Special (Needs) Delivery!

Pizza Box Delivery Boy Man Concept Knocking at Customer Door Wall Background Retro Cartoon Design Vector Illustration

Credit: iStock.com/Meilun

My daughter and I enjoy going out to eat from time-to-time. There are times, too, when it’s much more convenient or comfortable to stay at home and order food to be delivered. We like pizza, Chinese and there’s a local deli that’s fabulous and offers delivery service. However, after several experiences with delivery drivers over the past year, something’s been swirling around in my busy brain so I’ve decided to write about it. I’m hoping it’s a chance to create an open-dialogue with businesses that offer delivery services about how to make accommodations for people with disabilities. It is often a company’s policy to prohibit their drivers from entering a home while making their deliveries. Having worked for a national pizza-chain, I understand that this is for the drivers’ safety. That being said, I wonder if the policy must be so black-and-white or if a gray area exists?

I’ve lived at my current address for several years and am a ‘regular’ customer of the eateries around my neighborhood. When ordering online, I write on my ticket “Disabled – may need help bringing food inside. Thank you!” When I call in an order, I ask that a note be made using nearly that exact wording. Yet, upon arrival with my food, I’ve had drivers tell me they can’t come in; it’s against the rules. Now, please picture me opening the door either using my cane with a wide foot-base or my power chair and perhaps you’ll see the gray area. I’m obviously not a threat to them and my appearance matches the comment on my ticket. Because of my balance issues, I’m only able to carry one thing into the kitchen at a time. This can take a couple of minutes because we usually have more than one box or we’ve also ordered drinks. Twice, I’ve had drivers tell me they’re “in a hurry, ma’am” or “have other deliveries waiting.” THAT’S a tad irritating because I’ve asked for help, it’s been declined so I’m doing the best I can do.

Let me make it clear that I’m not asking for special privileges due to my disability. I’m asking that the same accommodations that are made when I’m dining in a particular food establishment be made when I’m ordering in from that same business. I also understand that rules are rules yet I’m arguing that there are circumstances in life which can alter the necessity or validity of rules.

I’d like to make a suggestion to businesses that offer delivery services: Please notice the gray areas. There’s typically a section called “Special Instructions” customers can fill out when placing online orders – please make the necessary modifications or stretch the rules a bit in order to meet the needs of your customers with special needs. Just as the ADA grants those of us with disabilities the right to utilize and enjoy your restaurant while dining-in, please grant us the ability to do likewise when you’re bringing your services into our homes.

 

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Letting Go of “I’ve Got This!”

For so long, I’ve prided myself on my independence, on my ability to remain living alone with my child, on my capacity to raise my daughter with little outside help. I think having so many movements and physical activities stripped from me has given me a higher regard for that which I’m still able to do. I revel in being able to do things for myself whether that be larger-scale household chores like laundry or smaller things like opening doors for myself. I often tell people in public who try to be helpful (when it’s not needed) that “I’ve got this.” It’s almost been a mantra of mine since getting sick and relearning life and how to live it. No matter what I may look like on the outside, the inside of me is fully functional with a raging ego! Haha!! Using a cane? I’ve got this! Walking with a rollator? I’ve got this!! Self-propelling a wheelchair? I’ve got this!! Driving around in my power chair?? Yep. You guessed it! I’ve got this!!

However, recently, many activities of daily or weekly life have become either quite difficult or impossible for me to accomplish. Laundry has piled up – dirty laundry to be done (because it’s difficult to navigate the 2 steps up & down into the garage, tiresome and painful to complete this task and hard to take clothes out of the top-loading washing machine and front-loading dryer) and clean laundry to be folded (because this also causes a great deal of pain and is taxing on my body, leaving me feeling drained of all energy). My kitchen needs stocking, but going to the grocery store by myself is nearly impossible unless I’m buying only one or two small, lightweight items. I haven’t cooked a meal in weeks because my kitchen isn’t accessible to me so I’m required to stand to prepare food – standing can now only be done in short 2-3 minute periods and even Hamburger Helper takes at least 10 minutes!! Even dishes can seem insurmountable – yes, I can sit on a stool and wash them, but this, too, seeps energy from me and hurts my arms, hands, shoulders and neck (no, I don’t own a dishwasher; there’s no place to put one in any case).

I have a friend that comes and cleans. She makes our beds as well, since I’m unable to do so. But, I’m slowly realizing I’m soon going to need more than that to continue living alone, raising my child. One of my friends helps me grocery shop – she pushes the cart, gets items that are out of my reach and picks up things that are too heavy for me. I always feel loathe to ask her for assistance, but it’s coming to a point where I’ve got to get over that.

Lately, I’m realizing I may not “got this” anymore after all. Weeks ago, this prospect scared me. It left me feeling weak, needy, burdensome and worried about my future. Today, out of nowhere, came the thought that letting go of my independence is being the best mom for my daughter. If I want to continue to raise her, I must admit I need the help… and I must accept that help. Not only will it allow me to raise my kid, but it may teach her to ask for and accept help when she comes to need it in her future. She may learn to accept her circumstances much easier than her mom, who balks at admitting I can’t make a bed!! If I want to live alone with my little girl and raise her to the best of my ability, I must do so with outside help… and that’s okay.

I once heard that no one is ‘independent;’ we were created to be ‘interdependent.’ I think I’m beginning to understand that now. Maybe I don’t “got this”… but maybe there’s a WE who does!!

Why Play Dates Make Me Nervous…

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My daughter is five and has quite the social life! She’s made many friends from various facets of her life and my life combined – school, church, sports and recovery meetings. She’s the type of child who writes an invite list to her birthday party that’s longer than her Christmas wishlist. Needless to say, she is asked to join friends for play dates on a pretty regular basis.

This is where Mommy becomes more of a detective than parent. This is when I bust out with my list of questions for the parent who’s house I’ve never been to. I have to consider everything about the structure of their home and it’s accessibility to me before I can even decide if we’re able to go or not. Are there stairs leading into their home? If so, are there hand rails? Is the house all on one level? Are there carpets? Rugs? Toys or clutter of any kind in the middle of the floors that I’d need to try to navigate around? Is there an animal that might jump on me, causing me to lose balance? Or could that animal be so small and fidgety that I trip over them or can’t process all their movements in order to walk around it? What’s the bathroom like? Is there somewhere I can hold onto while in the restroom?

If you think this list of questions is long, think also of how I feel asking all of them: For starters, I never truly trust the answers that are given. I may trust the person completely in every other way, but able-bodied people do not have to think like I do. I myself never thought this way until I became disabled, so I surely can’t expect others around me to understand my needs immediately. I get nervous that something’s being left out: that small step up into the foyer; those 2 tiny stairs up the sidewalk that the person forgot to mention and oh, there’s no railing there either; the fact that the bathroom is on the second floor. I become concerned my daughter will be so excited the day of her play date yet when we arrive at her friend’s house, there will be some barrier preventing me from entering the home and we’ll have to either move to our house (which is way less exciting because other kids’ toys are always the most fun to play with!) or reschedule for another time and decide where to meet that’s accessible for me. And, there have been those instances where we’ve not made it into the house, even though I asked the litany of questions. I also feel guilty and can’t even pinpoint why – some of it is because I wish that we could just go like other families do; I wish I could be a ‘normal’ mom for my little girl. I have guilt when we must meet at our house, knowing my daughter enjoys playing with toys that aren’t hers. Yes, kids often bring toys from home to share, but it would be nice if my child could get out of our home more.

I feel like I’m interrogating the other parent; as if I’m making sure they have the “right” kind of home. I worry they’ll be insulted by all my questions – here they are, treating me like any other mother (which I deserve to be treated as, by the way) but I’m asking them tons of structural questions and focusing on my differences. I feel like it may seem I’m making a big deal out of a simple play date – “Wanna come over and play?” It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question! Not an opportunity to ask for the blueprints of the person’s house!! But, it’s also what I must do in order to know what my answer will be. There’s a small part of me inside that whispers quietly, “This is okay. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t stress out. God didn’t make a mistake in making you nor making you a mom.”

That wee small part of me also insists that it’s just a play date. The important part isn’t WHERE the playing occurs but the HOW (with enjoyment and happiness) and WHY (because my daughter is a wonderful, funny, compassionate friend) and also that it IS happening. When she’s twenty, I’ll ask her if she remembers having play dates with friends – I bet her answer will be along the lines of “Oh, yes! I had lots!” instead of “Yeah, but they were always at my house.” She’s got the best attitude about everything… even though her mom’s attitude can be saturated with worry, anxiety and guilt! Guess that’s just another thing that proves I’m like any other mama!

When my Limited Body Was No Match for the Limitless Love of my Daughter

My daughter is only allowed to watch a small number of television shows (yes, I am one of those parents). One of her favorite shows is Paw Patrol; I don’t use the word favorite lightly – she owns Paw Patrol dolls, pajamas, figurines, vehicles, stickers and don’t forget the light-up tennis shoes!! Nearly 4 months ago, I saw an advertisement stating that Paw Patrol Live! was coming to our city for the first time ever. I jumped on the chance to buy tickets but was faced with a decision: I usually use my power chair in public and especially at big events like this; it’s safer for me and ensures that I’m comfortable during the show but also don’t suffer pain & fatigue afterwards. However, this particular theater only has wheelchair seating in the very back – WAAAAAY back. Should I get tickets in the orchestra section where we’d be close to the stage and have a great view? Or should I get seats in the wheelchair section like I normally do? It seemed like a difficult decision to make… for about 2 seconds. I wasn’t going to Paw Patrol Live! for me – I was going so my daughter could be filled with amazement, joy, excitement and so that I could witness these feelings as they melded across her face. Yep, orchestra section it was!! Besides, I’d just ordered a sturdier, safer cane and was still walking pretty well for the most part. Some physical pain & discomfort were a small price to pay in order to see my daughter enjoy the show up close. I thought, 4 months ago, “I can do this! She’s worth it!”

Did I mention that was 4 months ago? Four long months in which my body regressed further in unexpected haste. When the day of the show came, I was walking very little, even at home. The only place I don’t take my chair to at all is a meeting house because I’ve yet to measure the doorway to make sure it will fit. I hadn’t realized I’d be this further into my illness & disability when I purchased the tickets. I’d felt so sure of myself then; when showtime came, I was much less confident.

Tickets in hand, excitement in our hearts, smiles on our faces, we went to the theater. My mother drove us so I didn’t have to deal with parking. We walked into the lobby where there were NO seats available! Not that people were sitting in them – the lobby was simply void of benches or rest areas!! I stood with my daughter in line to enter the theater and gave myself an internal pep talk, trying to feel capable of the physical task before me. When we got into the theater, I realized I’d gotten us FANTASTIC seats!!! But fantastic seats were more than halfway down the section and in the middle of the row – go mom! My sweet little girl waited so patiently as I made my way down the steps to our row, urging me to “go slow,” “don’t let go of the railing” and to “be careful.” I made it!! Then we awkwardly walked to our seats (well, she walked a lot less awkwardly than I did; I took out several adult feet and some small toes with the tips of my foot base!).

The show was AMAZING (and I strongly urge families with young children to see it)!!! Our seats were INCREDIBLE!!! The joy and awe on my little one’s face was worth every step cautiously taken!!! We had a BLAST!!! 

paw-patrol

Afterwards, I made it painstakingly up the steps, back out into the lobby to wait in a line for slightly overpriced merchandise (because we needed one more Paw Patrol doll, of course!!) and then waited on my feet for nearly 15 minutes before my mom pulled up to whisk us away. My lower body literally felt like it was on fire; I ached like I hadn’t in a long time; my toes & feet were numb but tingling painfully yet we had the time of our lives and inside, I couldn’t have felt better!! I don’t know if I’ll be able to do something like that for my daughter again and if so, for how long. But it was done the other day and I’ve cried while thanking God for the ability to walk, stand and go up & down stairs even though it hurt and was hard. I know one day, I wont be able to do any of that any longer so I’m grateful for every movement I CAN make and every ability I still possess.

My ability to love completely outweighed my inability to move like I once did – how can I not be thankful for that?!?!

Why is Mama Modified? (Getting to Know Me)

There’s a saying a like: I plan; God laughs.

 

This certainly feels applicable to my life. I had everything planned out; thought I knew the direction I was going; assumed my goals were attainable through hard work and dedication; fancied myself the director of my own show. I was finishing up my thesis for a Masters degree in Early Childhood Special Education with an emphasis on the medically-fragile/low-functioning population. I was teaching for the public school system in my city as a Special Educator. The unraveling of the thread of my future began with a headache. I’d never been prone to headaches before, even when sick. The headaches persisted and worsened. Every day brought on more pain. Over-the-counter medications were ineffective in treating the throbbing that traveled from the base of my neck to my eyes. Then came the pulsing sounds; a constant whooshing noise that matched the rhythmic beat of my heart (I would later find out I was hearing my own spinal fluid sloshing around in my brain. Pretty frightening!). I had no idea what was causing this new development and was already beginning to make the rounds of various doctors and specialists to try to find out what was happening to my body. No one had an answer for me, even after CT Scans and MRIs, all of which were normal. I was given multiple narcotic pain medications as the headaches increased in intensity to what was assumed to be migraines. Even taking dilaudid and morphine did nothing to lessen my agony. Then came the day I awoke without peripheral vision nor the ability to turn my head at the neck. Over the course of 2 1/2 months, my condition worsened; my speech became slurred as if I’d suffered a stroke; movement of my limbs was difficult; my tunnel vision regressed to mere pinpoints of sight as I stared at the faces of doctor after doctor, begging for a diagnosis, a treatment, an answer.

I’d already taken leave from the school where I taught and had stopped writing on my thesis. Finally, the night came when I went completely blind. That was the turning point. I was taken to the emergency room of a local, well-known hospital. Again, the ER staff took a CT Scan of my brain which came back with no abnormalities though what I was experiencing was far from normal. The director of the ER was called in. Although it seemed that he was the only new person to enter the room, I would soon realize that God had stepped in as well. This doctor had written his dissertation on an extremely rare neurological disease called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. He performed a lumbar puncture to gauge the cerebral-spinal fluid pressure – the only diagnostic tool used to recognize IIH. Normal CSF pressure is between 8-12; mine was 49. Six vials of spinal fluid were drained via the LP, and I immediately gained tunnel vision back, though it would take an additional 1 1/2 years before my peripheral vision returned. I began seeing a neurologist and neuro-ophthalmologist and taking a medication that would help my body rid itself of the fluid. After one year on the medicine, my IIH went into “remission.” However, my journey into a new way of living was not over.

There is no known cause of IIH nor is there a cure. It affects only 1% of the world’s population. For a reason unknown to the plethora of doctors and specialists I’ve seen over the years, after 28 years of working efficiently, my body stopped absorbing its spinal fluid, causing it to build up in and around my brain and spine. I was fortunate to have responded to the medication; to not have suffered a seizure or stroke due to the increased spinal pressure; to not have had a heart attack as my body worked over-time to compensate for the increased pressure in my brain and spinal column; to gain my full sight back with only a tiny blind spot in the peripheral of my left eye; to not have required surgery on my eyes or to place a shunt in my brain to drain the excess fluid; to not have died. The lasting effects of the IIH for me were to be a physical regression of mobility, coordination and balance. At the time of my diagnosis, I was a heavy drinker and was actively engaged in an eating disorder that left me malnourished and dehydrated – a combination of maladies that my brain and body simply could not deal with. Shortly after my initial diagnosis, my spinal column began to deteriorate; a disorder that mimics degenerative disc disease. I’ve since been diagnosed with several other neural-muscular disorders as well as neuropathy in all four limbs. Over time, I’ve lost (and will continue to lose) my ability to walk and perform various other physical activities that my once healthy, able body was capable of.

I had to withdrawal from the graduate program a mere 3 months prior to graduation. I’d been so close that my name was already printed in the programs for the ceremony – a ceremony I did not attend. I became dependent on government assistance; something I’d never foreseen myself doing. I had a home-health nurse and physical therapist. When I was able, I went outside my home for PT and struggled to walk again. I actually walked for 15 months without the use of any aids until I started falling again. A sort of backward cycle began – I’d gone from wheelchair to rollator to crutches to a cane and now was reversing the order; in need of a cane one day and before long, back on the rollator before sitting down again in a chair. I now use a power chair about 80% of the time. The cane I use to walk around the house and travel short distances has a wide foot-base to keep me as steady as possible. I’m not able to self-propel any longer but keep my manual chair for emergencies.

My plan was to become a teacher. Instead, I’d unknowingly been a student of the children in my classroom. Because of them, I’d witnessed strength, determination, motivation and perseverance and knew I could apply it to my recovery. I’d also learned about all the different programs, services and assistance for the disabled community. I’d helped children and their families modify their environments in order to be more accessible and accommodating depending on the level of care needed.

My plan was to live out a life I was in charge of. God simply smiled and showed me how to be grateful for every moment and each movement; to rejoice in the things I’d once taken for granted; to rely on Him instead of myself. I’ve also been blessed with an amazing daughter! Before age 28, had someone asked me if I could live my life as a disabled person, I would have said, “No.” Had anyone asked if it were possible for me to be a disabled parent, my response would again have been, “No!” But God would’ve giggled and said, “The answer is yes! You can do ANYTHING with My help!” And that is the correct answer!!

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*Post can also be read at: https://rollingwithspinabi7.wixsite.com/take2

More Mama Modifications

So this arrived today:

cane

To you, it may just be a cane with a foot-base. But to me, this cane represents many aspects of my adapting to new challenges. It represents my letting go of pride and ego – it took me weeks to finally hush the voice inside my head that insisted I’d look like an old lady; it finally occurred to me that acquiring this type of cane would not turn my hair cloud-white, cause my shoulders to stoop or wrinkles to set creases along the planes of my face!!

This represents my acceptance that my body’s gotten a tad worse; balance is more difficult; walking can be precarious at times. And if my old cane fell while I was alone? Well, the challenges that caused me were well worth taking a closer look at my need for more efficient safety. There’s a grieving process that occurs each time my body presents me with new limitations. Breaking through the denial can be cumbersome and unpleasant. Yet, it’s necessary if I’m to continue living the life God’s blessed me with. Therefore, this cane (or any new mobility equipment) is symbolic of the respect and love I have of myself since I’m taking steps necessary to stay safe and well.

It’s not just me, however. There’s a wonderful, caring, funny, helpful, smart 5-year-old who’s become increasingly worried about me falling… and possibly dying. As many know from my previous blog post, my father passed away after falling in his home. My daughter knows I’m prone to falling and has connected his death with the possibility of mine. Lately, I’ve watched her struggle to contain her anxiety as she watches me walk about the house. She’s wanted to review the plan we have in place in case I do fall. We’ve practiced “dialing” 911 on the house phone and on my cell phone; what to say to the dispatcher; the fact that I may be taken away in an ambulance; whom she might stay with if I were to need overnight care for her. It’s been heartbreaking, as her mom, to need to keep reiterating that her grandfather and I have different illnesses; that mine will most likely never kill me; that I have great doctors who monitor me and I take my medicine; that even if I do fall, it doesn’t mean I’ll die, too. Telling her she doesn’t have to worry about me does little to alleviate her fears. Walking with an aid that keeps me more balanced and stable can do much more to relieve her stress.

To her, my cane represents less worry about her mom. It represents the ability to not have to agonize about emergency-plans. It symbolizes a more care-free, happier childhood for her. As a mom, that’s priceless and something I’d be willing to adapt to any modification for her to experience!!

For both my daughter and me, my new cane represents us moving forward in life – literally and figuratively. We are always adjusting, adapting and modifying our lives to fit with what my body can handle at any particular moment. As a parent, there’s a guilt that she’s being dragged along this path with me. Yet, I see it’s made her much more flexible, accommodating and accepting of changes that pop up in her world, from school to play dates. If you see us out-and-about, we’ll be walking a bit more slowly and much more carefully. But chances are, we will be quick to smile and share in the joys of life with you!! So, please stop and say hello… and don’t worry about me falling!!