was wrong. I am very glad I went back. I won't go back again. I learned that the neurologist who diagnosed me, and who I liked, has retired. It has been a very long time.

And then, one more plane trip. One more dose of medicine to calm me and make me tired. Since the last flight was a direct flight, my mom picked us up and drove us home. In the air, I looked at my daughter next to me. She fell asleep and looked so peaceful while I took sleep medicine and was fairly wide awake due to turbulence. I wish I could fly like she does!

Arrival: Denver! And........... farthest gate! I turned on my Bioness. Beep beep beep! Red light. The Bioness on the right side wasn't working. My right side is weaker by a lot and it didn't get any help. My daughter had a rehearsal and she wanted to get there so she wanted me to hurry, and all I could do was drag my right leg along, getting slower, and slower, and slower... "M'aam, would you like a ride?" A nice person asked me that. I tried to politely say no thank you. See, this is my battle and I'm not taking help. We made it to my mom's car and I was exhausted because of dragging my right leg.

Finished! No Nemo! I made it! I learned that airports involve a lot of walking and I will walk more than others since I can't do the moving walkways. I learned that I will have challenges everywhere along the way, and that most of these challenges are not visible to others. I also learned that these challenges used to be impossibilities. In the past I haven't been able to get on and off a plane by myself. I haven't been able to stand for extended periods of time. I haven't been able to use a regular toilet without needing bars to grab. I haven't been able to curl my hair while standing. I haven't been able to do as much as I do now. These trips showed me how far I have come and they showed me that I didn't need to bring Nemo. So I'll keep pushing forward and exploring new possibilities that I never really thought would be possible. Never say never.... "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us." Something like that.


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