For most people, deciding to go somewhere is simply a matter of making the decision to go and then going. For people who are mobilized through the power of a wheelchair, that process is a little more complex.
Lynn and I have not been to church since he was hospitalized almost two years ago. He is now stronger and he is starting to adapt a bit better to the Rebif shots so we are considering trying to make a trip to church. However, for us, that takes a lot of planning and foresight.
1. What will he wear? Lynn currently dresses for comfort and convenience. Comfort related to the movement of limbs that need to be positioned, careful selection of where seams occur (since sitting on one for long periods when you cannot shift yourself is very uncomfortable), and something that is not binding, scratchy, or constricting. Usually, he wears a long-sleeve T-shirt and compression shorts with knee-high-toe socks. Not the most fashionable outfit but very comfortable and functional. The other consideration is the ease for intermittent catheterization or if he’s using an indwelling foley, location of tubing, and bag. Since he wears the same outfit to doctor’s appointments as he wears at home, he has not had on a pair of dress paints since PH (pre-hospitalization). Does he have a pair that fits and could be comfortable for at least three hours? Would they easily accommodate catheter needs? That is yet to be determined.
2. Bladder needs. If we are making a trip to the store or doctor’s office, I take catheter supplies and cath him discreetly in the van or public restroom (if the location has a unisex and private restroom available.) If we go to church, that’s an issue. He can’t leave in the middle of a service to be cathed; that would be disruptive. However, he hates wearing an indwelling catheter in public with a tube leading to a bag of urine. It’s embarrassing for him and it grosses some people out to see it–plus it makes him appear sick. He isn’t sick; he’s mobility challenged, so to speak, but otherwise not ill. He doesn’t want those sympathetic, pity-type looks. He wants to be viewed as whole and functional. He doesn’t want to be written off as not being able to contribute or considered a subject of pity. The urine bag represents that for him so it’s a struggle to make the decision to go somewhere like church with an indwelling catheter in place… though practically speaking, it’s the best option.
3. Accessibility. Can we get into the building and once inside navigate to where we need to go? Before going anywhere, I usually like to do a dry run to look to see where the handicap parking is located, do they have ramps, elevators or stairs, etc. You would be surprised at the locations that you cannot access. For example, we went to a lawyer’s office that had the required slope to the sidewalk so he could get to the front door; however, the slope was at the end of a sidewalk. The sidewalk ran in from of parked cars. On one side were cars and bumpers that extended over the sidewalk; on the other side were loose rocks used in landscaping and a significant dip off the sidewalk into the rock. As he attempted to negotiate the sidewalk and move around the cars extending over the sidewalk into his path, his wheelchair wheels went over the edge and his chair very nearly toppled over into the rock. I had to go inside and get the lawyer to help me lift him and his chair back onto the sidewalk. Then we proceeded to the front door which was a good three inches above the sidewalk. His chair can’t make it inside so we met in our van. You would think a lawyer’s office would be better equipped. However, we are often surprised at who is not equipped.
Case in point–when we went to the Social Security Disability hearing in downtown Richmond. I was amazed that there was no disabled parking available except down a steep hill. There was no curb slopping directly in front of the building. I had to unload him and his wheelchair (that was before we got the wheelchair van and was using a manual chair) into mid-day traffic! The entrance doors were not automatic and neither was the bathroom doors in the SS office! Again, you would think a place that caters to the disabled would be better equipped!
Now back to my plan to go to church. Our church is an old building. It has an elevator but it’s small. To get to the sanctuary, you enter the wheelchair into the elevator through a side door, then it goes up one floor, but the exit is at a 90-degree angle to the entrance door. It’s nearly impossible to maneuver a manual wheelchair with a large man in it into the elevator and out the door one floor up. There’s no way to get his powerchair in there with him in it due to the leg supports and foot pedals extending too far out. So if we go to church, we will have to use a transport wheelchair. The transport wheelchair is not designed to adjust in the ways he needs to remain comfortable sitting for an extended time. I’ve considered putting him in the manual chair and trying to send the powerchair up without him in it but even with all limb supports tucked in close to the chair, I’m not sure we could maneuver the chair out of the elevator. If he’s uncomfortable, he will not be able to focus on the sermon or enjoy the fellowship so we have to take that into consideration.
4. Finally, germs. He’s very susceptible to infection. He has an autoimmune condition, after all, so his immune system doesn’t function properly. If he gets a cold, or heaven forbid, the flu or a GI virus, it could put him in the hospital and all he has gained since his last hospitalization could be lost again. Therefore, once the cold weather sits in and people start spreading those nasty germs again due to being enclosed in crowded places, we will have to avoid public areas. I’ve jokingly told him I would put a plastic suit on him so he could shake hands and hug people but that might not be the most comfortable solution either.
So, we are not decided about going to church tomorrow. If we can find clothes today, figure out the catheter question and get the backup plan in place for wheelchair access, we might get there. It would be nice to hear the choir and fellowship with the congregation. We miss seeing them and being a part of worship but we are fortunate that if we can’t work out the process, we have the sermons online to fall back on. Keep your fingers crossed that we will make it in!