I am writing this post at my Daughter and Son-in-Law’s computer after driving for eleven hours yesterday to get here.  The word “disincentive” has come to be a regular in my vocabulary.  The disincentives to traveling with someone who needs lots of care are legion.

There is a powerful ambivalence that comes as the trip nears.  Memories of struggles on past trips loom.  There was the trip to that Elderhostel held in Tucson, Arizona one winter.  We flew since the drive would have been a couple of long days.  In my mind, the air quality on the plane brought it on.  Four days later I called the children to fly in for what was thought could be Mary Ann’s last night.  She recovered.  Nonetheless, that memory brings to mind the distinct possibility of having problems away from home.   A strange and unfamiliar hospital, new doctors, the communication of a complex of illnesses about which records lie a thousand miles away, the usual support system unavailable all compound the stress felt by the Caregiver.

Memories of driving for miles trying to find a one-holer, a single-user bathroom, or searching for someone willing to guard the multi-stall bathroom while the two of you spend what seems like an eternity in the restroom, those memories are firmly entrenched and surface immediately at the first thought of heading off on another trip.

I think most of us who are full time Caregivers have worked hard at developing routines that help us anticipate and deal with the many daily struggles that come with the territory.  We have found what works.  We have the tools handy in the places we will need them.  We know to whom to turn for what.  When we are in another place, routines no longer in place, everything is harder.  What we would have taken in stride at home becomes a major challenge.  There is added stress due to the increased vigilance demanded by a new environment filled with the unexpected.

The destination of our travel may not be user friendly for those with physical limitations.  If we are staying in a home with family or friends, the chances are there will not be all the accommodations we have provided at home as we have worked at making it more accessible over the years.  As Caregivers we have all come to realize how easily a few steps or a curb or a gravel drive or cramped quarters in a bathroom or a low toilet stool or any number of seemingly minor challenges can become major barriers.

Eating out in public places during the travel and, perhaps, at the destination is not a time to relax and converse and rest from the trip.  Finding a spot to park, getting the wheel chair out and through the doors of what is usually an air lock arrangement, two sets of doors with a small space in between sets the tone for the mealtime.  Figuring out what to order, dealing with the logistics of finding a table and getting the food to it in a fast food restaurant are more difficult that would be imagined.   Then, unfortunately, I get embarrassed when the food as it is being eaten ends up in a mess on the table, lap and floor.  I consider it my job to leave the table as I found it.

The disincentives to travel are legion.  The challenge is to put the disincentives in perspective when deciding whether or not to travel.  Mary Ann is less conscious of the disincentives.   She does not embarrass as easily as I do.  She seems less conscious of the difficulties we encounter.  I assume that part of the reason for that is that I am the one who does the physical tasks associated with getting her needs met.

There are incentives to traveling.  This trip brings us to two of our Granddaughters.  That trumps pretty much all of the disincentives for traveling here.  Traveling gets us out of those same few rooms in which we are spending our whole lives.   Traveling gets us away from one more Law and Order episode, Spaghetti Western, session of self-help on Oprah.  Traveling gets us in contact with real, live, human beings, able to converse with us.  Traveling exposes us to the beauty that surrounds us but is out of sight because it is on the other side of the houses surrounding ours.

We have worked at determining where the best bathrooms (single user) are when traveling.  They include Subways, Taco Bells, newer Casey’s General Stores, smaller convenience stores, Arbys,  BP station (if there is not an attached fast food restaurant).  Those places don’t always have a bathroom suited to our needs, but often do.  We have learned what foods are more and less challenging to handle.  We have an old catalog case filled with first aid supplies, straws, wipes, anything we can think of that we might need, but might not be readily available.  We grab that case every time we hit the road for an overnight.

You remember that often repeated quote attributed to someone who is looking back on life regretting not what he did but rather what he did not do.  There is only so much time left for any of us.  With a chronic illness in the family, mortality is clear.  Whatever we will do yet in our lives needs to be done now if it will be done at all.

Of course we need not to tempt fate and be foolish about what we choose to do.   If quality of life actually is more important that quantity, we do need to stretch the limits a bit and take the risk on traveling.

Shall we travel?  For Caregivers, it is far easier not to.  Logically speaking, the disincentives may seem to outweigh the incentives.  The challenge is to put in healthy perspective both disincentives and incentives.  Weigh them carefully and remember, we don’t have forever, we have now.

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