Tuesday, May 25, 2010

About Our Life

What is it to live with someone with the kind of disability my husband has?

There are, literally, hundreds of things I think of, notice, or do every single day that I never considered before I started to live with Brian's injuries.
I am painfully aware of the location of handicapped parking, associated ramps and crosswalks. Curbs frustrate me. Stairs are obstacles to avoid, while everyone around me trods upwards without a second thought.
Restaraunts become obstacle courses. Hotels are potential nightmares. Car shopping takes on an entirely different light. Furniture shopping is never the same.
Can Brian get out of this chair when he has his legs on? Is it comfortable enough to sit in but stiff enough to lever himself out of? Can he transfer in and out of this chair if he's in his wheelchair? Where exactly will we put it? Will I be able to arrange the house if this chair is in it? Will it get wrecked if his wheelchair tires rub on it?
White trim in houses is a pain for that last reason... and the guys who built my house gave me prepainted trim in every last room. I have layer after layer of wheelchair tire scuffs on most of the doors and doorframes, with really no way to stay ahead of them. Give me a nice stained hardwood anyday, those are easier to clean (or easier to hide stains on).
Is the carpet too plush for him to wheel around? Can he get the bathroom door shut behind him? Does the door swing out or in? How sturdy are those handgrips? How sturdy is that shower bench? Is the shower really nonslip, or are they lying? We found out the shower bench in our own home wasn't nonslip the hard way - Brian shooting off it like a greased pig when he was covered with soap in the shower.

Did you know you remove most of your excess body heat through your head and your feet? Its a surface area-to-volume idea with your feet; all that skin and not a lot of substance. Without feet, Brian's body temperature runs a full degree higher than mine all the time. He constantly overheats. Overheating means a lot of sweating. Sweating means he loses the air seal on his prosthetics, his legs start moving around on his stumps, and he starts getting chafed and blistered. He literally can't function if he gets just a little too hot.
So our air conditioner breaking is cause for extreme, immediate alarm. Booking-an-emergency-hotel-room kind of alarm. We have a second air conditioner, a tiny one, that services only our bedroom. I'm learning what kinds of bedding keep him cool and me warm. I'm also collecting a strategic reserve of socks I'm comfortable sleeping in, and I have a heating pad that hangs on my headboard all winter, in case Brian gets too hot and cracks a window when its below freezing outside. Which is almost every night - I put out a lot of BTUs.
My heat output means we can't snuggle in the summer. Not without a $400 electricity bill to cool our room down to like 60 degrees every night, at least.

We never fight over the thermostat in the winter - I like to conserve energy (and save on heating costs), he likes to be cold. So 65 or so isn't so rare at our house. My office is kept a bit higher, but only because I hide in here. Our bedroom is never above about 60 in the winter. Getting out of bed is a bitch.
The summer is a constant battle. I don't want to impoverish us, he wants to survive. Our middle ground is far closer to his ideal than my own, but that's a lot of the reason we live in New England and not, say, Texas.

We can never live near my family. The summers are too hot there. We can scarcely visit in the summer, and when we do, Brian hides indoors the entire trip.

I live for pyrotechnics.
The only full-on PTSD flashback I've ever seen him have was triggered by fireworks.
I am no longer working towards my pyrotechnician license, to put it lightly.

We always get hassled in airports. He can't get thru security without a full patdown and explosives check, just because his feet are metal. Airplanes are hell, because he can't bend his knees a full ninety degrees with the prosthetics on, so the limited leg room is a huge issue.
Ditto with stadium seating in concerts and sporting events. We don't go to many, simply because we end up in standing-room-only (not gonna work, he can't stay standing that long without moving), seats without enough legroom, or we spend a fortune on roomier seats. A fortune we don't have, because we're on a very fixed income. I will probably never see a game in Fenway.

If he runs out of TP while he's sitting in the bathroom, I get paged - he can't get up and do the spraddle-walk with his pants down the way I can. And he sure isn't getting into the wheelchair with a dirty bum. Ew.
With his massive supply of feet and legs and sleeves and liners and extra components, he needs more closet space than me. If he needs to put on nice shoes, he has to spend a good ten to fifteen minutes adjusting his ankles for the new sole depth.

I could write this forever. Ingrown hairs become life-threatening. Visiting family becomes a nightmare (Auntie, I can't fit in your bathroom, we can't come to Thanksgiving). Friends start shopping for houses with your occassional visits in mind, which is flattering and horrifying and embarrassing all at once. Doctors visits are never ending, and the doctors are 45+ minutes away at the VA hospitals.

TBI means you lose impulse control and memory. He doesn't always remember the stupid shit he buys. I ask him about a charge on the card and he doesn't remember it, so I go on full fraud alert to find out it was a TShirt he forgot ordering.
I would love to work. Love to. We could use the extra income, too.
But I need at least one full week day off every week, to stay on top of bills and budgets and home repairs and legal concerns and managing Brian's schedule. And by managing his schedule, I mean people wanting him to come to this parade and that fundraiser and throw out the first pitch at a little league game and come to this state on this day to meet that person for whatever it was they did that we apparently have to congratulate them for. People send us random things - artwork, red-white-and-blue blankets (which totally don't match my decor), gifts and random offers that I long ago gave up on writing thank-you's for or even accepting. Everybody wants something from Brian, everybody needs him to validate them somehow, and I'm the one who sorts thru it all.
I also need at least half my weekends off, to do the fun things. A friend's Alive Day celebration. Rockaway's water sports festival. Vail Veterans program. Special Olympics. Weddings. Weekend escapes. The rest of the world plans things on weekends, so if we want to go, I need my Saturdays and Sundays free.
I have yet to find a job that offered that sort of schedule, and I was even remotely qualified for.

So I spend my time on repairing our house, escaping into books, and slowly becoming a decent knitter.

I don't have a 'Someday' anymore. There isn't some magical day down the road wherein Brian is completely well again, has a perfect memory and unlimited physical abilities. No, as my beloved husband gets older, he will need more from me. I will be glad to give it. This is my life, and I love it. I love Brian to distraction, and I would do anything in the world for him. I will continue doing everything he ever needs me to do, and I will continue to love it. It's far better than the alternative.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hotel Indigo

Brian and I were going to a memorial 5K in New York sometime in the Spring of 2009.  I asked for recommendations for someplace to stay in Albany so we could get there the night before and save ourselves some trouble in the drive up (in the wee small hours of the morning).  I was told to call Hotel Indigo - mostly because the person giving the recommendation knew someone who worked there.

I don't remember if I ever interacted with that person, or even if they still worked there, but I know I didn't get any special deals because I knew someone who knew someone. Nevertheless, I have never stumbled upon a better gem than this word-of-mouth referral.

First and foremost, all Hotel Indigos (run by the same people as Holiday Inn) are pet-friendly.  The pet deposit is a fraction of what I've seen anywhere else.  While a service dog (in our case, the dashing Dango) can legally stay anywhere Brian can, having a pet-friendly hotel means you don't catch any flak for it.  Furthermore, a pet-friendly hotel actually has someplace to walk your dog outside.  Some of the no-pets-allowed places I've stayed at have been encased in concrete; walking your dog blocks away to find some grass in unfamiliar territory at night isn't high on my list of favorite things to do.

Because of the pet policy, we decided to bring the actual pet with us on this trip to accompany Dango on our 5K - Bodhran the Berserker, Dog Number Two.  Since one of our dogs was a service animal, the fabulous lady at the desk waived the nominal pet fee (which I believe was a paltry $20, compred to the $75+ I have seen elesewhere).  Also, no raised eyebrows when we came in and out with either dog - both of whom had backpacks on, so Dango's 'Working Dog' vest wasn't visible.  Not having to stop and defend your right to have your service dog with you was such a blessing I would have attached myself to this chain right then and there.

The reason I am enamored of Hotel Indigo, however, is not the very inclusive pet policy.

Hotel Indigo has the most accessible rooms I have ever seen in my life.

First - and this is a HUGE peeve of mine - their wheelchair rooms are actually on the first floor.  If there's a fire emergency, do you want somebody in a wheelchair on the sixth floor?  That's guaranteeing a fire fighter will have to risk life & limb to rescue someone from your hotel.  More realistically, you could put the accessible rooms on the first floor, and someone in a wheelchair can get themselves out of the burning building.  What a concept!  I have yet to be above the first floor in any Hotel Indigo - even though I've stayed in multiple locations multiple times since.

The rooms themselves are spacious.  There was more than three feet of space around every obstacle without me having to rearrange - not even a little.  The pulls on the window shades were at chair-height.  The chair at the desk was on wheels, so it could easily be moved out of the way (to park a wheelchair there instead).  The bed was far enough from the wall for Brian to park his chair there at night, which means I didn't kill myself tripping over it in the morning.  All the hundreds of little things we've done in our own home that we don't ever think about were already done here.  It was like the room was actually designed by someone in a wheelchair.  Staying there was effortless.

And the bathroom!  There was a teak bench in the walk/roll-in shower.  No tub!  Glorious!  The shower head was a handle unit, and it was set low enough to be used from the bench!  These things should not astonish me, but they are actually so rare as to be noteworthy.  Brian could use all the facilities without my assistance. I did nothing!  He could shower without me, walk the dog without me, operate the television and in-room internet without me, even with his legs off.  There were no exterior doors he could not use; every last one I saw was ramped or otherwise accessible.  (This is also nice, as regardless of where Brian might be in the hotel, i.e. getting ice or enjoying the pool or using the fitness center, he would actually be able to use 'the nearest exit' in case of emergency.)  I didn't even need to scout for a grassy patch for Dango, as they were everywhere.  Brian could have stayed there without me and not had a single issue.  This is the only time I have ever been able to say that about a hotel.

When I booked my second stay in a Hotel Indigo - this one just outside Indianapolis - I did so with glee.  I was excited to find out if the first stay had been a fluke.  I was thrilled when I discovered it was not.  There was even a live-in dog, Fibi (short for Fibonacci, which made my inner geek do a little jig) who yapped whenever visitors arrived and was very interested in everywhere I had ever been in those shoes.

The website will show you how beautiful the buildings are.  There is actual color in use, both in the lobbies and rooms and outside on the walls.  There have been floral murals in bright colors in every room we've stayed in, which is nearly opposite the hospital-esque rooms you generally see.  After a year and a half in a hospital, if I never sleep in an all-white room again it will be too soon.

Oh, and they're resonably priced!  I can't believe I almost forgot that.  I'm used to paying a lot more to stay at a decent hotel.  For what you're getting, these hotels are always a real bargain.

I'm trying hard to think of something to say about Hotel Indigo that isn't glowing.  They're only the second 'frequent guest' type program I've joined (the first being Midwest Airlines) and they're the first company that has ncited a feeling of true brand loyalty in me.  I guess my only true complaint is there simply aren't enough of them. I find myself on their website, looking for their locations and using that as a means to pick new places to go for vacation.  I always half-heartedly wanted to visit San Antonio or San Diego, but once I saw then pop up as location on http://www.hotelindigo.com/ they were bumped much higher on the list of potential getaways.  My husband and I are planning a road trip to Texas later this Spring, and I'm intentionally planning the route around cities that have a Hotel Indigo in them.  Knowing I have somplace stress-free and relatively inexpensive to stay takes 95% of the anxiety out of travelling with a disability.

If anyone from Hotel Indigo stumbles across this, please open some up in Kansas City and Washington, D.C.; it was make my travels infinitely easier.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back For More

I've been absent from this blog for awhile. I have a list growing on a post-it of all the things I intend to write about here. The list of excuses I have for not writing is long, but mostly uninteresting. I will spare you.

The important bit is, everyone seems to be healthy again, spring is finally arriving, the seedlings destined for my garden (and, ultimately, my tummy) are growing happily in my laundry closet under the light they stole from my reptiles, and there are finally days on my calendar with nothing written on them.

My zest for this particular subject - accessibility - was renewed this weekend at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX East) here in Boston. The PA crew did a lot of things right. The couple of things they could do better, I sat down and emailed them about. I heard back from arguably the most important person at Penny Arcade, and I know my suggestions are being taken seriously. It makes a heart feel good.

I will, eventually, write about my PAX experience. It will definitely rank amongst the raves, and not the rants. Before then, my honeymoon in St Lucia and my favorite hotel chain stateside are in the queue ahead of the Greatest Convention Ever. More posts coming soon!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vail, Colorado

Yes, The Whole City

Brian and I spent a long weekend in Vail for the Vail Veterans ski program in March of 2007. We were approaching - though we didn't know it then - Brian's final surgery that summer, and we had another 7 months in the hospital. This means we were still fighting the infection in his left leg, and some days he flat-out couldn't get out of the wheelchair.
We knew Brian was going to be in a mono-ski for his mountain activities, so accessibility wasn't an issue there. He had instructors who would stay with him the whole time and help him navigate the lifts, the resort, all of that.
What we didn't know - what we never know - was how the rest of the facilities would be.

To say that I was pleasantly surprised is a monumental understatement.

I want to start this rave (no rants at all, here!) with the bus system.
I have a running complaint about mass transit. I can't tell you the number of subway stations that say they are accessible, but don't tell you they're under construction or don't bother putting up signs to let you know where the elevator is. Better yet, I know of some stations that are, technically, accessible, but only if you're on the southbound track; northbound you have to pass the station, switch trains, and come back in order to use the southbound-only elevator. Accessible, in a lot of instances, doesn't mean convenient. In fact, often it's the precise opposite.
The Vail buses, however, were amazing. The drivers were polite, the other riders were considerate, and there was no freakish, embarrassing restraining device used on my husband when he wanted to ride... the bus was on hydraulics, so it lowered itself closer to street level and then extended a rather discrete ramp. We took the bus upwards of six times a day, and never had a single incident.

Hearkening back, I know there are some places - ski lodges and condominiums and the like - that were not accessible. However, they weren't advertised as such, so I don't care. The hotel we were in was accessible enough that when I hurt my knee (no skier, am I) that I was confortable scooting around the hotel at night in Brian's chair to fetch my own ice from the machine down the hall. If I can do it, anybody can.
The hotel room was not on the first floor, admittedly, but they never are. There was plenty of room to get all the way around the bed, however, and the room was richly decorated. It didn't look like a hospital room, which is sometimes the case for handicap accomodations.

Now, Brian didn't go with me into Vail Village. He was skiing the fresh powder while I limped around the bottom of the mountain with a bum knee. I recall many of the shops being navigable, but definitely not all, and probably not 'most'. Its been awhile, but I seem to recall not noticing any issues in the paths and squares outside the shops; there didn't seem to be any outstanding staircases or really anything more debilitating than some rough cobblestones. This is often the case in 'downtown' or 'old town' areas, though; Vail was no better or worse than any other.

One incident that sticks out in my head was our nighttime trip to the top of the mountain to go snow tubing. Getting out to the tubing area was tricky... until a friendly Vail employee popped Brian onto the back of his snowmobile and hauled right past all of us on the wagon. I seem to recall my husband making a lewd gesture as they passed us...
The snow tubing itself was also memorable. Rather than haul your own tube up the mountain, there was a conveyor system that was simultaneously ingenius and enabling. Either myself or a friend would haul Brian - legless for the evening - as he sat on his tube over to the conveyor system, whereupon the tube was attached and hauled up to the push-off point. One of the nice employees at the top helped Brian get into position, and even helped him push off a bit to get some speed. Brian had just as good a time as anyone else - which is something I can't often say when he doesn't have his prosthetics on.

I recall no issues with the lodge we used as our home base - I clearly recall the location of the elevator, the layout of the restaraunt, and my appreciation of Brian's ability to navigate around obstacles without me. He spent most of the weekend away from me, honestly, as he is an incredible skiier and I am just a girl from Kansas. I shopped and laid in the hottub while he rocketed down the mountain at ridiculous speeds in his bucket of death. That fact alone - that he was comfortable without me, and I wasn't worried about him - speaks more about the experience than anything else I can relate.

One possible detractor that I must mention is that we were part of the Vail Veterans program, and its possible we were getting a special treatment. Its possible there are some places that are not generally accessible or services that are not generally offered that we were able to partake in. Somehow, I doubt it. But it is something to look into, and I would love to go back to Vail, especially now that Brian can use his legs every day.

And I would not hesitate to recommend Vail to every one I know. It was an incredible town, an amazing experience, and Brian & I are both better for it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mount Washington

The story of our trip to Omni Mount Washington Resort is simultaneously a rant and a rave, as well as the final kick-in-the-pants it took for me to start this blog.

I found the resort through Groupon - a very amazing tool that everyone living in a major city should look into - and booked a night for $149. Which is quite a bit lower than the going rate. I wanted to just drive up and have a Night Away with Brian. No interruptions (except for his phone ringing, grr), no animals, no issues. Just him, me, a very nice dinner, a moonlit ride in a horse-drawn sleigh, and some privacy.
I had to re-book the room three times because of weather concerns. We finally made the trip up in the middle of January.

The first problem we encountered was when we tried to park the car. I'm sure the Valet is very good at his job, but I like to know where my car is. Also, we only had one bag apiece, there was no reason to take up a bell hop - not when people were coming in with dozens of items. So I parked the car myself.
Or, tried to. There were no handicap spots marked. There was a section of parking listed as "Valet and Handicapped Parking Only" but no blue signs to be seen. I took a Valet spot and then asked the Valet when he came over with the next vehicle what was going on.
He pointed to a flat part in the snow and told me those were the handicap places. I asked where the sign was - he said it was buried in the snow bank.
The spots were no where near cleared. I stayed in the Valet parking. There's no reason for Brian to slip in 3" of snow.
Since we were parked in the handicap area, I assumed there would be a ramp so Brian could get into the building. There was, not too far from the supposed handicap parking. Unfortunately, the ramp was covered in Yellow caution tape, and was unusable. I am not in the habit of ducking under strips of caution tape - and no one else is either, I assume, since the ramp had not been cleared of snow.

Now, for a resort wherein a discounted room will run you $150 - and that's the basic room - I would anticipate they would notice some one made a reservation for an accessible room. It is not as if they had no inkling that somebody with special needs was checking in. In fact, they had well over a month of notice. We didn't sneak up on them.

Brian's a trooper, though, and takes the stairs - carrying his half of the luggage AND the bottles of wine - up past the basement level to the lobby level. We find the elevator and ride up to the second floor, which is something else that should be addressed.
Why do hotels put handicap rooms on upper floors? In case of fire, the elevators are shut off - and even if they're not, they're definitely not safe. You see signs everywhere saying to take the stairs in case of emergency, not the elevator. So why, on earth, would you put a wheelchair room ANYwhere other than the first floor? The people who may not be able to take the stairs should not be required to navigate them in case of emergency. You're not just risking their lives, but the lives of everyone caught on the stairs above them... because there's no way I'm sitting in a burning hotel and waiting for help to arrive if Brian's in his chair. Him, me, his feet, AND his chair are going down those damn stairs, if I have to carry it all on my back.

So we find our room, and the first thing I notice is I cannot open the door all the way. Once I get into the room, I see this is because the night stand is too close to the door. The door frame is just barely the correct width - but if the door can't swing completely open, you get the 2" width of door still standing inside the doorframe, plus the space for the hinge, and the doorway is no longer navigable. If you can swing the door open the full 180-degrees, the door is completely out of the frame and doesn't impede traffic. So, had we been able to get a wheelchair out of the car in 3" of snow, and had the wheelchair ramp been usable and we were able to get the 'chair into the hotel, Brian would have scraped all the skin off his knuckles on the door, had we been able to get the 'chair through the door at all.
Normally I can tell just by looking whether Brian's wheelchair - with him in it - will fit through tight places. I really ought to start carrying a tape measure with me, though.

In the room, we have two arm chairs, a writing desk and chair, the dresser-slash-television stand, the bed and a night stand. The bathroom door swings out - hallelujah - and is wider than the room entry door. I peek into the bathroom, as is always my first stop, and notice three things:
(1) There is not room for a wheelchair to make a 360-degree turn. Its a roll in, roll backwards out kind of bathroom.
(2) The shower is a bathtub. With no bench. So someone would have to get out of their 'chair and lower themselves into the tub, and then somehow lift themselves OUT of the tub, soaking wet, to get back into the chair. Yes, there are couple of bars to hold onto. But for a resort this is pretty ridiculous. The bathroom has obviously been modernized - if they were sacrificing the historic/antique nature of the hotel already, why not do it properly?
(3) The handheld shower head, while positioned very nicely, is only operable if you pull the lever at the wall shower head - six feet or more off the floor. Which is not possible for someone stuck in a seated position.

There is a large discrepancy between the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law. I doubt the ADA specifies that a hand-held shower needs to have its controls located somewhere that someone wheelchair-bound can turn the damn thing on... but is that something that really needs to be said?

After 30 minutes unsuccessfully spent fighting a timing-out WiFi connection while we shared a glass or two of wine, Brian and I started getting things laid out for our evening. The plan was a sleigh ride at 6:30, back in the hotel by 7:00, and downstairs for dinner at 7:30. Which was doable. Brian needed to iron his pants, however. The iron and board were in the closet, which is wedged between the foot of the bed and the dresser holding the television.
Before you ask, no, there was no more than 2' between the bed and the television. And the closet door - behind which are the bath robes, the iron, the ironing board, the luggage rest, and all the coat hangers - is narrower than most "normal" bathroom doors.
Apparently, people in wheelchairs aren't allowed to use bathrobes. Or ironing boards.

I was beyond frustrated with our room.
I understand this is a 100+ year-old resort, nestled in the mountains of New Hampshire. I understand grandfather clauses, I understand maintaining the intergrity of historic structures. However, if you are grandfathered-in and do not possess accessible facilities, you sure as hell shouldn't sell me a handicap room. You owe me some honesty - allow me to take my business to someone who can actually accomodate me.

My husband is blessedly functional. He's very strong, and can pull himself out of a bathtub and into a wheelchair. He has long since built up the strength of character to maintain his dignity as he crawls across a bathroom floor. He is very resilient. Should he have to be?
I have a friend who is paraplegic. He doesn't have the option of putting on prosthetics to stand up out of his wheelchair and grab a bathrobe or turn on a shower head. What would he have done, had he tried to stay at this hotel?

Our sleigh ride was everything I had hoped. Our dinner was fantastic. We did have a good time. For that I can thank Brian's ability to walk, his relentless pursuit of being ordinary.

The next morning, when we checked out of the hotel, the desk clerk asked how our stay had been. I said, "The room was not very accessible."
The clerk replied, "Oh," and continued checking us out. Not, "Oh?" Not a question. "Oh," eyes drop back to the computer screen, the next thing out of her mouth is the money I owe them on the account as she hands me the bill and then receipt. Tells us to have a nice day and then goes back to whatever it was she was doing when we arrived at her desk.
Now, I could have gone off on her. But why? She obviously doesn't care.
I vote for option two, the scathing letter to her superiors.
Which I wrote, the day after I arrived home. The resort accomodated me by sending me a questionaire, asking me about my stay and giving me unlimited space at the end to type in any comments or concerns I had.
What I gave them was a very concentrated, shorter, much harsher (admittedly a little rude) version of this blog. I used words like "inconsiderate," "rude," and "illegal."

The day after sending in my questionnaire, I got a phonecall from the Mount Washington. Their Manager was appalled, upset, and grateful all at once; it seems she has only been on the job five weeks, and Omni had only recently taken possession of the Mount Washington Hotel. She had no idea there were such issues with the facilities, and she was pretty adament on finding out who it was at the desk that morning. Which is reasonable - that desk clerk has the power to either exacerbate or completely deflate the situation, and if I were the suing type, she would have partially at fault for disregarding my complaint.
The Manager was grateful that I had given her all this feedback. She was grateful to have the opportunity to fix a problem she didn't even know existed. She was apologetic and thankful, she listened when I explained my husband's disability, and she seemed to really take to heart the knowledge that there are thousands of servicemen and women coming home missing limbs, and we have a population of young adults who go out of their way to look ordinary, but still have special needs. They might push their wheelchair into the hotel, but they still rely on it, even if for only 20 or 30 minutes a day.
The Manager asked - repeatedly - if there was anything she could do for me to try to make the situation better. I told her - honestly - that her sincerity and her desire to improve were really all I wanted. I told her that, regardless of whether it is right or not, there are more hotels that are NOT accessible than those that ARE, and it was something Brian & I have grown accustomed to. The fact that she WANTS to change and she WANTS to make things better is more than we typically get, and I was grateful for her phone call.

She closed the conversation by stating that, should I ever wish to return to her hotel, I give her a call, and she would "take care of everything," although she didn't specify what that included.

I hope to go back, in a year or four or five, once I hear word that they've finished renovations, and see if they've fixed anything. I am cautiously optimistic... and with any luck, I'll still have this blog running and be able to tell you what I find.
For now, though, I have to recommend AGAINST the Omni Mount Washington Hotel for anyone who can't go without their 'chair. Its a nice place, the dinner was amazing, the sleigh ride was picturesque and romantic, and the location can't be beat... but the rooms are not accessible enough to make the stay enjoyable overall.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Beginning

In June of 2006, my soldier - Brian - was wounded by an IED while serving in Iraq. He sustained life-altering injuries, leaving his feet and portions of both legs behind when he came home. He became what they call a trans-tibial amputee, a double-below-knee, a dual-BK. I set eyes on him for the first time - all those long months on webcams nonwithstanding - in July, right after he got his first pair of prosthetics.
By September I was planning.
In October I quit my job, packed up my life, and moved cross-country to help him recover. I lived with him in an army medical center for a full year. I was there for surgeries and infections, antibiotics and pyschologists, red tape and news of fallen brothers.
Two years to the day after the explosion that changed his life, we married. Our anniversary is his Alive Day. We waited long enough for him to be able to walk down the aisle.

That was a year and a half ago. In the 3+ years we've been together, I've gotten a crash course in the ADA. We have a specially adapted home for him, my friends and family all seem to have made little adjustments so that he has an easier time when we come visit, his mother had an accessible bathroom built in her basement. There are a million things you never think of when everything in your body works the way nature intended... something as simple as stepping into the shower is never the same once you've seen it thru his eyes.

Our downfall seems to be our love of travel. Having a house adapted to your needs spoils you, in a sense, so that you forget how much of a PITA it is to not have a shower bench or a wide enough doorway. Some places have surprised me, others shocked me, but the only universal truth has seemed to be that you just don't know whether someplace that claims accessibility actually is accessible until you roll in and look.

I've unabashedly walked into men's rooms to make sure Brian's wheelchair will fit inside, to make sure there's a stall with a door on it and a doorway wide enough for him to make it through without scraping the skin off his knuckles. I've called out managers and I've written nasty letters. But I still won't know whether someplace will work for us until I've walked into it.

Which is why I'm writing this blog. I've decided to start collecting all my stories and publish them for others to see. That way, some one else with a penchant for travel and the disadvantage of wheels instead of feet on the ground might get some little head's up.

If you've got stories to share, let me know! I can't (and won't!) spend my life visiting hotels just for writing material... but I have a lot of friends with similar disadvantages, and maybe if we band together we can help each other out. I don't intend to pull any punches - I will praise where its earned and burn where its deserved. If I say something about your hotel or restaurant, don't get mad at me - fix the problem. I'm just telling it like I see it.