Ramblings on healthcare, medical education, and life with a spinal cord injury
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Cleveland and More Walking

Recently Kristina and I took a trip to Cleveland to meet with faculty at Case Med in preparation for my matriculation in July.  It was the first time I’d taken a plane since the injury, so it was a new experience.  But thanks to Sinai and the Internet, not anything I was apprehensive about.

Since the aisles in airplanes are so narrow and a regular wheelchair won’t fit down the aisles, airlines have what’s called a straightback chair that you transfer onto before getting on the plane.  It looks like this:

Straightback Chair

What the picture fails to convey is the width of the chair – the seat is probably about twelve inches wide.  Now, my butt is not twelve inches wide.  When I stop and think about it, I don’t think most people’s butts are twelve inches wide.  They had one of these at Sinai to practice with, so patients can learn about things they’ll need to use in the outside world.  I made a bet while there with Jason, the recreational therapist, that it was too small for me.  But sure enough, I transferred onto it and it was usable for a short period of time.  Although I’m sure I looked at least moderately silly on it.

But since these things are only designed to be used for ultra-short distances (to get you to your seat), it’s not too big an issue.  I had contacted the airline ahead of time to let them know that I’d need one of them getting on and off, and while on the phone they told me that disabled passengers are allowed to take the bulkhead seats (these are the seats in the first row of a section, with no seats in front and thus extra leg room).  The only case in which somebody can bump a wheelchair is a passenger with a service animal.

When boarding the outbound flight at JFK, I checked in with the desk and we began to pre-board.  But much to my surprise, when we were only about halfway down the jet bridge, I heard them announce general boarding.  Huh?  The plane was being boarded from the tarmac, so not only did I still have to get down there and transfer to the straightback chair, but we then had to get on a lift to get up to the plane itself.  The airline staff (Delta) clearly didn’t think this one through.  So even though we rushed down to the tarmac, the entire plane had to stand there in the freezing cold and watch while I dealt with getting on the plane.  Not too much fun, and really Delta, you seriously should have thought that one through better.  At least I know from now on to at least tell the people at the gate they should probably wait until after I’m boarded before calling all the other passengers.

The rest of the trip went off without a hitch, and when we arrived Sunday night we went out with a group of some of the current first year students at Case. Some I knew, some I’d just met for the first time.  It was an awesome group, and we had a great time.  Before the trip, I spoke to Dr. Mehta and she had arranged a few minutes for me to thank the first year class for the t-shirt they had sent me earlier in the year.  I’d wanted to just say something, although I still feel like I didn’t quite convey things properly.  Several students came up to say hi after, and I wish we’d had more time to chat with people.

The remainder of the trip was meeting with faculty and some key university  personnel to discuss logistics of when I get to campus – parking, getting around the facilities, making sure there won’t be any unnecessary burdens once I start.  I feel very confident about starting class this summer, and I’m really looking forward to it.  Travel home was uneventful, and I was back doing PT with Cynthia Wednesday night.

In the last update, I mentioned starting to walk on a walker with a maximum of about fifty feet.  That continues, and I’d pushed it to about sixty feet by the start of last week.  Then Monday afternoon while walking with some of the guys at Sinai, we got to the end of the fifty-foot hallway I usually walk in.  But this time instead of stopping, one of the guys opened the door and I just kept on going.  Made it about eighty-feet, then rested.  Upon standing up the next time, though, I walked what seemed about one hundred feet.  Then the third time, one hundred and twenty feet.  I was shocked, but I just felt more stable and didn’t feel a need to rest.  Needless to say, Tuesday my legs were a bit more shaky and fatigued than usual and I decided to not push them.  By Thursday, I did another lap of one hundred twenty feet and was raring for more.

I have high hopes for the progress I’ll be able to make over the next few months.  And while I don’t have any misconception that I’ll be jogging laps by the time I leave for school, I am hopeful that I’ll be able to start to walk short distances in my apartment by then.  But we’ll just have to wait and see.

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