Monday, 21 March 2016

Holiday Bliss

It is so quiet here. Everyone slept in, and when we did wake up, there was no furnace working hard to heat the house, no traffic, not even any birds singing or squawking. Just quiet. We have finally reached the point in our holiday where everyone is rested and relaxed. This year has been a bit different than last year because we all arrived and are leaving at different times. Lara and David and their families have gone home, back to reality. We have two full days left (before we fly home) and even though the weather does not look to be as warm as it was when we arrived, we will make the best of it. Today we will head back to the beach to check the surf and maybe walk in the sand. Theo wants to tour the Whalehead Club and the kids want to go to the Nature Centre and maybe the bumper cars if they are open.

Going to the beach was another new first for me this year. The beach wheelchair was pretty versatile and easy to move on the sand - but not by me. The huge inflated tires worked well on the loose sand, but there are no push rims like on a regular chair, so I have to rely on others to move me. We talked about ski poles - they would have worked well! There is a brake on one wheel that kind of worked, but one day I was sitting with my back to the ocean and turned just so to take a picture down the shore and all of the sudden I was rolling backwards into the ocean! It says right on the chair NOT TO BE USED AS A FLOTATION DEVICE. My scream caught Theo's attention and I didn't have to try out the water (which is 11 degrees).

The house my parents rented this year had an elevator which allowed me to access all three floors. Vacation homes here are built to have the living space (kitchen and living room) on the top floor to enjoy the views and bedrooms on the second and first floors. The elevator was on the outside of the house and although I could operate it I could not close the door on my own (it swung out) so I needed help anytime I wanted to come or go. Carpet in the house also made getting around on the bedroom floors a bit more challenging although I did get to see my sleeping children! Going up and down in the elevator meant I also didn't get to use the stairs and the main entrance - I missed out on the family kafuffle of 15 people coming and going - you know, the "get your shoes on!" "where is my hat?" "have you seen the ball/chalk/helmet/car keys?" which is always a part of the holiday experience. I wish I had taken a picture of the shoe line up at the front door!

Chalk drawing made a comeback again this year. The cul-de-sac street we were on made for nothing but bike and scooter traffic which was fantastic for the kids. We even ran out of chalk and Ella used her own money to go to the store (on her own!) and buy more for everyone to use. I even chalked some without falling out of my chair and the kids made wheelchair accessible paths and parking for me! We had a kayak for the week and with David's help, I got into it with Theo out in the Sound. Although I can't hold myself up with feet on the foot rests, I was able to paddle. I have just enough core recovery to keep myself upright. It was not a long ride, but it was my first.

The best part of being down here is being able to get out of the house and just roll - no snow, no gravel, no traffic.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

First Flight

For the ninth year in a row, we have made our way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for our March Break. Getting here this year...was a little bit different. In past years we have done the trip in the car, taking 2 days to drive, either straight through or with one overnight. This year we flew - and what an adventure that was! The kids have virtually no experience with flying (Ella few to Newfoundland when she was two) so they were pretty pumped about flying south "we can't be late or we will miss our flight!!!" It was a long day that went something like this...

We took a wheelchair taxi from the hotel to Pearson and checked in at the "special assistance" United Airlines counter, where our bags were ticketed and we picked up our boarding pass. You would think that she would have made a note in the computer that I was in a wheelchair (she did tag it) - it became evident later on that this was not the case. (Yes - my travel agent called ahead of time to tell them). Then we went to gate 15 where she told us we needed to wait to be called, which we did. When they called for 10:25 or sooner flights we got into the line and as we got to the head of the line an nice lady with a walkie-talkie said we should not have been there and that we had been given the wrong information - we should have been directed to the special line for people who require assistance (the same line the flight personnel go to) to get through customs. Getting to this line allowed us to skip the HUGE line that everyone else was in and get through customs faster (I am not sure how any of the "regular" people got to their flights on time).

Boarding passes in hand, we reach the gate where, to our surprize, the gate attendant informs us that she was not informed that I was requiring the assistance of an aisle chair (the skinny little chair that takes people who can't walk down the aisle) Side note: and I mean skinny - you sit on the chair and your hips are at the same height as the armrests - how someone larger than me would do it, I have no idea. I assured the attendant that my travel agent had called ahead (which she had) and we had to sit at the gate until they brought an aisle chair for me to use. We were not the last ones on the plane, but we certainly were not the first and they changed our seating arrangement so I did not have to go so far back (but they did not bump me to first class). Oliver and I sat in row 9, Theo and Ella were way far back in 21. It was my understanding that someone immobile like me was to sit with someone who would be able to assist them in an emergency. Don't get me wrong, Oliver and I had a great time flying together, but he would not be carrying me off the plane!

Our flight from Toronto to Washington (Dulles) was delayed leaving (slow customs - like I said) by at least 30 minutes. This made me anxious about catching our flight from Dulles to Norfolk - we only had a 55 minute window - and silly me thought that they would have let the landing gate know that I would need assistance. They didn't, so when we got there, and there was no help waiting, Theo piggy-backed me (did I mention I weigh 146 lbs?) to my chair which was outside the plane (thank goodness). We had sent the kids ahead and the lady who met us there said that our gate was way across the airport. My response was "well please push me or we will never get there!" She radioed her supervisor that we were coming - and everyone (but me) started running. Poor Ella really needed to use the bathroom (one whole coke consumed on the plane) and I said "sorry - no time pick up the bags and run!"

As we were making our way there a guy on a trolley stopped, asked where we were going and picked up Theo and the kids. I wish I had been able to get a picture of them whiz by us - they were having such a blast! Meanwhile, this 50-something woman who had not been in training, was running while pushing me - what was easily a mile from one end of the airport to the other (no joke). I tried to help her in a couple of spots (like up a ramp), but she just said (while huffing and puffing) "no mam, don't help, it's okay, my supervisor knows we are coming". When we got to the gate there was an aisle chair waiting for me, so Theo gave the kids their boarding passes and sent them ahead. We had to go down an elevator first which, when we got to the bottom, emptied out onto the tarmak! We rolled out and the kind lady who had pushed me all that way pointed to the plane that we had to board - that had stairs down to the tarmak. No ramp in site! So by now at least 10 minutes had passed from the time we disembarked one plane and had been running to the other, and we sat around for at least another five when the pilot came down and said "you are the last passengers?? you are it!" 

What would you have done? Waited for a ramp to come (they said it was on it's way) or done what you did to get off the last plane? So I scooched my bum to the edge of my chair and wrapped my arms around Theo's neck. Ever so slowly and carefully he lifted me up and crawled up the stairs and carried me all the way to my seat - third from the back. There was a nice lady at the very front of the plane who offered us her seat, but we could not figure out how to lift that arm rest (it was different from the rest) so off we went to my assigned seat. I am sure that I kicked a few people along the way and I cried from exhaustion, stress and relief when I got into my seat. But, we got there:)

The day before we left, Theo and I had talked about what our concerns were about travelling. He was worried about catching our first flight (sometimes our kids do not move as fast as we would like them to in the morning) but I was worried about that second flight. Turns out we were both right in the end. And that is not the end of the "United Airlines get an F for accessibility" story because when we got to Norfolk we had to wait at least 15 minutes for the aisle chair to arrive - and that was even after all the other passengers had gotten off the plane. I sat looking out the window watching the luggage come off the plane, including my wheelchair and seat (separately!). Don't get me wrong, the airline fails, not the people. Most of the people who helped us were wonderful - including my runner - but there are some serious gaps in communication. They should have had assistance ready and waiting. Too bad we have to fly with them on the way home - I can only imagine!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Check your $%#@ing blind spots

On October 22nd I started the process of getting my driver's licence back. You see, when you become paralyzed the doctors see to it to suspend your licence - apparently not being able to use your feet interferes with driving?? So on that day in October, I did a two hour cognitive assessment (because I had a brain injury they needed to know if I was "all there") followed by a short trial driving a car with hand controls (you just get in and drive). Then the paper chase began. The driving assessor filled in the forms and sent them into the MTO - then you know what happened...the "medical review" waiting game. And that was just to get the temporary permit that meant I could drive with a licenced driving instructor.

Think back to when you were 16. Remember getting your 365? We could go out and drive with another licensed person, all you wanted! Well not this time, my temporary permit was only for taking lessons with a hand control instructor, I was not allowed to practice. Where else in society are we not allowed to practice something new?

So in the meantime, I took my prescription from my doctor (yes, a prescription for hand controls) and we had our car modified at a place in Kitchener. All it is is a lever on the left hand side of the steering wheel that is attached to the accelerator and brake pedals. Push to brake and pull to accelerate. They attach a spinner knob to the steering wheel (just like a tractor) and a transfer board that flips out to make transfers from my wheelchair easier. The other piece of helpful equipment is a velcro chest strap that holds the driver (me) upright. Did you know you use your core when you drive? Think about that the next time you do a clover leaf.

Driving with your hands is kind of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. But I was not allowed to practice except for the four driving lessons that I was not able to book until February (they were all booked up). Yes, February, it's a great time to take driving lessons, right? Well it just so happened that they fell on the days when there was no snow, which was a relief to me. It was going to be challenging enough to be learning to use the hand controls (in a controlled fashion) in London, adding snow would have been over the top.

The lessons were okay, my instructor was chatty and fun to be with, so each of the hour long lessons went relatively quickly. "Don't forget to check your blind spots" became the mantra of my lessons. Bikers, pedestrians and other cars will apparently jump out at you from all angles. I really can not count as high as the number of times that I was reminded of this. My other downfall was not going fast enough..."we need to move with the speed of traffic". This was most funny to me, because I have been driving for 27 years and never have been accused of going slow...but I will say that speed bumps and hand controls are a bit tricky.

With my four lessons over I just needed to do my test, and that, of course, was when it began to freezing rain and snow. My test was postponed twice. For one of those times we were 30 minutes from London but the snow was so bad we could not even see where the road ended and the ditch began. So we turned around. The day that test day actually happened I climbed into the car, strapped on my wide velcro chest strap and off we went, carefully avoiding the Canada geese in the parking lot. Before we left the Parkwood lot my instructor noticed that the seatbelt light was on - because I had not done up my seatbelt! I stopped the car at the stop sign and turned to the assessor and said "please tell me I didn't just fail!" Having the chest strap on made me feel like my belt was on, but it wasn't. She just laughed and said "no" and we carried on. Thank goodness. I travelled all the one-way streets correctly and checked all my blind spots so I did pass, but I was reminded to not drive so fast. Really??

Now the waiting game continues. I am glad that we are going away for March Break because it will make the time pass faster and hopefully my new and improved official MTO "licenced with hand controls" will arrive in the mail while we are away. The next step will be developing the skills to get my chair into and out of the car by myself, but I figure that so long as I am going to be meeting up with friends, I will be okay.

So watch out Huron County, here I come.

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Depths of Despair

Anne Shirley, my favourite childhood protagonist, used to talk about being In The Depths of Despair. As an orphan she felt that the whole world was against her, and no matter how hard she tried things did not seem to get any better. Over the past month or so I have had my own dark time, and it would seem that not much would help to get me out. It was not something that I wanted to write about, nor did I think that anyone would want to read about my own Depths. Everything sucked and I cried a lot.

It seems to get worse when I come upon yet another something else that I am not able to do (yet). At the end of February six members of the Madill Nordic ski team (my team) was off to OFSAA at Highland Nordic in Duntroon. I so desperately wanted to go and support them, be there to yell encouraging words at them through the trees. But alas, I lack the endurance to do that kind of travel and long cold day outdoors. For me, this event is one of the most fun, most rewarding events of the entire school calendar. And it went on without me - as it should have - but I was sad.

My friend Mark borrowed a Nordic sit-ski for me to try on a day just before we lost all the snow. Michele came along to help - and I needed help, it was hard. I am pretty sure it was built for someone a lot smaller than me, but with some duct tape to the rescue, I was able to stay upright - but only just. My lack of core muscle strength makes me so very tippy. Sometimes that is laughable, but sometimes not. In anycase, I am sure that one day we will have a sit-ski that is custom built for me, but even then I will need a groomed track and a substantial amount of upper body power. The strength I can see coming, but the groomed trail? That will take some work. In any case, Theo has something to add to his "learn to weld" list.

I know that we didn't get much snow this winter (an unlikely gift for me) but when we did it caused me grief on many levels. I felt trapped - kind of like cabin fever - but there was more to it than that. I had to rely solely on the kindness of others, including Theo, to get me off the property. Still not legal to drive, I also had to defer my test date twice because of the weather (more on that later). This deferral also meant I missed out on the overnight I had planned with my Mom. The same day we had to turn around on our way to London, I rolled down the driveway, got to the end and remembered how in every other winter I would have been out on the dogsled trail - no more.

I know I will get there. What there looks like, well, I just don't know. I still deal with pain that holds me back, for how long, I don't know. It may get worse, then better, it may get worse and never go away. No one can say, which just adds to the unknown of the future.