As I settled in to read How Does It Hurt? on the first leg of my journey to Cairns, I drew the unavoidable parallels to Stephanie de Montalk’s painful pilgrimages, and counted myself blessed to be able, at least, to sit.
Stephanie’s condition means she is unable to sit. When travel is necessary she stands in aisles, lays across seats. On one flight from Sydney to Wellington she stood for the entire journey. For anyone who hasn’t experienced chronic pain, the reality of this is difficult to comprehend.
For me, every position is uncomfortable, and sitting is particularly so. Which makes it difficult when I need to rest – or, as was the case this week, take two flights to be with my family in Australia for Christmas.
When my brother asked if I wanted to come to Cairns, my immediate reply was yes, of course. He lives here with my sister in law and my niece, and I see them very rarely. I’ve never been able to visit, due to my financial and health situations.
They took care of the flights. So I just had to somehow get myself there.
As I wrote a few days ago, I have GAD and I’m an anxious traveler. Add my disability to the mix and the distance seemed insurmountable. But I didn’t feel like being beaten.
Luckily, I had the unrelenting support of my family and friends (special HT to @verbscape, who looked after me en route).
Sometimes my obsessive organisational skills benefit me. This was one of those times. I had to make very careful plans to ensure I had the right support, the right (and enough) medication, for every day of my trip.
I have to say that both Air New Zealand and Virgin, despite initial difficulties, were absolutely fantastic. I have never had an easier journey, in both physical and mental comfort, and that was almost entirely down to the Virgin staff.
They helped me every step of the way – well, actually, not every step, because they took me through customs in a wheelchair, which was so incredibly helpful. Not only did I not have to walk miles, I didn’t have to have an anxiety attack about being in the right place or missing my flight. There was one minor hiccup when I was delivered to the wrong gate during my changeover in Brisbane, and had to be hooned from one end of the terminal to the other on a buggy, which was stressful but actually pretty funny in hindsight.
On the two plane rides, the staff were helpful. They were kind but not patronising. They gave me my cane and offered an arm – not assuming I couldn’t do things, being there when I need it. It can be very hard to strike a balance between being compassionate towards a person with disabilities and treating them like they’re incapable. I think they managed it.
The thing that most saved me was my TENs machine – it made the sitting just bearable. I took painkillers, I was given aisle seats so I could move about easily, and I distracted myself as much as I could listening to David Whyte and reading.
Unfortunately, because of the mixup in Brisbane, I hadn’t had time to eat and there wasn’t really anything on the plane menu I could have. AND THEN THE GUY NEXT TO ME OPENED A BAG OF KRISPY KREMES. I hadn’t eaten for HOURS. I am ALLERGIC TO GLUTEN and I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT SUGAR and these were the MOST DELICIOUS PINK ICED DONUTS I HAVE EVER SEEN. He ate all of them. This was probably the most painful part of the journey.
I am now more than halfway through How Does It Hurt? and it looks like this:
So I guess it would be a bit of an understatement to say that a) I’m getting a lot out of it, and b) there is so much I want to share – there’s barely a page unmarked.
I intend to finish it in the next few days. It may take a little longer than that the produce something more worthy than “holy fuck read this book.”
In the meantime, I’m getting used to the Cairns heat (currently 31 degrees, 66% humidity), hanging out with my family, swimming, and pretending I don’t have a column due Friday.
AND still attempting to process my complete and utter shock over the fundraising for my MRI. I’m figuring out what to say about this and will write that soon too. Something along the lines of, I love you all, and: Best Christmas present ever?
<3 – WH