Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sleeping in My Wheelchair

Some years we’ve gone on exotic vacations during Kim’s February break. This year we decided to simply spend a couple of nights at a casino resort about three hours away – Foxwoods.

We had stayed there several times over the years and knew that the wheelchair accessible rooms were better than average. But we hadn’t been there with our new portable lift which helps transfer me from wheelchair to bed, and back. I had a concern that the legs on the lift might not fit under the bed. It requires about five inches of clearance.

As soon as we arrived in the room, we tried it out. Indeed, the base of the bed essentially sat on the floor. I phoned the maintenance department and asked them to send a technician to our room with some wooden blocks to raise the bed by several inches. They said they would.

We didn’t want to wait in our room for who knows how long, so we left a note on the door that essentially read, “there is a note on the bed.” We left a note on the bed that essentially read, “see that lift over there? It needs to be able to get under the bed. Call us at (I gave my cell phone number) if you have any questions.”

We went downstairs and gambled and had dinner and a drink and then went back up to the room, probably four hours later. Nobody had been there yet. I called maintenance again, reiterated my needs, and complained about their lack of response. Within a few minutes the nighttime housekeeping manager showed up.

I suggested she scour the maintenance shop for scrap lumber that we could put under each corner of the bed. She returned about 10 minutes later, not with lumber, but with eight reams of printer paper. Close enough. She placed two reams under each of the four corners of the bed. The lift slid underneath with ease. Nice work by everyone, except the guy who was supposed to come four hours earlier, whoever he was. Going forward, we’ll bring a set of bed risers with us when we travel.

But the problems were just beginning.

Later that evening, Kim used the portable lift to transfer me from my wheelchair to the bed. She got me well situated, things were looking up. But when I lay in bed, that’s the position I’m stuck in for the entire night. I can’t move around like most people. So, if a mattress isn’t comfortable, I can’t relax, and that was the case with this one.

After a sleepless night, at 5:30 in the morning I woke Kim and said, “I can’t stand it anymore. You’ll have to get me up and put me in my wheelchair. Either I’ll work on the computer or maybe I can nap.”

Kim got up, transferred me, put a blanket on top of me and a pillow behind my head. My Invacare wheelchair reclines almost all the way, and I can raise my feet. Soon, I found myself in such a comfortable position that I slept – for five hours! I didn’t know that was possible.

At 5:30 that morning, Kim and I were resigned to cutting our vacation short and going home that day. But after my comfortable sleep in the wheelchair, we decided to skip the bed altogether on the second night. It worked. I still prefer to sleep in a bed, but I now have more options when we travel, and options are good.

I can sleep in my wheelchair.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Does This Blog Post Make Me Look Fat?

Yeah, it should, because I am fat. No two ways about it.

I have lots of excuses, though. First, genetics. If you lined up my two brothers and me, and a cardboard cutout of our deceased father, the familial profile could not be denied. Second, I’m a couple of years beyond the half-century mark, and my metabolism is slowing down. Third, I live in a neighborhood with unlimited dining opportunities, and I am weak, weak, weak. So very weak.

However, the primary reason I’m fat is because I am not only unable to exercise enough to burn any meaningful amount of calories. Worse, I don’t even burn those base calories that healthy people do just by being themselves all day – by walking around, climbing stairs, preparing meals, getting dressed, holding a telephone up to their ear, typing. You get the picture.

I’ve tried lots of diets over the years. Probably the most effective has been Weight Watchers. I’ve done that two or three times, and I’m sick of it. I needed something new to motivate me. Enter, Jenny Craig. You heard me, freaking Jenny Craig.

The Jenny Craig model is similar to Weight Watchers, in that you eat small portions, frequently throughout the day. You can enjoy almost any food you want, as long as it is in moderation. But the big difference with Jenny Craig is that you don’t count your points or your calories or any other characteristic of the food. You just buy all of your food from Jenny, and it comes in nutritionally balanced, appropriately sized portions. Radical? A little.

I can’t purchase my food from Jenny for the rest of my life. And they know this. Once I get close to my target weight, they promise to help me transition back to the real world and keep the weight off. That's the real challenge.

How’s it taste, you ask? For microwave food – not bad. In fact, I’ll miss some of it, especially the breakfasts and the triple chocolate cheesecake. It’s fairly expensive. I spend about $150 a week on my food. But this cost is significantly deferred, if not completely offset, by how infrequently I now eat out.

How’s the weight loss going? Slow but steady. I’m losing about a pound a week, and I’m currently down 17 pounds. My goal is to lose 30, so I just crossed the halfway mark. Wondering how I go about weighing myself? Once a month I drive my wheelchair onto a wheelchair scale located at a medical office in Portland. I know the weight of my chair, so I just do the math each time.

I wish I could report that this weight loss has been a life-changing experience, but it hasn’t, not yet. I can see the difference in my face. My clothes don’t fit noticeably looser, however, and I can’t say that I “feel better.” But I know this is the right thing to do, for so many reasons, and I’m pleased with my progress thus far.

I’ll report back when I’ve hit my goal, which probably won’t be until early summer. In the meantime, when I ask you if this blog post makes me look fat, it’s okay to lie.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Younger

No regrets. Just a few things that would’ve made life easier if I had figured them out sooner:

10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Younger 
  1. Many people are in bad circumstances through no fault of their own. Not all, but many.
  2. Buy long-term care insurance. It’s one of the essential insurances, along with homeowners, life (but not nearly as much as is recommended), automobile, and disability (if available from your employer).
  3. Stop concerning yourself with what other people think, except when they are right and are just trying to keep you from doing something stupid.
  4. Expand your comfort zone, and then expand it a little more.
  5. Build more stone patios and fewer wooden decks. Decks lift you up and away from the earth. Patios keep you grounded. Plus, patios are wheelchair accessible.
  6. Stop working for medium to large corporations. Sometimes it’s a necessary evil to gain experience, but over time corporate life can suck the life out of you.
  7. Almost nothing is as big a deal as you make it out to be. Let things go. This too shall pass, except maybe MS. That’s a freaking huge deal.
  8. If you have mobility problems, purchase a one-story house in the city, now, not 10 years from now.
  9. Make more of an effort to meet all sorts of people, not only people just like you.
  10. The greatest feeling in the world comes from helping others.

Here’s a bonus list:

10 Things I’m Glad I Figured Out When I Was Younger
  1. Don’t buy insurance for ultra-specific purposes, like your new TV or laptop. Your insurance policy for these items is called a savings account.
  2. High maintenance, pedestal women are trouble.
  3. A positive outlook is a self-fulfilling prophecy (thanks, Mom).
  4. Learn the basics of personal finances, and adhere to them.
  5. Don’t buy into negativism. Don’t be mean.
  6. Take risks.
  7. Change is good.
  8. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Sometimes, shit just happens.
  9. Low expectations stave off disappointment. To clarify, I’m not saying you should dream small. I’m saying you shouldn’t make your happiness contingent upon best case outcomes.
  10. Facts prove theories; anecdotal evidence, testimonials, and stories don’t (thanks, science class). 
Agree? Disagree? What would you add to either of these lists?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Accessibility Adventure

It’s Friday night, and it’s my sister-in-law, Diane’s, birthday. My brother, Tom, and she have booked a room in downtown Portland, at the Regency Hotel for the weekend. My other brother, Andy, and his wife, Karen, have booked a room at the same hotel, just a short drive from our house.

The six of us make up a diverse group regarding politics, religion, texting versus calling versus emailing, our philosophies on tipping waiters and waitresses, food and drink choices, and temperament. But we share a devotion to the Red Sox, the Patriots, the great State of Maine, our individual families, and to one another. We get together often and always have a great time.

We decide to meet at their hotel bar, the Armory. My iBot battery charge is low, so I don’t bring my stairclimbing wheelchair. I’m not concerned because I have been to this bar before, and I know it’s accessible.

There are four steps down from the hotel entrance to the bar floor, but they have an elevator. I just can’t remember where. Kim asks the bartender, and he says, “I’m afraid the elevator isn’t working at this time.” Bad start to the evening. One of the reasons my brothers chose this hotel was because they liked the bar so much. Already, accessibility issues, my accessibility issues, are impacting the group. But nobody wants to make me feel bad, so the change in plans is dismissed as insignificant.

We find another, accessible bar to have some drinks and appetizers, and then arrive at Vignola Cinque Terre, where we have dinner reservations. They direct us to a handicapped accessible entrance which works well. We have so much fun at dinner we decide to set out to one last bar for a nightcap.

We reach Ri Ra, and it's already packed on the bottom floor. This is ten o’clock on a Friday night after all. We decide to go upstairs where we know it will be less crowded. Everyone except Kim and I take the stairs. We follow a long hallway to where we know the elevator entrance is located. We have used it numerous times over the years. As we approach the elevator, our progress is stopped by a large pile of construction debris. The venue is undergoing renovations. One of the employees comes up to us and apologizes, but offers no recourse. I say to Kim, “Go up and get the others, and we’ll have to try somewhere else.”

As Kim and the others are headed downstairs toward me, a manager offers to clear out the area in front of the elevator. Assuming it will take too long, Kim declines the offer. The manager apologizes and tries to get us to stay, but our momentum, emotional as much as physical, carries us out the door. 

This is particularly disappointing for me. Twice during this evening, our group couldn’t enjoy a top-notch venue because of my accessibility issues. But, to their credit, nobody directs their disappointment toward me, but rather toward establishments that don’t give wheelchair access a priority.

We head across the street to a nondescript hotel bar and have our last round. Someone in the group says, “Not a very good night for you, Mitch.”

“True, but at least I get a blog post out of it.” Everyone laughs.

The next night, Saturday, we meet Tom and Diane at the Armory, the same hotel bar where we had tried to meet them on Friday. This time, I use my iBot wheelchair.

At the top of the stairs, one of the patrons comes up to me and says, “I saw you earlier in the day when you were up on two wheels. That’s the coolest wheelchair ever.”

“That was nothing,” I reply. “Watch this.” He is suitably impressed as Kim guides me down the stairs. After dinner and a drink, we decide to call it an early evening. The bar area has become full, and people aren’t shy about gawking at us as we ascend the stairs. When Kim gets me to the top landing, the crowd breaks out in applause, and Kim takes a bow.

Three takeaways:

Just because certain elevators and lifts don’t get a lot of use by people in wheelchairs, they need to be available and in working order at all times.

This weekend excursion highlighted the importance of having a wheelchair like the iBot. As most of you know, it’s no longer for sale, but I’m pretty sure Dean Kamen, the inventor, hasn’t given up.

My wife, my brothers, and their wives are the best. Nobody let the accessibility issues ruin our fun.