Surviving holiday wheelchair damage

If you are a Facebook friend you will probably remember my wheelchair story from October 2013. We were flying to Orlando for a family holiday to celebrate my mum’s 70th birthday, with my parents flying in from England. We got on the plane at YVR and someone asked Ian to step off the plane to talk to them about my wheelchair. No big deal, there were often questions about the battery and so on.

When Ian got off the plane, there were two “suits” waiting for him. My $25k, 350lb power wheelchair had been dropped from 20 feet onto the concrete. It was destroyed. And we were on the plane about to take off.

It’s a long story. But it can really be summed up by this – I had no legs. And that’s really scary.

I spent most of the holiday at the accessible villa we had rented. There were rental chairs for me, but none replaced my chair. I ended up with various bruises and pain from the ill fitting chair, and I was not able to get out and enjoy things. 

Given that my chair, like most chairs, was a custom build it was 5 months before the chair was fully replaced.

However, to quote Ian, shit happens. It wasn’t done on purpose, it was an accident. WestJet, the airline, were absolutely amazing. They replaced the chair and compensated me, and I can honestly say that we never had a crossed word in the whole process. The lady who handled my claim now donates to my MS Walk campaign each year!

Against this backdrop I have been following the story in the media of the lady who travelled with SunWing to Cuba. They lost her chair and then it was returned damaged.
I read the story, and sure, there were parts where there were decisions made that I wouldn’t necessarily have made. And of course, that’s presuming the reporting is accurate. However, my heart went out to her. They lost her legs and returned them damaged. It’s a horrible, scary feeling, where you are left feeling completely vulnerable and even more dependent on others than you already are.

Of course, a story posted on CBC is then open to comments, and there are some horrible terrible ones. How easy it is to hide behind the anonymity of a user name on a news website and attach motives to someone’s else behaviour. “She should never have travelled”, “she’s only after a free holiday” “another opportunistic and self entitled person”. Wow.

It took me a long time to recover physically from the holiday, and my left hip still troubles me. I’ve had put my chair on a plane since, and it was nerve wracking. All was okay because my chair and I were now famous! I had written a piece for WestJet’s internal training manual on how the loss of my chair had affected me, and it seems that practices had been changed. Also, the lady who managed my case had sent a message through telling them to treat my chair with kid gloves!

Just another holiday story for us. Almost beats the time we were left by our dive boat 30 miles off the coast of Cuba, bobbing in the water in our own version of the movie Open Water…but that was before MS…so I won’t be telling it here!

Not a pretty sight


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