For as long as I could remember, I have always traveled with the intent of accomplishing something. Always with the burden of completing a list of tasks set either by myself or by another party. I never had an opportunity to travel for the sake of, well nothing. Seemed appropriate that after a year of extensive therapy and rehab since my surgery, I would have my first trip be just that, for nothing. And I can honestly say, it was the best trip I have ever taken.
How it started: Around the same time I had my surgery in May of 2014, a good friend of mine sustained a devastating injury to her back in an accident. She underwent a very risky surgical procedure from which she thankfully did well, very well. I give her my gratitude for then contacting me and two of our mutual close friends and inviting us on a trip to Florida.
The following are some things I have learned about traveling with a disability (temporary or not) and in general about the blessing of taking care of oneself. Do keep in mind, if you are recovering from surgery, then please be sure to have appropriate clearance from your physician before embarking on your journey. Always keep your provider in the loop.
Navigating the Airport
I learned quickly that if dealing with a disability, it is important to plan ahead. I was flying out of Bradley in Hartford, CT a relatively small airport when compared to JFK or Laguardia. Since this was my first time traveling after my surgery, I took into consideration the distance I would be commuting from check in to the gate and whether I would feel comfortable towing around my carryon. Given my weakness of the right arm, I knew wheeling a suitcase would not be possible so I packed a duffel bag instead. Even with this I tired quickly and I ended up checking in my luggage or relying on my friends to help. My thanks to JetBlue for not charging a fee for additional luggage (love them!).
Check-In: What to do with Adaptive Equipment
I was actually most apprehensive about check in, especially since I wear a leg brace, without which I have difficulty maintaining balance and walking. I was having dreams that it would be a hostile situation with a long line of people behind me while I was being reprimanded for not removing my shoes and leg brace in a timely manner to walk through a detector. Obviously that's an exaggerated dream but that's what nightmares are. What actually happened was quite the opposite. I recevied a lot of support by the airport employees and when I was next in line at check in, I was told to place my cane on the conveyor belt so that it could be taken in to be detected. I was able to keep my brace and shoes on and was then pulled to the side and a smaller hand held detector was used to scan them. After this, I was given back my cane and that was that. No impatient people behind me, no yelling or reason to have anxiety.
Boarding: Approaching "the Tunnel"
Once my ticket was confirmed, I was directed by the flight attendant to head down the jet bridge (tunnel) behind her to board the plane. For a larger airport of if I was traveling by myself I definitely would have utilized the airports handicap services. They are readily available and do not require pre-booking. The reason I say this is that the jet bridge can feel treacherous. There are portions where there are no handrails and since it’s a downward slope, those with some physical impairment could find the movement in this direction difficult. I did and relied on the support of my friends but realized for future reference I would definitely seek out assistance beforehand.
We stayed at a Hilton Hotel in Orlando, and the accommodations were great, although I think when you’re from the Northeast anything with palm trees is gorgeous. Since surgery, I have a list of things in my mind before making my trip (to anywhere) and these might be some you may want to consider as well: are there handicap parking spaces (I have come to rely on the wide spaces so that I can get out of the car with my leg brace without worrying about hitting another car), will the hotel bathroom tub be too difficult to get in and out of (my biggest fear with that is slipping while trying to get out), etc. Also, you might want to consider getting a hotel room equipped with handicap accessible furniture and fixtures. They also tend to be closer to the elevator. This may not seem like a big deal depending on your needs but we were at the end of a long hallway and by the end of the day when it's your third or fourth trip back, trust me, you'll be thankful for a closer room.
Taking care of oneself, and not feeling Guilty
This was by far one of the most relaxing trips I have taken and it couldn't have come at a better time. I’m not much of a sunbather or pool enthusiast beyond aquatic therapy at rehab, but that changed temporarily this weekend. I then added to this luxury by treating myself to my first pedicure/manicure since my surgery.
The remainder of the time was spent trying different local cuisines, relaxing by the hotel fire pits spread around the pools, and enjoying the company of my friends who were a tremendous source of support for me.
I found that the things which gave me anxiety proved to be nothing in the end. Sometimes we prevent ourselves from experiencing that which can bring us some peace, some happiness, and some much needed confidence only because we imagined the worst. Also, I didn't feel guilty for taking time for myself. If anything, I learned that it is important to recuperate emotionally and mentally just as much as it is to do so physically. You have to find time so that you can be your best either for you or for someone you are caring for. No matter how small or inexpensive, taking time to relax and refocus are essential, for you and those around you.
Well, until the next trip then...