When we came inside from the “Jesus Party” cookout that we hosted for our church on June 5, 2013, we didn’t just find the phone message from our nieces that started the ball rolling for our floor renovation. We also found an email invitation to attend a 40th anniversary celebration for some good friends in New York City in less than a month. We knew the logistical challenges would be great at this point, but we both really wanted to go. So we accepted the invitation. We trusted that the renovation would somehow be accomplished before then. (It was.)
At the start of the year, the same woman who’d given Priscilla the canes spotted her on a return visit to the thrift store and called her aside. “I have something for you,” she said, disappearing behind the familiar door of the lending closet and emerging with a walker that had hand brakes and a built-in seat. A real deluxe model. “I don’t need that yet,” Priscilla protested. “Then take it for when you do need it,” the woman responded. “I want to give it to you while it’s still available.”
Priscilla found that the walker actually was helpful right away in certain situations. She brought it with her to our next Grad IV large group meeting, for example, so that she could sit down and rest at intervals while setting up and serving the meal. We also found that I could push the walker along while Priscilla was sitting in the seat facing me, and this could spare her some weary slogging. Once we had to go down a long, steep ramp to reach a spot where our student leaders were meeting. Priscilla said, “There’s no way I’m going to make it back up that ramp.” So I pushed her up it in the walker instead, and then all the way across a campus quadrangle back to our car.
The walker did have a label that said in large letters, “NOT TO BE USED FOR TRANSPORTATION.” We didn’t yet appreciate how important this warning was.
On the morning of Thursday, July 4, 2013, we headed east for New York City, sharing the driving. When Priscilla got her first turn behind the wheel, a smile spread across her face. She realized that could move in any direction she wanted, fast or slow, stopping and starting at will. Her mobility had been restored. Independence Day, we agreed.
At one rest stop the route to the bathrooms seemed long and steep. We’d brought along the walker and Priscilla asked me to push her in it. One of the concrete pavement slabs had sunken a bit, creating a “curb” where one wouldn’t be expected. The walker wheels stopped dead when they hit it and Priscilla started to flip over backwards. I pushed down on the handles with all my weight to try to stop this, but they had the mechanical advantage. (Think “lever.”) I was catapulted the air over Priscilla and we both tumbled onto the pavement. Mercifully, neither one of us was seriously hurt.
No other cars had been nearby when we parked at the rest area. But just as we were falling, cars pulled up on either side of ours. Their drivers, seeing what was happening, rushed out to help us get up. (Our “guardian angels,” we would later call them.) Priscilla had cuts and bruises that I was able to bandage up with supplies from our car’s first aid kit. At the last minute I’d brought along two flexible ice packs and they were still cold enough to prevent swelling and bruising. I’d also put in our transport wheelchair at the last minute, even though I’d thought we probably wouldn’t need it. But now we both agreed that the walker was “not to be used for transportation,” and we were glad we had this wheelchair with us.
The previous summer we’d driven from Michigan to the East Coast in one day. But now, knowing we’d make slower progress, we’d booked a hotel halfway. After detouring slightly to meet my sister and her husband for dinner in the city where they lived, we returned to our main route and set up for the night in our hotel. Showering was our main safety concern these days (besides curbs) and we’d brought along a collection of adaptive equipment, much of it also courtesy of the lending closet. By fastening a handle tightly to the side of the tub and setting our own adjustable stool inside, we were able to make the shower in this regular room “handicapped accessible.” We had some other equipment with us that didn’t quite work here, but we realized that it might be what was needed at the next place. We were prepared to improvise.
The next morning we resumed our travels. We had lunch at a rest stop and, realizing it might be complicated to find food in New York City with limited mobility, we also bought a 12-inch sub to share for supper once we got to our hotel there. It appeared that most of the city had taken the day off to get a four-day weekend. We sailed across the George Washington Bridge and traveled the entire length of the Cross-Bronx Expressway without having to stop once, an experience unparalleled in my lifetime. When we got to our hotel, where we’d stay as guests of the anniversary couple, I helped Priscilla into the transport chair and started loading up a luggage cart. A doorman came out and asked if he could help with that. “Actually,” I said, “would you please take my wife into the lobby?” He brought her inside and then returned for the cart while I drove the car down into the parking garage.
I found my way up to the lobby and discovered Priscilla still being chivalrously attended by the doorman. I “cut in” and took over her chair, leaving him to bring the luggage cart as we went up to the room. After a two-day cross-country trip that had had its traumatic moments, we were glad to hunker down and enjoy the supper we’d brought, with some hot chocolate from a Massimo machine we spotted in the lounge down the hall.