Wednesday, September 23, 2015

If you want to take a nonagenarian for a six hour flight to San Francisco...

If you want to take a mildly demented barely ambulatory nonagenarian out of his nursing home bed for a six hour flight to San Francisco you may be insane or murderous. Or perhaps your 93 yo WW II vet is in better shape than mine.

Or maybe you’re prepared.

I did this. Actually, my brother and I did this together, except for the plane flights where I went solo with Dad. We did it because my 93yo father had one request left in his life — to see his younger sister in San Francisco. And, thanks to an accident of Quebec’s healthcare and his disabled vet status, he had money to pay for the trip. 

Of course when I agreed to fulfill his wish he was 3 months younger than when we actually went — and significantly stronger. Old old age is like that.

Stil, we went. And because my brother joined us in San Francisco it went pretty well. Luck helped — we had perfect flights and transportation.

I don’t know anyone else who has done this, but I’m sure hundreds have. Somebody gets those old vets out for Normandy ceremonies.  On the other hand, I suspect those guys are in better shape than Dad (some of ‘em probably run foot races and jump hurdles).

If you want to do something like this, and before I dump all my trip memories (we aren’t doing this again), here’s what I learned:

  • Airlines don’t make this super clear, but if you press a bit you can schedule wheelchair pickup from the front desk to the airplane seat. Do this. Do not do what I did, which was to make use of my father's transport wheelchair, walker, and my own strength. We might still be walking from the plane to the car rental office if a Montreal (YUL) security officer didn’t volunteer to push my father’s chair while i juggled luggage and walker. There’s no fee for checking a wheelchair or walker and you can also do plane side check with either. If you have the airlines doing wheelchair transport you’d check the transport chair and the walker in oversize baggage.
  • During flights you want your 90+ yo in an aisle seat. They can’t necessarily get out of a window seat, especially when (in our case) the armrest divider was fixed. Inside passengers can typically squeeze buy ‘em - 90+ yo men tend to be small. Assume 2-3 bathroom trips a flight unless your guest has a catheter or is used to using a diaper. Bathroom trips require a physically strong companion — assuming your guest has some ambulatory ability. The seats need to be near the bathroom. We were in “business class seats” (not worth the money) and too far forward to use the assigned toilets, but the flight crew had us used first class which we could reach.
  • You typically get to do special lines for customs and security. That helps. Carry food and snacks and water.
  • You want two people for travel and care — at least one of whom should be strong (I’m strong, and my brother is stronger). At least one should be either a hospital or nursing home nurse (best) or a physician (not bad). If you’re using the airline wheelchair transport service you can make do with one person for that operation. Parenting experience is a plus.
  • Get a “handicap” hotel room and an adjoining room with twin beds. My father needed an attendant for every bathroom visit — typically 2-5 a night. He slept in one of the twin beds and my brother and I took turns in the other. On our off night we slept in the handicapped room bed (king sized, one bed, which is weird hotel choice for a “handicapped” room but there you go). We used the handicapped bathroom with him.
  • Whatever laxative routine is used at the care facility kick it up a notch. If warmed packed prunes are part of the routine bring those with you. Do not assume you’ll be able to buy them. Bring your dulcolax - both oral and suppository and glycerine suppository. Not ready to deal with poo? Don’t do the trip.
  • Bring a waterproof bed sheet cover — as used with child travel.
  • Wet wipes. Lots.
  • Bibs - robust.
  • Shirts: Purchase lightweight long sleeve travel shirts for summer travel. My father wears golf shirts at the Vets residence because he can take them on and off himself, but you need long sleeve shirts for sun protection and to reduce skin scrapes.
  • Laundry: Assume you’ll do laundry 1-2 times, not least because you don’t want a lot of extra luggage. That still requires rolls of quarters at most hotels.
  • If your nonagenarian uses pull-ups bring lots. If s/he doesn’t bring some.
  • Assume most of the tourist stuff will be drive-by car touring. In our case I used Google and my own knowledge to construct a route made up of waypoints, then we used Google Maps on my iPhone to navigate from one waypoint to the next. Worked terribly well.  a handicapped parking card is a huge help (my aunt was with us and we could use hers) but with two people one can manage the 93yo and the other can drive around until pickup.
  • Very limited alcohol - messes up sleep.
  • Assume one social meal and 4 hours of drive by touring per day max. Every hour (at least) schedule a walkabout/transfer to keep bodies moving.
  • Four days is a good visit length: one to travel/recover, one to prep/travel, two to visit and tour.
  • Bring comfortable OTA headphones for your 90+ yo to listen to audio on long trips — something like Bose noise canceling headphones. But buy a set of the cheap airline phones in case he doesn’t like ‘em. (My Apple buds didn’t work with the airplane audio mini-jacks.)

There’s more but that’s enough for now — and probably the most I can remember since most of the traumatic memories are already fading. The good memories, because this trip actually, amazingly, worked, are getting stronger.

It could have gone quite badly though. This isn’t for the faint of heart.

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