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Travels with a Wheelchair: Lessons Learned the Hard Way - Part 4 - On the Road Again
by Evangelina Vela

The trip home from New Orleans continues. See Part 3 for the beginning.

Once we got to the car rental office, I called the auto shop to see if they had gotten the van in and to see how quickly they could fix it. They weren't going to be able to get to it that afternoon. I had to find a hotel. I called the travel service at American Express and asked them to find us a place to stay for the night. They looked and said that the town was full. I lowered my requirements and told them to keep looking.

In the meantime, I had signed the papers to rent the car and asked the agents what was going on in town since all the hotels were full and all their cars were rented. They looked at each other and shrugged. It wasn't a special day or holiday. It was just one of those days. Finally, the travel service found us a small motel that had a handicapped accessible room available. It had a full size bed, not our usual king-size. I knew from experience that I would be on the floor if we both tried to sleep in that bed. I asked about a rollaway bed. They could provide one. We took the room.

By now, the leasing office was about to close, and we had to get to the auto shop to rescue my husband's wheelchair. We got directions and headed off on our new adventure. At the shop, I took care of the paperwork for the van. We got the keys so I could get the wheelchair out. That was the easy part.

Now, I had to figure out how to take it apart. I had never done this before. And it was getting dark. I read the manual, which I always carry in the back pocket of the chair. It seemed simple enough. Unhook the power supply; lift the little levers to release the seat; rock the seat till it comes off. What levers? I asked a couple of the young men who worked there if they had a flashlight. They got it and got involved. They looked, they pushed and pulled, and after a bit of struggle, we got the seat free of the base. I crammed the folded-down seat into the back seat of the car with our bags. One problem down, one to go.

Now, we had to get the base into the trunk! The two very slender young men and I lifted the now freewheeling, very heavy base into the trunk of the compact. It fit, but the trunk wouldn't shut. One of the guys ran into the shop and came back with an elastic cord to tie the lid down. I thanked them for their help and got directions to the motel.

We were on our way again. Down the main drag that the shop was on until we hit a dead-end; hang a left; keep going until we crossed over I-10, and look for the motel. When we got there, I registered, asked about the rollaway, and asked if someone could help me with the wheelchair. The clerk directed us to the room and said the bed was on its way. The maintenance men who would bring the bed could help me with the chair.

I parked in front of the room, opened the door, and saw the men coming with the bed. I let them put it in the room and asked them for help with the wheelchair. We pulled the base out of the trunk and set it down. Then, I re-attached the seat. I sat down in the chair to move it over to my husband's side of the car so I could get him out. As soon as I sat down, I went rolling down the parking lot. I yelled for the men to grab the chair and stop its free flight. When they did, I turned it off and reset the brakes I had released when I took the chair apart. Now, it was working properly. I thanked the men and got my husband out of the car - finally!

He had been sitting, essentially trapped, in a cramped car for about four hours while I got out to take care of things. Now, he could finally extend his legs and stretch out. We got into the room, and I put him in the bed so he could really stretch out. Next, I called room service and ordered what turned out to be two of the best cheeseburger plates we ever had. I sat my husband up in the bed to eat at the table I pulled over. When we finished, he went to sleep. I called the van owner to tell him what happened.

Then, I called it a night, too. When I crawled into the rollaway next to the bed, it sank in the middle. It was very soft. I managed to find a position that kept me off the floor and slept.

The next day, I called the shop. The van wasn't ready yet. Checkout time was noon. I called the front desk. Was a late checkout possible? They gave us more time. I called the shop again. The guy I needed to talk to was at lunch. I called the front desk again. I explained the situation and told them I knew that they were full. Did they need the room immediately? They gave us more time. Finally, the shop said the van was ready.

I had to go get the van and drop off the car. My husband was going to stay in bed waiting for me. I called the front desk. I asked them if they would be able to call my cell phone for my husband if he called them since he has difficulty with numbers. The operator not only agreed to call me, she said she would tell the next operator who would be coming in soon when the shift changed.

I left, eager to end this little adventure and get home again. The way back to the car rental office in the daylight seemed much shorter than it had seemed the night before. I returned the car, and an agent gave me a ride to the shop. I picked up the van and headed back to the motel.

We got the van packed up again, checked out, and got back on I-10 West. We got home shortly after dark - a day late.

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