The Locked-In Traveler
(Kati’s Wheelchair Traveling Journals)
Every little thing makes a big difference when you cannot move at all. The few movements I regained during rehab might seem minute. Nevertheless, they made an impact on my life.
I have learned to speak with my eyes. Use a computer with the movements of my neck. I do not need to be fed through a tube because I learned how to eat differently. I can control my bladder, and I do not need to use a catheter. We do not need a hoist because I can tense my legs and help my assistants when they lift me. I do not have one hundred percent control of any of these movements. However, it is enough to make a huge difference.
All these little improvements make traveling easier. I can take long trips without worrying too much about what, how, and when.
The only thing that I really must consider is; urinating. I stop drinking from six hours up to two days before the trip. All depends on the duration of the trip. Besides that, I also have prescribed pills that helps by slowing down the liquid flow through my system.
Handicap accessible restrooms are everywhere to be found, and only a few airplanes have such toilets. A visit to the loo is highly recommended before boarding. Making it another reason to be early at the airport.
I guessed that it had to happen one time. The need to pee became unbearable on a long flight from Thailand to Finland. The good thing was that it was not a straight flight. We had to make a stop in Dubai for refueling. Passengers were asked to disembark so the airplane can be cleaned. We could stay because I had to use the restroom.
The small wheelchair, which they use to transfer disabled passengers in and out of the airplane, was brought to us. There were no special assistants from the airport there to help. Mom and my assistant had to take me to the toilet by themselves.
By the toilet door, we had a long discussion about the plan of action. Mom lifts me to stand on a circle plate device (the type they use to make waist exercises.) Then she turned me around and put me down on the toilet seat. Then she stepped in the tiny room and closed the door. There was not enough space for the assistant to come in to help. Mom had to do it all by herself.
Mom proceeded to lift me again so she can pull down my pants and put me back down so I could finally relief myself. The same routine followed only in reverse. She had to take a minute to gather power to lift me up, to pull up my pants and put me back down again. Mom opened the door with a sigh of relief, but it was not over yet. She still had to lift me to the chair and back to the seat. It sounds simple enough when you put it down in words. However, taking an immobilized person to an airplane restroom is NO easy task at all.
In all my travels only once, I was on an airplane with a restroom for the disabled. I had to go, and mom went to check it out to see if it was possible, and it was. The wheelchair could get into the room, and there was enough space that the assistant could help. I was astonished how easy it was.
In all my travels only once, I was on an airplane with such restroom.
(Kati & Henning van der Hoeven)