Can I Sing While I’m Suffering?

I admit it. I’m in Hawaii-AGAIN. Knowing that, you might reread the title and think, “Sure, while she’s in HAWAII, of course she would feel like SINGING!” But those of you who know chronic pain; or are experiencing the pangs of grief or are living with the frustration of a severe disability or physical condition know that you can’t take a vacation from these kinds of conditions. No matter how beautiful the place or how well you plan or what clever things you pack in your suitcase- these pains come along with you. But, hmmm… can you still sing?

I want to sing, even though these things are certain to come along with me everywhere I go now…Spinal cord injury, inability to walk, intense nerve pain and the grief of losing many favorite activities all invite themselves on my vacations.  I was severely injured by a drunk driver in Hawaii 10 years ago and now face the contrast of enjoying the Big Island able bodied  versus now with chronic pain and paralysis while in a wheelchair. My husband and I still come here almost every year. We even drive past the little rock monument on the highway where my life was changed forever- sometimes we tense up, sometimes we cry and just yesterday for the first time I forgot it was coming till we were right next to it. (every time it gets easier).

Every time I see a beach here I ache in varying degrees for the freedom to walk on the lava rock shores and step barefoot into the splashing waves or just hop out of the car and go sit on my towel in the sand. We have found a new way but it’s a very complicated process now and it takes a lot of work and planning. We do it and I enjoy it and am grateful for what we can do, but its difficult. Then there’s the physical pain. Some friends think its ironic-a bad joke even, that the same injured spinal cord that keeps me from normal feeling and movement in my lower body also produces unpredictable, intense burning pain. Things can get kinda crazy in this life.

But can I still sing through it? That’s a right-brained way I measure my mood when I can’t put it into words. I’ve noticed that if I’m singing or humming a little tune in the background of my mind I’m coping well. Can I experience the physical pain or notice the grief of loss and not deny it, but focus in on the joy of being alive and loving and being loved? Lately I’ve been making up a song about this…

I can sing when I’m suffering

I can stand when my knees are weak

I can dance when I’m facing defeat

Because My God…

I have faith when I cannot see

I can love though I’m still in need

I am strong though I could feel empty

Because My God…

This morning (in this vacation condo in this beautiful paradise of Hawaii with my loving guy) I was exhausted from trying to get comfortable all night. I would sleep in one position until I couldn’t stand it and could wake up enough to sit up and reposition myself, then try the next position, etc. Six hours and many positions later I woke up in a potentially bad mood. Instead of having the energy to go swim or kayak in the ocean or even sit on the beach today, I needed to rest some more and we relaxed and watched tv together. That might ordinarily depress me, but I decided I could smile at my husband and enjoy just being together and I did. I think my song helped.

God gives me hope and a future and has really blessed me with this fun and loving man too. What did I do to enjoy my vacation today? We got up and went and had great Kona coffee right near the ocean. I rested, I wrote to my friend, I watched a documentary and ate a good lunch and a little candy. Then I ventured out to the pool with my laptop and started writing again. After several months of not feeling like writing because I was depressed from pain, I felt like I had something to share. Yay!

After being so seriously focused on my writing I heard my husband’s ukulele playing as he sat right next to me…

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Then a few minutes later he handed me his iPad with photos to scroll through. “Which one should I post on Facebook?” he asked.

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I definitely need to laugh while I’m going through challenges too! (Recently I took a nine hour class on current chronic pain relief management research and LAUGHTER was actually one of the research-based effective treatments!)  Its so much easier to sing when someone is else is singing and playing along. Winking smile

I wish you smiles, songs and laughter today, no matter what you’re going through.

~Darla
darla.greven@gmail.com

I Just Saw Myself Tromping Up a Hill

tromping in snow

I just saw a photo of myself tromping up a hill of thick snow. I remember stepping, my booted foot sinking deep into the cold white magic. The air was freezing and wild and I was unafraid. I remember and I burn with frustration that I won’t feel that again. Not with these injured legs, not in this life.

As I sit here on this snowing day, sorting old photos, I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to feel this intense burn, but I’ve learned that if I don’t let it flow through me it will bang at my door and grow hotter and uglier till it bursts through and singes both me and those around me and we are left wondering why we sit among the char.

So I stop and I stare at the strong- bodied woman in the scene then press the paper desperately against my chest, as if I could meld her strength back into my paralyzed body again. It was me! It IS me! It’s unfair! Give her back to me! Where have you taken her- you out of control driver turned into crashing car and jolting metal? If I were Jesus I might have offered to take your consequence. But I’m me and I’m angry sometimes.

I forgive, but ten years later I still miss things and it burns, though not all the time anymore. But like right now, as I look at this photo, then look out of my wall of windows facing the snow-filled forest that I can’t go tromping in anymore, it’s intense…it’s so intense…how I long… Then I choose to go on, my heart tromping uphill, stepping through the cold moment unafraid as I see my husband outside plowing out paths for my wheels and I remember my loved ones and that this body can still share their hugs and laugh at their jokes and find our fun together. I’m blessed (but its ok to cry sometimes), I’m so very blessed. I’m ready to go on…Next photo?

Is there something you miss intensely sometimes? What helps you process it then move on without stuffing it in a way that hurts worse later? I’d love to read your comment. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted…” May we really know comfort and find those whom we can love and laugh with. Today!

Blessings,
Darla
   
darla.greven@gmail.com

Email me if you’d like to ask me a question or get a notification when I post my next story.

I’ll Take the Tears, Thank You…

The Pain and Tears
When my bedroom is dark and my wide-opened eyes start dripping tears onto my pillow I know its time. I made a deal with myself that when I got to this level of pain, I would get up and take a pain pill. But I don’t want to give in. I delay a little longer.  I picture the blue notecard on the blue wooden tray on my nightstand right next to me- my “pain plan”- and try to think of anything on the checklist that I haven’t tried yet for my pain. Deep breathing? Pillow under my knees? Distracting my brain with a game or movie on my iPad?  Try to go to the bathroom again? Roll over on my stomach and ask Maurice to scratch my back? Tried it all and my nerve pain is still so high I can’t sleep and I can’t think logically enough to decide the next thing to do. I told my support group and my husband that when I get to this point I would follow the next part of the plan.

I get up (which takes a good deal of effort with paralyzed legs) and roll to the bathroom drawer where I keep my pills for pain and sleep. I hate taking them and I HATE that I need them, so I usually sit there for a few moments trying again to make it go away by ignoring it and playing some mindless game on my phone, but at this level the “distraction” strategy is never enough. I slowly count out one more neuropathic pain med, a Tylenol PM and one oxycodone. Usually in 20 minutes my pain is lower and I can sleep. Sometimes, like tonight, I can’t and I have to go to the next level of the plan and take one more of each, try again, then get dressed warm (our house is cold at night), drag out some blankets and go lie on the couch with my legs bent to relieve back pressure and watch an old movie on my iPad. Again, this all takes longer from a wheelchair and when I’m tired and in pain alone at night, my frustration zooms. So I try to stay unemotional. I can’t even pray. God understands.

“If you knew my trauma, you’d understand my drama.”
Besides the obvious reasons why this is hard, I have traumatic memories that make my limbic system scream at me when I face the pill bottle, “Don’t do it! You’ll die!” This is my “survival brain”; the part of us that was created to help us respond instantly to situations that it perceives as dangerous because they have been a threat in the past. It learns and uses fear to spark our body into fight, flight or freeze. But in this situation I have had to condition myself to ignore it…because it lies.

My little girl fear is that taking pills for pain will kill me because its what led to my mother’s death when I was twelve. Really. That’s how extreme it feels. You see, my mother also suffered a spinal cord injury from an accident as an adult, before I was born and lived with neuropathic pain. It was in the 60’s and the only medication they knew to prescribe were valium by day and barbituates for sleep at night. They were increasingly addicting for her and life was hard and she eventually overdosed. It was tragic. It makes sense on a deep level, that I would feel intensely scared to take pills for the same condition now! That’s why my simple “pain plan” and my following it is a major accomplishment and represents years of counseling, prayer, work in a support/accountability group and just practice telling myself the truth. I have had to work through traumatic memories associated with her pain, drug use. overdoses and death. I have had to learn how to talk about the fears I have of taking pain meds and to learn to assess my need logically and seek advice from a pain specialist.

I Need the Pills
The burning nerve pain I have is the reaction of my injured spinal cord to the  sensations it receives from the paralyzed part of my body. Anything can randomly affect it. I also have shoulder pain from having to use my upper body too much and arthritis in my neck and pain in my hip from the other injuries sustained in the accident that caused my paralysis. The reality is that this pain is chronic and will most likely increase as I age. So how much pain medication to take? That’s the struggle. In reality I know that taking pain pills over a long period of time can be harmful and effect my health in other ways and even possibly shorten my life, but If I don’t take enough and am over a certain level of pain it will also affect my health with stress and lack of sleep. It will also increase depression and drain my motivation to work, socialize and exercise. So I have concluded that I need to take enough and if it shortens my life I will still have a better life. (Now, I need to add that if God heals me and I believe He can, I won’t need the pills anymore. Wouldn’t that be GREAT! But in the end, I’ll get a new perfect body FOREVER anyways, so it’s a win-win in the long run )Smile

So my thinking brain says, “That makes sense. It’s a good plan. It’s safe. Take the pills if you need to.” But my emotions still fight me as I sit in front of that drawer, struggling with whether to take more. So I tell myself the truth. “I have done all I can. I need some relief. I need to sleep. I am not hiding this. I am not an addict. I will not die from an overdose. I will tell my husband in the morning what exactly I took. It is not too much.” I wish my mom would have found the help and emotional I have and am so thankful for. I wish she had had the better medications available to her that I have and I wish the doctors had monitored her prescriptions more vigilantly like they do mine. But I have a hope and pardon my preachin’, but like I said, in the end, we will both have new perfect bodies and I dare believe, we will walk together, even dance, like we both loved doing before our accidents.  Wow.

PS: Pain still sucks, even causes tears, but I’ll take the tears, thank you. I choose to LIVE.
I’m also starting to go through a new workbook called “Mastering Pain” written by a psychologist/pain specialist/one who suffers from chronic pain. Hopefully she will have some current, helpful ideas… I’m always on the lookout for the lastest resources.

Comments? Questions? I love the feedback…

My Life Isn’t Fair! (I Have Such an Unfair Advantage!)

I yelled the first phrase at God so many times the first year after my paralyzing CRASH in 2003. “It’s just not fair! What did I do to deserve this horrible hardship? Why, why, a thousand times, why?!” Then I’d cry even harder when no voice came from heaven to explain it all away. Grief took its time, but, as I continued to press myself to be open about it and to get the help and encouragement I needed from gracious people, it slowly took up less of my thoughts and emotions and I began to find my life again. I would never have believed it that first year, even if the voice had come and clearly, patiently, revealed every detail of the beautiful new life my husband and I would eventually discover again- in spite of my unusable legs and continuing pain from spinal cord injury. As I was grieving-it just didn’t seem possible. Just the losses in our physical relationship alone were enough to make me spit out that phrase again…”My life isn’t fair!”

But now ten years later I read that phrase again and I think, “Yes, its true in a different way…I see now that I am actually blessed with an advantage that not everyone has. Is it fair that I would have such a supportive, hard-working, creative problem-solving husband while others might have to handle life with a painful loss, paraplegia, chronic pain or other challenging situation without a partner like mine. No, it’s not completely fair.

What I really mean is that now I am seeing that we all have challenges and we all have blessings. They aren’t equally dealt. We all make choices, which affect our lives, too and that complicates the comparisons even more. So it really makes no sense to compare. What I CAN do is to submit the difficult things I have no control over, to God. What I can do is trust Him to care for me and ask His help to make the best choices over the things I can control and for the ability to do them (then actually do them!) I know this is no original inspiration- it sounds just like the Serenity Prayer!)

As I write I realize also, that it makes no sense to feel guilty for my advantages either. My best reaction to these advantages is to be grateful to God for them, enjoy them and use them for good.

So here I go. I’m going to do that…
I am completely, fall on the floor grateful for my husband Maurice. He has been a complete partner to me for 34 years of real life and especially through our greatest challenge- the crash and the past 10 years dealing with its effects: the extreme injuries to both of us, the 3 month recovery, the financial burden the first 2 years and the ongoing pain and limitations of spinal cord injury that we BOTH suffer.

He stayed at my side through 3 months of hospitalization and rehab; comforting, suffering and learning beside me. He never made me feel like a burden even though we almost lost our business and his work load increased immensely with me able to do so much less when we finally returned home. He has built additions and remodeled our home for my new needs room by room and always puts extra effort into making it not just functional, but beautiful- for me!

He let me cry about losses I experienced like walking, hiking, bike riding, cross country skiing, etc., but at the same time he figured out new ways we could do things, like taking me back into the forest with an atv, onto some trails with a special wheel attachment and some extreme strong pushing by both of us, customizing a handcycle for me to ride, teaching me to ride a snowmobile and taking a special beach chair back to Hawaii; just to mention just a few.

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This guy still dreams while hugging away my grief. I say “I’m so frustrated I can’t do this anymore.” And after the sad wave passes he says, “I have an idea of how we can do it…” (I love the “we” part!) So together, we have taken many trips back to Hawaii where the injury and crash happened and kayaked and snorkeled countless hours together there again. (I even swam with dolphins in the open ocean). We have pushed on beautiful trails and driven our ATV’s on many forest roads. We have seen beautiful snow scenes from our snowmobiles and camped at accessible places at National parks. He has found a way for us to take our grandchildren one at a time to Disneyland and with his planning and overcoming obstacles we even took a long vacation driving through Europe this Fall!

Having a spinal cord injury means having a lot of complicated physical needs. It takes a lot of work to figure out how to travel with these needs and he eagerly puts the time and effort into it so we can keep having fun together. I truthfully feel spoiled. Yes, my life is extra hard with the paralysis and pain and frustration of disability, but the devotion and companionship of my husband far outweighs it. I can’t imagine doing it alone. I am so “unfairly” blessed!

I’ve mentioned the fantastic trips and special adventures, but the bigger part is his support in everyday life. Since the beginning of my recovery I have had to put in many hours a week doing special exercise to build back what I could and just to maintain my general strength. Exercise, showering and everyday tasks all take much longer than they used to before my disability. At the beginning I felt like he was doing all the work and I was just doing stuff for my own body. I struggled with feeling selfish. But he would say, “You’re doing your job. Your job is to take care of yourself. That’s hard work.” He never resents me for the extra work he has to do and every time I slip back into feeling bad he re-reminds me!

So, instead of trying to weigh and compare what is “fair” between lives, I just decided that I’ll be grateful for mine. And if you see me doing something that impresses, just look at the strong man next to me and know that now when I’m asking “Why me?! I actually mean, “What did I do to deserve this wonderful man?”

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Thank You, MY MAURICE!
You work so hard and do so much so we can have a good, happy life together.
Thanks for always making me laugh along the way. I’m letting the world know the secret to my good outlook- YOU! You’re the amazing one!
I love you!!!

I challenge you to think about what is “unfair” in your life. I mean, what wonderful thing do you have that not everybody has? Sometimes its something very simple like “a mother” or “a child”. (I lost my mother when I was 12 and some, very sadly, have lost children.) I encourage you to find a way to express gratefulness for that person or thing.

May you discover MANY blessings this week! Let me know in the comments or an email. Thanks also for sharing my stories in any way you can so we can stir more encouragement up in this world. Its so needed!

~Darla

Buenos Dias from Barcelona Spain!

UPDATE: We are driving down the highway from our hotel to Barcelona, Spain this morning; some of our last 2,800 miles as we drive through Europe. Right now my view is being pulled strongly away from my computer screen, to my left, where I can see the Mediterranean Sea in the morning sunlight. In front of me is again more highway with signs in yet another foreign language (we’ve seen French, Flemish, Dutch, German, Italian and now Catalan/Spanish). Today we’re off on another adventure- one of our last here in Europe, as we will fly home the day after tomorrow. We will take a train up to a 1,000 year old monastery at Montserrat, a beautiful mountainous area, and then explore what we can of the city of Barcelona.  It’s a beautiful, sunny day.

Since we are doing so much and I’m focusing on “enjoying being here” (and good wifi is hard to find); my posting of pictures has been several days behind my travels.  Today I want to share snapshots from our day in Venice and some views as we drove from the Swiss Alps to our hotel in “Quarto d’Altino”, just outside of Venice. Since Venice is known for being very difficult for wheelchairs we were prepared for challenges…

Click here for my photos from Venice. (While you’re there, you can “like” my page if you want to see the short posts I put on my facebook page)

I’d love to read a little comment from you too- don’t be shy! Smile Love, Darla

More Pictures from Our Europe Trip, etc.

The link below are our pictures from Germany and Holland.

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Tonight we are in a hotel in a small town near Genoa, on the Italian Riviera. Sounds romantic, and it is, but its just a quick stop. We got here about dinner time and rested after an absolutely CRAZY day driving out of Rome and then trying to find the museum in Florence where the “David” is. My husband  was incredible, dodging unpredictable scooters and cars through unbelievably narrow streets, with every single nook and cranny being used as a parking spot. After an hour we had to give up and were frustrated with ourselves for not bringing our handicap parking placard, which could have allowed us to find a spot.

We decided instead to try to find the Leaning Tower of Pisa and were so glad we did because it really was a lot more amazing looking than we expected. Maybe that’s because my imagination of it comes from cartoons! So here’s a peek at some of our Italy pictures. I’ll be writing more stories about our time in Italy. Between Venice, Rome and driving today, it has been amazing and hard, but so very worth it.

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After arriving tonight in Genoa and resting, we drove down to the little town on the Mediterranean Sea, had a time figuring out how to pay for a parking spot and had a drink at a sidewalk café. Very sweet. Now its time to get ready for rest, put my swelling feet up and rejuvenate for tomorrow. Good night! Buonasera!

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Picture links from our Europe Trip

Because we (my husband and I) are having such an amazing time sight-seeing in Europe, we are simply too exhausted to figure out how to share an album directly on this website tonight, but we were able to post them on my facebook page, (Laugh With Me Cry With Me). We have spent 3 days in Paris, 2 days in Holland, 1 in Germany (Munich & Dachau), 3 in the Swiss Alps, 2 in Venice, and are on our 3rd night in Rome! Tomorrow we drive through Florence, then sleep one night in Genoa, then 2 in Nice (French Riviera) and then 4 in Barcelona!!! Oh my, is that why I’m so tired???!

Here are some “Snapshots from Paris” and “Snapshots from Switzerland”, our first 2 albums. I’m really excited to share my pictures and stories from Venice and Rome soon too. Today we took a 5 hour private, accessible tour through the Vatican museums, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica- astounding! It’s all been like a perfect dream…with moments of being jolted awake by physical challenges…then going back to our hotel, sleeping and dreaming for real, then waking up for real and GO, GO, GO! What an incredible partner I have to share this all with and to push through obstacles with me. THANK YOU, MAURICE. THANK YOU, GOD! And thanks for reading and sharing my journey!

Here’s the links: (You can “like” my facebook page if you want to get my posts there too)

“Snapshots from Paris”
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.405931492840175.1073741826.274176379349021&type=1&l=4457e2d8f8

“Snapshots from Switzerland”
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253 Miles Between Heaven and Hell

Yesterday in Europe I honestly saw the ugliest place I have ever seen in my life and 4 hours later, the most beautiful. We toured the memorial site at the Dachau concentration camp and then drove on through Germany, the corner of Austria, and then into the Swiss Alps.

We were headed for Waterfalla small, nice hotel in the Alps with a wheelchair accessible room that Maurice had found on the internet. I got excited when we first spied the Alps on the far horizon, then as we drove on steep, twisty roads GrindelwaldI couldn’t believe the quaint villages, the endless green slopes and valleys and the surreal waterfalls surging down the cliffs. I kept snapping pictures, frustrated with the small car windows and raindrops- I just couldn’t capture the real life beauty. But when we reached the hotel and saw the view I gasped, then teared up. (I really did) It was far beyond our expectations, like what I would make up in a perfect dream.

My tears earlier that day dachau creamatorium ovenswere much different. As we toured Dachau, my feelings went from numb to anger to grief, then when we went into the crematorium building I froze, feeling I had to cry or throw up. I cried. [Begin Maurice’s notes] – It was very moving to stand in a Ramp at dachau (wheelchair)place where such atrocities had taken place. Darla noted that there was something ironic about a place where the bodies of those condemned simply for being disabled, now had been made accessible for the disabled to visit. I agreed when she said that this drive was the 253 miles between Hell and Heaven. And here in Grindelwald, Switzerland, it sure looks, feels, and sounds (bells on the local sheep) a lot like Heaven. [End Maurice]

On a lighter note, the previous night after we had checked into our hotel in Munich, we looked up tourist spots in Munich and decided to look for a famous restaurant named “Hofbrauhaus”. Maurice bravely programmed the rental car navigator to guide us through busy traffic into the old historic part of town. There were a few arguments between him and the British accented voice giving us directions, a couple emphatic questions about why taxis drive the way they do here, and a treacherous walk down a parking garage driveway ramp (no elevator), but we finally made it and learned thatHof Brau - Mike and Cristof they started brewing beer in 1592 and since 1828 its been a big, noisy, fun restaurant where people share big tables and sit on benches, eating things like German sausages and sauerkraut and all their beers are served in gigantic beer mugs. They had a live brass band playing traditional Bavarian music and whenever the band starts a new song the custom is to clank mugs and yell “Prost!”  (Cheers!)  [Begin Maurice] When we came into the really large restaurant, we were really intimidated, and we had no idea what to do. We decided that we would look for an employee and ask Munich (night tower with us)(as well as we could, since all this was happening around us in German). We found out that you just pick some space, and have a seat. As we were asking this, a busload (literally) of people walked in past us. I thought that we wouldn’t be able to find a spot that would accommodate the wheelchair, but was wrong. We asked a young man at a picnic sized table if there was space here and he motioned for us to have a seat. Darla introduced herself to him and I did the same. Suddenly a person stepped up behind me onto my bench and climbed past me and had a seat, obviously the friend of Cristof, whom we had just met. We found out that he was Mike, who was originally from Berlin. We exchanged some stories, smacked some beer steins together (several times) and made some new friends. It was an experience that I wish we could experience more in our American culture. [End Maurice] 

Afterwards we walked around the old square, eavesdropped on conversations in German and took pictures of the beautifully lit historic buildings (with our cute faces of course!)  Also, after so much review of World War II history in Holland and Germany, I loved the ironic justice of seeing Jewish names on some shops that were right in the middle of the square where Nazi headquarters used to be!

Today my perfect dream of lush green valleys, stark steep mountains laced with white snow and glaciers, and perfect Swiss chalets continued as we took a train up a steep mountain in the Alps and I was completely overwhelmed and cried some more…and took a zillion pictures. This trip hasn’t been easy; Maurice and I have navigated through obstacle after obstacle, but we are doing it- together- and its more than worth it. And its not over, yet. We still have Venice, Rome, the Riviera, and Spain and lots of pictures to come. Thanks for reading my stories.

The Tears Even Taste Better in Paris!

The dream of travelling in Europe began long before spinal cord injury robbed my flexibility, spontaneity, and ability to pack lightly- attributes which really helped me when I hiked, camped, or served missionary in Mexico in my earlier life and they were part of my identity. I remember after my injury a friend spoke of travelling to Italy and I felt like a knife suddenly stabbed me. “Maurice and I planned to go there some day, but now…”, I couldn’t finish because I didn’t want to cry…again! That first year had so many moments of grief that sprung up on me like this, unexpectedly, and I was determined not to try to suppress it like I had when my mom died as a child. “Why not?”, she asked, thinking she was encouraging me. But most people couldn’t really understood my limitations because they hadn’t been through the month of rehab with me and learned the full impact that paralysis of my whole lower body meant. I didn’t always feel like explaining things like not even being able to use a regular toilet seat, even if my wheelchair could get next to it.

Italy, and most of Europe I knew, didn’t have my list of new special needs, nor could we carry all the equipment with us and even if we could, the pathways are full of old stairs and cobblestones, I thought and I needed flat, smooth ground now. So I gave up my dream.

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…Ten years later. Lots of hard work at intensive exercise induced recovery has given me some movement in my legs and some other changes have enabled me to use a bathroom if my chair can get next to it. The internet has connected us to other paraplegic travellers who have learned some tricks to travelling and written specific experiences to glean from. Also, you’ll in some pictures below, we bought an attachable front wheel that helps the chair glide over bumpy roads. Yay! And then, the last missing link… we received an unexpected class action payment from our health insurance due to the huge bills we had after the accident. So here I am getting on an “aisle chair” that he airline uses to get me down the skinny aisle to my seat in the airplane. After flying a lot I’ve learned to say “Thank you, I’ll fasten the seatbelts myself.”

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After months of planning and checking and rechecking on accessibility of hotels, and days of packing to make sure we can do this with my special needs, we were off!

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The Palace of Versailles..

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The Hall of Mirrors and some of the gorgeous artwork.

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Marie Antoinette’s bed…and our lovely meal we had after we checked into the hotel then went exploring nearby. Day one. Funny that I included one of the food, because I read that the food in Paris is a big part of the experience, but I didn’t think it would be for us. But oh my gosh! Every taste and texture was amazing.

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The next day I wanted to see the Eiffel tower. Maurice found a map of the subway with the “accessible” stations, and figured out our route. When we got there after walking 10 blocks in the rain and paying, the elevator didn’t work. Some worker from across the street came and used his key to make it work and we got on it. Getting off we only found stairs- about 30 down and 30 back up to get to ground level. after trying to find a better way, Maurice decided we could do it and we started bumping down them. A stranger started helping and we made it, but decided to find a different way back!

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After some more drama about finding a bathroom and using one on the street that opens the doors automatically when you’re done, then cleans itself, we made it to the tower. We started getting in the L O N G line, then a ticket agent ushered us over to the front of the line and we went up the first elevator where you can view the city. I had hoped we could take the second elevator to the top, but the stairs were tiny and slippery in the rain and besides they didn’t allow it. I admit I was really disappointed, but we did get to experience it together.

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On the way home, my silly guy had me laughing again.

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To get to the Arc de Triomphe was all stairs, crossing down under the street and back up to it and over 200 to climb to the very top. I would have LOVED to see it closer, but I used my binoculars and enjoyed the view I had, writing a note on my iphone to look up what those names carved on it are! After our long walk back, we had another great meal. I started saying, “The food is sexy here!”

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Day 2, we set out to try the busline to the Louvre. I was wore my long leg braces and Maurice strapped my walker and my extra wheel (the one for bumpy roads) on the back. My plan was to stand up in front of the Mona Lisa to get a good view of it in the crowd. I confess when we came into the plaza and saw the the Louvre I teared up- happy.

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Beautiful, amazing art everywhere! My only disappointment was that they closed 4 hours before the information we read! There is so much more I want to see there. At the Mona Lisa, they escorted me to an area in front of the cord that the rest of the crowd can go up to and they wouldn’t let me stand up there (Maurice had to kneel), but it was closer than anyone else could be. Another woman in a wheelchair and her assistant took this picture of us.

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It was raining like crazy and there was a Starbucks with a menu we actually understood and we needed internet, so… Then totally out of my comfort zone, we entered a big designer department store with guards all around, $2,000 purses and I surprised myself by finding a collection that I rather fell in love with! My daughter Liz would have loved to see this stuff!

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Just an interesting sight from the bus through the rain…

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And guess what we did after we got back to the hotel and dried off? Another sexy dinner Smile. And after all that pushing with my arms and eating I finally did some standing/walking with my braces on for exercise and now it’s so late (4 am!), I am going to publish this story without my usual critical eye, because tomorrow we get up early and drive to Holland.

Good night or good morning or Bonjour, or whatever! I think its Sunday now and I hope I can sleep…

The 10 Year Anniversary of My Tragedy but I’m Celebrating Fulfilled Dreams!

I rolled into a room filled with smiling faces I love. “Surprise!!!”, they yelled. Each of my eight grandkids and three daughters ran up to me and gave me a hug. Long time friends and family felt the significance of this day because they almost lost me in the terrible crash 10 years ago and so many of them showed up just to celebrate that I was here. New friends that never knew the walking, running, skipping me came to honor me as they knew me now and I was overwhelmed. My daughters saw my pouring tears and knew their plan hit my heart just like they intended. My husband’s little white lies during the day suddenly made sense and turned to sweetness inside me. Someone brought me kleenex.

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Thank you. That’s all I can think to write. I am speechless. The only way I can express how this all made me feel would be to cry on the page here……….beautiful. The love and support of these people is what has kept me going through the hard times and here it was represented in this one room, decorated with giant palm trees (real ones!), inspirational words and photos of my life during and after my recovery from spinal cord injury, my favorite treats and music and cards hanging from the cutest clothesline I have ever seen! (It took me an hour to read them all when I got home.) My daughter passed the microphone and after so many heartfelt words were spoken and the story of that tragic day remembered; I felt figuratively like I could die happy now. Fulfilled.

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All this for me and I get to go to Europe this week! (there’s a fun backstory about it). Here’s what I wrote a couple of days ago…

I have been working so very hard, trying to ignore my nerve pain today as I count out and label hundreds of pills and medical supplies, carefully choose clothes that will keep me packingcomfortable and stylish if possible, through rain, heat or freezing cold without burdening my husband with too much more luggage weight than my special needs already require and thinking very hard to imagine what this crazy body might need in the seven foreign countries we will be traveling in next week, that I’m certain that if I were a cartoon I would have smoke coming out of my ears!

Half way through the day, I see the date, September 7th, and realize- its been 10 years exactly since I was paralyzed… wow. I really thought this year I would feel upset on that date, but instead I forgot. On a day that my friends might be feeling sympathetic towards my sadness, instead they are feeling excited for me as I prepare for our 3 week trip to Europe. Wow- that’s really what I need to stop and take note of this year- not that its been ten whole years of a changed and challenged body and life, but that the promise that I struggled to believe has come to pass- that we would find a “new normal” and life would be full again. It actually is. I am LIVING MY DREAM and just feeling amazingly blessed.”

I promise to check in next week with a short story and some photos from Paris. I hope that one will be me standing up to see the Mona Lisa. (I have been practicing standing in my long leg braces and am bringing them so I can see some of the museum pieces at the Louvre and the Vatican at eye level) Wow. I remember crying about a year after my accident, because I was sure we could never fulfill our dream of travelling to Europe because of my limitations. And now….!

Well, the clock is ticking- I gotta get back to counting, checking lists and testing which bags I can actually help carry while still pushing myself through the airport. Say a prayer for my travel agent/ personal porter/ bodyguard/ fun and strong life companion/ husband, Maurice, who is busy checking reservations, tickets, cellphone rates, adding gadgets to my wheelchair, getting things set up at work, etc,, etc, but not, I must say, not worrying like me about what clothes he will pack. I’m still just a woman and now, yikes! I better get busy!!!

I will post a couple of stories here on my website while I’m in Europe and won’t be posting on Facebook, Carecure, Apparalyzed, Twitter, Mobilewomen or Northwest Women Wheelers until I get back, since my international data is expensive. Please subscribe to get an email with my new stories or check back here in a week as I’ll be writing from some café with wifi in Paris next. Au Revoir mis amis!