Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chapter 5: Learning How

I’d love to be a tall, slim, elegant, rich person cutting an awe-inspiring swath through an expensive hotel lobby, carrying only my tiny purse and a pair of kid gloves, followed by a cadre of devoted bellboys hefting my dozens of pieces of perfectly matched luggage, met by a smiling hotel manager as he exclaims joyfully, “Oh, we’re so happy to see you again, Ms Davies. What can we do for you?”
Such people expect help to be offered, and appear to be born knowing how to accept it graciously.
But how many of us want to be plump, gray-haired grannies being pushed in wheelchairs at airports?
Mumble, grumble.
Nevertheless, I’ve been there, when my feet are so sore I can’t walk another inch lest I burst into tears of pain and frustration. Yes, I can get myself down the jet-way from the gate, onto the plane, and from there to my seat, but I now know I can’t handle the miles and endless miles of hallways and escalators eventually leading out of the airport.
In addition to the adventures engineered by my still-athletic husband, I've taken many trips alone to visit my parents, so I’m familiar with my usual airports. My Air Canada and Aeroplan online-profiles both say “assistance at terminal” but, when my plane lands in Calgary, I ask which gate we’re using before I leave the plane, so I know how much walking is involved. If I can get to the next stage of my journey by myself, I’ll do it.
YVR in Vancouver, BC, however, has been too big for years, and is much too big since they enlarged it to cope with the 2010 Olympics.
At the end of a day of travel, it can be tough to get from my plane to the baggage-claim area in time to meet the family member designated Auntie Kay’s driver du jour. So I happily accept a ride to the elevator on one of those cute golf-cart gizmos, beep-beeping through the crowds. But being pushed in a wheelchair? In Vancouver? Where someone—someone who knows me—might see me?
I dunno.
A wheelchair at London Heathrow is essential, though. I’ve seen entire cities smaller than LHR. But I was once very surprised to be among a group of disembarking passengers whisked off the plane and onto a large scissor-lift built for baggage. We reached the ground safe and sound, but very confused. From there, all of us, with our wheelchairs, were manhandled into a bus for a high-speed unguided tour through the bowels of Heathrow, after which I found myself on a slightly-less-speedy wheelchair ride through long corridors, past desks full of airport personnel. As we zipped by each desk, one of the airport employees would call out, “Are you Kay? Your husband has been looking for you.”
Really, the poor man had no idea where they’d taken me, plus no idea where he was going to catch our flight to Barcelona. He did manage to arrive at the departure gate ahead of us, but when the wheelchair attendant delivered me, Dick was the very picture of a man who didn’t know whether to be angry or relieved. Still, I suspect he was actually happy to see me after his long, worried walk through unknown territory.
In large but considerably less overwhelming airports, where he can walk right beside my wheelchair, he is particularly happy. My carry-on luggage gets piled on top of me, so Dick only has to worry about his own bags – and the people who push wheelchairs know all the airport shortcuts. We get to the next gate or to the baggage claim far faster than if we had slogged along on foot, having to stop in order for me to rest every 50 yards.

A major big deal, for unfitties who travel, is the frequency of pit-stops. Whether stops for the use of facilities, for resting poor aching legs and diabetic feet, or perhaps just for breathing, they’re of utmost importance to the unfit traveler.
However, they aren’t always located where we want them to be.
It’s hard to remedy the placement of facilities in airports or elsewhere, but feet can be refreshed momentarily when we just sit down.
But sit where? we wonder.
Good question. That’s why I have a chair thing, which folds down into a cane, or maybe you’d call it a cane that opens up into a chair. One or the other. Not exactly a push-button massaging recliner chair, but it’s something on which to sit when the only other choice is the floor or the ground, because if I get down there, I might never get up again.
I now have my second folding cane/chair gizmo, and I outfitted it with heavy-duty rubber feet—all three of them. Yep, only three legs. It isn’t elegant nor, to tell the truth, is it wildly comfortable, but it sure beats the alternative. Practice using one in the store before you buy it, and again at home before you embark on an adventure, but by all means get one.
Some stores offer a sling-style folding travel chair with a heavy fabric seat. It may not be quite as much use cane-wise, but it certainly looks more comfortable for sitting. I’ve seen one being used by a friend, and meant to ask if I could try it out, but I forgot. So try them both, if you can.
My chair/cane was a lifesaver in the Galapagos.

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