Until recently, I hadn’t been in a car for at least five years. The last time, I was so severely sick that a crew of paramedics had to put me on a gurney and wheel me into the back of an ambulance under the cover of darkness because I was so sensitive to light. Then we went for a drive. They transported me to my mom’s house on top of a mountain in the Sierra foothills, where I’ve been living the last several years. I wrote about the experience in my memoir, When Force Meets Fate:
I’m put on the gurney and into the back of the ambulance. Sasha holds my hand while she awkwardly crouches next to me. From the driver’s seat, I hear the voice of the same driver from the ambulance ride I took back in June. Then I feel the paramedic’s hands wrap a blood pressure cuff around my arm. The ambulance takes us up several steep mountain roads, and we get lost a few times, but eventually arrive at the new house perched atop a mountain ridge overlooking the Central Valley. I have no idea what the new house or its view look like, but apparently they’re both pretty great. When the paramedic wheels me onto the deck, I hear him say, “Wow, look at that view.” The only view I can see is a ceiling as I’m shoveled onto my new bed.
This latest trip wasn’t as bad, but it was still difficult. The preparation began two years before we went for a drive. We had a concrete ramp built from the front deck of the house to the gravel driveway. But the driveway was so steep, we couldn’t decide how to design the ramp. We could have built it to disability standards, but that would have meant making switchbacks and possibly not leaving enough room to park the car in the driveway. So, in the end, we decided to go with a steeper, L-shaped ramp.
Next, I had to get to the deck, which, if you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I did gradually as I began to walk again.
Getting to the deck was only half the journey. At that point, my mom decided to buy a van that would be easier for me to transfer into and provide a smoother ride once I was inside. My aunt and uncle were nice enough to deliver the van from the Bay Area. But once we got it, I still had to figure out how to get up the ramp and into the van.
I sat outside in my wheelchair and strategized. Then I tried using my power wheelchair, but despite its all-terrain features, it didn’t have enough power. I got about halfway up the ramp before the motor gave out and I almost tipped backward. I leaned forward and grabbed onto the fence post to keep myself from falling, gouging my hand on the sharp edge.
Things weren’t going well, so I tried another idea. Triple digit temperatures and wild fire smoke filled the air, so I waited for a cool night with less smoke, then I got into my larger, non-electric wheelchair, and my mom used her superhuman strength to pull me up the ramp. I was able to transfer into the van, but I was too exhausted to go for a drive.
After the trial run, I decided to wait a few days before trying again, mainly because it was still hot and smoky outside. I wanted to do it on a cooler, clearer day, at dusk, so I could see the views while we were driving. Finally, after months (years really) of waiting, I got to go for a drive.
We went for a drive around the neighborhood for a few minutes, but there were LOTS of steep hills (the downhills gave me vertigo and the uphills made me car sick). I was ready to go home. But before I went back inside the house, I lay in the van for a while, looking up at the vast, clear sky above.
I was tired when I returned to my bed, but I didn’t crash too hard and recovered fairly quickly the next day. As I lay in bed recovering, I thought about how far I had come, what it took to get to this point in my recovery, and how there were times when I couldn’t even imagine riding in a car again. But that’s the wonderful thing about recovering from illness, it happens in ways you often don’t expect, and when it does, you appreciate it that much more.
BEFORE YOU GO . . .
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