Catching Up

“When I have spare time, I catch up on things
I’ve had to postpone due to lack of time.” Steve Wozniak, Brainquote.com

For those of you that deal with chronic illness or severe mental illness, you know that sometimes life gets in the way. Appointments with the doctor, counselor, physical therapist, or other health professional tend to take up a lot of time. On top of that, there are times that you need to be making the money that you couldn’t make when you or those you love were sick. There’s also that all-too-sought-after ideal of this thing called “rest”. Who has time for sleeping, reading, watching TV, or “self-care”?

The truth is that we all have plenty of time. Our priorities just tend to take over one way or another. My priorities have been to do that self-care, to get the therapies taken care of, and to get my butt back in gear to live my life. So, let’s go forward and let you know how life is going now.

RV life is still happening!! Jeremy and I have loved being in the RV full-time. This winter, we remained parked at the Round Barn location. Our hosts are snow-birds and they left for Florida in November. They requested that we use the dishwasher, sink, and laundry, along with the toilet, to ensure that the waterlines remained in use. It took a load off of their minds to have someone checking this almost daily so that they didn’t have to worry about coming home to a flooded house.

The use of the dishwasher created a natural migration of our cooking to the house, since we could just put everything directly into the dishwasher. So, here we are learning how to cook in the RV again. We also had naturally migrated much of our clothing into baskets because of the back and forth to the house. Another re-learning experience: fitting all of our clothing into the tiny closets. It won’t be as steep a curve as it was last year. Now we at least have experience RVing, so we know what we need to do.

What has come about because of those “natural migrations” and “relearning opportunities” is that we have not put our things away where they belong. Our RV is a MESS!! I have called in a professional organizer to help me make sense of it all this Friday. I’m afraid it may take more than one session and I am willing to put forth the effort so that we can have a harmonious household.

Family life is much less strained. Jason has been living in a foster home for a few months after a stay in juvenile detention. Thankfully, he’s really putting in the work to stay clean, live by the rules, and straighten out his future. We’re really proud of the hard work he’s doing and we hope he keeps honest with himself and with everyone else. He should be transitioning back to his mom’s place within the next month or so. He will remain in treatment for a time and he enjoys the support he gets from AA meetings that he’s been regularly attending.

Jeremy’s mental health has bounced back very quickly since Jason got clean and started buckling down. I think it’s hard for me to grasp the enormity of emotion that goes with being the biological parent to someone with mental illness. It has helped me see Jeremy’s parents and their relationship with us in a whole new light. I’m so grateful that they stick with us and hold family as such a high priority.

Jeremy’s physical health has also made a bounce back. He’s been biking since January again and started running again just recently. He also swims with a group of friends 2-3 times a week. Last weekend, he raced in a duathlon; that is running and biking. He’s eating healthier and losing weight. His blood pressure seems to be better controlled as well.

Physical health has also moved back to the top of the list for me. Along with Jeremy, I’m eating better and exercising more. I’ve started making all of my social time into active time by going for walks, hikes, and bowling instead of out to eat or drink. Running 3-5 times a week has become the norm because of taking the community ed class, First Steps. It’s amazing what having a calm life can do for your health in every aspect.

Work is going well for both of us as well. Jeremy has picked up a new massage type (modality) called watsu. It’s a way of incorporating the buoyancy of water with light stretching and massage pressure.  He’s been doing intermittent training in it for about 6 months now. He also has been offering free practice sessions to our friends and family as part of his certification. I can say for certain that he has a gift in all things bodywork. He’s extremely passionate about the amazing things that water can do to facilitate healing and relaxation.

I’m still at Aveda working in the Quality lab and loving it. I have great coworkers, a wonderful benefit package, a decent wage, and I’m using some of the schooling I have in Chemistry. The only downside to my job is the distance from where we’re parked. It’s 52 miles 1-way to work. I’ve caught up on my music listening, call my family and friends regularly, and have gotten an Audible subscription. My hips and my back do not thank me for this drive. It’s not that I can’t keep myself busy; I would just like to be able to have a life outside of the car.

I know what you’re saying: “Can’t you just park somewhere closer? Isn’t that the benefit of RV life?” While this sentiment is very true, finding places to park a 30′ motorhome is not the easiest task in the world. We’ve been very very blessed to have family and friends who live close to our “home-base” that have allowed us to park in their yards. They’ve been amazing, helping us put in all of the work we’ve done this far. Our current location even has an RV electric panel now because our friends are so extremely helpful to us. That all being said, it is still hard to find parking spots.

RV parks and campsites tend to be fairly expensive compared to making deals with friends and family. It is not uncommon to spend $20 a day on a non-electric site, $35 a day on the electric ones. This is a barebones site, not often including water, dumping, WiFi, or cable (not that we need cable, as we do not have a television). There are some that have this, but usually run around $200/week. We just can’t afford that. I mean, that’s about how much we were paying for a 2 bedroom townhouse. We might as well not RV if that’s the case.

The spots that are not expensive have plenty of rules attached. There are free sites that can take a tent, but often need to be hiked into or used a boat to access. There are corporate sites at Casinos, Cabella’s, or Walmart, but you need permission and can usually only stay for a few days. $5 Truck stops don’t usually allow more than one day. The Girl Next Door is not young enough to be moving that often at this time. As we replace more parts, she’ll get younger and younger and be able to move more and more.

Thus, we rely on family and friends to barter and trade with us. It has worked out well and the current location is with people that we really enjoy our time with. So, I’ll be driving until we either buy our own place to park on or find another friend closer with a similar setup.

All in all, things are going well. With my new found energy, I’m hoping to be able to write a bit more here and fill you all in on the adventures that we take part in. Take care of your health and the health of those around you. We will see you on the road.

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Rig-loo

“A snowflake is one of God’s most fragile creations,
but look what they can do
when they stick together!!” -Author Unknown

I am not one to pray for snow. I think it’s pretty when I’m looking out of my parents’ house; me inside with a fire, a good book, a dog to pet, and a blanket. I can totally appreciate how beautiful it is in the trees and creating a blank covering for all of the ground’s imperfections. And I HATE to be cold and wet! I’d rather be hot, dripping sweat, eating some ice cream than need to wear layers and layers of clothing to stay alive. By the way, I hate shoes and shoes are necessary in the snow. Many in my life can attest to my aversion to foot coverings. Again, I like pretty shoes, but rarely wear them. If it was up to me, I’d go barefoot everywhere.

I digress. Snow has not been something I longed for in the past. This is the first winter in my adult life that I was truly happy when we got snow. It wasn’t about the cold or the beauty that I was happy to see it come. It wasn’t about snowmen, snow angels, or snowshoeing. While those things are fun, I still prefer a treadmill, a board game, or a good book.

My longing for snow this year was purely rational; it is free insulation. God showers us with these miniscule pieces of ice. You’d think frozen water would make everything colder. The funny thing about this is that you can stick together these little pieces of ice to make a big fluffy pack of it. When stuck together, snow creates a great heat (or rather cold) barrier. It keeps the heat where it is and keeps the cold out of the heat. As long as it’s cold outside, the outside will stay cold enough to maintain the snow. As long as it’s warm inside, the warmth will be held in by said snow.

That’s what we’ve been banking on. Our skirting is good; our tarps are thick. We added plastic to the inside and outside of our windows. We added foam to the inside of cabinets. We even added Reflectix to our windows, vents, and walls. All of that costs money, so we couldn’t go hog wild on all of it. Now, snow is what we really needed and finally got last week. We shoveled it up and on top of itself to add wind barrier, as well as hold some of the heat in. The heater inside the RV went on half as much that night and less each night that we added more snow.

When we posted a picture of The Girl Next Door last week in an RV group, someone said “It’s a rigloo!” That got us to thinking, “Don’t indigenous peoples have a smart idea with the igloo? Let’s see what we can do with that.” We packed down the snow some, which helped even more.

Today, Jeremy got the best idea. He grabbed a 5 gallon bucket and started shoveling and packing. The 5 gallon bucket offers a consistent shape and size “brick” with a flat top so that we can put the next level on top. Hopefully, in a few more weeks, we’ll be able to really have a wall all the way around us, preventing wind and heat loss. While we’ve had it up as high as 80 degrees inside, we had all three heaters going to do it. I’m hoping we can really ride out the rest of this winter in style once the rigloo is complete.

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In other news, Jeremy had a bit of a run-in with the local wildlife last night. On his way home a whitetail decided to jump out in front of his car. The Buick got some damage to the front end, but the deer got the worse end of that stick. She didn’t make it.

And in good news this week, Jeremy also started his practice rounds for his new bodywork modality. It’s called Watsu as a play on the land bodywork therapy called shiatsu and adding water to it. In all reality, this therapy uses the healing properties of water with the resistance created in motion to promote relaxation and rehabilitation. In short, it’s exactly what Jeremy’s been looking for. His clients seem to be enjoying it too. One of his clients is who turned him onto learning this new therapy. Now he can’t get enough. He’s started training and part of training is practice. We’re excited to see where this goes.

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I’ve been supporting Jeremy in his athletic endeavors as well. He is off on his second fat bike race right now. Today is much warmer than his last race. The risk today is the ice on the trail. I’m praying that no one takes a severe fall because of slick spots. The last race was -14ºF. Everyone had ice on them at some point; Jeremy was no exception. Jeremy even went out one night a while back and tried running a little bit. Just as frozen; no thanks.

All-in-all, we’re doing well. With just the two of us in the RV again, we’re having to rearrange some organization again. More in the cupboards means more to keep the cold out, so we spread our stuff into the edges of the cabinets, hoping for more snow to add to the rigloo. So, start praying for snow for us and we’ll see you on the road.

Full-Time Times

This will be quick. I’m still reeling!!

Ok, first off, I’m sorry to our loyal followers for not writing more in the last month. IT’S BEEN CRAZY AROUND HERE!!

Let’s start with The Girl Next Door. She’s full and being worked on as much as possible. Jeremy has been spending days with Jason, our new neighbor, working on the engine, the electrical, and the fuel issues. She’s moving better than she was when Jeremy crawled at 20 miles an hour into Jason’s driveway; she’s also still not in what we would call “mobile” shape. She moves, but not too quickly. I think Jeremy said he got her up to 35 miles an hour. They’ve changed spark plugs, checked for fuel vacuums, and emptied the old gas. They’ve also re-wired quite a bit of our internal work, including the male end of our 50 Amp electrical hookup, which promptly created some sparks. Now our microwave doesn’t work anymore, but there was no further fire. Thank God.

We’re still not “moved in” either. We haven’t quite had time to work on going through all of our stuff stored at Jeremy’s parents’ place. So there is quite a bit of stuff that is stored there that we want to fit into the RV. That being said, it might never happen. She’s not quite organized inside yet. We have stacks of clothing and stuff on the kitchen table, the couch, the doghouse, and in the passenger seat. Any advice would be helpful. Even more helpful would be a life coach or something to come and go through this stuff with us!!

Jeremy is still working on the rollercoaster of Lamictal reintroduction. This medication works well once it’s up to therapeutic level. The problem is that he has to go very very slowly toward that level because of his rash last July. We’re hoping he’ll be all the way up to it by June. Right now, he’s on the down turn from the most recent increase. By next week or the week after, he should be stabilizing again and we’ll see where he’s at with is moods. In the meantime, he’s riding a wave of cycles, anxiety, and coping skills.

My job change went smoothly for the most part, but I’m now waking at 4am, driving Ruby over an hour one way, and not getting home until 6pm. Most days, I’m tired.  Even though I’ve done this job before, those are old brain cells that haven’t been used in 10 years. Even though it’s a change, I still feel like going back to the QA job is like moving home. There’s a familiarity of the lab; over half of the people in the lab are the same people that were there before. Every single shift has someone who was there when I was there 10 years ago. Nonetheless, I’m enjoying being back on someone else’s payroll.

It’s also a huge change in routine for getting dressed in the morning. I can’t stand in the bedroom anymore, so have to dress in the living room in the mornings. Eating is a change; I’m very close to the bedroom, so I don’t want to use the blender for fear of waking him.  Showering and bathing is different too; we do not have water in her yet for fear of freezing, so we need to go to the gym or the neighbors’ place to shower. Just getting out my clothes has changed because I need to do it the night before so that I don’t have to crawl all over Jeremy every morning.

I’ve been missing meds right and left. With the change in routines, I forget almost daily. Because of this, my depression symptoms have been going a bit haywire. And I’m drinking coffee again too. I need the boost in the morning to be able to drive. Luckily, I found a great recipe for Unicorn Fuel, so I don’t need to add sugar to my diet to enjoy my boost. Food is a hard thing to keep up when there’s this much spinning around, but we try when we can.

We are both in deep athletic training right now too. Jeremy is getting ready to do the Eau Claire Half Marathon in May. My next race is June 10th in Chicago for the Spartan Sprint Obstacle Course Race. Running has become a regular event around the house. Being parked in a new town makes it interesting to find trails, roads, and routes that work for us. I have an extra bonus of strength training for my race too, so I’ve added some of that at my new job; they have a gym available to me.

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Jeremy took The Girl Next Door once to dump and checked out how she’ll look when she’s finally parked in one of our summer spots. This round barn is one of the coolest back drops we didn’t ever imagine would be a parking spot.

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All in all, this new life is working for us, even if we are a little frazzled. Once we’ve gotten in a groove, things will be easier. We are still in the stage where you don’t know where anything is because you just started keeping it there. We’re learning how to prepare for moving her, we’re learning how to take care of the business without me there, and we’re learning how to interact with each other when we’re exhausted from our busy training schedules. We’re both still very happy we made this switch.

Now, as Jeremy plays with the neighbors’ dogs (Dying of cuteness!!), enjoy your life, live healthy, and we’ll see you on the road.

Full-Time Happens

We now have an empty townhouse and a very very full RV. We went full-time this weekend!! Both of us are overjoyed to be embarking on this journey and learning what a great adventure life can be.

Beginning on Friday, Jeremy spent most of the time after work packing up things in the townhouse that weren’t already in the motorhome. The Girl Next Door was already parked at Jason & Ona’s place, so we had to take all of what was left by the car load. There was clothing, kitchen utensils, and bathroom products that all needed to be moved. Both cars were packed to the gills more than once to bring things over.

You can imagine that that much stuff did not fit easily into The Girl Next Door. We’re definitely finding that there’s a deficit of storage space, even with the extra cabinet above the bed. We determined that it might be best to find any space for everything and get it in the “right space” later.

We also will need to change our routines. I will need to set out my clothing the night before so that I’m not crawling over Jeremy at 4am when I’m getting ready for work. We will need to find a space in the living room or bathroom for hair and makeup space. Another thing I can’t really do in the dark. We will no longer have the space for our medicine to sit out on the counter all of the time. Reminders to take medicine will have to come in a different form. Before bed, we’ll need to put the door insulators on. Routines will need to be changed and learned.

That’s not the only thing that’s changing. I started my new job. A few weeks ago, I accepted a position with the QA Lab at Aveda Corporate. Now, my routine won’t revolve around Jeremy’s client schedule. I will have a steady wakeup time, a commute, coworkers, and rush hour. At 62 miles from our current parking spot, it’s quite a hike every morning. Luckily, I’ll be going right past our office, so Jeremy and I will still get to ride together sometimes. I can drop him on my way. I’ll miss controlling my own schedule, but this new adventure will afford us things like a retirement fund, health insurance, and paid vacation.

With me not in the office anymore, Jeremy needs a little more support. We were able to have a friend, who has been in the massage business for years, join our team starting this Friday. She’ll not only help with office/reception work, but she is a licensed massage therapist. Every massage therapist is different in their technique and Chris is no exception. We’re excited that she may be able to offer our clients another layer of services that are drastically different than what we’ve been doing. We will probably be taking on more office support staff as her days fill with massage as well.

Today being the first day of spring, I also decided that my hair needed updating for the new season of our life. Friday morning I got a hidden rainbow added to my hair. It’s been fun playing with how to wear it, how to hide it, and how it looks both up and down. It did my brain some good to be pampered.

By Saturday at noon, we had most of the stuff moved out of the townhouse and into the RV, so Jeremy and Jason spent the rest of the day working on wiring. There were lights that were starting to flicker because of degrading wires, some antennae that had broken off and were no longer used, and battery cables that needed a replacement. They’re not done yet, but they’ve gotten a good start on cleaning up the wiring where it needs it. And on Saturday night, we spent our first official night as full-timers.

Until we started this journey, we hadn’t realized what a movement this lifestyle has become. We began talking about tiny houses about 4 years ago. We had hoped that a smaller house would free up more of our finances to pay off bills, but still give us the space we needed to live. As we talked more and more, we realized that the typical tiny house just wasn’t for us. We want to move every few years, so it needs to be on wheels. Most parks and campgrounds to not allow a “tiny house” because it’s a house. On top of all of that, there are places in the US where tiny house owners are being penalized for having “domiciles” under the “required size” or for going “off the grid”. There are even places that tiny home owners are being forced to pay for electricity on the grid even though they’re not using it and sewer even though they have a self contained system. We didn’t want to deal with these kinds of regulations.

Then, one day, Jeremy said “You know who does get to park at campgrounds? RVs.” That started the conversation that has lasted until now. We found that there are many people, especially Gen Xers and Millenials like us, that are embracing this lifestyle of living on the road or in a tiny space. Can I tell you how many? Not really. Another blog addressed this question HERE with research and everything. I won’t rehash their work (Thanks for saving the me the work, George & Sandy.

Either way, we’re among the estimated 1 million fulltimers now and we are not looking back. So, follow your dreams and make sure they’re really your dream. See you on the road.

 

A Mexican Nightmare… Finale

After Day one, things got better. In day 2, we went to see the doctor. My client got approved for the treatment that the doctor had first suggested. He even started treatment later that day.

Also, during day 2, we found a company that was willing to build a ramp for his wheelchair to be able to take some tours. This is a big accomplishment in Mexico. There are very very few people with wheelchairs there, much less people with power chairs. We were lucky to find a company with caring staff that built a ramp just for my client and took the middle seat out of their van so that we could go around San Miguel.

Day 3 we changed some money and got used to our surroundings. Day 4, my client got a double dose of treatment and we took a tour of the city. Our first stop was Atotonilco, a church with a rich history and great paintings on the ceiling. Our tour guide told us that it is considered the “Sistine chapel of Mexico”. It was beautiful. Then, off to a local high end artist market. There was nothing there for me, but my client got his wife a very nice necklace. While he shopped, our driver and I talked some. We got to know about each other’s families and life outside of this day.

After shopping, we returned to the hotel. My client got another treatment. Oh, did I mention that the doctor made “house calls” to our hotel? It was much easier than trying to treat my client in his office, as his office was on the upper level with no elevator. It was very nice of the doctor to be willing to do this. I know the concept of a doctor coming to your  house or hotel seems foreign in this day and age, but this doctor still does it.

I finally go to do some authentic shopping at a large market that evening while my client got a shave. It was an alley littered with vendors. Every ounce of extra space was taken up by booths filled with handmade and reproduced souvenirs and Mexican goods. Every vendor took USA dollars and would give change in pesos. About 75% spoke just a little English. It was nice to find a few things to bring home to my family and friends while trying out my Spanish.

Saturday, day 5, was probably the best day of the trip for me. My client was pretty tired from his week. He wanted to rest up for the next day, which was a travel day. While he rested, I got a spa treatment. For 155 minutes, I got a body scrub, a mud wrap, a facial, and a massage. I fell asleep half way through, which almost never happens. It was glorious. Thanks Norma for a great treatment. Afterward, I went to get some fried chicken for supper and hit another, smaller market. It was much more unique than the previous day. I found some great gifts to bring back, as well as some of San Miguel’s wonderful leather in some wallets and a bag.

All in all, I felt very at home in San Miguel. Leaving on Sunday was hard for me. For one, I knew that things would probably not go swimmingly on the flights. Second, I did not want to return to the -20 degrees of Wisconsin. Third and finally, I was really starting to feel like I was hitting my stride in touristing.

We left the hotel at 1pm. Thankfully, we got our sweet cab driver from the week to take us to the airport too. It was a leisurely drive that we stopped to get a melon on and enjoyed the scenery as we went. That was the best part of our return trip. Thanks, Freddy, for a great trip. If ever you get to San Miguel, look up San Miguel Magico tour company. They were more than accommodating and very helpful.

The airport was a mad house. The day previous, there had been a snowstorm in the Midwest USA. That meant that many of the flight crews were stranded there for extra days, which delayed everything. The Leon airport had multiple cancellations and every single flight was delayed. Yikes! On top of that, their baggage check area is the same as their customer service. As I said, madhouse. Our flight was delayed 2 hours, moved to a different gate, and renamed. We were just happy to be able to have a flight at all. But because of our delay, we missed our connecting flight by 30 minutes. Ugh. This time, we had to wait for them to bring the wheelchair to us behind immigration and customs before we could go to the hotel. It took over an hour for them to bring the wheelchair to us. At one point, they even LOST THE WHEELCHAIR!!!

For those of you that know me well, you know that I do not lose my temper often. In fact, I tend to be very very chill and patient. So much so that it is annoying to those around me. When they said they couldn’t find this chair, I lost my temper. Not just a little bit; my client was visibly a little scared of my new stance. This is not a manual chair that folds and can be stowed somewhere under something. This is a humongous 350 lb specialized piece of equipment. Eventually, they found that the staff from the tarmac had taken it to the domestic side, rather than the international side.

We got the chair back after going through immigration and customs, since they would be closing soon. Then, on to customer service again. They were swamped again, for the same reason that Mexico was. We waited. Once we were in customer service, we mentioned our horrible time last time with Houston airport. They gave us a special person to help us with our damage claim. Except there wasn’t really a damage claim. There was a number that lead to a confusing bit of badly worded explanations and no names of who to contact. We found that the number the supervisor had given us the week before was to the woman we were now talking with. This, along with updating the badly written damage claim, took a few more hours. By the time that we were done with all of this, it was 2:15 in the morning. We had to be back by 8 am to get ready for our 10 am flight. If we had decided to find a taxi with a wheelchair ramp or lift, then the hotel room we were supposed to go to, then transfer to the bed, then back up in the morning, find a taxi back; we would have maybe gotten 2 hours of sleep.

We decided to stay the night in the Houston airport. It was cold, it was uncomfortable, it was ridiculous. Every 30 minutes or so, I would wake with another idea of what could be done to gain back some dignity and care. I called about 10 numbers that night searching for information and help. I took a picture of my client in his wheelchair sleeping in the Houston airport. It shouldn’t be like this.

To top off my anger, at midnight it had become my 34th birthday. I was supposed to be home shortly after midnight. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be held by my husband. I wanted to wake up refreshed and enjoy my birthday.

A young girl traveling with her family was tired of being in airports. She didn’t speak English, so I told her in Spanish that it was my birthday. She felt bad for me and congratulated me on my birthday. Her mother and I spoke a little in broken Spanish and English. I told them to call me when they got as far as MSP. I’d love to see them again.

16 hours in an airport or on a plane on my birthday was not my idea of a great birthday. 1 hour of sleep did not make it a really fun day.  It absolutely could have been worse. I had my health, my client was not in danger, and my husband knew I wasn’t going to be home yet. While his anxiety was high, he also was able to understand that I was safe. It was an adventure that I came out of.

I came out of it with first class seats, some knowledge of how to get my client a possible refund on his seats, and knowing some helpful people in 2 states in the US and at Leon, MX BJX airport. Adventures like this don’t usually come easily. It’s the times that you roll with the punches that things become real adventures.

As we embark on our next adventure, I’m even more prepared to roll with it. So, if you get a chance, come visit where ever we are at. Good luck with your travels and we’ll see you on the road.

A Mexican Nightmare… Part 2

When your connection is missed, as ours was, most airlines will put you up in a hotel if it’s overnight before the next flight takes off for that destination. Remember with a wheelchair, you need to check ahead of time if it’s an accessible room.

So, here, we wait for the power chair to come back. That  means that tomorrow we go through all of that again. If we could have gone without it, we probably would have just to save the hassle.

Boy, were we glad that we made them get the chair. When they finally brought out the power wheelchair, there was a collective gasp from my client, myself, and the attendant that the airline had sent with us. The chair was folded out all the way flat. You could see spots where the cover was cracked and one of the controllers was missing.That left controller was, thankfully, for the tilt of the chair. On the main controller on the right is where the computer and driving options are stored. The supports for the armrests were lose and the headrest was extremely off center. Thankfully, the chair was still usable by the computer override.

The extensive damage brought out 4 levels of management to deal with it. While I was on the phone with our Mexican taxi company and our hotel for the week, my client spoke to the managers present. When I turned back around, there were Italian suits and placation vouchers all around. We each got $400 for future flights, a new voucher for a free cab ride, and informed that a technician would come to our hotel room to try to repair the controller. Our attendant was instructed to help us get all the way to our hotel room. So we stepped on the Houston subway to go to the Airport Marriot. It was a nice room and we were well taken care of there. After so much excitement, we went to bed fairly early.

The next morning, we woke early. We called the doctor in Mexico to inform him that we had flight issues and would be a day late. We called the number given to us the night before for a repair technician and got no answer. By the time we got done with the room, the breakfast was over, so we got a small coffee and some scones in the hotel coffee shop.

After going through the excitement of check-in and TSA again (we had already checked our bag the night before), we went straight to the gate. At the gate, we informed the gate attendant that we would need an aisle chair and we would need to talk to the baggage attendant that would be getting the wheelchair. They came up to the gateway and were given much better instructions. We made it so all they had to do was push the chair, no power necessary. Then the 3 hour flight to Leon.

In Leon, the Mexican airport dealt very well with helping us with immigration, customs, and getting the chair back. The chair was in the same shape when we got there as when we left. They brought it out quickly when we were ready to get it. Here’s the thing, though: Mexico is NOT a very accessible place.

The number one issue we had was that our prearranged cab ride was for the day before. And they weren’t here for the rearranged pickup on Tuesday. We got an email from them saying that, because of the “no-show” the night before, they wouldn’t be there at 4 today. So, I guess it turns out that my horrible grasp of the Spanish language really did leave us fairly stranded. The Airport transport gave us a “free” cab ride voucher and set us up with the AT supervisor… who had no idea what to do with us. Mexico being as inaccessible as it is, the AT did not have a van with a ramp or lift. After about an hour, he says, “I think I have something. 15 minutes” We wait and a full sized van pulls up. My client is transferred into the van seat with very little supports. The chair is rolled to the back of the van. 6 AT employees work together to lift the 350 lb power wheelchair into the back of the van. No one puts the brakes on the chair down.

2 miles down the road, my client and I realize that the chair is rolling around in the back. Time to try my Spanish again. I convinced the driver, who spoke no English, to stop quickly so that I could climb into the back and stop the chair from rolling. The rest of the ride went well for my client and I.

We arrived at the hotel at around 6pm. Between hotel staff and the van driver, we got the chair unloaded and finally checked in. The room was accessible, beautiful, warm, and best of all, had nice beds. Finally, “day one” was done…. a day and a half later. This is akin to what must have happened to the person who first said “The important part is not the destination, but the journey.” This journey is not yet over… you’ve only heard the beginning.

Check in tomorrow for the rest of the trip.

A Mexican Nightmare… An education

I talked in Part 1 about all of the preparation I did getting ready for a working vacation on a client’s medical travel. This is a first time for me. I’ve done 14 years of personal care work, but never had a client pay for me to travel like this before.

So, we left Monday, Dec 12 with high hopes of a good trip. Our cab came just a tiny bit late, but still got us to the airport 2 hours early. Our check-in at MSP went without a hitch. Checking our bag in was 5 minutes. TSA spent a total of 8 minutes on testing the wheelchair. There were almost no lines and we were even able to get a snack on the way to the gate.

Here’s where we need to go over the difference between travelling with a wheelchair and without one. Here is my experience without a wheelchair: You get to the airport 1 hour before take-off. Check-in takes a maximum of 5 minutes, bag check another 5-10 minutes, TSA maybe 10-15. If you’re running over on those, you’re totally able to run down the stairs, up the escalator, and through crowds to get to the gate, where they will be loading by this time. You board just by handing your boarding pass to the gate attendant and you find your assigned seat. You have no need for anything extra beyond a seat and a spot for your carry-on. Total time from curb to boarded: 42 minutes.

Now, add a wheelchair: First off, the preparation is so much more. Before you buy your tickets, it is prudent to call ahead to the airline and see what size of aircraft is right for your needs. Wheelchairs, especially power wheelchairs, often take up more space and need extra support from staff to get the client on and off the plane. So, you spend an hour on the phone with the customer service of your chosen airline. If you “shop around”, you need to do this more than once. You also should find an assistant to come with you to help carry bags and direct the airport staff as to your needs. You’ll be tired, you don’t want to do this yourself. Then, you need to get to the airport at least 2 hours early. Here’s why- Check-in takes 5 minutes, as usual, with one extra click and double checking that there’s some special accomodations. Bag check takes 10 minutes easily because you have to explain to the check counter that you also have a power wheelchair and ask them to call ahead to make sure there’s an aisle wheelchair available. TSA usually takes between 20-40 minutes, depending on how your prep went. Sometimes, you can do TSA Pre check, so that helps cut down on time. If you have dry cell batteries (which many modern wheelchair companies are going to) or you have a manual chair, you cut down the time a little too. But, TSA needs to wipe every surface of the chair with a small tab that tells them if there’s explosive or drug residue on the chair. They also need to pat down the inhabitant because they’re unable to see any bulges that may exist. After TSA, let’s say you need the bathroom. You need to wait an extra 5 minutes for the special stall. Not only that, if there’s stairs, escalators, or crowds, you’re going to take double time to get to where you’re going. Elevators are notoriously slow; picking your way through a crowded terminal can be even worse when people’s eye level is above your head. By the time you get to the gate, you hope that it’s still before they start boarding. You have to pick your way right up to the gate attendant and warn them that you’ll need an aisle chair. Often, no one was informed of this, even though you’ve taken proper precautions. They call for customer service to send down an attendant and an aisle chair. You wait until the gate is opened and are the first person boarded. Hopefully, when you got your seats, you thought to put your assistant next to you. If not, you’ll have to discuss that with the gate agent also. First, you roll to the end of the gateway where the aisle chair and attendant are waiting. You are transferred into the aisle chair. Your assistant informs the baggage supervisor in attendance about how to move the chair. Your assistant also sets the chair up for travel, often having to lay the chair out flat, unhook controls, or remove pieces that may fall off or get damaged during transport. (Think doubling your carry-on) The baggage crew takes your chair while you pray that they were really listening and pass on the information. You are rolled into the plane by no less than 2 attendants, plus your assistant. The three of them coordinate moving you to a seat depending on where your seat is. We recommend an aisle seat; there’s less moving to get to that one. They take away the aisle chair. VERY OFTEN, your flight will be delayed because of maintenance. Do not be fooled; this is often because someone is trying to move your chair and have no idea what they’re doing. Ok, you finally leave and everyone’s boarded and ready to go. Time from curb to boarded: 156 minutes (2hours, 36 minutes).

Now, you guessed it, you’re only on the plane. Most people just debark and you’re done once you land; 5 minutes. Nope, not when travelling with a power wheelchair. You have to wait until every other person has gotten their stuff and gotten off of the plain. The flight crew has to call ahead and warn the destination that you need an aisle chair and an attendant for help. You wait for them. They get there and you reverse the process. If you have a connecting flight, it is my opinion that you should leave at least 4 hours between flights. Yes, you may be sitting for 3 hours if EVERYTHING goes correctly. But, you are much much less likely to miss that connection. Less than an hour for connecting with a wheelchair is just tempting fate. Hell, 2 hours even tempts it a little. Get ready to tempt fate over and over again if you’re travelling with a wheelchair.

This last week, we dealt with all of these and more issues with our travel. Next, I’ll tell you all about these great adventures in purgatory.

A Mexican Nightmare… Part 1

I warned everyone that I was travelling last week. Considering the week I had, I think all of my previous travels have been too easy. I’ve traveled with wheelchairs before, young children, and very very old people. All had some SNAFU, but nothing prepared me for this trip.

I was offered a few months ago by a client that they needed a caregiver for a medical travel trip to Mexico. When I said “Yes!”, I didn’t know where we’d be going, what kind of treatment is was, or what kinds of support this client would need. All I knew is that they were planning to pay flight, hotel, and basic food, as well as paying me some kind of salary while we were there. I was expected to cover any extra snacks, souvenirs, and entertainment I might use. And that’s all I knew.

I ordered my first passport, started preparing Jeremy, and started researching dos & don’ts. Don’t drink the water, check; don’t go out in the country alone at night, check; check the travel advisory for your itinerary, um…. where are we going??  A few weeks before, I got some answers to the unspoken things in this agreement. None of the conditions sounded adverse to me. I found out we were going to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, MX (most commonly known as San Miguel). I learned it is a colonial town with a rich history, strong tourist business, and almost everyone knows some English. Win!! It sounded from the information I could gather that it was to Mexico City basically what the Hamptons to New York City; a quaint, well-cared-for town where wealthy people go to “weekend” or “summer”. I got excited.

I learned that my client needs full care for transfer and hygiene. No big deal, I’ve done this job for 14 years. For those that don’t know, I started my official life as a caregiver when I was 19. I inadvertently took a job with a personal care/group home company. All I  knew was that I wanted a job and they were hiring for better pay than most places. Since then, I have worked for 7 different companies, with over 100 different clients, and in 4 different states (I guess you can say 2 different countries now). I would consider myself an expert in the care and support of people with disabilities, especially those who deal daily with a power wheelchair or mental illness. So, the requests of transferring a large client, washing their body including genitals, & assisting with daily meds were all agreeable to me.

As I found out more about what my new client needed, I also learned about why we would be travelling. My client was going to Mexico to obtain a stem cell treatment. This was extremely interesting to me. My spirituality and academic degree allow me multiple perspectives on this subject. Having experience in DNA Analysis, chemistry, and a little biology, the concept of using basically “blank” cells to improve the health of a person is fascinating. The controversy over harvesting techniques and “acceptable” types of cells is also a motivating topic. The treatment would be administered by either intravenous infusion or intramuscular injection. I found that my client wanted the intramuscular treatment. The whole process was a geek heaven for me.

Another little tidbit of information I got before our trip was the weather: San Miguel is pretty much comfortable all year round. In May, they tend to have high temperatures that are just barely warm for some of us (80-90 degrees Fahrenheit). In “winter” (which is now), the temperatures are mid-70s F during the day and mid-40s F in the overnight. I think I may have fallen in love with this place. We went on our trip from December 12-18. This year, this week turned out to be -40 F with the windchill. Ummmm…. No. Very glad to be gone in Mexico during that time.
All in all, the trip turned out to look very very good from the front side. I loved the idea of doing some work, then some touristing. It gave me a purpose to travel. I liked that idea. Before we left, I felt significantly prepared for my trip.