As with every flight I ever take, I went to bed early. I still woke up before 5:00 am. Not being able to fall asleep, I got up, showered, and ate breakfast. After I finished with everything, it was only 6:00. This would normally be the time when I checked my luggage to make sure that I hadn’t forgotten anything. But I was only going to Texas for three nights; it didn’t make sense to pay baggage fees. Everything had to fit in a backpack. I packed a toothbrush and two changes of clothing.
I watched videos for half an hour while charging my phone to 100%. When I was done, I put one of my chargers in the bag, zipped it closed, and went downstairs to wait on my ride. I decided to streamline the process further by only wearing a sweatshirt. Sure, it was jacket weather in Minnesota, but I would only be outdoors for a minute – from the building to the bus and from the bus to the airport. In Dallas, it was supposed to get as warm as 71º. The only thing bringing a jacket would do was slow me down at security. And it would be too bulky in the climate controlled airport. So I locked up my apartment, feeling free and excited.
My bus was around twenty minutes late, but I wasn’t anxious this time. Having no bags to check would make check-in a breeze. I got to the airport, printed my boarding pass, and was whisked through security. Since I wasn’t wearing a jacket, it was easy to remove my belt and empty my pockets. It took me longer to remove my shoes than it did to stand and go through the full-body scanner. When we got to the other side, I was able to quickly put all of my accessories back on, as I no longer required a bench to stretch out on. The weight loss had made me faster and more flexible.
When I was finished, I still had almost two hours before my flight started boarding. Knowing that I would be called for early boarding removed any sense of urgency I might normally feel before a flight. I asked the wheelchair agent to stop by the coffee shop so I could get something to drink, not knowing how long it would be until I would eat in Dallas. I got my order and made it to my gate with over 1.5 hours to spare. I stood up and transferred to a regular chair, where I sipped my coffee and tried not to fall asleep.
An hour later, they called my name. Unlike my last trip, I elected to take a wheelchair down the jet way. Although I knew I could walk to the plane, I didn’t want to walk so slowly that I held up the line. I was the first person to arrive on my row. In the past, I would have asked the flight attendant for assistance with my seat belt. This time, I was able to bring the buckle end across my lap, hold it with my stroke affected arm, and guide the other end into the buckle. I settled back, proud that I now needed only a minimal amount of help when flying. Soon, I might eliminate the need for special accommodation altogether.
We landed after a couple of hours. Since I didn’t have to go to baggage claim, I was content to let the other passengers scramble to get their things from the overhead bins and get off the plane. I called Jonathan and let him know that I would be coming directly to the exit. When I got outside, I was instantly relieved that I wasn’t wearing a jacket. I dropped my phone while waiting for Jonathan to drive up. For a brief moment, I couldn’t breathe. I picked it back up and noticed that the three-month-old crack hadn’t gotten any bigger. Then I realized that I would have been able to pay it off and get a new one if I had to. Jonathan pulled up, and I climbed into his SUV feeling a lot more secure than I had in years.
Jonathan told me that we were going from DFW international airport to Love Field to pick up Ivory and Sharon. I was hungry, but he told me that we would get something to eat after we picked them up. In the past, I might have felt too ravenous to wait. But since I’d started losing weight, I’d learned to be patient between meals. The reduction in calories meant that my body could burn fat if it got hungry enough.
Ivory and Sharon got in, and we all exchanged pleasantries. Before long, Ivory and Jonathan were talking almost exclusively about football. Jonathan watches college football and is a Louisiana State fan; Ivory follows the New Orleans Saints, a professional team. I’m the only one who is a fan of both. Not only is it a way for me to bond with each of them, but going to home games for each was a major step in my early rehabilitation. Everything about those trips challenged me – climbing stairs, talking and cheering, trying to follow the action with my eyes. It was exhausting, but I could practically feel myself getting better.
In the past, I had listened far more than I talked whenever I was with my brothers. I lacked the breath support to speak very loudly. I also spoke very slowly because I would. struggle to draw in breath before I spoke. It had been frustrating. I never told my brothers how alienated it made me feel. Now my voice was audible and easily kept up with the pace of conversation. It was so thrilling just hearing my there voice blend with the idle chatter. It had taken years of arduous work to produce a life that seemed casual to others.
We got a quick bite to eat that afternoon because Jonathan wanted to feed anyone who had gotten there early. He enjoys taking visitors to great local restaurants, so he already had plans for a late dinner once everyone else made it to Dallas. We ate at a Mexican restaurant near the house. The main highlight for me was letting Jonathan park in the lot. I had regained even more hip strength in the two month since I had seen my family; being dropped off near the building wasn’t even a question. It took me longer to get there, but I had no problem walking across the parking lot like everyone else.
I enjoyed my meal, but I tried not to eat my fill because I knew a wonderful dining experience was in store for us in a couple of hours. Candice was still at work, and Dad was just getting to town. So we finished eating and headed back to the house. When we got there, I had to figure out how to step up into the house.
There is almost a foot clearance from the rear walk to the interior. I had been to their house a little over a year ago and had no problem entering or leaving, I had even more strength in my legs now. It was just a matter of figuring out the order of movements. The amazing thing to me about the stroke is that I might be perfectly capable of doing something, but if I don’t program the steps of the process into my brain, I could still end up falling to the floor due to lack of muscle coordination.
I rotated my wrist, so I could grab onto the doorway with a reverse grip. Steadying myself, I stepped up with my right leg. Once my left leg was inside, I leaned forward so I couldn’t fall backwards. Now that I was safely inside, I found a corner to set my cane down. I was still committed to only using it when I went out. As with in my building, walking without my cane was the only way to keep moving forward in rehabilitation. When you’re safely among family and friends, that’s the time to push yourself. If you stumble while trying to move forward, there’s always someone to help you lift yourself back up.