I don’t think there are enough checklists to make one ever feel really prepared. With my purple suitcase almost packed to the brim and laying half open on the living room floor, I can’t help but imagine that I’m forgetting something. What are the odds that it will rain? Should I bring my wheelchair poncho? I would if I could take another suitcase, but I’ve opted for only one this time. It would be a bad situation if I am unable to carry all my stuff, in the event that no one is available to help me at the airport. There you go again, trying to prepare for another scenario, as if the airports of all the major international cities I’m going to would be empty as a ghost town.
The days flew by so fast since I booked my tickets for my first international trip. Now the time has come to embark on my multi-country voyage. I first fly to Israel and then travel by road to Palestine and Jordan, after which I fly to Egpyt, India, and the United Kingdom, before heading back home over the course of the next 24 days. For the most part, I’m flying alone and even though air travel is second nature to me, this is the first time I’m flying alone internationally since being on the wheelchair. Urvi isn’t coming with me, however. She usually takes a break when I’m out of NYC. My travel wheelchair of choice (as if I had one) is Bobbie, sometimes eluded as the slower, less fashionable cousin of Urvi. Although her motor is not as powerful and precise as Urvi’s, she’s much lighter at 60lbs, folds like a stroller, and can easily be stored in the trunk of a car. Bobbie and I are very different though. I have a love-hate relationship with her as I lose some of my confidence when compared to being with Urvi. I feel like I am sitting on an actual wheelchair when I am with Bobbie and when I look at my reflection as I pass store windows, she never fails to remind me of my disability. Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I have Bobbie to be able to continue enjoying what I love most – traveling.
Between the living room and the dining room, some of the items I still need to pack are scattered around: my snow boots for those chilly nights, my diary, Bobbie’s charger, winter gloves, a pair of compression socks, the two braces that prevent me from falling onto my face most of the time, a spare bookbag, and a pair of crutches. Well, I guess not the crutches. I was adamant on taking them to prepare for an emergency situation on the plane. When booking my flights, the fine print on the airline websites said that if you were traveling solo that you would have to be able to carry out a variety of functions, such as fastening your own seat belt to transferring to your seat from the aisle wheelchair, but most alarming was the ability to get to the emergency exit by yourself. I called the airlines to get clarification and there was no one said definition. I tried to explain my situation as having a broken leg. One representative said that well as long as I was not paraplegic then it should be okay, but basically it would be determined at the airport whether the airline would let me fly alone or not. Later I found out because there is no evacuation plan for disabled passengers, those flying alone need to be able to help themselves. I was shocked but not going to let that deter me from flying solo.
Later that week, I went to my physical therapist and told her that I needed to learn how to use crutches; I needed to prepare. She said it wouldn’t be possible, but I insisted. Hesitantly, she advised that I get a second brace to prevent my foot from dragging. After multiple appointments with the brace shop to get the sizing just right, I was ready to start using crutches. With only 4 physical therapy sessions left, I knew I would be pushing it. Unfortunately, the ease that came from using the walker disappeared with the crutches. My right leg kept on failing to properly support me as I tried to bring the other leg forward. With my last physical therapy session today, I thought I’d give it one more go! My visit turned into a warning, however. I almost tipped over on the crutches, the closest I’ve fallen since my biopsy. The physical therapist stopped then and there, giving her recommendation that the crutches were not a good idea at all. I had to accept it.
In the end, there is only so much you can prepare for. I have my walker to help me get to an emergency exit, even though it’s not ideal for that particular scenario playing in my head. Nevertheless, I accept the fact that I can’t be ready for every possible situation that can come up and that’s okay. I might never be 100% ready to travel alone on a wheelchair, but it won’t stop me from trying, making mistakes, learning to be vulnerable and relying on others. Trying to prepare for every situation just delays us and makes us anxious about taking the next step. Some never take that leap because they wait for the right time, person, circumstance, condition, or situation, but how much do we lose from not jumping into the unknown? What could we have learned from being vulnerable and not fully prepared? Who could we meet and how could we grow? You’ll only know when you take that first step, even if it takes you halfway across the world in a wheelchair. As I packed the last of my things into the suitcase, I put away the crutches, ready to learn and grow on this trip of a lifetime.