When Will I Get Carried Away?

Thursday morning as I ate my oatmeal and scrolled through my Twitter feed, I noticed a story with the headline American Airlines Checked My Dignity at the GateI opened the post which was written by Mark E. Smith, or WheelchairJunkie as he is known to me via social media. In case you missed it, here’s a synopsis.

Mark is a power wheelchair user who travels frequently for his job. His recent trip with American Airlines earlier this week started much like any other trip. After working for 5 days at a trade show in Southern California, he was ready to return home to his wife and children. Being familiar with the process of flying while disabled, Mark arrived at his gate ready to pre-board, with his ticket in hand and wheelchair tagged for baggage. He was assisted to his seat and waited for departure as the other passengers boarded around him.

However, Mark didn’t get to take that flight home. Here is how Mark described what happened next:

“Seated in row 24, my attention was called away from looking out the window, to a large group of American Airlines’ flight attendants, gate agents and ground crew – a sea of varying uniforms and two-way radio chatter – coming up the aisle. Without speaking to me, they asked the two women sitting next to me to move from their seats, explaining that they were removing me from the plane. I was immediately alarmed, not knowing what was going on, and asked what the issue was? Everyone in the American Airlines group paused and the entire plane was voiceless – just the mechanical hum of the 737.

I looked from one person to the next to the next, and all just stared. Finally, a flight attendant exclaimed, “This plane isn’t leaving without him!” and sat beside me. Her sudden burst of emotion confused me even more. I was then told that communication between the captain and ground crew instructed that he wouldn’t accept me and my wheelchair on the flight.

I was dumbfounded. American Airlines personnel were refusing to transport me because I am a person with a disability who uses a wheelchair.”

This is not the first time I have heard of a disabled person being refused passage on a flight. Back in 2010, US Airways escorted frequent traveler and motivational speaker Johnnie Tuitel from a flight. Tuitel was in his seat before airline personnel told him he would not be able to fly without a companion, something he does regularly. But, according to this article on CNN:

“US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said Tuitel was not deemed unfit to fly alone just because he uses a wheelchair.

‘He did not appear to have the ability to assist himself in evacuating in the event of an emergency. He appeared to have a lot of difficulty moving,’ Mohr said.”

Incidents like this just don’t happen in the United States. In 2015, Luke Kenshole was escorted off a British Airways flight in London after all passengers had boarded. His crime? Being disabled. Luke has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. According to this article on the Daily Mail:

Luke was on the plane before anyone asked him whether he was able to take himself to the toilet, and he said he needed assistance to get onto the wheelchair.

He was then told he would have to get off the plane for health and safety reasons.

Just for the record – I flew from Los Angeles, California to Melbourne, Australia in 2015. I was not able to take myself to the toilet on the plane during the 15 hour flight. Since I pre-boarded the plane before the other passengers, I spent over 16 hours in seat 49C. I was not kicked off the plane for health and safety reasons, although choosing to hold my pee for 16 hours was probably more detrimental to my health than anything else I did that year!

On Thursday, I shared Mark’s post on social media. Some of my friends expressed outrage. Some questioned how it is legal for an airline to act this way towards a disabled passenger. I wanted to answer this question so I started to do some research. I am not a legal expert, and if any reader has insight I welcome you to share it with all of us.

First off, the Americans with Disabilities Act is not the law which governs airline behavior when it comes to disabled passengers. The Air Carrier Access Act governs airlines and provides regulations related to treatment of passengers. According to the U.S. Department of Transporation rule (Title 14 CFR Part 382), airlines are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities. The following, taken from the U.S. DOT website, is a few of the prohibited practices:

  • Airlines may not refuse transportation to people on the basis of disability. Airlines may exclude anyone from a flight if carrying the person would be inimical to the safety of the flight. If a carrier excludes a person with a disability on safety grounds, the carrier must provide a written explanation of the decision.
  • Airlines may not require advance notice that a person with a disability is traveling. Air carriers may require up to 48 hours’ advance notice for certain accommodations that require preparation time (e.g., respirator hook-up, transportation of an electric wheelchair on an aircraft with less than 60 seats).
  • Airlines may not require a person with a disability to travel with another person, except in certain limited circumstances where the rule permits the airline to require a safety assistant. If a passenger with a disability and the airline disagree about the need for a safety assistant, the airline can require the assistant, but cannot charge for the transportation of the assistant.

Let’s look at that first bullet point. When was the last time you heard the word “inimical” in real life? In case you don’t know what it means (like me) I’ll save you the trip to the dictionary. Inimical is an adjective which means likely to cause harm or have a bad effect. Used in a sentence: The disabled passenger was bodily removed from his seat because the pilot thought he was inimical to the safety of the flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

Secondly, every airline provides passengers with a contract, usually referred to as Conditions of Carriage. You know that legal mumbo-jumbo you ignore when you purchase your tickets? Yeah – until yesterday I had never read that either. But I did read the American Airlines Conditions of Carriage and found a section called “Acceptance of Passengers” which listed various reasons American may refuse to transport or may remove a passenger from a flight. Number 5 on that list?

Your physical or mental condition is such that in American’s sole opinion, you are rendered or likely to be rendered incapable of comprehending or complying with safety instructions without the assistance of an attendant.

Side note – number 11 is an offensive body odor not caused by disability or illness. I know for a fact that rule gets ignored often! Back to the issue of being too disabled to fly…

Let’s suppose the pilot thought Mark was inimical to the safety of the other passengers on the flight. I don’t know why Mark, a disabled adult, might be more inimical than an unaccompanied minor who might not be able to independently follow directions during an emergency. I have never witnessed an unaccompanied minor being physically lifted and restrained in an aisle chair and removed from the cabin of an aircraft. Would people speak up if that happened? Nobody spoke up for Mark.

“As I scooted across the seats toward the crowd, having to transfer into a dolly-like chair so that they could roll me off of the plane, all of the other passengers watched, silent. Although many clearly heard that I was being removed because American Airlines didn’t want me and my wheelchair on the flight’s manifest, no one questioned why, in 2017, a businessman with a disability was being ejected from a plane? In that moment, I realized the gravity of it all: I was being stripped not just of my civil rights, but of my humanity. For the first time in my life, in the microcosm of that American Airlines Boeing 737, I was discarded as a human being – literally.”

I almost cried when I read this paragraph. Having been late for connecting flights due to weather delays, I have endured the stares when I am carried onto a plane after all other passengers have boarded, the glares and sighs from those around me who are inconvenienced by having to move so I can be lifted to my seat. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be forcibly lifted and removed like a criminal, without an explanation from the crew.

Thankfully, Mark was able to get home on the next American Airlines flight to Philadelphia. His experience was featured on his local television station. You can hear Mark talk about it in this report and you can read what New Mobility had to say about it here.

Every time I fly, a part of my mind wonders how I will react if the crew challenges whether or not I will be inimical to the safety of the flight. Typically, once I am settled in my seat on the plane, the flight attendant comes over to ask how they might be of assistance. If I am flying without a companion, I let them know I might need the plastic bin I use as a footrest in flights moved when we are in the air. Usually, the stranger seated next to me offers to help once I introduce myself and explain how I’m counting on them to secure my oxygen mask if the cabin loses pressure.

The simple fact is once I am on the plane, I am not able to do much for myself. I can usually put in my own earbuds. If I have a tray table in front of me, I am able to hold myself upright so I can eat and drink. Other than that, I am unable to do much more than sleep and count the hours until I can get back into a comfortable seat.

My fear is that one day, an uneducated pilot or crew member will see me and decide I am too much of a risk. When they come for me with the aisle chair, will anyone speak up for me and my humanity?

30 Days of Thanks Day 21 – Guest Post by John McCosh

I met my guest blogger, John McCosh, and his wife Kristen at the Ms. Wheelchair American pageant almost ten years ago. Kristen was representing Massachusetts in the pageant and John was one of the amazing “Mr. Wheelchairs” as I called them that year. Our friendship developed over the next year during Kristen’s reign as the national titleholder. These days social media helps keep us connected. I am grateful John accepted my invitation to share a post for this year’s 30 Days of Thanks. After you read today’s post, you can follow John on Twitter: @johnmccosh.

The Perfect Wheelchair Trap

From our stateroom balcony, I watched the trail of crushed water our cruise ship left behind in a white boil. I was transported by the visual of the mesmerizing evidence of man made energy posted against nature’s historic depths trailed out atop an empty water horizon.

I thought about the liquefaction, the reinvention, the breaking, and the making of the earth; about Vesuvius and the changes the volcano would wreak; about Pompeii and Herculaneum. I thought about dusty Rome thanking the skies for rain.

Crossing the wine dark sea of the Mediterranean, I thought about how my home city, Boston, was more of a European city than I had, until recently, realized.

But I mostly thrummed with the emotion of having fallen into the perfect wheelchair trap.

My wife Kristen and I had spent the day in Marseille. The access coordinator on our cruise ship had said it couldn’t be done–there was no way for a wheelchair to get around, but, as we often do, we went anyway and made it happen.

We were dropped off by the shuttle bus at the mouth of the Old Port. The last bus back was leaving at 2:15 and all aboard the ship was 3:30. We walked down to the historic port and could see Notre-Dame de la Garde crowning the high elevation border of the city. We knew we wanted to make it there.

I wrestled up some old high school French lessons and found a hop on, hop off bus tour. We bought tickets and toured the city, passing the rock in the harbor that was the inspiration for the Count of Monte Cristo. We made it to Notre-Dame. I pushed and pulled the wheelchair along a rocky slope beside a long set of inaccessible stairs as we made our way to the foot of the church and looked out over the sweeping expanse of France’s second largest city and its largest Mediterranean port.

We were having a great day.

On schedule, we finished the tour and did some shopping back at the Old Port and made our way through the ancient part of the city. What we didn’t realize was that the Old Town made a steady climb, over a hundred feet above the sea.

I knew we were on track to get to our bus in plenty of time, but when we rounded the last corner, by the Eglise Saint-Laurent church we realized there was no way down. The ancient stone wall was a modern wheelchair barrier. There were long, winding sets of steps but no ramp or elevator.

But we still had time. We crossed the footbridge to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, traveling right over our bus stop.

We had no idea the trap had been sprung. The French spoke enough English to understand we wanted to come in, but not enough to tell us you can’t exit to the street in a wheelchair.

Time was draining from the clock as we made our way through the building and the grounds. It was twenty minutes later when we realized we had to turn back!

We passed over the bridge again, back to the Eglise Sait-Laurent side—the side with out bus parked below. We considered backtracking through Old Town, but that was going to take too long. We zoomed down the road parallel with the bus route.

Kristen’s wheelchair was at full speed, me jogging beside. A quarter mile down the road we reached an elevator next to a huge set of stairs leading down to the lower elevation. It was broken.

A mild panic set in. We set off again, away from the bus, but parallel to the road to which we needed to descend. We checked a church for an access route as well as a set of stores, all the while making progress in the wrong direction, away from the bus. We finally made it to a thoroughfare, but there was still no path down in sight. We were stuck in a high place.

We were now more than a kilometer away from the bus. Even if we made it to the road we’d have to backtrack a considerable distance, and who knows what other barriers there might be.

We flagged down a woman who had just parked. We asked about transportation options, and she said it was difficult to get a taxi here, but she called anyway, our interpreter. The taxi said they were too far away but called another service.

We were forty-five minutes from all aboard. Our passports were on the ship along with most of our money and credit cards as we’d heard to be on the lookout for pickpockets and didn’t want to chance carrying them. Also, our two traveling companions were on-board with no cell service activated here. Our next stop was Barcelona, and I had no idea how we’d catch the ship if we missed it.

I spotted a taxi, my wife ducked out of site so the wheelchair wouldn’t scare him off. He stopped, and he spoke very little English but I was pretty sure he knew our ship. We broke the wheelchair down, taking out batteries, and collapsing the new wheelchair for the first time. We put it in the trunk and drove off.

We made the port, drove past the guards, and were virtually alone on the pier beside the ship with less that thirty minutes to spare.

On our balcony of the Norwegian Epic, I caught a reflection of my wife brushing out her long, blonde hair. We were on our way to dinner, and I knew I’d be thanking her for the adventure over dinner as we told our friends what had happened. And later, when we would walk the deck of that modern ship in an ancient world I’d think how much fun our life has been. I knew we’d talk about the trap we’d escaped and how thankful we both were to be on course together.

But for now I watched her traverse the low ramp out onto the deck, and I poured dark wine into crystal and proposed a toast to the sea.

A man in a baseball hat sits next to a blond woman wearing a black hat. They are in front of a fountain in Rome.
John and Kristen on their recent European vacation.

On the Road Again

One of the biggest hurdles in my recovery from my broken femur has been driving. I drive an adapted minivan, a sleek silver vehicle I have named Clyde. Clyde has a ramp which allows me to drive my wheelchair in and park it where the middle row of seats would normally be. My driver’s seat is mounted on a transfer seat base which allows it to swivel. I slide out of my wheelchair into the driver’s seat, rotate the seat to the front, slide forward, and drive. At least, that is how the process has worked for the past fourteen years until my orthopedic surgeon restricted me from putting weight on my left leg after surgery.

Since February I have worked in physical therapy to regain strength and function with the goal of being able to independently transfer in and out of my driver’s seat. My apartment is located in an area not served by our local public transportation. The disabled paratransit service does not come to my apartment as I live too far from a fixed bus route.

If I cannot independently drive, I have three options. I can ride as a passenger in my own van while someone else drives. I do this when I have to, but I am a terrible back seat driver in my own vehicle. Another option is to have someone help me get in my van at my starting location and someone else help me get out of my van at my final destination. Or, I can have someone accompany me every time I need to drive somewhere.

I have used each of these methods to remain employed and engaged in my community, and I am appreciative of the friends and family who continue to assist me. But when you are used to the having the ability to get up and go whenever you want, scheduling your activities around someone else is limiting. Like most people who have been driving for decades, I am used to the freedom of movement which comes with the privilege of being a licensed driver who owns a vehicle.

In early April, I reached an important rehabilitation milestone when I successfully transferred in and out of my driver’s seat. I required assistance, but I did it! After a few practice sessions, I began to drive around my neighborhood. Within two weeks, I was driving to and from my office once or twice each week. My knee protested from time to time, and realistically I was unable to drive for more than 45 minutes at a time before the discomfort became too much of a distraction. But I was driving!

Behind the wheel for the first time in April.
Behind the wheel for the first time in April.

This past Tuesday I reached an important milestone when, for the first time since January, I transferred into my driver’s seat and put on my seatbelt completely independently! It took me a good five minutes, and there were a few choice words flying out of my mouth from time to time, but I did it!

I still require assistance to get out of my driver’s seat and get back into my wheelchair, so I am not completely independent with driving. I don’t know if I will reach that status given the changes in my leg. This may be as far as I get with my rehabilitation when it comes to driving. I plan to make the move to driving from my wheelchair using hand controls within a year, so I just have to find a way to function until then.

For now, I know if I had to get somewhere in an emergency, I could get in my van and go. I might not be able to get out when I get there, but that’s a problem for another day.

My experience has given me a new perspective on the transportation difficulties people with disabilities face on a daily basis, particularly those who live in suburban or rural areas. I have not been as strong of an advocate for transportation as I could be. I plan to change that going forward. The push for community living can only be successful if people have access to their community and accessible transportation is a crucial component of independence.

In the days immediately following my discharge from the rehabilitation hospital while I was relearning how to function at home, I wondered if I would ever be able to take a road trip and spend the night anywhere other than my apartment. I enjoy traveling and the prospect of not being able to explore the world was frightening and depressing.

This is Memorial Day Weekend in the United States, the unofficial start of summer. I have spent every Memorial Day Weekend in my hometown except the year I was an exchange student and the year I was in the hospital after my gallbladder surgery. I was determined to find a way to make it home this weekend. Once I transferred into my driver’s seat on Tuesday I knew it would happen.

Yesterday I drove my van down the highway in the bright sunshine. I rolled down the window, cranked the music and sang the songs from my “move it” playlist with the wind blowing on my face. As I rolled to a stop at the end of the exit for Bainbridge, I couldn’t help smiling in triumph.

Sure, there is more work to do in my journey towards independence. But this weekend, I am content to be on the road again.

Thirty Days of Thanks Day 11 – My Living with MD Friends

As soon as I knew my trip to Australia was a sure thing, I began to plan. As I have mentioned before, travel logistics for the disabled adult are more complicated and time-consuming than for most non-disabled adults. While some people may be able to just get up and go, or have flexibility of flights and destinations, I require more advanced consideration.

I had been to Australia twice before my most recent trip, but for each of those visits I was using a manual wheelchair. I fly frequently within the United States using both a manual and power wheelchair. But my trip in March was the first international trip using a power wheelchair.

I began my research online, utilizing the connections I have made through a Facebook group called Living with Muscular Dystrophy (LWMD). The group is a private peer-support group of adults from around the world who are living with any of the neuromuscular diseases covered under the umbrella of Muscular Dystrophy or ALS. Group members discuss many topics including personal care assistants, medical equipment, travel, health care, and employment. The goal is to help one another navigate a world which is not always accessible for our needs.

Some of my first connections were with group members from Australia. Julie was helpful in answering questions about accessibility in Sydney. She explained the train system and offered feedback on potential options for finding a wheelchair charger. Sadly we were never able to meet in person while I was there, but this just means I have to make a return trip.

So many people offered tips on traveling internationally using a power chair. Cory Lee and Alice answered questions and referred me to others who might be able to help. Carol put me in contact with several people in Australia who provided information about renting an accessible vehicle and traveling within Australia.

There were others who had ideas about how to charge my chair, accessible restaurants, and where to find family assist restrooms in the airports we would be visiting. All of this knowledge made me more comfortable as I traveled.

There is much literature about the value of peer networks for marginalized populations, including people with disabilities. I have been blessed to have access to many peer support networks throughout my life. Because LWMD is based on-line, people who may have difficulty leaving their homes due to disability, lack of transportation or lack of adequate personal care are able to participate in virtual discussions. The collective knowledge and creativity of this group astounds me. When one group member asks a question, people are quick to respond with suggestions and ideas. As a rule, people with disabilities are some of the most creative people I’ve ever met. We have to be. It’s how we adapt to a world not designed for our needs.

To my fellow LWMD-ers – thank you so much for all you did to help me prepare for my trip earlier this year. I appreciate your insights and your information. Your creative ideas were perfect and you made problem-solving a breeze. When I needed support, you were my virtual cheerleaders. And when I had success, you celebrated with me. I am grateful to be a part of this unique family.

Day 15 – Returning Home (AKA: The Day that Never Ends!)

My trip to Australia ended last Saturday when Kelly and I flew back to the United States. We both set our alarms once again for another early morning. Ulla and Carlos helped us schlep our belongings down the hill to the train station. After repeated farewell hugs, Kelly and I boarded the train for the airport. The sunshine sparkled on the harbour as we rode out of the central business district. I watched the pedestrians walking to and from coffee shops, wishing I could spend just a few more days exploring with them.

The Qantas counter at the international terminal was very busy, with long queues for every check-in terminal. However, a very kind customer service agent pulled us aside and brought us straight to the counter. Brian, our friendly ticket agent, processed our luggage and I was relieved to see I was .3 kilograms under the weight restriction for my suitcase. He then walked us through security and escorted us right to the gate, where he arranged for me to receive a pre-flight latte upon boarding. I’m not saying you’ll get the same service if you fly with Qantas, but they provided us with many extras which weren’t expected.

I have flown many times and I am accustomed to giving the ground crew instructions on how to safely maneuver my body in and out of the aisle chair for transfers on and off the plane. Boarding the plane in Sydney was a new experience. Qantas uses an Eagle lift to help people who cannot walk. I have used a lift before for transfers on and off examination tables in doctor’s offices, and I knew some airlines were using lifts on planes, but prior to last Saturday I had never used one. To see a demonstration of the lift process you can watch the promotional video here.

The video makes the process look simple, which in theory it is. The harness is positioned behind the passenger’s back. The leg straps are positioned under the legs and then securely fastened to the hoist. The passenger’s wheelchair is moved into the lift and locked in place. The passenger is then lifted out of the wheelchair, suspended in the lift which is then wheeled down the aisle to the appropriate seat on the plane. The passenger is moved over the row of seats and slowly lowered. The video is approximately five minutes long, and if your transfer only takes five minutes it would be shorter than the time it took to transfer me on to the plane in Sydney.

My experience began when Jim came to introduce himself and explain the transfer process. Jim was training a new team member (Betsy? I can’t remember so I’ll call her that for now) and wanted to know if I was comfortable having an extra person participate. Because I was once a student clinician, and I believe people learn best by doing, I have always agreed to let people learn through me in medical settings. This was no different. Adding Betsy to the boarding party, it took four people to use the lift to get me to my seat. Boarding with an aisle chair takes two.

Fifty minutes before the flight was due to depart, Jim and Betsy came to bring me down to the plane. We were once again flying on an Airbus A380 so I drove my chair directly onto the plane and into the lower forward galley behind first class, in front of the economy section. (Note: If airline regulations permitted people with disabilities to sit in the exit row, I could have transferred directly into the aisle seat of the bulkhead row by the door and avoided the need for assistance from anyone other than Kelly. If the airlines let us stay in our wheelchairs like we can on every other mode of public transportation, I could have easily maneuvered my chair into a space. But that’s a discussion for another post.)

Jim then began demonstrating how to position the harness, instructing Betsy as he slid the harness behind me. Betsy was timid about lifting my legs to place the strap in the correct position. I told her not to be afraid, and showed her how to lift and move my legs.

As an aside – people always worry about hurting me when they help me for the first time or two. Don’t. I have a high tolerance for pain. It takes a lot to truly hurt me or cause an injury, should we ever be together and I ask you for assistance. You’re not going to hurt me. I appreciate the concern for my well-being, but I’m tougher than I look. End of complaint. Back to the lift.

Once Jim and Betsy had the harness correctly positioned, the two lift operators (I don’t know what else to call them) brought the hoist frame forward towards my chair. They hooked me to the hoist and slowly began lifting me from my chair. Kelly instructed Jim on how to disengage my wheelchair’s drive motors, placing my wheelchair in free wheel mode so it could be wheeled manually off the plane. The lift operators rotated the lift and wheeled me down the aisle to my seat.

The video I referenced above shows a smooth lateral transfer from the aisle to the seat. If my knees bent at ninety degrees, my lateral transfer out of the aisle to the seat probably would have been smooth too. But my knees don’t bend at ninety degrees, which meant Jim and Betsy had to try to hold my feet out of the way of the seat back in front of me in order to move me out of the aisle. And when they lowered me into the seat, my foot got caught on the tray table latch and the back of the harness got caught on the movable head rest. Thankfully, the lift operators listened to me as I instructed them on how to move me. I was eventually positioned comfortably in the seat and I was not hurt along the way.

The entire process of hooking me to the harness and completing the move took about eight minutes from start to finish. When I transfer using an aisle chair, I can do the entire process with two people (one to lift under the arms and one to lift under the legs) in about three minutes. That includes the time it takes to strap me in and out of the aisle chair.

The Eagle lift could be great for those people who are unable to be directly lifted by others. If someone regularly uses a lift at home for transfers, the Eagle lift might make it possible for them to fly when they have not been able to be assisted safely on/off the plane in the past. Using a lift could reduce the risk of injury to both passenger and the staff assisting them. But, given the option, I would rather just have two people lift me onto an aisle chair and then again into the seat.

My choice is not what everyone would choose, and I understand that the option which works for me may not be the best for everyone else. Would I like to see wider use of the lift by other airlines in other airports? You bet. Will I use it if it is available? Yes, but only if I have to because an aisle chair is not an option. Would I rather just have the opportunity to remain in my own wheelchair on an airplane, securely fastened with tie down straps as is currently done on buses and trains? Of course.

Our flight to Los Angeles was completely full. We shared our row of three seats with Jennifer, who expertly crawled over both Kelly and I using the armrests to get to her window seat. She was returning home to Florida from a trip to New Zealand. I settled in to watch movies, something I hardly ever do at home. After two long-haul flights, I am caught up on almost everything I wanted to see, with the exception of Lincoln, because I finally fell asleep after I started watching it.

The Qantas flights provided me with THE song which will forever remind me of this journey. I attach memory to music. I always have. I hear a song and I can tell you who it reminds me of and why. The “Aussie tunes” playlist on my iPod has 289 songs which bring me back to my previous times in Australia. I really didn’t listen to music during this trip, except for the long flights over the Pacific. Last year, Qantas launched a new advertising campaign featuring a version of the Randy Newman song, Feels Like Home, performed by Martha Marlow. The song played repeatedly over the airplane speakers as passengers boarded and disembarked the plane. One of the lift operators sang along with it as he moved me into my seat. It also played each time I activated the touch screen at my seat to select a new movie. Good job Qantas; the song now triggers memories of Australia. You can see the ad and listen to the song for yourself:

We departed Sydney on Saturday at 10:45 AM local time and landed in Los Angeles on Saturday at 6:15 AM local time, three and a half hours before we left. Well, not really. It was really 12:15 AM Sunday back in Australia. But when you travel you are supposed to adjust yourself to the time zone you are in, and I was smack in the middle of the day that never ends.

One thing which made this trip easier was the availability of family restrooms at many of our destinations. Kelly and I were able to have space for our belongings as well as space for my wheelchair near the commode when we used these public toilets. I also didn’t have to wonder who might be listening when I gave commands like, “No, move the left butt cheek further over.” The domestic and international terminals in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Melbourne and Sydney all have family restrooms. Family restrooms are especially useful if your personal assistant does not identify or present as the same gender as you. I was fortunate not to have to worry about this with Kelly, but I know several couples who choose certain airports for layovers because they know they will have access to a family restroom.

Kelly’s flight for Arizona left about an hour before my flight. While we were waiting for our domestic flights, I learned it was snowing back home. In fact, many friends and family took great delight in letting me know I would be coming back to snow. I was not amused but then again, I had been bragging about my adventure in warmth and sunshine for two weeks so the ribbing was probably due.

Thankfully, I slept for most of my flight to Baltimore. When we landed, I confirmed my arrival with my sister Sandy who was picking me up at the airport. Unfortunately, we were delayed leaving Baltimore. I finally arrived in Albany on Saturday, 10:15 PM local time, twenty seven and a half hours after departing Sydney that morning.

I wish I could tell you how wonderful it was to be home, in my own apartment. But my homecoming was not good. There was snow on the ground, it was cold, and the apartment repairs and maintenance which were to take place in my absence were not completed. I returned to a mess, piles of boxes, and a botched paint job in my bathroom. The property managers and I have since taken steps to ensure all of the work will be done within the next week. But the state of my apartment upon my return, combined with fatigue, jet lag and the depression from leaving Australia, caused a massive midnight meltdown.

However, I will not let the current situation take away from what was an AMAZING experience. My Australian adventure was all I hoped it would be, and more than I dreamed. I connected with old friends and “family,” forged new relationships, visited beautiful locations, ate great food, drank great wine, and made memories which will keep me going until the next visit. Because there will be a next visit. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when. But it will happen.

I appreciate all of you who have read my travel journals for the past few weeks. I started this blog last year so I could learn the mechanics of blogging before this trip. What a joy it was to be able to share my adventure with those at home and around the world. I am grateful for your comments and reactions through the trip. I will archive these posts into an Australia 2015 page at some point. Next week I will return to regular blogging. And then I think it will be time to start the book I promised my sister Mary Jane I would write.

Kelly & I at Kate's Berry Farm
Kelly and I eating ice cream at Kate’s Berry Farm in Swansea, Tasmania. The salted caramel was delicious!

**Today’s post is brought to you by my wonderful cousin and travel partner, Kelly. Kelly – you volunteered to join me on this adventure and made it possible for me to travel back to Australia. I am so grateful and happy you were able to be a part of this trip. It would not have been the same fantastic experience without you. I’ll keep working on New Zealand!