Holidays are a source of anxiety for many people, and especially people with chronic illnesses. We are leaving the security of our homes where we know where everything is, and also the assurance of a routine. Travelling brings uncertainty. There is also the added discomfort of the journey to and from the location where we will enjoy our break. Public transport, be it a train, bus or airplane, is always different. The seats are too small, where are the toilets, and will they be clean, usable. Plus, we have to interact with people we don’t know, and how will they react to our disability? It can be hell, but we hope it will be heaven.
Given this insecurity it was with some anxiety we planned a trip to San Francisco to visit with my partner’s daughter- and son-in-law. This post is broken into three parts as there is so much I wish to share with you, and I will post these over the next few days.
Only a week back from a holiday in the USA and I am still recovering from jet lag, and a detox from the trip. Sunnyvale was where we stayed, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and I experienced, again, life in the Golden State. I lived there in my childhood and had my honeymoon with my now ex-wife there over twenty years ago. My curiosity was, did it change, had I changed, and it would also allow me to see if my health would be better because of the warm and dry climate, and experiment with cannabis. I wondered would the seventeen days of this break be enough.
Usually people take a vacation to get a respite from their daily activities, be it work or to experience something new. This was my expectation too, and to some extent I achieved this, as you will read below. But I have a chronic illness, I can never escape away from, there is no holiday from being sick. I completely forgot this, and despite trying to take it easy, and to be normal, on my third day I had a complete crisis. The pain in my head soared, and this caused an unreasonable explosion of negative emotion, just as we went to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. After this outburst, and the reduction in mobility and the increase in pain, was extreme. The beast reminded me it only slumbers, but never disappears.
Disability in the USA
My plan for the trip was to use both a mobility scooter and my FES device to get around. As usual, I booked help in the airports, and my experience in Dublin airport was great, as usual. The care and attention they take should be an example around the world. They treat people with reduced mobility like normal people. Nothing special, normal. It is a great service.
On landing in San Francisco International Airport they brought me from the airplane all the way to the car picking us up. It all went perfectly. However, on the return journey I experienced something unusual. The PRM service is only accessible after checking in at the airline desk. For me, standing in a queue is a problem, and getting to the desk is equally difficult, unless I am using some assistance. Fortunately, there was no line, and we could check in quickly. If I had to stand longer than 5 minutes, I could not have done it. It seems strange the service doesn’t start at the door of the airport, like it does in Dublin.
There are Outlet Malls in this area where you can buy discounted name brand products, and I visited a few of them, spending a lot of money (for me) on new clothes. While doing this I used a mobility scooter to get around. There were lovely smooth footpaths, with ramps beside the disabled parking bays so I could bring the scooter onto the path. I expected this, but they did not have ramps at every junction, so to get to some places I had to double back, use a ramp, and then use the scooter on the road. This is not unique to the USA, it happens all over the world, and I expect it is because the developers do not seek the experience of the end user.
One sight you need to see is Alcatraz Island which has been immortalised in two films “The Birdman of Alcatraz” and “Escape from Alcatraz”. For this tour I was using my FES device. Before we boarded the boat, the staff allowed me to sit is a waiting area, which was much appreciated, and I could board the vessel first, so I could get a convenient seat. On disembarking I could use a tram specifically for those who could not climb the hill to the prison. I used this, but as a result I missed the talk provided by the Park Official to everyone who could walk. I felt excluded, and I think the personal manning the tram could have given the talk to us too.