Above the Clouds

I always fly on Wednesdays, when I assume that the flights will be cheapest. It also tends to make for an easier commute to the airport. So I don’t oversleep, I usually try for a late morning departure. This vacation was no different. In addition to these other precautions, I had my friend Rob pick up Mary the afternoon before. With Mary gone, I was able to finish packing by 7:00 pm without interference. The apartment was extremely quiet. I charged my phone and laptop to capacity. Then I went to bed before 10:00.

I got more sleep than I had anticipated, but as usual, I woke up before 5:00 am. My ride wasn’t scheduled to arrive until a little after 7:00. So I drank an energy drink, then I jumped in the shower. At 6:00am, I went downstairs to get my meds for the trip. At a little before 7:00, the assisted living worker came up to take my suitcase to the lobby. Metro Mobility was late, so I used the restroom. Even with my restlessness, my incontinence was greatly improved. I wasn’t worried about needing to use the restroom again until I was through security.

My ride was almost thirty minutes late, but we still arrived at ticketing more than two hours early. I walked from the bus all the way to the ticketing agent. After she checked my bag, she asked if I wanted a wheelchair. When I said yes, she directed me to a bench at the back where I could wait. It didn’t take long before the wheelchair agent arrived. I stood up, walked over, whirled and sat down. I was proud of how mobile I had become. He handed me my backpack and whisked me past the winding line to security.

After I showed my documents, the agent pushed over to the x-ray. I didn’t need help taking off my shoes and leg brace this time. When he pushed me over to the full-body scanner, I was so eager to prove that I could go through that I almost leapt out of the chair. When it was my turn, I walked up the ramp and stood in place. I raised my left hand as high as it would go, then I watched the scanning apparatus rotate. As I put my shoes and brace back, I was happy that it was official: I would never need to arrive at the airport sooner than the average traveler again.

When I arrived at my gate, I told the agent that I no longer needed the wheelchair. The boarding agent called my name a few minutes later, I approached the desk. I told her that I wouldn’t require a wheelchair to take me down the jetway.

“You sure? It’s gonna be a lot longer than normal.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve been working out a lot . It’ll be easy.”

When they called the names of the early boarding passengers, I allowed everyone in a wheelchair to go first. Then I walked down the jetway behind them. It was a slightly longer walk than normal, but it didn’t tire me out. Once I made it inside the plane, I used the overhead compartments as a handrail. That allowed me to walk faster. When I arrived at my row,, it was empty. I decided to stow my cane and use the restroom, because it would be harder to walk after the cabin was full and the bins were closed. I got to the rear of the cabin amazingly quickly, and since the plane was still motionless, I had no problem getting in and out.

Arriving back at my row, I saw that it was still empty. Since I always request a window seat, it was a relief not to have to climb over other passengers. The major drawback to having a widow seat is that it can be harder to fasten the seat belt, as the buckle always seems to face the wall. Because of my left arm, someone usually has to help me buckle in. This is compounded by the fact that my waist got so much larger due to my decreased activity after the stroke. A few times, the flight attendant even had to use a belt extension to strap me in safely.

I decided to try fastening the seat belt myself, before there was anyone crowded next to me. Using my right arm, I tried pulling the belt across my lap. It didn’t come all the way across, so I held the buckle and extended it all the way out. Now I set the buckle end in my lap. I used my right hand to fish down beside the seat to find the other end, found it, and placed it in my left hand. Then I brought the buckle across to join it, gingerly pushing both ends together until I heard them snap. I wasn’t even in the air yet, but I was starting to feel like an independent traveler again.

Eventually, they closed the door and the plane pushed back from the terminal. No one else was seated in my row. I would be extremely comfortable, having all the elbow room I needed. And I could leave the window up without disturbing anyone else.

I placed my head against the window and watched trees and buildings speed by. I felt the wheels bump two last times, then we were airborne. The features of earth grew smaller and smaller, finally disappearing as the plane rose through the clouds. In a few hours I would be in New Orleans, heading home with my father again.

It took two flights and around six hours total, but we finally landed in New Orleans around 4:30. A wheelchair agent pushed me to baggage claim where Dad met us. After we got my bag, we went out to find the car. Hot, heavy air blasted me in the face, and I instantly felt like I was coming home. It had been in the 60s when I left Minnesota. Dad and I got fast food because we still had over two hours to drive back to Jackson. We talked about life and politics as we sped across the wetland bridges.

It was night when we drove up to the house. I walked up the three steps leading with my left leg. Where I had once had to use my cane to steady myself, I now just reached my hand out and held onto the door frame. My arm would have stretched just as far before, but I had lacked the balance, confidence, and spatial awareness to try. As I climbed up the steps, I again felt so proud of all my work. Walking in and out of the house was no longer a perilous journey.

Dad led me back to the room where I would be staying. He apologized because he hadn’t had time to bring in a new frame; I would just be sleeping on a mattress and box spring. He offered to put me up in a room with an assembled bed. I told him that this would be fine. It was so low that it would make dressing easier than normal, but not so low that getting up would be too hard. It was my goal to be more active during this trip. Working harder every time I got out of bed could now be part of the process.

My last major concern was using the restroom. In the past, my incontinence had been so bad that I had needed to keep a latrine at bedside. Although it gradually improved, I still had to walk down a hall and through two doorways to get to the toilet. My walking had improved over the past few years, but I had never trusted myself to make it from the bed to the toilet in the middle of the night every single night. I envisioned myself falling one night and spraying urine all over myself and the hall. So not wanting to create unnecessary work for Dad, I continued to keep the latrine.

But it had been almost two years since I had last been here. I had been doing squats for over a year and lunges for several months. Every time I stepped up, I led with my left leg, and I no longer needed a cane indoors. Just as I had done on every leg of the trip so far, I would take my time to concentrate on the task at hand, trusting that my body had regained the strength to accomplish it independently.

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