Saturday, April 4, 2009

Thinking About Vacation and Travel

With the warm weather at last taking hold (here in Massachusetts), thoughts of vacation and travel worm their way into my brain more and more.

We used to travel quite a bit, even with Skip in a wheelchair. We went through a period of going to Las Vegas twice a year, often combined with another stop, like Tucson or San Francisco. Once we did half the vacation in Northern California wine country with my parents (who'd been many times before so could show us a great time) and then off to LV for the remainder.

Air travel has grown to be a bigger and bigger challenge for Skip due to a combination of her increasing disability and stress about all the bad things that could happen (we've had a few mishaps in the air over the years, one of which almost caused us to miss our flight home from Anchorage). After our last trip to Las Vegas in April 2008, we decided that was the end of the road for air travel.

But that wasn't to be the end of our traveling days. There are a zillion places within reasonable driving distance that I'd love to vacation to. We have a modified Honda Element with a lowered floor and ramp to take us where we'd like to go with ease (you gotta love the "toaster on wheels," as we affectionately call the box that is the Element). Skip recently got a swanky Permobil wheelchair that has tilt and recline functionality, so she can have extra comfort riding in the car, reclining to rest whenever needed.

A few months back, one of our dear friends called and asked if we'd like to vacation in northern New England this summer, renting a home with a small group of friends. Most of us have traveled on cruises together, so we know we can travel together in reasonable harmony. Soon thereafter, she found a recently built place on a lake, that can hold 8 and was handicapped accessible. How cool is that?

But what does handicapped accessible mean? Based on the description of the house, I know it will mean you can get in and out of the house and to all levels within (it has an elevator). I expect it'll have wider hallways and doors (at least I hope so, to minimize the dents and dings from the power chair). The bathroom will have railings all around. But, will it have a roll in shower or a tub? If the latter, this will make for a very tricky situation when it comes to bathing. Transfers from/to bed and toilet will also be interesting. Skip hasn't used a transfer board in about a year and a half, since we had SureHands lifts installed in the bedroom and bathroom. For that matter, I haven't had to lift her from chair to bed in all that time either.

"Vacation" can be an ironic term for the caregiver. Of course, there is no vacation from caregiving, only from work. And, when you travel on vacation, the caregiving can actually become more difficult because you're away from some of the modifications in your home that make life easier for both of you. Historically, I've looked at the greater caregiving work as a reasonable trade-off for the opportunity to go to all the great places we've visited, and see/do the things we'd never have been able to experience otherwise. But as Skip's disability has increased and I've aged, making do without our home accommodations seems more daunting.

So, as I think about our 2 weeks in Maine this summer with great friends, I know I have some preparation to do.
  • Data gathering - how is the bathroom set up? Is it a roll-in shower or a tub? Even though the house is a 3-hour drive from here, I'm seriously considering a day trip to go see it in advance, assuming the owners will be willing to go over and let me in.
  • Practice transferring - can Skip still use a transfer board herself (I suspect not)? Should we use a standard wooden board or will the fancy-dancy Beasey board be needed? Will transferring be dicey enough with a board that we just revert to me handling the transfer by picking her up (we call it the "pick and plop")? That was our primary transfer method in the period prior to installation of the lifts.
  • Swimming - apparently, there's handicapped-accessible access to the water. What will we need to get Skip in and out - her shower chair on wheels? Is there a flotation device that she could reasonably transfer onto/off of so she can while away some time floating on the water?

I look forward to a wonderful time this summer in Maine. But I know that wonderfulness will result, in part, from a good dose of forethought and planning. That's no burden. As any of my friends could tell you, I procrastinate about just about everything except for travel planning! So, the preparation will just increase my anticipation for the actual event.

Oh, in case you're wondering, I've already checked on black flies in that part of Maine in the summertime. Shouldn't be bad. Yay!

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