The "Not Soon Enough!" Trip
By Rachel Blusiewicz
"Jay and I began our courtship by traveling together. In what became known as our "way too soon trip," we decided to spend a long weekend camping in the desert after having only been dating a month. We joke about it now, but that trip jump-started our relationship. Both of us enjoyed the outdoors, and wanted new experiences. From our national park excursions, back country trips and exploring Europe together, we knew we would also be each other's best travel companion.
We were a few months into planning our next trip to the beautiful beaches of Croatia, when our lives were unexpectedly changed forever.
I got the call at work. I had almost forgotten that Jay would be flying that day. When the nurse told me Jay had been in a plane crash, I immediately started playing every scenario through my head. I thought about broken bones and gaping wounds, and about death. I did not consider a spinal injury. Jay had fractured his c1 and c2 vertebra. "Scary, but fixable"said the surgeon. But he had also dislocated his neck at the c6/c7 vertebra, pinching his spinal cord and compressing his airway. The bones could be repaired, but not the cord. They labeled him a quadriplegic and sent us to rehab. We spent the next year in and out of hospitals, visiting doctors, and remodeling our house. Travel seemed like a distant memory, totally unattainable in our current situation.
And then, I hit my wall. I got fed up with all the fear and excuses we had been making NOT to go places. I told Jay (in not a very nice way, ) we were taking a vacation. Where? Don't know. How? Not sure. Logistics? Make it up as we go. We had been researching options for so long, just to see if we COULD TRAVEL we had failed to make a single solid plan. The time had come for a trip, and it could not come soon enough!
We stopped researching travel commodes and FINALLY, we just bought one (Go-Anywhere Commode.) We stopped researching destinations and hotels and found ourselves a travel agent specializing in accessible accommodations (Sylvia Longmire at Spin the Globe). We gave her dates and told her to pick a place that's tropical. My parents had suggested Cancun. We told her to book our airfare too and ended up flying United. We just needed to GO! And that's how we ended up in Mexico, on the beach, drinking margaritas.
We ended up staying at a beautiful resort, which was (almost) fully wheelchair accessible. The Iberostar Paraiso Beach near Playa Del Carmen, was more affordable than I would have thought, and considering airfare was part of the deal, we were able to book our entire trip (food and booze included) for under 2 grand. The beach had boardwalks across the entire resort, allowing us to enjoy the surf and sand even without the beach chair (freewheel still recommended!) The resort had also built covered platforms in the sand reserved for wheelchairs.
The bathrooms in Mexico are rarely accessible, even at the resort. Jay mastered the art of cathing in bathrooms with no handicap stalls, un-apologetically setting himself up where ever he could in the bathroom. Thankfully our room was equipped with a roll in shower, but it was tricky to maneuver in the chair, and the door opened into the bathroom, creating a bit of an accessibility issue.
I booked a beach wheelchair through Cancun Accessible. It was a bit tricky to get Jay into the beach chair itself, but once he was in it, I was able to get him through the sand and into the ocean. It was great! Additionally, the pool is equipped with stairs and RAMPS! I took him down the ramp, and gracefully dumped him out with an inflatable tube (pro tip: Crocs will make your feet float, to avoid dragging your toes on the bottom!) Through Cancun Accessible, we were also able to secure our transfers to and from the airport, as well as make a trip to Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza was amazing, I can't recommend it enough, especially when your transport and tour is private like ours was! It was was a very long trip, so make sure you have extra medical supplies and a change of clothes. We forgot to bring extra clothes and of course, that was the only day we could have used them.
Our biggest scare came during the flight home. Normally as a wheelchair user, you are permitted to board first, but in Cancun, there are no gate assignments until about 15 minutes before boarding. When we got our assignment, we were inevitably on the wrong side of the airport. Jay hit the bathroom one last time to cath and hopefully avoid having a full bladder and therefore AD (autonomic dysreflexia) on the flight, and then we hurried to the gate... right in the middle of boarding. The disability assistants rushed us to the front of the line, stopped the boarding process and threw Jay into the tiny aisle chair while I tried to single-handedly break down his wheel chair, grab his cushion while hauling medical supplies and carry-on's like some sort of pack mule. It was a bit chaotic, but we got it done.
Once seated we managed to settle in a bit for our flight just shy of 4 hours. Our flight to Mexico was roomy, and we had an entire row to ourselves, but our flight home was packed. About an hour and a half into the flight, Jay started to sweat, and his head started pounding. He was experiencing AD, in the middle of our flight, packed in a tiny airline seat with nowhere to go. Oh, @#$&! We tried to stay calm and I started pulling out some of the supplies we brought with us. I pulled out the rain poncho we brought (opaque, not clear!) and put it over his head. I passed cathing supplies under the poncho and waited on standby to help. If any other passengers wondered what we were doing or had an issue, they never said.
But, this clearly wasn't the issue. He was still experiencing AD and we had no idea what was wrong. I started checking his seat, to see if he was sitting on something, he wasn't. It occurred to Jay the he might be putting pressure on his tailbone with how he was sitting. He had chosen not to sit on his wheelchair cushion because of how tall it is, and in all of the chaos of boarding, we had forgotten to put down the small inflatable cushion we brought for the occasion (Light Speed travel cushion.) I pulled out and inflated the cushion, leaned Jay forward and shoved it down his back halfway under his rear end to lift his tailbone. Magic! That solved the problem. The rest of our flight went perfectly.
We learned how to navigate the airport, ask for help and that you can find accessible accommodations all over the world. But the most important thing we learned, is that we CAN travel and it isn't as scary as we thought it would be. On our last night in Mexico, we also got engaged, proving that with love and perseverance, we can go anywhere!" - Rachel