Holiday traveling can be a hassle for any of us. With a special needs child in a wheelchair you're likely to increase the chances of something not working out.
(Some info you'll need at the start: My son Lucas can't speak and requires a wheelchair. In this tale he is 5 and his brother Alex is not yet 3.)
In 2013 we decided to end our year on a note of wonder. A trip to the happiest place on Earth. But it turns out you can’t spell wonder without woe. Not since the Brady Bunch touched the totem in Hawaii has a vacation been so cursed.
12/23 About to go out to lunch, we see our van is lowered to the kneel position (used for the wheelchair ramp). It won’t start. If we’re lucky, it’s just that the battery is drained. Immediately we start thinking: no one will fix this for us on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, we’ll have to cancel the Disney trip. A jump start might be the fix but with a single lane driveway…My wife Tina shoveled the lawn so I could pull the second car up close enough to jump it. After a few tries it worked. Then I ran over a squirrel.
12/24 Not a creature was stirring but we smell something rotten we can’t identify as we go to bed.
12/25 I wake Alex. He is sleeping along side a puddle of vomit. Unfazed (bless him), he says “Daddy, can you get in bed and cuddle me?” No, sweet boy, I can’t. But I’ll clean you up. Merry Christmas.
Next we notice the kitchen sink is leaking. We have a very full day of Christmas before us; no time to fix it. We just shut the water off and it’ll be a problem to face on our return from Florida.
12/26 First night on the road, Mexican for dinner. I can’t believe how fitful Tina’s sleep is. I discover the next morning she kept running to the bathroom having picked up Alex’ stomach bug. And with the four of us sharing the room she was trying hard not to wake any one.
12/27 Was mostly mishap free but Tina spent the entire day of traveling south curled in several uncomfortable positions in the passenger seat trying to recover.
12/29 Rain on one of our Disney days. We decide to put the Magic Kingdom off a day. We leave my Aunt and Uncle’s Florida home for the short two hour drive to Orlando. All my relatives also leave the house for the day. We get 45 minutes south and discover we forgot the power adapter used on Lukey’s food pump. Radio Shack is only 3 miles away. Closed. It’s a Sunday. GPS finds me two medical supply companies with in an hour. Closed on Sundays. Fortunately my cousin Maureen was willing and able to get into the house and meet us half way with the adapter, saving us a lot of back track travel time.
So what was planned as lunch at the T-Rex cafe, became a 3pm arrival and a one hour wait for a table and it’s pouring rain. Once seated all was well, but I might mention Tina, not I, ordered the massive desert called Chocolate Extinction because its dry ice volcano looked so cool when the table next to us ordered it. The smoking centerpiece comes surrounded by four wedges of chocolate peanut butter cake interspersed among mini ice cream sundaes with Butterfingers crumbled over everything. The table next to us is a party of 10. We number 2 adults and Alex. Luke of course won’t help us eat this.
12/30 At last Magic Kingdom Day. No rain but maybe a bit chilly at 8 am. I assure my family; shorts and short sleeves are fine since the day’s temp will be a perfect 72. At breakfast I realize it’s my turn with the stomach bug. But I can’t scuttle the Magic Kingdom plan. I soldier on. I take a small comfort knowing certain bathrooms in the park are new construction. The only ride I take Alex on is the flying Dumbo. Other riders merrily pilot through dips and dives and climbs. We maintain an uniform cruising altitude and I maintained my breakfast, for a while.
The day is taking its time reaching that 72 degree mark. So I’ve got some minor shivers to fend off. Tina was wise enough to wear a light jacket and both boys have blankets we wrap around them in their strollers. I’m feeling weak in the knees. I suggest Tina and Alex go on a ride while Luke and I sit in a theater to watch PhilharMagic. I’ll be warmer, I’ll be seated. We catch a break on the line and with almost no waiting we reach the entrance… and then the rope comes down. We’ll be the first for the next showing. The line grows quickly longer behind us. And I start to feel I can’t stand. But there’s no way forward and if you have a wheelchair it’s tough to thread your way back out against the tide of the queue. Eventually I allow myself to slump to the floor for a break. Not long after, the irrepressible wave of nausea hits. I lurch to the side. My glasses fly off. My left hand covers my mouth, my right braces my face just inches from the carefully themed Disney carpet and out comes far more liquified Egg McMuffin than my unfinished breakfast should warrant. I’m all but paralyzed into the seized-in-the-center sort-of fetal position. I can barely see. But I hear people. Like warbling echoes in movie recollection scenes. “Oh. Ew! Oh my god! Ahrg!” And an old lady: “Aaaah. He has a baby! And he’s throwing up on the baby!” There were also some offers of help and advice and call for the staffer and a call for First Aid but I couldn’t move yet nor communicate. “Are you here with anyone?” “Aren’t you here with anyone else?” I managed to groan “They’re on…another…ride.” Eventually a helpful guy gave me water and baby wipes. My T-shirt was a loss. My glasses needed a major cleaning. But the old lady (I never saw her) had other priorities “At least clean up the baby.” I was. “At least wipe his arms.” I did. “Oh wipe his face.” I did. To be clear poor little Luke only took a bit of collateral splatter. Eventually a different Disney cast member arrived to be my escort to first aid and whisked us through those “employees only” doors and behind-the-scenes un-themed industrial passageways. But our route to first aid had to intersect the parade. We were ushered down the roped-off lanes “for emergency use only”. Hard to imagine I was the type of emergency they had in mind. My guide offered to push Luke’s chair for me. “No, I need to lean on him,” I answered truthfully. We waited for a break in the parade that would allow us to cross its path. I thought at least Lucas has a front row seat for some of the parade. Before long we dashed out in front of Chip and Dale to the other side and reached first aid. My guide left us in the care of the nurse.
She was very sympathetic when she assumed the patient must be the beautiful disabled boy in the wheelchair. Her sympathy fell several notches for the adult, white, male who vomited on Disney carpet. I spent from noon to 4pm on one of their patient beds shivering, shaking and yep vomiting. Lucas sat alongside me, being a great sport. I’m ashamed to admit I stole his blanket. After a few text messages Tina and Alex found us and brought me a newly purchased long sleeve Disney 2014 shirt.
They checked on me a few times. The nurse did too but mostly to say things like: “You can stay here for now, but if we get busy I’ll need the bed.” And they did get busy. By noon the park had seemed as crowded as I have ever seen it. Next I overheard the nurses saying at 1pm they had to stop admitting any more guests. The park had reached capacity. But the first aid unit had not. I counted 4 beds out of of ten were full. And yet my not quite friendly reminders continued hourly: “We might need the bed and you’ll have to leave.”
Tina and Alex went on a couple more rides, waiting for me to feel strong enough to exit the park and reach our car. I’m told during those four hours the sun came out, the temp reached 72 and it was a perfect day.
12/31 Sick or not, we have a schedule to keep so Tina drives from Orlando to Charlotte. On the way it becomes clear that Lucas is now suffering from the stomach bug. Poor guy is mostly incapable of vomiting so it’s all a lower GI tract issue for him. His diaper begins to fill and the van begins to fill with an aroma that makes us glad the outdoor temperature is still warm enough to open the windows. As ever Luke puts a brave face on his ails.
My uncle’s driveway is pretty steep. We pull the van in and SCRAPE! Probably not a big deal right? But why won’t the ramp deploy? Wait is the van in kneel now? Can we get it to go back up? After several tries, yes. But we give up on the ramp and load Luke out manually. Ugg. We’re suddenly thinking “No one can fix this van on New Year’s Day.”
1/1 Other than some more minor scares with how the ramp did and did not work, we spent a day driving with out much mishap. Then we checked into a hotel and Alex played with the phone. Tina promptly disconnected it so he could do no harm. Too late. A knock at the door seemed odd. It’s a police man. “Did someone call 911 from this room? We have to check.”
We apologized for Alex.
1/2 What’s that? a major blizzard is blowing across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York? Why that’s just where we’ll be driving today. But we started early and beat the worst of it home.
And discovered my dad had been in the house to fix our leaky sink.
Happy New Year!