On Thanksgiving day, 2009, they left Atlanta for home.
For two weeks after “graduating” summa-cum-paralyzed from inpatient physical-and occupational-therapy, he battled a urinary tract infection with an antibiotic that unleashed his gastrointestinal nemesis, C-Diff, for the umpteenth time. She had traveled to Atlanta for what was to have been a controlled two-week outpatient program with support close-by, during which time they would both experience what it took to live more or less independently. Instead, she was nurse-maid and laundress to a 50-year-old poster child for diarrhea (apologies for the indelicate reference — may not be the last). This condition lasted the better part of those two weeks, at the end of which he was eating only foods that would firm up his bowels. Their endgame was to travel a total of six hours on Thanksgiving Day via airport shuttle, then an Airbus 320, and another airport shuttle — without any “accidents.”
For 72 hours in advance of their trip, for “relaxation” and to gain a little separation from her poster child, she confirmed airport shuttle arrangements, cleaned, laundered, packed, and boxed three month’s worth of clothing, medical / lifestyle supplies, gifts and other belongings. Those things they expected to need were packed in suitcases. Those things that wouldn’t fit in their suitcases were boxed and given to Atlanta-based friends to be shipped back home. In the hour before their airport shuttle arrived, rivaling any Himalayan Sherpa, she hauled all of their suit cases and carry-ons down to the pickup point.
The shuttle arrived on schedule, but the driver was not familiar with the particular lift and restraint system. It took a full 20 minutes to get his wheelchair-borne passenger situated. The driver was pleasant, and he was a training opportunity. Despite this bumpy beginning, they reached Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport in plenty of time to make their flight. They had a wheeled escort through security, who delivered them safely to the departure gate. When it was time to board, two huge Georgia boys lifted him out of his wheelchair, placed him on a very narrow wheelchair, and wheeled him onto the plane. Dianne, his eldest sister, sprang for two first-class tickets, which allowed him to avoid being placed in a cramped three-across row. Instead, he was lifted and placed in a very spacious two-across arrangement. The flight was very smooth and uneventful. They arrived on time into Baltimore-Washington International Airport where his other sister, Sue, met them. Next-up, a quick shuttle ride home.
The Super Shuttle wheelchair accessible van they had reserved was a no-show. Seems the reservationist who confirmed their reservation for a shuttle on Thanksgiving (reconfirmed two more times prior to their travel day) was juuuuust kidding. After haggling with the Super Shuttle representative for the better part of two hours, Sue was able to arrange for a registered regional airport cabbie to pick them up and take them home. The cabbie was an immensely gracious man who lived in Mount Washington, north of Baltimore city and left his own family’s Thanksgiving dinner when he received their call. A real angel of a guy.
Arriving at home, he was wheeled out the back of the van, and was greeted by all of his children, Dianne, and a visiting Swedish friend (now his son-in-law). Such a greeting. Warm house, familiar decor and furnishings, modifications he’d heard about or only seen in pictures, delicious aromas, hugs, tears. And a lavish and delicious Thanksgiving meal (for a mere crowd of 15) provided by his cousin Carlie.
While she often said how much she longed for both of them to just be back home, both of them thinking the conveniences and familiarity of home would make living this way much easier, in fact things were soon quite hard again. Three hospitalizations in the next three months. Generally frail health. Very taxing physical demands. Nagging infections. Wounds slow to heal. Labyrinthine medical referrals and appointments. Financial uncertainty. Shivering winter cold. Historic snow accumulation. Discouragement, like the snow, seemed to never let up.
The snow did melt, much the way a good Narnian thaw melts discouragement, confounds the bad guys, and infuses vim, vigor and pluck throughout the realm. Their condition began to lighten. His appetite improved. Somewhat hollow cheeks filled out. Arms strengthened. Mobility improved. Wounds healed. Work resumed. Routines requiring her close involvement became easier. as he showed signs of greater independence. Things were looking up.
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