Fear of Flying

June 24, 2010

I used to love flying in airplanes. I mean, I didn’t actually love the discomfort, the noise, the waiting, etc, but I loved just hopping on an airplane and getting off in a completely new place. Not any more. Here is what’s involved in flying when you have a kid in a wheelchair:

1. The packing. I have a suitcase that I could literally fit inside. This is what Chloe’s stuff goes in for a trip longer than three days. Actually, it’s mostly diapers, because now that she’s grown into “adult” sized diapers, we can’t just pop down to the closest Wal-mart for a re-up. But there’s also the cans of formula, containers for food and water, extra tubes, medication, therapy tools, blankets for lying on the floor, etc.

2. Food. Chloe is on a liquid diet, because she has a feeding tube. Usually, I make her food in the blender. When we go on a car trip, I freeze it and put it in an ice chest, where it will stay cold all day. On an airplane, however, I have to give her the canned formula, because, while “medical” food is acceptable on planes, I don’t know if they’d let me bring a plastic container full of strange brownish sludge. So we have to stick with the clearly labelled stuff, which causes havoc on the tummy, then switch to better food once we get there. Which means we also have to pack the blender.

3. Security. It takes us an extra half hour to get through security, after explaining the need for all Chloe’s various liquids and the full wheelchair wipe-down.

4. Getting on the plane. You can’t take a wheelchair on the plane. They have these little plane-sized wheelchairs available, but Chloe would fall right out of those. Therefore, we have to carry Chloe and all our baggage down the aisle, bumping every seat we pass.

5. Sitting on the plane. Chloe can’t sit comfortably or safely in an airplane seat, so we bring her old car seat. This means we have to lug it through the airport and onto the airplane (see #4), then put it in place somehow before putting Chloe down. And she can’t sit that well in the car seat, either, so whoever sits next to her spends most of their time repositioning her head. On this last trip, we finally figured out that putting our bags under her feet helps, but then you can’t get in the bags, and they make you move them for take-off and landing.

6. Bathrooms. A fifty-pound child who cannot stand up and has no bladder control. An airplane bathroom that’s barely big enough for one person and has no changing table. A four hour flight. You do the math. And the bathrooms in the airports aren’t much better.

7. The destination. Even if we survive the plane ride, we are now stuck in some new place without our wheelchair van, our special needs car seat, or Chloe’s hospital bed. God forbid we’re visiting people who have stairs in their house, or in front of their house, or who are dying to show us some inaccessible tourist attraction. And then we’ve got the ride home to look forward to!

It’s amazing we ever go anywhere, but we do. And we actually enjoy it. All three of us love to travel, and Chloe is a great travel companion. We just have to remember to take our time, have realistic expectations, and breathe.

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