The Locked-In Traveler
(Kati’s Wheelchair Traveling Journals)
“The value of family and real friends” that is one of the first lessons you learn after a tragedy. After the stroke, I got to see what my parents are made of; “my father a steady captain, my mother a sturdy lioness.” They never gave up on me. Despite all advice from the doctors, they took me in and took care of me a twenty-year-old baby who could not do anything for herself.
There are always friends that stay by your side through thick and thin. Others fade away into the thin air, not because of ill will; they just cannot handle the situation. You cannot blame anybody for not being able to handle the case; it is a challenging matter. By this, you learn to appreciate the ones who can and stick around.
My first wheelchair trip abroad was with the people that knew me the best and understood the condition that I was in. My mother and my best friend Irina were the logical choices. They are perfect travel companions. They are happy people who enjoy life and traveling. Both mom and Irina are mentally strong yet patient. Kind, polite, but are not easy to push around, and the situation requires these traits.
Traveling is always stressful to a certain extent. Traveling with or in a wheelchair even more so, and who you take with you on a trip must be able to handle stress with poise.
Things have changed much since my first trip as a disabled back in 1997. Invalid taxi’s where not very common back then. Not even in the USA, which is a very wheelchair friendly country. Since I could not do anything for myself, my mother would have to lift me from the wheelchair onto the car seat and vice versa. Doing this was normal to her because we did not have a wheelchair accessible car back then.
There is a technique to the maneuver of getting me in and out of the car. Most of the time they ask us if we want a bigger taxi like a van thinking that, it would be more comfortable. However, we cannot take a van because it would be challenging to lift me into a car that is too high. Just like it would be too difficult to pick me up out of a vehicle that is too low.
Once on arrival in an old-eastern-bloc country, we asked for an invalid taxi. An old van pulled over. It was just a regular cargo vehicle, which had no ramp; my father and the driver had to lift me into the back of the van. It did not have safety straps or belt; I was sliding from left to right in the back through the wobbly roads of the old city. Both my parents had to kneel next to me and hold the wheelchair to keep me from falling over. We just took a standard cab for the rest of our visit.
Although nowadays you find more and more wheelchair friendly cabs, you can still run into situations where there are not one. Therefore, it is always important to have people with you that can handle such problems or other particularities that you may encounter on the journey. To me, this person used to be my mother, and nowadays it is my husband.
(Kati & Henning van der Hoeven)