Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Climbing a Ladder

In my post about the family vacation to Bellingham, WA, I talked about going on a whale watching trip, and mentioned the "great experiment" to see if I could get on to the boat's top observation deck. I didn't go into detail about how I got on top of the boat because there was just so much more to tell about our trip to Bellingham. There were several "firsts" for me during the trip, and this is one that definitely deserves a little more attention.

The boat was very similar to a large water taxi. You board from the back of the boat and walk in to an enclosed compartment that runs most of the length of the boat with 6 to 8 booths with tables that run along the windows. As you look forward you see a few narrow steps that lead to the wheelhouse, and then from there you have the option of going forward to the observation area on the bow of the boat (where it can get very wet) or climbing a stair-stepped ladder to the observation deck on the top of the boat (directly over the compartment below).

As we sat down and I took a good look around the boat I realized that I wouldn't be able to get to either of the observation areas. I was really looking forward to seeing the whales, if we found any, but I hadn't realized that I would be limited to seeing them from inside the boat instead of out on the deck. I should have stayed quiet, but I commented on the fact that even if we found some whales I probably wouldn't get a good look...bad move...the wheels in Dad's head started turning. :)

The wheels in my head started turning as well. I found myself studying the first obstacle that I would have to overcome if I was even going to try to get out to the observation decks...the ascent to the wheelhouse. The steps were too narrow for me to fit more than the toes of my feet on them, and they weren't wide enough for me to get both feet on one step at a time. Even if I managed to get up to the second step, which was the top step, I would still have to find a way to maneuver my legs over the wide lip at the top of the steps that separated the wheelhouse from the passenger compartment. Then, once passed that I could only see the bottom steps of the ladder to the top deck. I considered the observation deck on the bow, but the Captain had already said that standing up front could be like taking a shower because of the spray coming over the bow. Water and C-Legs don't mix, so there would be no place to go unless I could get up the ladder. I was still pondering this when the boat stopped in Friday Harbor to let us off for lunch.

Unbeknownst to me, before Dad got off the boat he spoke with the crew about the possibility of getting me on to the top observation deck. The crew seemed to think that it would be possible if the boat was sitting still, and they were more than willing to help. So, when we returned from lunch we decided to give it a shot.

Once on the boat I went straight to the steps to the wheelhouse. I tried going forward, but there just wasn't enough room for me to mount the steps safely. There was a vertical bar running from floor to ceiling on one side of the steps for me to hold on to, so I used that to get some leverage and managed to position one foot sideways on the top step and pull my self up. From there I could see into the wheelhouse, which had an opening above the door with good hand holds to either side, so I twisted so that my back was to the opening and reached up to the handholds. With the Captain's permission I then lifted myself up and over the lip to stand in the wheelhouse. The Captain and I had a brief chat while I caught my breath and started working out how I would handle the ladder.

This was a big deal to me. I've wanted to climb a ladder ever since I lost my legs (Funny, the things you miss when you realize that you won't do them again). This ladder had sturdy handrails on either side of it, and it was permanently mounted to the boat, so I wasn't worried about it's stability, but the gentle sway of the boat on the water certainly gave me something to worry about. Regardless, I was going to give it a try. I tried going backwards, but the hand rails were to thin for me to get the right grip to lift myself up step by step. So I tried going forward.

I could get myself up on the first step, but unfortunately there was no way for me to bend my knee, place my foot on the next rung, and then straighten my knee to raise the lower foot up. I cannot express how maddening it is to think what you should naturally think climb a ladder, and then look down and see nothing happening. So, I had to ask my father to bend my knee back and, as I lifted my leg from the hip, place my foot on the next rung. Then I had to push back against the ladder to straighten the bent leg, which also resulted in putting my weight way out away from the ladder. (Not fun!) We repeated this procedure until I was at the top and able to stand up. (Luckily the observation deck was only about 6 feet up from where I came out of the wheelhouse, or else my Dad wouldn't have been able to bend my knees for me!)

Once at the top I realized one more problem. My crutches were still down below! This turned out to be a minor issue, as the Captain quickly grabbed them and handed them to some other tourists who were already up there. Now, that's something that I wasn't really willing to try more than once, so I stayed on the top of the boat until after we had found the whales and spent some time watching them. Going down was so much easier. Still a little nerve wracking, but the stairs were so narrow that I was able to brace myself between the hand rails and kind of slide down.

It's amazing, the things we take for granted. I always enjoyed getting out the ladder to climb into the attic above my garage. (A part of my house that I haven't seen for almost 5 years.) I was never afraid of heights. In high school I once climbed a long extension ladder, standing on top of an industrial dumpster, braced against the side of a building, in an effort to get on top of the building to rescue Ben Hinkle's limited edition frisbee that had caught a strong air current during an ultimate frisbee game. The ladder was about two feet shy of the top of the building, but I still managed to get up there, find the frisbee, and climb back down! Looking back that was probably pretty stupid...I risked my life for a frisbee that belonged to a friend that I haven't heard from since college...but I'm glad that I have the memory. While I do wonder if I'll ever be able to climb a ladder without needing someone to work my legs for me, at least I know I can do it with support!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Returning to "Normal" (with some improvements)

Since returning from Vancouver life has gotten back to normal, or at least as close to any kind of "normal" my life can be said to have. The down side is that there isn't really anything "exciting" happening for me to write about, which is why I left the last post up a little longer than I should have. The up side is that this update won't be nearly as long as the last two! (I've received some comments about the fact that the last two updates were more like chapters in a book(ahem...Beth Ann), so I'll try to be more brief...)

The rest of July and the beginning of August have continued to be quite busy. I had a few more speaking engagements, including one particular evening where I spoke to three different classes at IUPUI on the same night! (All in rooms right across the hall from each other.) I also had the honor of participating in a panel discussion at the ADA Summit (held at the Indiana Government Center) about how the Hospitality and Entertainment industries in Indiana have embraced the spirit of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act, not to be confused with the American Dental Association) (really, some people have been confused by this..?). That particular event was part of Indiana's celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ADA. It was a huge honor to be asked to participate in the discussion!

As I've said before, it's important to find time for the personal side of your life as well. Our family reunion was a few weeks ago, and it was great to see everyone. When I arrived it was a delight to be greeted by a cousin who lives near Washington, DC. The last time that I had seen her and her family was during my visits to DC last year and I had no idea that they were going to be here for the reunion! Dad and I spent a great afternoon painting my garage door, and Dad had actually spent the whole day (one of the hottest days of the year) working on the trim. (This was one of those projects that had been on my mind for years.) The next day Mom and Dad both came over and Mom and I gave the garage door a second coat while Dad worked on the rest of the trim. Once we were finished with the garage door Mom went to town on the back yard. (When she was finished the yard looked so beautiful that I could barely recognize it. Of course, it pales in comparison to her magical garden!)

With the help of some great friends I've also found the time to get another one of those "long-term" projects knocked off the list. Last weekend I finally found the time (and the weather) to clean and seal my deck. Two years ago several friends and family members helped me build a deck so that I could get use of my yard again. Unfortunately I never got around to sealing it. It should have been done last year, but I never found a period of time where the weather conditions were right and I didn't have anything else occupying my time.

This year I've been watching the weather like a hawk and I was finally rewarded with a relatively dry period. I made some quick calls and was able to find all of the help I needed. My friends James and Nate (plus Nate's kids) helped me clean the deck on Friday night. (The funniest part being when James was slowly backing my wheelchair up the ramp while I was spraying the cleaner on the deck!) Then James came back on Saturday to help me paint the sealant on, and our friend Jamie joined in.

With these two projects done I thought I should show you some pictures. Unfortunately I didn't have any before pictures of the house (the trim pretty much matched the siding, and it was in pretty bad shape, most likely the original paint.) There is one before shot of the deck. (Taken in an earlier season, but you get the idea...note the black cat, who I think may be the mom or dad of the kitten (Jasmine) that I took in last year. It shows up on the deck every couple of weeks and just stares at the back of the house...creepy...) Hope you enjoy the rare peek at my "sanctuary"! (...please make comments...yes, I know the grass needs to be cut...)

(OK, so it's still long, but at least it's shorter than the last one!)

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