I boarded our 7:00 AM flight from Portland to Philadelphia pretty much like I have for years. Just outside of the mouth of the plane I transferred from my iBot wheelchair to one of the airport’s aisle chairs –a narrow, wheeled seat that barely fits down the aisle of an airplane (depicted on right).
It was a little different this time, though, because in the past I accomplished this transfer largely on my own, by using my arms and inching from one chair to the next. This time we used a slide board while a team of people, including airport employees and Kim, Tom, and Diane, dragged me from one chair to the other. The pushing of some body parts was not precisely coordinated with the pulling of other body parts, so the transfer was harrowing and a little painful, but at least it was quick. Because an airplane-load of people was waiting for me (is always waiting for me) there was pressure on all of us to complete this process expeditiously.
I had arranged to sit in one of the few airplane seats that had an outside armrest that lifted up. I’m a big guy and unnecessarily hoisting me up over an armrest would not have been very smart. As the attendant backed me down the airplane in my aisle chair, my butt inched forward on the seat. When we were lined up adjacent to my assigned seat, someone wedged the slide board under me, and Kim got ready to push me from one seat to the other. Just then my butt began to slip forward even more, and I informed everyone, “I’m going down!”
Suddenly there were many hands grabbing many parts of me, and I was hauled up and pushed over, and then it was done. I was sitting in an airplane seat for the first time in a long while. The man with the aisle chair hurried out of the plane, and the rest of the passengers were allowed to board. Soon, we were in the air.
I wanted to put her at ease, so I said, “This is nothing. I’ve been in much more awkward positions,” which was true.
The flight was scheduled for five hours, but ended up taking six and a half hours because of a 150 mile-per-hour headwind. I had three concerns about this long flight. How uncomfortable would the seating be? What if I had to empty my bladder? What if I had to have a bowel movement (unlikely, but possible)?
The seating situation was painful for me. I spend each day on a high tech wheelchair cushion, and there is nothing high-tech about airline seats. Also, when healthy people sit in a seat for a long period of time, they unknowingly make slight positional adjustments with their hips and their feet so that any discomfort is mitigated. But I can’t move my hips or my feet, so I was left with two choices. I could silently endure the discomfort, or I could bother Kim every ten minutes or so to help me make adjustments. I did a little of both, but mostly the latter.
Kim and I had enjoyed little sleep the night before and had hoped to at least doze on this long flight. Because of my discomfort, that wasn’t possible.
I had restricted fluid intake all day, so I was able to make it from Philadelphia to Las Vegas without emptying my bladder. Also, as expected, my bowels cooperated. If they hadn’t, I have no idea what I would have done.
As soon as we touched down in Las Vegas, I turned on my cell phone and called Desert Medical Equipment to tell them that I was running late. I was concerned that they would close down for the day before I got to the hotel and checked in. My contact there answered the phone and said, “Oh, don’t worry. Your hospital bed and lift are all set up and waiting for you in your room.”
There’s nothing quite like great customer service.
When our plane pulled up to the gate in Las Vegas, the young lady sitting in the window seat in our aisle couldn’t help but make the same remark as she stepped over me to exit the plane, “Oh, this is so awkward.” I get that, but saying “this is so awkward” only makes it more awkward, if anything. Whatever.
As we walked toward baggage claim in Las Vegas, Kim and I were both scraped, battered, bruised, and exhausted. We agreed that this might be our last trip on an airplane, at least our last long trip.
Click here for part three
Click here for part one