Wednesday, July 21, 2010
A Prosthetic Leg, A Notepad, & A Vancouver Map
What do these three things, a prosthetic leg, a note pad, and a Vancouver map, have in common? Well, if you've been reading this blog for a while you know I'm not going to answer that question right away, but I promise it will become clear as we continue on with the story. This post is about my trip to Vancouver, BC, which happened only one week after we got back from our trip to Bellingham, WA! Bellingham is about 90 miles south of Vancouver, so a better title for this post might have been "There and Back Again" (meaning the Pacific Northwest) but I think that title has already been used by someone else. (Can any one guess what I'm referring to?)
So, if you read my last post then you know that my family (Mom, Dad, my Sister Sarah, my Niece Madeline, and I) returned home from our week in Bellingham, WA on Tuesday, July 6th. (We were supposed to get back on Monday July 5th, but that's all covered in the last post.) What you don't know is that on Monday July 12th Dad and I got on a plane to go to Vancouver, BC. I had been invited to the American Association for Justice annual convention (which was held in Vancouver this year) to receive an award for my efforts to protect product liability victims during the Auto-Industry Bankruptcies. Mom and Dad both really wanted to see me accept the award, and I was happy to have them along, but there was too much happening here for Mom to get away so it wound up being just Dad and I. We flew on Air Canada, and I've got to admit that the airline really impressed me on the flights to Vancouver.
For the most part everyone was very nice and accommodating to my special requests. Again, I faced the issue of not being able to book a bulkhead seat in advance, but they made it happen without argument on each flight. In order to get to Vancouver from Indianapolis we had to make a connection in Toronto. the plane from Indy to Toronto wasn't very big and I had a suspicion that we would have to climb down stairs to get off the plane in Toronto. I asked the Flight Attendant about it as we boarded and she said that she would see what they could do about getting a skybridge when we landed. I'm pretty sure that they actually diverted our plane to a part of the Toronto airport that was currently shut down so that I wouldn't have to climb down the stairs!
Well, it was the first time that either my Father or I had flown internationally and we were a bit lost as we made our way through customs, but the Air Canada staff was very helpful and made certain that we knew where we were going. I really didn't expect to have to pick up my bag before going through customs and then check it back in again. That was very confusing. As we checked in for our connecting flight we learned that it had been delayed about 30 minutes so we decided to have lunch. After lunch we learned that out flight had been delayed another 3 hours! Eventually we boarded a much larger plane and flew to Vancouver. We got there late, but at least it was still Monday, the day that we planned to arrive!
The pictures that are posted above show the general area of Vancouver where we were during our brief stay. One is of the view of the city from my hotel room (I tried to minimize my reflection in the window, but you can still see my right shoulder). Another is a view of the city, some of the harbor, and the mountains beyond as seen off to the side of my hotel room (no reflection issues here). There's a shot of the hotel where I stayed, the Pan Pacific Vancouver, which looks like a massive ship. It sits right on the harbor and the Alaskan Cruise ship actually docks at the hotel! There's a picture of the clouds at sunset over the city, and also a picture that was taken at night. It's kind of difficult ti tell what you're looking at, so I'll tell you, it's a Chevron Gas Station that sits out on the water for boats and sea planes!
On Tuesday Dad and I attended the AAJ Awards luncheon. I was this years recipient of the Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award! This one of the AAJ's most prestigious awards that is given to an attorney and client whose case represents the importance of the American Civil Justice system. Winning this award is a tremendous honor for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it was named after a young man who lost both of his arms in an accident caused by a defective tractor/hay baler. Imagine that, a guy who lost both of his legs in a defective Jeep Wrangler winning an award named after a guy who lost both of his arms in a defective tractor/hay baler! I wonder if his hay baler was made by Chrysler?
As Dad and I were getting ready to leave my hotel room and head down to the awards luncheon I became aware of the fact that my right leg was getting very loose. This is pretty amazing because my residual right leg has not fluctuated in size in a very long time. For some reason it decided to shrink in Vancouver. I really wanted to walk to luncheon and leave my wheelchair in the room, but the socket had become so loose on my leg that I couldn't risk it unless I found a way to tighten the socket up before I left the room. You see, with the old socket system I could put on a sock to tighten things up, but that never worked very well. With the suction socket system a sock isn't an option.
The socket consists of a flexible inner socket made of some kind of plastic, and a rigid outer socket made of carbon fiber. One quick fix to tighten the socket up is to find something thin that you can slide down between the flexible socket and the rigid socket. I have a couple of leather pieces that I use when my left leg starts to shrink, but those were already in use, so it was time to get creative. The only things that we could find that would come close to working was a notepad and a tourist map of Vancouver from the desk in the room. I can honestly say that without that notepad and Vancouver map my right prosthetic leg wouldn't have been tight enough for me to rely on as I walked up the stairs to the stage to accept the award!
When I first heard that I was getting this award I didn't feel very deserving, because my case and the cases over over 1300 other product liability victims still haven't been heard in court and may never be, but as I listened to my introduction I began to understand. I had forgotten about the larger issue that Chrysler had originally been freed of responsibility for any future injuries caused by defects in vehicles that were sold pre-bankruptcy and GM originally intended to ask for the same freedom. Ultimately GM dropped that from their bankruptcy and Chrysler accepted responsibility for the future injuries, even though they had been relieved of it during the bankruptcy. I refuse to accept full credit for that, but I was a part of the fight. Then, after the gentleman who introduced me was done, they played a video of Congressman Carson talking about me, how we came to meet, and how I inspired him to introduce the Jeremy Warriner Consumer Protection Act, the only legislation that has been proposed to give the approximately 1300 of us who were left behind our day in court. Finally I began to understand and feel comfortable accepting this award.
As I approached the steps to the stage the audience stood up to applaud. I climbed the steps and shook hands with the gentleman who was presenting the award to me, and then walked toward the podium. The standing ovation was continuing, which I was very thankful of because it gave me time to catch my breath and calm my emotions as much as possible. I took a few breaths and waited for the audience to quiet down...they were still applauding...I smiled...still applauding...I was going to wait them out but finally decided that I need to do something...still applauding...I walked up to the podium and said "Thank You"...the applause began to die down and the audience began to take their seats.
I spoke for about 2 to 3 minutes, I tried to be brief (anyone who knows me knows that it's damn near impossible for me to be brief), and I honestly can't tell you what I said other than ending it by thanking the AAJ for helping me find my voice. I then walked back down the steps and took my seat between my Father and Jeffrey Toobin (the legal analyst from CNN, and author, who gave the keynote speech for the luncheon). The awards ceremony was beautiful, entertaining, and inspiring. It truly was a tremendous honor just to be in that room, let alone being given an award myself and being allowed to speak to approximately 1600 attorneys about my favorite subject - me. (Well, ok, my favorite subject is Star Wars, but that probably wouldn't have been as applicable in this situation!)
After lunch Dad and I went to the Fairmont Vancouver, where he was staying. (Yes, we stayed in different hotels, it's better that way...actually it's because his trip was planned after mine, and the AAJ took care of all of my arrangements.) It was fascinating for me to be in that hotel, which was originally the Hotel Vancouver, which opened at the end of the Great Depression. What a beautiful historical hotel! Dad was especially impressed by the length of the hallways which "reminded him of a scene from the shining". Dad changed into some casual clothes, grabbed his swimming trunks, and then we headed back to my hotel where we then spent the afternoon lounging and swimming in their outdoor heated salt water pool. Very relaxing...once you got passed the screaming kids whose mother had obviously given up.
The next day, Wednesday, July 14th We both got up early and met at my hotel at 6am to head to the airport for our flight home. Again, we were connecting through Toronto. The morning flight was uneventful and we landed in Toronto early. I made the mistake of thinking that things were going smoothly, because when we got off the plane and asked the gate Attendant where we needed to go to catch our connection we learned that our connection to Indianapolis had been cancelled! We were sent to seven different places to ultimately be told that we would have to stay at the Crowne Plaza Toronto Airport for the night and fly home in the morning. (This was the point that my opinion of Air Canada began to change. I wasn't angry about the connection being cancelled, stuff happens, but I was angry about being sent to seven different places in the airport before it was finally taken care of!) I tried to convince Dad to fly to Chicago and rent a car, but he wasn't into that big of an adventure.
We had quite an adventure getting our bags back, because they were in the American Customs area and we would have to go through American Customs to get our bags and then back through Canadian Customs to get our bus to the hotel if we wanted to have our bags for the night. Dad and I talked a customer service person into getting our bags for us, but in order to get them we had to go down several levels, through an automatic door that was meant to be an exit, not an entrance (so we had to wait for people to come out and then go through before the doors closed), and then wait for the bags to appear on a bag carousel that was for an arrival from London! Very confusing and frustrating process!
That night, during dinner, we met a young woman who was travelling home to Indiana after spending two months in Spain. She was supposed to be on the same flight that we were on and Air Canada had put her up at the Crowne Plaza as well. The next morning she was on the same bus to the airport (which, by the way, I was able to climb onto the bus without assistance! That doesn't mean it was easy, I was just stubborn!) with us and we invited her to come with us as we made our way from the check-in counter, through customs, through security, and ultimately to the gate. Thanks to the benefit of my wheelchair we were able to get through all of that in under 15 minutes!
Once at the gate I became aware of the fact that we were at ground level and there was no sign of a sky bridge or ramp to get on the plane. Once a gate attendant finally arrived I approached her to ask how I would get on the plane. She looked at me with big eyes and said she wasn't sure and started working on the problem. She informed me that Air Canada had not communicated that I was on the flight, so she hadn't had time to order the lift. (My opinion of Air Canada dropped a bit further.) She was working to see if they could get a lift quickly and I asked if I could go ahead out to the plane to see if I could get aboard without the lift. She said "sure" and had someone from the ground crew come in to escort me out. I figured out how to get up the stairs on the door of the plane and was delighted to find the Flight Attendant from my first flight of the trip waiting at the top of the stairs! We laughed about that, and then I went back down the stairs and back into the terminal to let the Gate Agent, my Dad, and our new travel companion know that all was good. A short while later we were in the air!
We landed in Indy with no trouble, said good bye to our new friend, and then headed home for a much needed nap! Thank goodness I'm not travelling for a while. Two trips to the Pacific Northwest in the last three weeks about did me in. While we were out there I was amazed by the natural beauty of that part of the world. One evening while enjoying dinner at an outside restaurant overlooking the mountains and the harbor Dad admitted that he couldn't help but wonder "why we live in Indiana" and I had to agree, but after so much travel, I can honestly say that I'm happy to be, as the song says, "back home again in Indiana"!
Sunday, July 11, 2010
The Family Vacation (or A Lesson in Patience)
Since as far back as the beginning of the year I've become keenly aware of how much better I'm moving. It's not that anything has gotten easier, I don't want to give the impression that anything about being an amputee is "easy", but I have become much more comfortable as an amputee which has an impact on the way I move and the things I'm willing to do. I wanted some time traveling this year, so the first plan was for the whole family to go to Bellingham, WA for the music festival that my Uncle Michael conducts every year. He founded the Bellingham Festival of Music around 17 years ago, and Mom and Dad have attended it in the past, but Sarah, Madeline, and I had never been.
Getting there required a great deal of patience as well as a very long day. If you've ever flown east to west through several time zones then you know what I mean. We left Indianapolis at 6:45am and landed in Seattle around 10:00am even though we'd been travelling for at least 5 to 6 hours. Which, of course meant that we were all ready to go to bed when it was dinner time. For the most part our flights to Seattle were uneventful. The only issue for me was getting the bulk head seat on the plane that I need (due to the length of my prosthetics). When I called within the 24 hours prior I was told they could not assign bulkhead seats early because those seats are "held for people with special needs and can only be assigned at the ticket counter on the day of the flight". (My "special needs" also prevented my family from being able to pre-assign their seats online the night before.)
We arrived at the airport at 5am but all of the bulkhead seats had been assigned. When I explained that I had been promised that those seats were held for people with "special needs" the Ticket Agent said she could move someone, but that my family wouldn't be able to sit with me, which was just fine by me. I wound up sitting next to a very nice man and his daughter. His wife had been separated from them so that I could have the seat I needed. They were very nice about it, but it still bothered me to separate them, even for the length of the flight, so that I could be accommodated. As the flight was taking off I asked them if they had requested the bulk head seats for any particular reason. The man looked at me and said that they hadn't asked to be in the front row, where they sat didn't matter to them. I looked across the aisle at the other row of bulk head seats and realized that there were three teenagers who were part of a larger family with their Mom and Dad in the row behind them. None of them appeared to have any kind of mobility impairment, or issue that would require them to be up front. Midwest/Frontier Airlines obviously didn't follow through on what they told me over the phone and when we made the reservations. I could continue to rant about this, but I think I'll save that for another time.
Travelling can be very frustrating, even when most things are going fine. Dad rented a full size car for our visit. It was a very comfortable Cadillac with seat warmers and individual climate controls. (very comfy) Unfortunately it also was very difficult to get our luggage plus my wheelchair into the trunk. The look on my fathers face as he was trying to put the puzzle of luggage and wheelchair parts together was enough for me to know that any suggestions I had would just frustrate him further, so I went up front to mess with the GPS. Sarah and I were doing this together, and neither of us use a Garmin (Dad got it for Christmas) very often and we kept hitting the wrong button. This led to a funny moment where we had to enter the address 3 or 4 times before we got it right! Dad calmed down after we got out of the airport garage (it was all very confusing) and then we were on our way to Bellingham, about an hour and a half north of Seattle. It was a beautiful day to travel.
The pictures above and the time spent as a family (not pictured) throughout the week was well worth the long day of travel. We went Whale Watching on the second day, which was great fun and we did see a family of Orca's and some Mickey's (smaller whales), but I also managed to catch a pretty bad cold while sitting on the top observation deck exposed to the cold wind. It was a great experiment to see if I could get up there and, with the help of my father and the boat crew I was able to make it, but once I was up there I wasn't coming down until the boat stopped again. The cold persisted for the rest of the week but I was able to keep it undercontrol with sudafed and nyquil. Even with the cold, something about the Pacific Northwest allowed me to wake up refreshed every morning. I really enjoyed being there!
In the pictures you can see the view from my Aunt Jean's deck on Decatur Island and Decatur Island as viewed from the water taxi (her house is on the smaller of the two peaks/highpoints on the island). I have to say that after the accident I never thought I would set foot on Decatur Island again! (More on that in a future post.) There's also a picture of my Uncle Mike in the first rehearsal for the festival, a picture of the view from my hotel room at sunset with Orcas Island glowing in the background, and a picture of me walking, quite literally in the clouds, on Mt. Baker. On the Fourth of July we drove as far up the mountain as we could until the road was closed due to snow. It was a cloudy day and the whole experience had an otherworldly feel. I kept looking for mythical creatures like Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, and Dragons! (Not really, but a dragon would have been perfect for the setting, after all, Mount Baker is a volcano.)
The 4th was our last night in Bellingham, so we opted for a nice dinner instead of Uncle Mike's proposed cookout in the park. We ate in a beautiful little restaurant called Cliff House, that overlooks the Bellingham Harbor. From there, as the sun set, we were treated to early amature fireworks displays. We watched the city fireworks from a terrace at Western Washington University. (A very funny story happened here, but I'm going to save that due to time and space. However, to whet your appetites I will tell you that it involves two strangers, one with autism, and the a discussion about legalization of marijuana.) Again, patience was a virtue as we arrived about an hour early to secure a good spot near the wall of the terrace. The fireworks were amazing.
The next morning (Mon. 7/5) I awoke at 7am prepared to start what would soon turn into one of the longest days of my life, hence forth know as "the travel day from hell." We had a great breakfast as a family before we left Uncle Mike to enjoy Bellingham without us (he'll be there for two or three more weeks). Then we headed south to Seattle. We got to the airport between 12 or 12:30pm for our 2:42pm flight to Denver, where we would connect to Indianapolis. In the original plan we were supposed to arrive home at 11:45pm Monday night. It is here that everything fell apart. We stood in line to check-in, again because I need a bulkhead seat and they wouldn't assign it in advance, for quite a while without moving very far. This wasn't a big issue because we had plenty of time and Dad was still in the process of returning the rental car. Then we found out that we had a lot more time than we thought.
Someone from the Midwest/Frontier desk announced that the flight to Denver had been delayed. It would not be taking off until at least 5:50pm, which was about 10 minutes before our connection in Denver would be leaving for Indy. (Very frustrating, unnerving, and boring all at the same time!) Eventually we got to the ticket counter and the ticket agent, who was actually kind of nice, began working on finding a way to get us home. It took at least an hour, seemed like 3, for her to get us transferred to an American Airlines flight that departed Seattle at 11:45pm (Which is three hours later than when we supposed to arrive in Indianapolis, so more like 3am for us) landed in Chicago around 6am, where we then connected to Indy and finally landed here at 8:40am on Tuesday the 6th. To be honest, spending the day in the airport wasn't really that bad. I had time to finish Twilight (yes, I finally broke down and started reading the series), which seemed a fitting book to read while in the pacific Northwest, but as the day wore on my cold started to get the better of me. I tried not to be too whiny, but I believe that I was still a test for the family's patience as every little thing that wasn't right started to bother me.
The hardest part of the day for me came as the first flight began to descend into Chicago. The congestion from my cold had made my ears clog up when we took off and I hadn't been able to pop them successfully. As the plane descended the pressure began to affect my ears more and more. It got a point where I was shaking my head, plunging my ears with the palms of my hands, yawning, rocking back and forth, and pounding on my leg to keep from screaming (good thing Mom and Dad were next to me on this flight, because a perfect stranger would have been really freaked out!) After I got home I quickly unpacked and then went to bed for a few hours. I got home at 10:00am, was in bed at 10:30am, and then back up at 12:30pm to get ready for speech at Marian College.
It wasn't until I was driving to the speech that I realized I had worn my prosthetics for more than 24 hours! That's just crazy. I've been pretty tired most of this week, which was filled with meetings and appointments, but I have to say the vacation was definitely worth it!