Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today with Part 1 of her recent adventures in a traveling wheelchair.
Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, was released on July 1st.
I recently returned from a visit to Spain and Portugal. My son-in-law, oldest daughter and I spent two weeks, mainly on the Mediterranean, wandering around and having a great time. At least, I did. I’m not so sure about them. They had to push my wheelchair over cobblestone streets, help me up stairs in ancient castles and churches and rescue me from gypsies who, while very nice, wanted to sell me things. In more than one case, the gypsies succeeded.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning. A few years ago, due to a vascular problem, I lost my left leg. Not an easy thing whenever it happens, but the adjustment seems harder as you get older. I thought for a while I’d have to give up some things I love, like traveling. However, as I got stronger and bored sitting at home, I rethought that. I started driving short distances, then longer, and soon graduated to airplanes.
I’d pretty much covered the US, including Alaska, when my daughter announced that she and my son-in-law were going to Spain and Portugal and would I be interested in joining them. I’d visited much of Europe and a little of the middle-east but nothing abroad since the missing leg incident. I’d only seen a little of Spain and none of Portugal. While wild to go, I wasn’t too sure about accommodations. I couldn’t help thinking of some of the bathrooms I’d encountered in Egypt or the ones deep in the Italian countryside that were virtually a hole in the tile floor over which you squatted with a hanging cord to pull when you were through. My squatting days were over, but surely there were other ways…
There were, good and plentiful ones. So, all of you who are handicapped in some way, listen up. It turns out I’m not the only one who refuses to sit home. Thousands of us are descending on the airlines, tourist busses, hotels in every corner of the world and the world has, with varying degrees of effectiveness, responded. I can’t tell you how it will be for everyone, there are many “special needs” people and their needs vary. I can tell you a few of my adventures though, to prepare you for some of your own.
I wear a prosthesis, a really good one, but it doesn’t help me much in airports. I can’t walk long distances and am slow. So, I use the wheelchair. I prefer to load my belongings into it and push as far as possible. That seems to make airport people nervous. They want to push you, fast. When you check in they want to put you in their wheelchair and check yours through. They keep asking every few minutes if you can walk onto the plane. I can, and do. What I can’t do is be stuck in a middle seat. I always ask for an aisle seat with my left leg on the aisle. They don’t always listen. However, as they board me first (a positive as there is still room in the overhead) and after taking a look at my lack of leg, they have always managed to find me one. I figured this trip would be much the same, just longer. My lay-over was in Heathrow where they speak pretty good English, and my daughter and son-in-law were meeting me in Lisbon, so I wasn’t anticipating any problems.
My flight from Atlanta to Heathrow was uneventful, British Airways has an awesome staff, and my only concern was how to fill my four hour layover. Turned out not to be a problem. My wheel chair was waiting for me and so was an attendant. “I’ll be fine”, I said, “just point me toward my connection. How far is it?” “No,no,” he exclaimed, clearly alarmed. He grabbed my ticket and clucked. “We have to hurry.”
Hurry? We had four hours. He wheeled me down into the bowels of the airport where several other people were trapped in wheelchairs and after saying “someone will be here soon,” left. The others were wheeled away but I sat. Finally, I’d had enough. A sign pointed down a long corridor toward gates 3, 4, etc. Mine was one of them, so, tucking my folding cane into my tote, I took off. A bank of elevators greeted me, but I had no idea where they went. About then another little man ran up, grabbed my ticket, exclaiming I couldn’t do this without help and where was my pusher? I had no idea but next thing I knew I was back in my chair, headed at breakneck speed, not to an elevator, but a room right around the corner from where I’d been parked. A very nice but frazzled lady whose black hair was beginning to gray, took one look at my ticket and parked me beside a man in a turban, his wife in a sari, who clearly spoke no English. “Have no fear, mother,” she kept saying to me. “We will get you to your gate. Can you walk?” I assured her I could, at least for limited distances, and then she said, “your plane is parked on the tarmac. Can you climb the metal stairs?” I saw no reason not to try, but wasn’t sure about getting my tote bag, purse and cane up them. “Do not worry, mother. You will go on the truck,” she pronounced.
What truck? And, mother? Before I could ask, someone else appeared and I was careening through the airport on my way, I hoped, to my plane to Lisbon. I ended in another, larger, waiting room where someone kindly brought me a cup of very strong English tea. Then we were off again, this time on an electric airport cart, then onto a train, and then a bus. Finally we got to another waiting room filled to capacity. After another short wait I was wheeled by lift into the back of what looked like an old army truck. It already contained several locked down wheelchair occupants. After a short ride, doors opened and, one by one, we were helped onto a plane. We were on our way to Lisbon.
Lesson no. 1: never let go of your own wheel chair. I’ll explain later.
Lesson no 2. ALWAYS leave yourself extra time. Getting through security can either be really quick or painstakingly slow, depending on if they can locate the wand and someone to pat you down.
To be continued: Next installment, how we came to be in a Portuguese City with 1000 Buddhists; and how to get on and off a commuter train with a wheel chair before the doors close on you.
Kathleen will be back on January 28th with the next episode in her odyssey.