Monday, August 13, 2012

Cleveland 2012, #3

IMG_0970There are many issues to consider for wheelchair travelers when they spend time away from home. Other than the traveling itself, the big three are: bathrooms, beds, and stairs.

Because of my iBot, I can eliminate most stair issues, and that’s huge. This leaves bathrooms and beds, the subject of this post.
A quick aside…this is my challenge as a disability blogger. I want to convey to my readers, healthy and disabled alike, how even the simplest things must be reinvented when a wheelchair user goes on the road. But how do I tell this story in an interesting way, so you don’t get bored out of your minds? Here goes…
Since none of my friends in the Cleveland area has a wheelchair accessible home, Kim and I doled out the cash for a hotel room for five nights, near Jeanette and Steve’s house. Amy, Nick, and Zach didn’t need a hotel room, so they stayed at Jeanette and Steve’s. Their house became the de facto vacation headquarters for our extended group. It’s not that everyone stayed there; it’s just this is where we tended to gather for meals and general merriment. Their house is large, centrally located, and has an in-ground pool.

Normally, finding a suitable hotel room is a crapshoot. No matter how clearly the website describes accessibility, no matter what they tell you on the phone, you just never know what you’re really going to get. But I had a secret weapon. Steve (of Jeanette and Steve) and his daughter Lexi scoped out half a dozen hotels for me using criteria that I had given them. They picked a winner.
Stick with me, we’re getting to the good stuff…
Despite this near-perfect set up, it still took a lot of thinking and some trial and error for us to figure out how I could actually use the toilet, sink, and shower, and how I could get into and out of bed. Imagine two parents on Christmas Eve who need to assemble all the children’s toys without any directions. That’s what it’s like for us when we set up a hotel room.
It’s little analogies like this one that keep people coming back for more, right?
We have two pieces of equipment that we attach to any bed that I sleep in. Photos of my home setup are scattered throughout this post. The first piece is installed at the foot of the bed on my side. Its purpose is to keep the blankets off my feet. The weight of the covers is sufficient to keep me from moving my feet around during the night, and that’s not good. The second piece of equipment is installed on my side of the bed, about a foot down from the top of the mattress. I use this portable railing to help me transfer into and out of the bed, and to help me roll from sleeping on my back to sleeping on my side during the middle of the night. So, as soon as we got into the hotel room Kim had to rip the blankets off the bed and install my special equipment. I know that lots of other couples will also rip the blankets off the bed as soon as they get into a hotel room, but this wasn’t that.
It never hurts to throw in some sexual innuendo…
As we set up the bed it became obvious that there was a problem. The only side of the bed that I had access to was the opposite side that I usually sleep on. There is a well-choreographed dance that I perform, a precise sequence of bodily manipulations, which gets me from my wheelchair onto the side of the bed in a sitting position. Kim then lifts my feet up on the bed and I lie back. I had to completely transpose this sequence from my right side to my left side and vice versa. Each part of my body was performing a task that the other part usually did. This would be somewhat challenging for any healthy person, because people are predominantly right-handed or left-handed. But with me these differences are exaggerated because, due to MS, my left side is so much weaker than my right side. The first couple of times I tried to get into and out of bed, it didn’t go well.

After about five attempts, however, I finally figured out a way to transfer from my wheelchair to the bed and back, using this reverse configuration. We decided that we wouldn’t need to switch rooms or sleep with our head where our feet normally go. It’s hard to see the TV that way, after all.
I’m going to switch from the bedroom to the bathroom now, but I promise not to gross you out with any references to, well, bathroom stuff…
In my bathroom at home I have grab bars situated at certain locations around the toilet and the roll-in shower. The hotel bathroom had lots of grab bars as well, but in slightly different arrangements. Again, things didn’t go well the first few tries, but by the end of the week my transfers were going smoothly. That’s how it usually works.

Wheelchair travel like this requires patience, a smidgen of ingenuity, more patience, a dash of creativity, and then a little more patience. I won’t claim that I never get frustrated and let out a string of expletives when I can’t perform the simplest functions, but I will say that I always take a breather, collect myself, and think about a better way to accomplish the task, and then try again.
Thanks for sticking with me. I hope I didn’t put you to sleep. As a reward for your loyalty I’d like to contribute a little something to your checking account. Just send me your account number and any passwords or pins, and I’ll take care of that posthast.
And very soon I’ll get to some of the fun stuff that we did during our vacation.
Click for next post:       Cleveland 2012, #4
Click for previous post:  Cleveland 2012, #2


  1. I'm not totally wheelchair bound -- yet -- but I understand your predicaments. If I'm in a public restroom, I need grab bars where they'll help me -- like when you enter the room, not just at the commode and the sink. I hate clinging to walls, but I have no other resort. The same goes for getting into and out of a bed. I need a certain set-up or I'm doomed.

    Glad things worked out for you. Love the little doggie who's always posing in your photos.


  2. Are you kidding? You are never boring! Now that you are set up in your tale, I await the interesting goings-on from your Cleveland Adventure!

  3. Almost every "handicapped accessible" hotel room I've ever been in has a bathroom that features grab bars that appear to have been placed by a chimpanzee. No rhyme or reason at all, it's as if the ADA requirements say a handicapped bathroom must have X amount of grab bars, and they install just that amount without giving much thought the placement.

    Okay, grumble over…

  4. Muffie,

    I remember those days of clinging to the walls. Spiderman skills are required. I don't know how my dog phoebe makes it into so many of my pictures. It's as if she knows…


    Thanks for the confidence boost!


    It is definitely a hit or miss thing. The other big problem I run into with handicapped bathrooms is doors that open in instead of out, and once I get my big wheelchair in as far as it will go, there's no room for the door to close behind me. When this happens, I educate the building management.