My mother has returned to London. My younger sister is here in her place, and my brother is still here working from my home office.
On this day I remember the children were already at daycare and my husband was at work when I received a call from my mother that my grandmother had a stroke. All I could think of was going to London to see her.
After speaking to my husband, I get the green light to go and within an hour he has booked the flights for my children, sister, sister-in-law and me.
It’s funny how things work out, because I have just gotten my new wheelchair this week, and to travel for the first time didn’t seem to make me anxious. If anything, I was more determined.
Growing up in London, my grandmother had become my go to person where I received encouragement and wisdom, especially in my teenage years. We were extremely close and my relationship with her was very important to me.
By that evening we have all our suitcases packed and by the door. We triple checked everything for the children. In addition, I find myself taking special care in packing everything I need. Many items that fill my suitcase are self-care, like boxes of intermittent catheters, which need to last me the three weeks I will be away. After I finish packing I remembeto place my transfer board on top before zipping up the case.
After we finish checking in at the ticket counter I am met by an airport attendant that will be pushing me the rest of the way. Once we arrive at our gate the attendant hands our information to the agent standing at the counter, and in a few moments they start to announce the order in which passengers will board the plane. My family and I are escorted onboard before everyone else.
My family enters the plane, but the attendant holds me back. As he pushes me up to the aisle chair, another attendant came out of the plane to assist with getting me transitioned. The maneuver they use is known as the “two man lift.” I learned this from rehabilitation center, and am pleased that I don’t have to educate them, which I was told may happen at times.
One attendant grabs under my kneecaps while the other standing behind me places his arms under my armpits and across the upper part of my chest, I am asked to cross my arms in front of me, and they both lift me from my own wheelchair and place me on the aisle chair. At this point I ask if I can take my wheelchair cushion on the plane with me and they say yes.
I am suddenly nervous as they start to handle my new wheelchair. I ask them if the wheelchair can stay on board with me. Initially, they hesitate, but seeing how anxious I have become, one of the attendants asks how my wheelchair breaks down. After I explain that the wheels come off and the back folds down, and he sees how compact it becomes, he decides it can fit in the closet on the plane. Immediately I relax knowing it will be safely onboard with us. At this point, I cannot even imagine my wheelchair being away from me. I am afraid of what I would do should they lose a part, since I am so dependent on it now.
They push me down the aisle until we get to my seat and I am able to place my cushion on it. At the rehabilitation center I was told that I should sit on my cushion on long road trips and plane rides to prevent skin breakdown. They do the same “two man lift” to place me in my seat. Once I am in my seat, my daughter sits down next to me and my sister and sister-in-law by her. They will take turns caring for Myles.
I feel guilty that I am stuck in this seat and can’t go anywhere. To make matters worse, the flight attendant tells me to let them know when I need to go to the bathroom so that they can bring the aisle chair to me in order to transport me there. I realize then I haven’t thought about the bathroom situation beforehand, and suddenly wonder what I should do. I have heard that the door of the restroom on most planes do not shut behind the wheelchair, and the thought of being exposed is daunting. I am not ready to be open about the fact that I have to use a catheter to relieve myself.
Therefore, even though I knew my doctor would not approve, I decided to not drink fluids during the flight and only suck on ice chips. That way I could be sure I stayed hydrated, but not have to use the bathroom for the duration of the ten-hours.
It is a night flight, and I am pleased that things had been relatively easy up to this point.
It feels good as my daughter sleeps with her head on my lap. I pray we can become as close as we were before my injury. She has been very subdued and quiet. I feel that she blames herself for the accident. It has been said that she may have locked the door behind me, but no one knows that for sure. It is so unfair that life can be so cruel to a family, but why think of that now? I can only think of moving on even though I still have no idea how to begin. However, it comforts me to know that my husband is supportive, and I am glad I can go and see my grandmother.
As our plane lands at Gatwick airport in London, England, my family and I wait as the other passengers disembark. The plane is eventually clear of congestion, so two attendants come in with the aisle chair, and just as before they conduct the lift and place me safely into the chair. They strap me in and push me down the aisle and off the plane. I am then lifted back into my own wheelchair, which one of them pushes all the way through the airport, and then we meet my mother and brother in the arrival area.
It feels so odd that I am wheeling in the airport of the country that used to be my home. I was walking when I left here to move to the United States.
As we approach my brother’s sedan, I ask him to pull my sliding board out of my suitcase. I get him to help me place that under my bottom, and with his support I slide into the front passenger seat, while everyone else sits in the back.
As we drive out of the airport I instantly have nostalgia driving through the roads and passing the shops that I grew up knowing very well.
After an hour drive we pull up to my mother, sister and brother’s home. I slide into my wheelchair and wheel on the older pavement to a ramp that is placed before the front door. My mother explains that the disability services came by and brought the ramp. She was able to rent it at a very low daily rate. I am very impressed that she could do that. As I enter I look the house around the rooms and find that the entire space is accessible, including the bathroom. She has also rented a hydraulic lift chair for the tub so that I can take a shower. However, I observe the kitchen and realize that I cannot fit through the doorway.
After a long journey, we all decide to rest a bit and have lunch. After we finish eating we gather back into the car and drive to the hospital where my grandmother is.
I am still amazed at how easy it is to maneuver in my new wheelchair. To think it takes is to have a custom fitted wheelchair in order to make one more flexible and mobile is not something many people know.
We enter the hospital. The building, like most buildings in England, is old. The hospital is typical in its smell and ambience of being sterile. We go through corridors of white walls and flooring with large bright lights beaming down. As we enter the ward that my grandmother is in I find my heart beating very fast. She is amongst a total of six beds, three on each side of the large space. I am not sure what to expect as a I come up to her bed. She looks up at me, and I immediately go to her side. Her left side is paralyzed from the stroke, and upon seeing me in the wheelchair, she points helplessly at it and begins to cry.
We spend each day of our trip seeing my grandmother, visiting each family home, and enjoying home cooked meals. The love I receive from my family comforts the rawness inside me.
The children are having a great time spending time with my cousins and other family members. It is nice to see them relax and have some fun for a change. Life has definitely become too serious of late.
As we creep up to the end of two weeks and my sister-in-law decides to fly back to Houston ahead of schedule. I continue to check in on my grandmother daily, and she seems to be recovering nicely. She will have her own sessions of physical therapy and will also need home health care. I am sorry she has to go through this in her senior life. It doesn’t seem fair, considering I am younger, more durable and able to become physically fit. However, if there is anyone that can do it, it is she. The inner strength and strong will that is in her is in all the men and women of my family, including me. She is also surrounded by my entire family and will be looked after well. I wish I had that part too, but realize that it isn’t my reality. I will have to learn to be independent quickly so that I can not only take care of myself, but also meet the needs of my husband and children.
After three weeks of being around my family it is hard saying our goodbyes. Things are a little different now and I am not sure when I will be able to return, whereas before my injury I would travel home once a year. Yet, I also realize during this trip I have grown in my level of independence. I have become more astute in knowing how to handle my body. Everything I learned in rehabilitation has helped in making sure I know exactly how to care for myself. It is obvious to me that being away from my own home and its accessibility has taught me to be proactive.
For example, a few nights ago I noticed a large red mark on my leg. It gave me the first taste of what happens when I am not paying attention to my skin. It was obvious that the redness was all the way through as I ran my finger across. I remember from rehabilitation that if the redness was skin color as I ran my finger across the mark that it wasn’t something to be concerned of. Unfortunately though, having no sensation, it is quite obvious that I didn’t realize the stitching on my tight jeans were rubbing against my leg. It took me back to when I was watching the descriptive videos at rehabilitation about people with skin breakdown. This episode was enough for me to make sure I never missed checking my skin again.
Our return flight is a little tougher this time. It is a day flight and therefore both my children are awake the whole time. On top of that, my sister has a cold with fever, and is really not feeling well. I sit with my daughter helplessly watching as she struggles to care for my son. I feel so bad, but cannot do anything to help her. It just enhances the intensity of me being determined to become even more independent when I return home. This creates further excitement within me as I also feel a new slight confidence at my life in a wheelchair.