Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My MS Story Chapter 26- Our Housing Carousel (part two of two)

If living conditions don't stop improving in this country, we're going to run out of humble beginnings for our great men.
  - Russell P. Askue

Front View

House number four was our biggest, grandest house. See above. 

There was one characteristic of this dwelling that was both a blessing and a curse. The house literally sat on top of a small, steep hill. There was a considerable drop-off as you walked down the driveway from the house to the street. To get to the flat part of the back yard you had to weave your way down the other side of the same hill (see below). In fact, in the last couple of years we lived there the only way I could get to the back yard was to ride my ATV down the hill.

Rear View 1a

However, living on this rock outcropping did bring with it a unique visual perspective. The dining room was in a corner of the house with ample windows on both walls. Because many of the trees were rooted in the ground 25 or so feet below the dining room windows, when sitting at the table it felt as if I was living in the canopy of a rainforest, safe from the dangers below. I enjoyed a birds eye view of that part of a mature tree which we normally only see from the ground, with our heads tilted uncomfortably upward. This tree-house effect was particularly lovely in the summertime, when the oaks and maples were lush, green, and full.  See the dining room, below. 


During the five years that we lived in house number four, I progressed from having only slight difficulty walking to having significant difficulty walking.

My strategy was to descend the staircase from our second story bedroom only once in the morning, and ascend the staircase only once in the evening. I had an elaborate procedure that involved forearm crutches and the stair railing. This worked well for a few years, then not so much.

One day I spoke up. “You know, honey,” I said, “we either need to install one of those chair lifts on the stairs, or we need to switch bedrooms with Amy, so we are sleeping on the bottom floor of the house. I almost fell down the stairs this morning.”

My wife replied, “I've been thinking. The three of you (meaning me and the two children) make messes all day in this huge house and I’m pretty much the only one who cleans them up. You can’t get around the yard well anymore. You’re struggling with the stairs. Now we're going to give our teenage daughter a huge master suite with a Jacuzzi tub, private balcony, and double walk-in closet, while we live in a small bedroom downstairs? Why don't we move to a smaller, flatter house instead?"

“But doesn’t size matter?” I asked.

“Obviously not to me,” she responded, deadpan.


She was right- about the house. What we really needed, and what we should have purchased when we first relocated to Southern Maine, was a single story house. There were two options- build or buy.

I researched floor plans for accessible homes. There's a style of home layout, called Universal Design, which is appropriate for all types of families, whether or not anyone is handicapped. The houses are perfectly flat with no elevation changes, and can be made accessible for specific needs, like wheelchair use. Even with young, healthy families you never know when someone may become disabled, either permanently or temporarily, and you never know when an elderly or disabled person might come to visit.

We eventually decided that a house building project was just too large of an undertaking, so we began to look for the most suitable single story house that we could find.

House number four sold in the summer of 2006, in what had become a past-peak real estate market. Because Scarborough (location of house number three) had so many more houses to choose from, we found ourselves concentrating on that town. After a few unaccepted offers on a few houses, we finally got a contract on a single story house in Scarborough- our house number five.

It's remarkable how difficult it is to find a perfectly flat ranch-style house. There is almost always an elevation change from the garage to the house and from the yard to the house. It is also common to have 6 inch or so elevation changes here or there between rooms. It drives me crazy. Why do builders always introduce these unnecessary obstacles?

But I can still remember life before I became disabled- barely. I would have never concerned myself with issues like unnecessary elevation changes in ranch houses.  Heck, I probably would even have thought of them as aesthetically pleasing. MS has altered my perspective on so many things.

The best we could do was to find a house that, although it wasn't flat, it could be made quite accessible with a few modifications. We remodeled the bathroom to have a roll-in shower, made the doors wider, and added a few ramps. We've been living in this house for 3 1/2 years now, and although it's not perfectly accessible (the kitchen is the biggest problem), it's pretty well suited for me. I think we could live here forever. This is a statement we’ve made about every house we’ve ever lived in. Ha! Not even close.

Below are pictures of two of the ramps we’ve installed.  Phoebe and Oreo like the ramp into the sunken living room. 

IMG_0850 Leaves 7A

Below are before and after pictures of the master bathroom.

Renovations 11 renovations 09

So why not stay in house number five indefinitely?

The problem with this house (there’s always a problem) is that it's in a suburban neighborhood. That's perfect, as long as I can drive. I expect that within the next year or so, however, my PPMS will progress to the point where I can no longer operate a motor vehicle (I already drive with hand controls, and my hands are getting weaker). I’ll need to somehow counteract this loss of independence.

Given that I no longer work, and thus sit home all day, once I can no longer drive I’ll want to live in a different kind of neighborhood. I’ll want wheelchair access from my home to some sort of shopping, some sort of nature park along the ocean, and some sort of entertainment. I'll essentially be looking for a more urban setting- probably a condo.

Home number six, I know you're out there, and I'll be coming for you soon enough. But when I do move in, let's not get too attached to one another. At some point I’ll identify some critical flaw in your layout or location, like I always do, and will move on.  Don't take it personally.  You’ll just be another stop on my perpetual housing carousel.


  1. You've had some great houses, all be it, with their non accessible foibles.

    Are there metropolitan areas of Maine you might be interested in later on?

    Out on the other coast by Seattle there's great public transportation with all wheelchair accessible buses that I will be using more and more in the coming years.

  2. Darren,

    Yes we've been lucky to have some memorable houses. The closest thing to a metropolitan area in Maine is Portland. I live in a suburb of it now, but the metro buses don't run by my house.

    We're kind of stuck here for the next 15 years or so until Kim retires...she has one of those jobs you just don't leave. I like it here except for Jan - April.