Every vacation takes loads of planning, packing and making travel arrangements. Now that the kids are grown, we don’t put as much effort into traveling, but I’m grateful for the memories of a few wonderful trips. It’s much easier to stay home since Mark’s daily care requires special equipment for the bed, shower and commode. The tools we use daily which make it physically possible for me to take care of Mark is not gear that fits in the luggage.
We also have a customized van with a ramp which enables Mark to stay in his wheelchair as I secure it to the floor of the van. This saves me from transferring him into a passenger seat, then disassembling leg rests, seat cushion and back before being able to collapse the wheelchair for the ride. We’ve done this routine many times and it becomes physically draining. Mark is a tall man (6’2” to be exact) and getting his legs into a vehicle is always a struggle. Traveling without our van is difficult, but when you fly somewhere and have to rent a van which isn’t equipped for a wheelchair.
In my fifty plus years I’ve only flown six or seven times. Flying with Mark is more difficult since he is totally reliant on a wheelchair since our car accident in 1991. In my article, Celebrating Independence Day, I recalled a wonderful trip we took in 1996 to America’s historical sights. The 2,100 miles across the United States seemed too far to travel in our van for the amount of time we had for the vacation and flying seemed impossible. I was concerned about the challenges of getting Mark on an airplane and storing his wheelchair during the flight. Since the wheelchair is his only means to get around, it’s stressful to have it out of sight. My imagination ran wild with worrisome thoughts of someone taking it, or the possibility of it getting lost, or put on the wrong plane. I was also concerned about the layovers and getting on the second flight and what if Mark needed to use the bathroom while on the plane? Have you ever noticed the aisles in the airplanes are not wheelchair accessible and neither are the bathrooms.
Besides worrying about what would happen to the wheelchair during the flight, I couldn’t imagine how Mark, with limited control of his stiff, long legs could fit in an airplane seat with minimal leg room.The flight to Baltimore was nearly six hours. These were huge concerns for me, but my desire to make the trip for our kids was even larger. As I researched the places to visit and made arrangements for our ten day trip my excitement to see the sights outgrew my fears of getting Mark there and not having certain equipment I use daily in his care.
I was pleasantly surprised the morning we boarded the plane. The flight attendants were very helpful and even stored Mark’s wheelchair in a closet just outside the cockpit. Two strong men lifted Mark out of his wheelchair onto a hand truck with a seat on it, strapped him in and took him down the aisle to his seat. They unstrapped him and lifted him up and into the seat. We were the first to get on the plane. They made sure we were comfortable and situated before letting the other passengers on. We were also the last to get off the plane with the same routine in reverse.
I have been asked if it ever crossed my mind to leave Mark home with extended family and just take the kids on vacation. The truth is I never did consider leaving Mark behind. Even if he wasn’t willing to go, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable leaving him with someone else. Mark loves outings and especially when it’s with family. He’s always game to try anything and has total trust we will take care of his needs wherever we are. We’ve taken him boating, rafting, on a tram ride, canoe, bus, carriage ride and on a train. None of it was easy and sometimes the ride was too rough for his body to really enjoy, but he always wanted to go. When strangers are lifting him out of his chair into an airplane seat or boat, he remarkably shows no sign of panic. He has good reason to fear because he doesn’t have any control of where he lands, but Mark stays focused on where he’s going instead of how he’s getting there and puts trust in whoever is helping him. No anxiety, he only expresses appreciation in all the efforts made in his behalf. This makes taking him everywhere a rewarding experience.
Luckily, we have family and friends who willingly help us do activities which would be impossible to do without their assistance. These are people who want our lives to be enjoyable by sharing experiences most people take for granted. When we were in Philadelphia, Mark and I planned on staying back while the rest of the family took a carriage ride. My brother, Steve, wouldn’t stand for that. He insisted we lift Mark into the carriage and all take the ride together. I was more worried than Mark, but I followed his lead and stayed focused on the event which helped me overcome my fear.
Happy memories. I’m so glad we made the trip!