Author: John O
Date of Trip: February 2015
“Let’s take a trip!” My wife said one a dark day last fall. What could go wrong, I thought. As a paraplegic, I knew the answer before I had finished the question: Plenty!
We planned to spend some weeks near Santa Barbara, California, near the beach. As a paraplegic, I considered how to amuse myself on this trip: birdwatching came to the top of my list since it requires little agility. Next, because I had been a fly fisher for nearly 70 years, I wanted to keep fishing, although there are few fishing spots which looked attractive. I found three piers in the area that looked possible. There are piers at Ventura and Galeta, but they proved to be too rough on the wheel chair to make it a comfortable journey out to the fishing areas. However, Santa Barbara Pier was doable.
Of course, before we could enjoy the region’s assets, my wife, Nancy, faced a depressingly long drive across the Southwest desert. It was a long drive: 1150 miles on the shortest route (I-80 through Wyoming to I-15) and about 1400 on the longest, (I-25 to I-40 to I-15) route which proved to be our choice, given the snows of winter.
My life is currently organized in a reasonable fashion. Without the use of either leg, and serious damage to my right side (muscles and balance), I am as close to being paraplegic as I can imagine. Two and half years ago I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS). If readers desire a brief lay person’s description, it is available in my article, cited below.
By now, we have solved significant problems of life as a paraplegic by obtaining a 1988 Honda Odyssey wheel-chair accessible van. Second to this is my ‘Quickie’ powered wheel chair, a dangerous vehicle if I ever saw one. (So far there have been no casualties besides the author.) I am reasonably comfortable at home, where I am moved from bed to shower chair to wheel chair, solving most of the tough problems that came with living at home by relying on modern equipment. A third important piece was our Hoyer lift (Invacare, Model 9805). Most important was that I have access to about half our house’s rooms and floor space.
Along with modern equipment, we use home care providers for two hours each morning, six days a week. These fine people get me out of bed, on to the shower chair that also fits over the toilet, where they help me with all the “bathroom business.” I am put back on the bed for exercise as guided by the physical therapists from their office and assisted by my personal care providers ( PCPs.)
To get to our destination, we faced four nights on the road but we had been assured, yes, wheel chair accessible rooms with push-in showers were available. Now, push-in showers should be just that: no lip to wrangle the shower chair over. We also found out, however, that push in shower rooms came with King-sized beds, not two Queen-sized and that was OK, until we found that most beds were almost always too high for a transfer from the wheelchair. The Holiday Inn Express in Ronan, New Mexico had a decent sized room and a bed that was the right height. The Red Lion in Grants, New Mexico, also had a room that worked for us.
We had the Hoyer Lift with us for the beds that were too high for a wheelchair transfer, but to our chagrin, we found most beds not high enough off the ground to allow the Hoyer to go under for a decent transfer. My wife ended up getting foot-long 2×4’s and calling a maintenance man to put one under each leg of the bed in most motels. Fortunately, these men were always happy to help, as were all the staff in our various motels.
Most of the motel rooms were so packed with furniture it was extremely difficult to move a wheelchair around. At the Sleep Inn in Barstow, California, we asked for some to be taken out and all that could be moved were a couple of chairs: the rest were linked together. Management was happy to help but one wonders who needs a dresser and a desk and table?
In addition, most rooms featured narrow doorways and hallways. These may be architecturally pleasant, but have you ever tried to push a 200 pounder around in close quarters?
It is also extremely hard to manipulate a wheelchair on carpet. In fact, this was one of the greatest hurdles we faced. Our room at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Trinidad, New Mexico, was carpeted, but it was also a suite with lots of room to manipulate the Hoyer and the shower chair and the wheelchair.
To sum up: call the motel directly and ask about the height of the bed; if a Hoyer Lift is involved, be sure it is not a bed “on a box “ (and carry 2×4’s). Ask if the shower is a push-in and can the room accommodate a wheelchair.
I don’t know if motel desk clerks know if the room is ADA compliant, but I would assume not.