Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Do I Do All Day? I Attend Courses at Top Universities (sort of)

images This is the fourth in a series of posts about how a disabled person like me passes the time at home, now that I no longer work.

It’s true. Some of the top universities in the United States and around the world now allow you to view their courses online, for free. You don’t earn the college credits, and you are almost never invited to fraternity parties. But neither do you have to suffer through midterms and finals or part with $50,000 a year.

Note: some programs do have quizzes and assignments, and in return you can earn a certificate of completion.

I’ve viewed three courses so far, all from Yale University. None of these particular courses had assignments or provided certificates of completion, which is just fine with me. My resume building days are behind me.

Each of the three courses I viewed consisted of twenty-six, fifty minute lectures. One convenient aspect of this method of learning is that you can either cherry pick the lectures that interest you the most, and skip the others, or decide to watch the course from beginning to end. Here are the courses I’ve completed so far:

Philosophy 176: Death
Spring 2007
Shelly Kagen

As a society, we have an understandable fascination with death and dying. As an atheist, I don’t have doctrine or scripture to guide me on how I should think about the subject.
“This course will examine a number of issues that arise once we begin to reflect on our mortality. The possibility that death may not actually be the end is considered. Are we, in some sense, immortal? Would immortality be desirable?...and, finally, different attitudes to death are evaluated. Is death an evil? How? Why? Is suicide morally permissible? Is it rational? How should the knowledge that I am going to die affect the way I live my life?”
images (1)Religious Studies 145: Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)
Fall 2006
Christine Hayes

This is not a theological study of the Bible. That would occur in the Divinity School (which Yale has, but not online). I did not attend this class for spiritual reasons, but rather to better understand the origins of this culturally significant (to say the least) collection of ancient writings. As Professor Hayes said, “The Bible is not a book. It is a library.”
“This course examines the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as an expression of the religious life and thought of ancient Israel, and a foundational document of Western civilization…Special emphasis is placed on the Bible against the backdrop of its historical and cultural setting in the Ancient Near East.”
Religious Studies 152: Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature
Spring 2009
Dale B. Martin
“This course provides a historical study of the origins of Christianity by analyzing the literature of the earliest Christian movements in historical context, concentrating on the New Testament...the importance of the New Testament and other early Christian documents as ancient literature and as sources for historical study will be emphasized.”
I enjoyed all three courses, and am now contemplating what my next class will be. Maybe I’ll stray from the humanities and take something more technical in nature. Website design?

Although I’ve tended towards Yale University offerings, there are so many other options available. Here are a few links:

Here is another form of online learning, with short videos instead of full-length lectures.

I encourage everyone to consider participating in this new online opportunity. There is no particular time commitment, other than watching a one hour lecture whenever you feel inclined to do so. For example, I spread out the 26 lectures in my Old Testament course over a year and a half. I made a renewed commitment for my New Testament course, and watched those 26 lectures in only three months. Either way works.

I find that I don’t retain the course material as well as I did when I attended college many years ago. I comprehend the material well enough while it is being presented. However, I’m not able to later explain what it is I learned. This happened at lunch a couple of weeks ago, after I had completed my New Testament course. I described to my lunch companion how interesting the course had been for me, and how much I had learned from it. He asked me for some specifics, but I struggled to come up with many examples, even though I had just spent almost 26 hours over a three month period absorbing the material.

I’m confident that I improve my understanding of the subject matter by taking these courses, but it’s difficult for me to provide concrete evidence of that. The same thing happens to me when I attempt to describe a good book to someone. Is this failing the result of normal aging or cognitive deficit from MS? Who knows? And really, who cares? I’m going to keep on learning either way.

Here are my other posts in this series:

1. I Watch (mostly) Quality Television
2. I Digitize and Archive Family Photos and Videos
3. I Read Books
5. I Nap
6. I Blog
7. I Read Other People's Blogs

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Wonderful MS Project That You Can Become Involved in

20130305150807-indiegogo-logo There are so many talented people in the MS population, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a few of them. There are poets, writers, photographers, artists, and video producers, just to name a few.

Today I want to tell you about one such person with MS - Kate Milliken. If you’d like to see an example of her style of work, please visit, which is a video chronicle of her first year after receiving an MS diagnosis.

Kate is undertaking another video project to link together people in a completely new way, and those of us with MS can be contributors. To learn more, click here. Once the new venture is up and running, probably this year, please check back and consider sharing your own MS experiences. I plan to.

In the meantime, productions like this have significant costs, and Kate could use our help in funding her project. 

Keep up the good work, Kate, and thanks for using your talents to make life a little better for people with MS.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts

2013 02 568 I mentioned in the opening post of this series how disquieting it was to drive through the poverty in rural Jamaica just before entering our lush, opulent resort. But any guilt we may have harbored was laid to rest when the operations manager for this large resort joined us at dinner one evening. I asked him how many people Sandals employed at this location, and he surprised me with the answer – 600 workers. These plum jobs wouldn’t exist if visitors like us weren’t so willing to vacation in this manner. That put things in perspective.

We appreciate how fortunate we are that we’ve been able to go on these elaborate vacations in recent years. We’re not wealthy, but we have adjusted our spending decisions more toward living for the day than saving for a rainy day, given that I have this progressive disease. But nevertheless, we know that there are so many deserving people, healthy and disabled, who simply don’t have the vacation opportunities that we do, for any number of reasons. I hope everyone understands that these posts have not been about boasting, but about sharing – both our difficulties and our triumphs.

Bottom line – was the trip worth it? We had problems with the flights, the toilets, the showers, and some other accessibility issues. Yet, we were treated like kings and queens in paradise for the week. Here’s our take. The trip was definitely worthwhile. The positives outweighed the negatives. We are resilient people, and although I may have portrayed our difficulties rather bluntly in previous posts, we were always able to shrug things off and get on with our vacation.

However, going forward we will likely spend our big vacations in the United States, where we can have more control over accessibility issues, and where we won’t have to spend so much money. That’s okay – we’ve scratched the itch of the Caribbean all-inclusive resorts, and we will always have fond memories.

2013 02 700I hope that my honest portrayal of our experiences doesn’t discourage anyone with a disability from attempting to travel themselves. With a combination of thorough planning and a willingness by both you and your travel companion to be flexible and understanding, you may find disabled travel to be most rewarding. As always, if you have any questions for me regarding disabled travel or any other issues, feel free to email me at

An even better resource for disabled travel is Candy Harrington. She has written books and articles on the subject, and maintains a blog.

Finally, I can’t close before passing out some thank you’s. First and foremost I have to thank my lovely wife Kim. There’s so much work involved in getting me from our house to the vacation spot and back. But that’s only part of the story. Every day that we are away from our accessible home, Kim has extra responsibilities piled on her, when vacations are supposed to be about shedding responsibilities. So I am very grateful to have Kim as my enthusiastic travel companion, and as my life partner.

Second, thank you to Tom and Diane for accompanying us on this trip, and for being so helpful. When you vacation with us you know that you are giving up some flexibility. You can only go to certain destinations. You can only take certain flights. Although we didn’t spend all day, every day together at the resort, you know that if you want to hang out with us there are certain things that I simply can’t do. And of course, if you vacation with us you know that I’m going to bark out orders now and then so that you can be helpful in certain situations.
2013 02 426a Do you think that piece of luggage is going to carry itself?

Get me another margarita.

I said NO salt on the rim. Try again!

Get out of the way. You’re blocking my view of the pool.

Damn, I look good. Take a picture of me.

Don’t call it a night yet. If Kim has one more rum punch you guys are going to have to put me to bed.
Both Tom and Diane were very tolerant of my orders, if occasionally insubordinate.

And thank YOU (the people living in my computer) for reading this series of posts. I hope it was enlightening, or at least entertaining.

Other posts in this series:

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise
Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff
Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges
Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica
Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2013 02 300 Other than the bad and the ugly parts, the flying experience was pretty darn good.

The Good

Every time I boarded or disembarked from an airplane the transfers went well – whether they were from wheelchair to aisle chair or from aisle chair to airplane seat. USAir employees were pleasant and helpful. In every case, there was a wheelchair waiting for me as I exited the airplanes.

When we realized that my iBot wheelchair had been damaged on the return flight from Jamaica, John at USAir promptly worked with my wheelchair vendor to pay for repairs. They took full responsibility.

These are the things that went well.

Oh, and Kim’s cosmopolitan on the flight down to Jamaica went well too. See photo on the right.

The Bad

On major trips like this I like to bring two power wheelchairs, my iBot for obvious reasons and also an inexpensive backup power wheelchair, see photo below. Despite all of its wonderful features, the iBot battery charge system is less than ideal. So it helps to have another wheelchair that I can use for a couple hours here and there at the resort while the iBot is charging. I always let the airline know ahead of time that I am bringing two wheelchairs.

images Our Jamaican vacation began at the Portland, Maine airport, only a 10 minute drive from our house. When we arrived at the USAir ticket counter the agents quickly and correctly deduced that the wet cell batteries from my backup wheelchair needed to be packed independently into special airline boxes. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the boxes. So Tom, Diane, and I went ahead of Kim and made our way through security to the gate. Even though we arrived two hours before our departure time, Kim made it to the gate only a few minutes before preboarding started. Advice for USAir – train your ticket agents better on dealing with wheelchair batteries.

Five days later we reluctantly reported back to the airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to return to Portland, Maine via Charlotte. If the ticket counter agents in Portland were confounded by the sudden appearance of a wheelchair in their midst, their compatriots in Jamaica were even more so. They sent us pushing the wheelchair all around the airport before finally deciding what they wanted to do with it. And like the agents in Portland, it took them forever to find the boxes for my wet cell batteries.

Despite arriving at the Montego Bay airport three hours before our flight, we made it to the gate with only a few minutes to spare before preboarding started.

These are the things that went badly.

The Ugly

On the way home, when our flight from Charlotte landed in Portland I was met at the airplane exit by an airport employee with a wheelchair. He pushed me to the baggage claim area where we found all of our bags promptly. We looked around for the wheelchairs but didn’t see them.

We found the USAir baggage employee, and Kim asked her where my wheelchairs were. She talked to some people on the radio, made a phone call or two, and finally deduced that my wheelchairs were not in Portland. They hadn’t made the flight from Charlotte. I had laid my eyes on both chairs in Charlotte, so I knew they weren’t left in Jamaica.

2010 04 03 Of course I was surprised and disappointed and expressed as much to the USAir employee, in a calm but firm manner. She looked at all of our claim tickets and filled out a report for missing “luggage.” She gave me a 1-800 phone number to check on the status of my chairs the next day.

I explained to the USAir baggage employee that I would need to take the airport wheelchair that I was sitting in with me. How else would I get home? She said something to the effect of, “I can’t allow you to do that. I am a USAir employee, and that is an airport wheelchair.” She made this point more than once while trying to reach somebody who could authorize my request.

My brother had stood by silently the entire time but could withstand the indignity no longer. In no uncertain terms he explained to the USAir employee, who was an essentially nice lady left alone in a difficult situation late at night, that her position was absurd.

Tom is very protective of his little brother, and I appreciate that.

Kim wisely suggested that Tom go fetch the wheelchair van from the parking garage and bring it up to the curb. I calmly said to the USAir employee, “You need to know that as soon as my brother arrives at the curb with our van I WILL be taking this wheelchair home. You can tell your boss that you tried to stop me.”

Finally she understood, and became resigned to this fact.

By the next day, Sunday, both wheelchairs had been located. My backup wheelchair was at the Portland airport and my iBot wheelchair was in Philadelphia (Philadelphia?). It was due in on a flight that day, but the flight was canceled because of weather, and the iBot didn’t make it to Portland until Monday. It was at this point that John, from USAir’s corporate office, contacted me to let me know that there was apparent damage to the iBot. He sent me some photos and indicated that USAir would take care of the repairs, which they did. On Monday evening after work, Kim retrieved both wheelchairs.

So, my 48 hour separation from my wheelchairs finally ended. The iBot, however, was unusable. I called the company that repairs iBots, and they indicated that the soonest they could be at my house was the following Monday. So I ended up without my iBot wheelchair for a total of nine days. That was not good.

2010 04 04 Lucky for me, I own three power wheelchairs, and had left one at home. In fact, while I was still at the airport Saturday night interfacing with the USAir baggage person (who, I remind you, was a nice lady), I posted the following status on Facebook:
Sometimes people ask me, "Mitch, why do you have 3 wheelchairs?" Answer: in case USAir loses 2 of them.
I received many “likes”, supportive comments, and suggestions.

After the repairs were finally completed on the iBot, John and I got to the issue of compensation for our significant inconvenience. I told John that I wanted an explanation of how they had misplaced my wheelchairs. His account didn’t add up. The layover in Charlotte had been too short to successfully transfer the wheelchairs. Really? It was three hours. I cannot imagine how baggage handlers could think that misplacing big, power wheelchairs would not be disastrous for the wheelchair user – me. Every USAir employee that I met face-to-face I liked. But it was these invisible, behind-the-scenes employees who screwed me.

I indicated to John that in order to be satisfied I required compensation of two vouchers for round-trip flights, one for Kim and one for me. After a couple weeks of back-and-forth negotiation, we received four $300 vouchers. But we can only use one voucher per person per flight. So, yes, we did get $1200 worth of compensation, which is approximately the value of two round-trip tickets. But, in order to actually realize this benefit we will need to fly twice with USAir in the next year. Even then, we will have to pay approximately $300 per flight out of our own pocket, assuming we book $600 flights. I am not satisfied with this resolution, but it was made clear to me that I would get no more. If losing two wheelchairs belonging to one passenger isn’t enough to earn a round-trip flight, I wonder what is. Perhaps my concept of fairness was unreasonable in this situation. What do you think?

We appreciate that our vacation would have been literally ruined if this had happened on the way down instead of on the way home – just lucky I guess.

These are the things that went, well, ugly.

To be continued...

Other posts in this series:

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise
Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff
Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges
Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica
Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Guest Post at WEGO Health

I participate in an organization called WEGO Health, an online community for health activists. In honor of MS awareness month, they asked me to author a guest post.  Click here to see what I came up with.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica

Please enjoy this video about my torrid love affair with my iBot. I suggest you maximize by clicking on the icon on the bottom right of the video frame.

Or watch it directly from YouTube by clicking here.

To be continued...

Other posts in this series:

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise
Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff
Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges
Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica
Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges

2013 02 830 In my previous post I shared some of the positive experiences we enjoyed on our Caribbean vacation. Now it’s time to look at some of things that didn’t go so well at the resort.

First, I must acknowledge that all of the public areas at Sandals Whitehouse were essentially wheelchair accessible except for one key location, which was the piano bar. The entire resort was overlain with a broad network of smooth, hard walkways and gently sloping ramps. Thumbs up to Sandals for providing so many accessible public spaces. Thumbs down to Sandals for placing the most interesting night spot on the second floor without the benefit of an elevator.

Although the open spaces were accessible, the public bathrooms were a problem. Some of the bathrooms had no handicapped stall at all, and the several pseudo-handicapped stalls that we were able to find didn’t meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. This is a reality of foreign travel. The combination of a low toilet and high handrails, coupled with insufficient floor space so that I couldn’t pull my wheelchair up beside the toilet, made toilet use unnecessarily challenging.

Luckily, I don’t need to transfer from my wheelchair to the toilet when I empty my bladder. I carry a little portable urinal which allows me go while sitting in my wheelchair. Yes, the advantages we men have in the bathroom, relative to women, extend even to the handicapped population. The only problem was that I had no privacy for this little task, because all of the stalls were too small for me to pull into completely. Men generally aren’t afforded privacy when urinating anyway, but given my unusual technique I certainly appreciate it when I can get it.

2013 02 768As I posted previously, when it comes to bowel control, I totally rock. So, on this five night visit I only needed to sit on the toilet twice. Since the one in my room had no accessibility features whatsoever, Kim and I scouted out some of the public bathrooms to find the one that might work best. In addition to looking for a higher toilet, lower grab bars, and a spacious stall, we also wanted to find a bathroom that was a little less busy than average. This way, Kim could come in and assist me with transfers without being, well, exposed to things she didn’t want to see.

We found the best location we could, and the process went fairly well. I needed Kim’s assistance on transfers, which I wouldn’t normally need in an ADA compliant bathroom. But things didn’t go so smoothly the second time, a couple of days later.

Instead of being smart and using the same toilet we had earlier in the week, I suggested we try a similar one much closer to where we were at the moment. With Kim’s help, I transferred to the toilet easily. But when it was time for the more difficult upward transfer (the toilet was lower than my wheelchair) we realized that this stall was designed differently enough from the other one that we just couldn’t figure out a way for Kim to help me transfer. We needed one more body.

I’m not particularly self-conscious in these circumstances, so I asked Kim to walk out into the general area and find “the first Jamaican dude you see.” The resort’s male employees were plentiful, clearly identified by their clothing, and always willing to help. Kim frowned at this suggestion. Oddly enough, she considered it in some way distasteful to approach a total stranger and ask him to accompany her into the men’s room. Women… sigh…can’t live with them, can’t go to the bathroom in Jamaica without them.

When Kim didn’t return in a couple of minutes, I surmised that she had set out to find my brother, not some Jamaican dude. Indeed, she hiked across the entire complex and found Tom, who was lounging at the pool nearest our hotel rooms. Of course, being the protective older brother that he is, he valiantly accepted the mission.

Eventually, in my boredom, I began to contemplate alternative ways to gain some leverage with my arms and transfer myself. It was a long shot.

After examining the problem with an analytical fine comb, and simultaneously solving multiple differential equations in my head, I contorted my body into a precise configuration to optimize the applied forces. Thusly, I accomplished by myself what Kim and I could not accomplish together. I give credit to what is left of my once keen engineering mind. Or it may have just been shit luck. At the very moment Tom and Kim burst into the bathroom to rescue me from the swirling abyss, I was smugly buttoning my shorts and sitting down on my wheelchair.

The other issue was the accessibility of our guest room. The overall layout was spacious, so maneuvering with my wheelchair was not an issue. The bed was of average height, so we were able to attach the blanket lift and portable grab bar that we attach to every hotel bed that we use. Bed transfers and sleeping comfort were therefore acceptable. Then there was the bathroom- always the bathroom.

We had reserved a handicapped accessible guest room, understanding that it would likely not meet ADA standards, but expecting that it would be better than a standard room. When we saw our room for the first time on Monday night we were surprised and disappointed that there were no grab bars in the shower, there was a tall curb at the shower entrance so that I couldn’t roll into it, and there were no grab bars near the low toilet. We wondered what had happened to the somewhat accessible room that we had seen pictures of online. We didn’t have to wonder for long.

2013 02 305We received a phone call from the concierge proudly informing us that we had received a complimentary room upgrade. That was all well and good, I explained, except they had upgraded us out of a handicapped room into a non-handicapped one. I asked if we could see one of the handicapped rooms. They indicated that none would be vacant until Wednesday, two days out. So we made do with the shower, although clumsily.

On Wednesday we looked at an available wheelchair accessible room. Long story short – the accessibility features would’ve been a slight improvement. However, we looked over the rest of the room including the walkout patio and its view, and that killed the deal for us. Given that it would have been a significant effort to relocate all our stuff and set up the new room, and given that we absolutely loved the view from our existing room, we decided to pass.

So once again, just like in the Bahamas, I became the all-too-willing recipient of daily sponge baths. These are work for Kim. But for me it’s like a shower and a massage rolled into one.

Because of these accessibility failings, I cannot fully recommend Sandals resorts for wheelchair users. However, if you’re adventurous, and you can work around subpar accommodations, then you may enjoy one of these resorts despite the accessibility shortcomings. I did – twice.

To be continued...

Other posts in this series:

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise
Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff
Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges
Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica
Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff

There were a few bumps in the road, but this post will describe some of the many positive aspects of our Caribbean vacation.

The Room Location

We had a first-floor room with a private, walk-out patio. From the patio we were afforded views of the swimming pool, the beach, and the ocean. The people-watching was also outstanding, as a major pathway ran just along the edge of the beach. Once or twice each day, maybe while Kim was going for a dip in the pool, I would sit on my patio and catch up on emails or read from my iPad, while sipping a drink and looking out over the ocean. Not bad.

Given that we were in Jamaica, more than once my olfactory senses detected the characteristic odor of the local cash crop emanating from the adjacent patio. And no, they never offered me any. Stoners were so much more charitable back in my college days.

2013 02 315 2013 02 320 2013 02 325

The Other Guests

The population of guests ranged from 18 to 90 years old, with no particular generation dominating the scene. Sandals resorts are couples only, no children.

The people came from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. There were some wealthy people at the resort, and there were working-class folks. Almost anyone who is fully employed can afford to go to such a resort, at least once in their lifetime, if that’s how they choose to spend their money.

Most of the people were from cold climates. There were lots of New Englanders and upper Midwesterners. There were so many Canadians – we shared a drink with a couple from Saskatchewan and then another couple from Québec. The Québecers were interesting. They could barely speak any English, but we managed to have a nice conversation using a blend of French, English, hand signals, laughs, and smiles. We also met several couples from the UK. I can listen to that accent all day long.

The Beach

There was a 2 mile long private beach, with some additional public beach tacked on the end of it. In Jamaica there is only a one foot difference between low and high tide. This is very different from the beaches in Maine where the tides are significant. There were chaise lounges and umbrellas galore. Even at peak times we were always able to find a spot in the shade to settle down. I’ll write more about my experiences with the iBot on the beach in a future post (spoiler alert: it was all good).

The Entertainment

Sandals Whitehouse had better evening entertainment than the Sandals in the Bahamas. But I would say the overall quality of entertainment was still less than what we experienced on a large, modern cruise ship in 2009. The best show was the first night we arrived, Monday night. After the beach party, we were entertained with high flying acrobats, comedians, dancers, and the coolest flame-breathing, fire-eating Jamaican dude you ever saw. He was out of control.

Other nights we were treated to better than average musicians and singers. There was something to see in the main plaza or the indoor theater each evening.

The Restaurants

There were two choices for breakfast – a white tablecloth sit-down restaurant and an extensive buffet. For lunch there were a few more sit-down options plus the buffet. At dinner there were three upscale restaurants and several less formal venues. Also, on two evenings there were large catered events outside of the restaurants.

Every meal we ate was outstanding, except for one lunch. We ordered a jerk chicken sandwich, expecting chunks of freshly prepared jerk chicken to be piled on a sandwich roll. We were disappointed to find that the jerk chicken was actually a processed patty, like that which is probably available in the frozen food section of every Jamaican grocery store. But that meal quality was the exception, not the rule.

The Drinks

There was no shortage of poolside bars and other locations where friendly and talented mixologists would amaze us with their creativity, skill, and often with their unique personalities. Of course, I can’t drink much these days, but I did enjoy a few concoctions.

The Service

The service was outstanding. The bartenders, waiters, maids, concierge, and the entire staff were friendly and accommodating. When you go to a Sandals all-inclusive resort you can expect nothing less than the best in this regard.

The Weather

We experienced about five minutes of light rain the whole week. Around noon time the heat would sometimes get to me, but there was always a nice seabreeze to knock the temperature down by the early afternoon. We never donned anything more substantial than shorts and T-shirts, other than a couple of evenings when we dressed more nicely for dinner. This warmth was much appreciated after the “traditional” winter we’ve had in Maine this year.

The Grounds

This resort, given that it is in a rural location, has sprawling grounds. One of the resort photographers, Trevon, who took a particular interest in my iBot all week, offered to give us a private, educational tour of the plant life on the resort. It’s funny. We’re not plant people, so early in the week we walked by all of this tropical flora without giving it a second thought, except “wow… pretty”, until Trevon had us stop and look more closely. Here are some pictures that he took of us on that tour.

2013 02 704 2013 02 706

The Company

Kim works so damn hard all year long, both at her job as a middle school guidance counselor and at home, that I love to see her kick back and be taken care of for once (except, of course she still had to help me get through each day). My brother and his wife are such earnest, generous, hard-working people. They have three grown children and two grandchildren, who they help out in so many ways. It was gratifying to see them lounge around without a care in the world for five days.

Of course, it takes guts to travel with me, a prolific blogger. You never know how I’m going to portray you in my posts. For that matter, it takes guts to visit me at my house, have lunch with me, or even make eye contact with me on the street, for the very same reason. What happens with Mitch, doesn’t stay with Mitch. It gets spread all over the interwebs. So I thank my travel companions for some of the great material they provided me with.

2013 02 338 2013 02 949

To be continued...

Other posts in this series:

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise
Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff
Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges
Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica
Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts

Monday, March 4, 2013

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise

Vacations come at a relatively high price for disabled people. I’m not referring only to dollars and cents. We also must deal with the considerable effort and even risk involved in leaving our safe havens and modifying the routines that we have so carefully crafted to get through each day.

Despite the challenges, we decided to vacation again. My brother Andy and his wife Karen were not able to join us this year, as they did in the Bahamas last year, but my brother Tom and his wife Diane were on board once more.

When we landed in Jamaica (more about the flights in a later post) I was placed in an airport wheelchair, and an employee pushed me through customs to the baggage claim area. Fortunately, we found all of our luggage and both of my wheelchairs, undamaged. My greatest vacation worries were behind me- a snowstorm would derail our flights or my iBot wheelchair would end up in Albuquerque instead of Jamaica.

I only needed to transfer from the clunky, old airport wheelchair to my iBot, and we would be ready to roll. I planned to hoist myself up ever so briefly (all the while holding onto something with each hand) before doing a 180° pivot, which was fairly standard stuff for me. However, I felt a sharp pain in my left ankle when I put any weight on it. This sort of thing happens once in a while, and I have no explanation. I tried three times to stand up, but on each occasion I plopped back into the airport wheelchair. My strategy was to be patient, rest between tries, and just keep at it until I succeeded. The airport employee who had been assisting me had another plan.

She said, “Look, you are a good man. Now just stand up and move your butt into that chair. We’ll all grab on and help you. Ready, 1, 2, 3…”

I guess I just needed that pep talk (plus the assistance), because I stood up and, with six or seven helping hands grabbing me from my waste to my elbows, I finally completed the transfer. If that maneuver had somehow failed, I would’ve considered what she said to have been rude, pushy, and insensitive. But because she was proven correct, it felt more like tough, Jamaican love. Ya Mon.

It was empowering to find myself in the iBot, once again in control of my personal mobility after a long day of total dependence on others. I felt a little frisky, for lack of a better term, and scratched that itch by immediately elevating to balance mode and doing things nobody else can do in a wheelchair, in front of people who couldn’t believe their eyes.

2013 02 905Because there are several Sandals resorts in Jamaica, they have a nice reception area at the Montego Bay airport. We checked in with the Sandals personnel, helped ourselves to a beer or two, and changed from our northern New England clothes to our Caribbean clothes. Sunglasses were donned, attitudes adjusted.

But we knew that one more obstacle faced us before we could truly unwind – a 1½ to 2 hour drive through twisting, mountainous roads to get us from the north coast airport to the south coast resort.

Sandals provides complementary transportation from the nearest airport to each of their resorts. However, their busses are not wheelchair accessible. If this situation arose in the United States, social convention and perhaps even legal requirements would compel the resort to provide me with accessible transportation at no cost. Not so in foreign countries. I had to hire my own wheelchair van taxi from a private company (which Sandals put me in contact with). The round-trip cost was $240.

We found our driver without difficulty and jumped on board the van.

It turned out to be rush hour in Montego Bay, Jamaica, so we inched along for a while. Once we broke free of the city the road became very narrow and kind of treacherous. There were no dividing lines painted on the center of the road. There were no sidewalks, curbs, shoulders, streetlights, or traffic signals. Goats and dogs wandered freely in the road. But like our unwritten agreement with our own neighborhood squirrels in America, our driver didn’t slow down for the goats or dogs and just assumed they would get out of the way in time, which they did.

The stark poverty in the rural areas was disheartening. It didn’t appear that the people were malnourished, and their clothes were not shoddy, but the houses and cars and stores and gas stations were dilapidated. It didn’t remind me of inner-city American slums where idle young men stand on street corners with nothing to do. These Jamaican villages probably are part of a fully functioning economic system, but a system that is primitive compared to modern countries. I can only assume that the social safety nets are few, and benefits like quality medical care are scarce. I would further assume that extended family bonds are stronger as a result, like they were in America a hundred years ago.

2013 02 864 Finally, as the sun was setting into the Caribbean Sea we saw the marker for Sandals Whitehouse, and turned onto the access road. In an instant, we left the authentic Jamaica behind and passed into the fantasy world of a luxury, all-inclusive Caribbean resort. Although the abrupt transformation from poverty to opulence struck us as bizarre for a moment, we were too caught up in our adventure to dwell on it.

Having been to a Sandals resort just a year earlier, we knew what awaited us. There were moist, lemon-scented towels to wipe our faces and hands with. There were the uber-friendly attendants who would carry our bags and help us check-in. There was champagne.

We were starving, having eaten only airline scraps all day. We grabbed a handful of Red Stripe beers from our fully stocked refrigerators and wasted no time joining a weekly feast they called the Beach Party. This consisted of a Caribbean buffet, and hundreds of people seated at tables on the beach, devouring food and sipping fruity, alcoholic concoctions. Later, the feast was topped off with a variety of live, outdoor entertainment.

Only after we finished our first drink and our first plate of food did the four of us feel that we had recovered from our travels, and the vacation had truly begun.

Hello Paradise.

To be continued...

Other posts in this series:

Jamaica 2013, #1: Hello Paradise
Jamaica 2013, #2: The Good Stuff
Jamaica 2013, #3: Challenges
Jamaica 2013, #4: Taking the iBot to Jamaica
Jamaica 2013, #5: Flights - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Jamaica 2013, #6: Final Thoughts