Flying while disabled

This summer I flew to Maine. I carefully packed my carry-on with all my medical stuff. CPAP for sleep apnea*, a large bag of pills, some comfort items. I packed snacks because I am supposed to eat several small meals daily. I brought along my folding cane, so it could help me into the airplane but still fit in a seat-back. My laptop had to go in the carry-on as well. No problem. I brought a small purse and made sure I could manage hauling everything I had.

My first two flights went exactly as planned, and I was starting to feel good about traveling. My third flight (of three) is where things went downhill.

I boarded early (my cane gave me that privilege). I stepped out of the boarding area and saw a plane in front of me with a huge metal ramp leading up to it. That was not going to be easy, but I steeled myself and started painfully pulling my carry-on up the ramp.

Not my airplane, but this is what the boarding ramp looked like.

About halfway up, a flight attendant called out to me, saying I had to put my bag on the cart at the bottom of the ramp. I told her that my bag was full of a CPAP, medicine, and things that had to be carried on. She said my carry-on would not fit in the overheads. I would have to take everything out of it that had to go on the plane.

I made it (painfully) back down the ramp and started to unpack my bag. The flight attendant re-appeared with a plastic bag that she said I could use to put my stuff in. But she stood in the door of the plane. I had to trudge all the way up the ramp – at least without a suitcase this time – take the bag, and go back down to my bag to finish unpacking.

At this point, the regular customers are boarding. They are also upset about having to check their carry-ons and are hauling them onto the cart around me unpacking mine.

I unpacked the CPAP bag and put it over my shoulder with my purse. I took out the pills, computer, and a couple of other things and put them in the plastic bag. I then closed my nearly empty carry-on on the cart.

Now, I have a cane in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. I have two bags around my neck and shoulder and am highly off balance. And I have to go back up the ramp this way. And through a busy cabin, slowing down the boarding process for everyone behind me. And then haul two smaller bags into the overhead bin above my seat.

At this point, the flight attendant approaches me and apologizes, but tells me there is nothing else she could do, as my bag would not fit in the extra-small overhead space.

I laughed. What else could I do? This is flying with a disability. I folded my cane and put it in the seat back, not looking forward to the repeat of this process when the flight was over.

What could she do? She could have found someone to help me with my bags up and down the ramp. She could have run the plastic bag down the ramp herself, it would have saved time. She could have assisted me in carrying my multiple bags (now) into and out of the plane. The gate agents could have explained the situation to me before I boarded, so I had time to resettle my belongings.

  • Yes, I know they are supposed to allow me to fly with the CPAP as a “free” carry-on. But they don’t. I’m not certain what I need to do to get that clearance, but a doctor’s note and a prescription doesn’t cut it.

Possum Power!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Virginia opossum is my animal guide. Yes, the possum. I know other people have stags, horses, and wolves, large impressive and imposing animals. Well I’m not impressive or imposing and I take strength from knowing there is an animal out there who is like me: quiet, avoidant, and underestimated.

Here are some lessons I have learned from the possum:

  1. Come out at night or when you feel safe. I don’t have to leave my house at rush hour or shop at the busiest time of the day. I can go at 6 am if I like. I set my own schedule and do not have to live according to the times that are most popular.
  2. Eat ticks. Yes, ticks. My experiences living with pain have taught me to deal with far worse things than ticks. Heck, I can take on any number of icky things and make them work for me. Favorite TV show cancelled? I’ve been through far worse. Dentist’s visit? Bring it on! I can eat ticks with the best of them.
  3. Play dead. Oh, I am so good at this one. When a possum is frightened it stiffens and falls over, so predators won’t bother it anymore. Pain gets high – I’m on the couch or in bed not moving. And that’s ok. I can do that until the predator, or the worst of the pain has passed.
  4. Scream if you want to. It’s a great way to get out both annoyance and aggression. And when it’s done, I feel a little bit better.
  5. Be resistant to rabies. Okay, I am not actually resistant to rabies. But I am resistant to a lot of stuff. When I got my tattoo, it didn’t hurt. I was used to much more pain. Massive bruises down my leg, I don’t even feel them. Having a baseline of pain is a shield. Most additional experiences cannot top it, so they are subsumed inside my pain and I can’t feel worse.
  6. Eat trash. Perhaps not every day, but sometimes Cheetos or ice cream are necessary.

A possum may not be your guide. How about an armadillo with tough armor and a soft underbelly? A starling, running around with its group of friends and family? An eel able to slip and slide through all difficulties? We are, perhaps, the strange and ugly animals in the world. But these animals can teach us to know ourselves better and use what we have.

On chronic pain

Hi. I’m Heni and I’ve been living with chronic pain for a very long time. And I’ve just about reached the end of my rope more times than I can count. At my last doctor’s visit, and yet another, “We can’t do anything about it except give you more pain pills.” I thought I was going to choke. Then I decided I could write about it – and share everything with you. I have fibromyalgia and arthritis – but I want to be inclusive – looking at all types of chronic pain.

I am on a journey to find out what works, even a little bit. I am going to write about it here. Send in your things that work, even a little bit, and we may build a resource here.

Things that work (even a little bit) so far

  • not moving
  • heating pads
  • pills
  • CBD
  • massage
  • popsicles
  • herbal teas
  • aromatherapy
  • meditation
  • screaming
  • aqua-therapy
  • bio-feedback
  • cats
  • sunshine
  • The Great British Baking Show
  • sock filled with rice
  • humidifier
  • yoga – only sometimes

I’ll talk about these as we move forward. I’ll also talk about my continuing effort to find relief and other issues around living with pain. Send in your stories or suggestions and I can blog on that, too.

Also, I find strength in my animal friend the Virginia Opossum. Expect them to pop up regularly.