Priscilla loved to be outdoors. When I was working as a pastor, I’d leave for the office in the morning and she’d step outside “just to wave goodbye.” Often when I returned for lunch several hours later, she’d still be out there. She’d have spotted a weed or dead stalk in a garden, gone over to deal with it, and quickly become so absorbed in gardening that she never went back inside. So it was a real disappointment when she became effectively housebound around the time of her diagnosis. She bravely accepted the new reality, but also greatly cherished any opportunities she did have to get outside.
She had become very sensitive to temperatures, both too warm and too cool, so it had to be a steady 70º or so if she were going to be outside for any length of time. Temperatures began to get back into the right range by mid-June 2014. Going out onto the deck provided a fresh-air experience for her with the least amount of effort for both of us. But we faced two new obstacles to getting out there. The sliding door out onto the deck had become broken, and our mobility specialist had warned us not to try to roll over the 2-inch “curb” to go to or from the deck in the power wheelchair, as we’d been able to do in the manual one. “You need a ‘threshold ramp,’” he explained. This was a 2-foot-long version of the same kind of ramp we used to get in and out of the garage. So we ordered one of those.
About a week later, on a day when the temperatures were in the low 70s, a friend from church came over and fixed the sliding door. Later that same day, the threshold ramp arrived. Since conditions were perfect, we decided to put it right to use. Priscilla poised her power wheelchair at the top of the ramp and looked down. The deck rail was only four feet beyond its end. “This is like trying to land a plane on an aircraft carrier” she said warily. But then she adventurously launched forward. Though she’d only gotten the wheelchair a week earlier, she was able to stop and “turn on a dime” at the end of the ramp, and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon out on the deck.
The next day she went after bigger game. She realized that the threshold ramp would also work for the “curb” at the garage door. If she first went down the 12-foot ramp into the garage, the 2-foot one would get her onto the driveway and she’d have access to the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhood. Temperatures were once again just right, so out we went and over to the grounds of the nearby middle school. Since it was summer, there was no traffic and the trees, lawns, and gardens were looking great. Priscilla breathed in the fresh air and soaked in her surroundings. She said it was one of the happiest days she’d had in a long time.
For a while after that the weather was too warm for such outings, but on the July 4th weekend it cooled back into the 70s. We celebrated “Independence Day” by going all around our neighborhood together, following our old walking route, for the first time in two years.
Many other times that summer we went out onto the deck at least for breakfast, before the day warmed up too much. But by early August, Priscilla’s arms and shoulders were becoming so weak that she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to hold herself in the wheelchair as it went down the ramp, particularly since there were jerky motions as she started and finished the descent. So our mobility specialist added a shoulder harness that we could strap on whenever she chose. It was much like one a person would wear for a roller coaster or other amusement park ride, though it was not rigid but made of comfortable but tough stretchable fabric. Now she could go up and down the ramp confidently and safely.
In mid-August there was another unseasonably cool day when the highs were in the low 70s. We decided it was the perfect opportunity to walk the block once again. On a smooth stretch of roadway Priscilla got a mischievous smile on her face. “You know,” she said, “I’ve never tried this out in fifth gear.” (The wheelchair had five speeds, but she never went higher than first at home.) She took off down the street at full speed. I could barely keep pace by running alongside. She finally had mercy on me and slowed down, and we both laughed so hard that we nearly collapsed.
When fall arrived, the temperatures cooled down and Priscilla concluded sadly that she probably wouldn’t get outside again. She was still able to admire the fall foliage out the windows. She could see orange and yellow trees, but she missed the red ones. None of those were visible from the windows. (When I came home from shopping, she would ask me, “Did you see any red trees?”) But then in late October there was an unseasonably warm and sunny day when the thermometer hit 74º. Priscilla had no appointments with home health care workers that day and so she was free to go outside one more time in the sunshine.
We went all the way around the 2½-mile route we used to walk together, with Priscilla bundled up in a warm shawl and a blanket. We were able to check in on all the sights we used to see, including the trees on one street that always turned a gorgeous red in the fall. Here’s how Priscilla described this “grand day out” in an email to a friend:
“The ‘walk’ was absolutely divine. We saw lots of red trees, which are my favorites. It was definitely a gift from God to have perfect weather conditions and no one coming to the house so that we could get out. The sky was so blue. I also loved the way the leaves were backlit by the sun, many of them decorated with shadows from the leaves in front of them. So many different patterns!”
We agreed that the opportunity to take this walk had been the kind of “good and perfect gift” that the Bible talks about God giving His children.