Friday, April 16, 2010

My MS Story Chapter 35- Risky Wheelchair Travel (part 1 of 2)

English: An American Airlines plane at the C C...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“A hundred years ago, it could take you the better part of a year to get from New York to California; whereas today, because of equipment problems at O’Hare, you can't get there at all.” ~ Dave Barry

Until I stopped working last year, I was a frequent and independent wheelchair traveler. I took great pride in my ability to complete business travel assignments, often solo. I sometimes added personal visits with far away friends and relatives at the end of these jaunts. Everything was going well until the winter of 2008-2009.

In December of 2008 I was flying back to Maine from god-only-knows-where. The last leg of my journey home was a flight from Philadelphia to Portland (PWM). The Northeast was getting pummeled by one of those storms that drops ice here, snow there, and rain someplace else. When we took off from Philadelphia, things looked promising. Not long into the flight, however, the pilot announced that the Portland airport had been closed -- the runway was a sheet of ice. PWM is quite hearty. They don’t shut down unless conditions are treacherous. 

The airline re-routed us to Logan Airport in Boston, to wait things out. We weren’t on the ground very long before they gave up and decided to terminate our flight in Boston. The flight attendant announced that we would be boarding a chartered bus to transport us from Logan Airport to the Portland airport. I summoned the flight attendant.

“Is this bus wheelchair accessible?" I asked.

"I'm not sure. Let me check."

After a few minutes he returned and said, "I'm afraid it's not wheelchair accessible." He then paused, as if it was my turn to speak.

“Well then, I'd like you to call me a cab. I know that Boston has lots of wheelchair accessible cabs. And I’d like the airline to pay the cab fare."

"Let me see what I can do."

It didn't take very long to get confirmation that the airline would supply me with a cab ride from Boston to Portland- a drive that takes an hour and thirty minutes with no traffic or weather issues.

After performing the intricate dance required to transfer me from my airplane seat to my iBOT wheelchair, I headed for baggage claim. There, I picked up my bag and met the taxi that the airline had summoned for me. As is so often the case, my cab driver was a recent immigrant, I think from Eastern Europe. He was a fairly talkative fellow and made good company. As we pulled away from the Boston airport, we encountered a steady rain. 

The water falling out of the sky didn't turn to ice until we were about half an hour from my home. Anyone I know, including myself, would've slowed to a crawl on the icy highway, but not this cab driver. I didn't question him though. After all, he was a professional, and that would have been insulting.  I may be a lot of things, but I am no insulter. 

When we finally pulled in the driveway of my house I called my wife to have her move a vehicle so that I could unload directly from the cab into our warm cozy garage. I didn't want to unload onto a driveway of glare ice, with more falling from the sky. We managed that successfully, and my head hit the pillow around 3:30 a.m. That was a long day. But all’s well that ends well…

Quick side story: we slept for only an hour that night. At 4:30 a.m. an ice-laden branch broke off from an overhanging tree and came through our kitchen window, rather loudly. Broken glass was everywhere- in the sink, on the counters, all over the kitchen floor. Kim and our daughter’s boyfriend, who was sleeping on the couch, cleaned up the glass, removed the offending branch from our kitchen, and temporarily boarded up the window. What a night.

I often flew out of the Manchester airport, about 90 minutes from my house, because of better connections. In January of 2009 I attended a meeting at our corporate headquarters near Cincinnati, and flew back into Manchester on a snowy evening. The first leg of my drive home usually takes approximately 45 minutes on Route 101 from Manchester to Portsmouth. If all went well I would be home by 10:00 p.m. Everything didn’t go well.

It was snowing so hard that I couldn’t differentiate the passing lane from the driving lane on the highway. It was a challenge to just stay between the snow banks. Every few miles I’d see another car off the road. Sometimes emergency vehicles and tow trucks were already there. Other times they hadn’t arrived yet, but I didn’t stop to help. What good would I have been?

Eventually I became resigned to finding a hotel to wait this storm out. I worked my corporate-issued smart phone, Googled hotels (while driving in the snow with my hand controls) called a couple of them, and found a room in Portsmouth. Ninety minutes into what was normally a ninety minute ride, but only halfway home, I pulled into the hotel parking lot. I transferred from the driver’s seat to my iBOT, grabbed my suitcase, put the iBOT in four wheel drive mode, opened the side door to the van, lowered the ramp, and backed out into the unplowed parking lot.

I managed to make it across the parking lot and into the hotel- safe at last. The next morning I finished my 45 minute drive home in about 45 minutes. In the Northeast we are pretty good at cleaning up quickly after snowstorms. So, again, all’s well that ends well…except the winter was not over yet.

To be here
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  1. I'm really impressed that you were able to accomplish so much and so well. I think I'm a "scaredy cat," and having had some bad experiences with airplane travel, I'd be afraid to go it alone. Do you still travel now?

    BTW -- at least you didn't have volcanic ash threatening!


  2. To be continued... What the heck! I thought they only did that on TV. I probably won't be able to sleep all night... Darn!!!

    Serious now it'd nice to hear a story now and then with all that's going on. Thanks again.


  3. You are such an inspiration. You never cease to amaze me. Here I am afraid to travel alone walking -albeit like a weak stumbling drunk - but I feel safer with assistance. Thanks so much for sharing your stories. You give me hope.

  4. Muffie,

    Thanks for stopping by. I still travel now, but do I travel solo? Tune in on Thursday for the conclusion of this story!


    Hey, at least this is not a cliff hanger at the end of a television season, where you have to wait 6 months for the conclusion :-) Seriously though, I want to temper expectations. The second part of this story is not thrilling- just more MS bullshit that is typical for us.


    Thanks for visiting here and leaving a comment. I was a bold traveler when my only disability was in my legs...heck, I couldn't wait for my next trip, just to prove my worth to my company and to myself.

  5. Thank goodness for the iBot. The unplowed parking lot may have won if you were in a manual chair - at least that's been my experience.

  6. Hello,

    Please could you go and visit The Wheel of Fortuna and leave a supportive message for Steve.

    His partner BobRobert is in the local hospice and is not expected to live much longer.

    It is not so long since his diagnosis which makes it all even more sad.

    Thanks for your support.