I’ll never forget the first time I had to push my wife through Disneyland in a wheelchair. We had planned a family vacation and traveled to California from Arizona. My son was 15 at the time, and my daughter was only 3. The first night of the trip, my wife (most of you I’m sure know her as the Disabled Diva!) began experiencing severe intestinal pain. We took her to the ER, and she was promptly diagnosed with appendicitis. They performed an appendectomy the next day, and she was released that night. If you’ve read her blog at all, you will probably not be surprised when I tell you we did not cancel the remainder of the vacation, but carried on after one day of recuperation. That trip was a nightmare on many levels, and most of them had to do with me being completely clueless on what it takes to navigate the parks while being an unintended chauffeur to my wife. Here are 5 things I have since learned that will hopefully help you to avoid some of the pain and suffering we endured on that first trip.
Needless to say, after missing out on two days of our vacation, we were all excited to resume our trip and “make up time”. I was up at 5 am that morning to go get everyone breakfast, help get my daughter ready, situate Cindy in her newly rented wheelchair and get us to the front gate in time for opening that day. I was already tired by the time the gates finally opened, and then we were off to the races! We zoomed from land to land, taking in as many rides as possible. Cindy couldn’t do much, and this often required me to leave her far away from the rides the rest of us were on at the time. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, and truth be told, just a little bit irritable. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a Disneyland vacation, but remember to pace yourself. Get plenty of rest, and try to walk at a normal pace. Remember, you aren’t just walking, you’re PUSHING someone as well!
“Where did all these hills come from?” That was a question I asked early and often on that trip! I honestly never noticed the slight (and many times STEEP) grades that dot the Disneyland landscape. The areas by Big Thunder Mountain, entering Toon Town, New Orleans Square, and Splash Mountain all have moderate to steep grades. Exiting Indiana Jones and Soarin’ also have a long steep grade when pushing a wheelchair. Be prepared, go at a slow steady pace, and make sure you stretch your hamstrings before you begin the day to help with these challenging sections of the park. Click here to learn about these areas in the Disabled Diva’s Guide to Disneyland.
One of my favorite pass times is photography. I am forever stopping to try and capture an interesting scene that I see while traveling through the parks. On this particular trip, I actually had a brand new digital SLR camera I was looking forward to using. However, I discovered an inconvenient truth about pushing someone in a wheel chair. If you stop and pull out your camera with both hands, especially on one of the aforementioned steep slopes, you can quickly loose control of a situation! Even now when most of my pictures are taken from my phone, I still need to concentrate fully on taking care of the person I’m pushing. Make time for yourself to do some of the things you can’t while pushing. Perhaps you can have another member of your party push while you explore, or find a nice spot for your significant other to have a cup of coffee or snack while you get that perfect picture of the Haunted Mansion. It’s your vacation too, so don’t be afraid to ask for some time to enjoy the things you would like to do as well.
You probably have had more experience pushing a wheelchair around than I had on that first trip. I was a newbie. Not only was I trying to figure out how to maneuver Cindy in her chair, but I was also dealing with the crowds around us and how they reacted, or didn’t react, to a person in a chair. I clipped quite a few heals on that first trip, and Cindy wound up with one or two guest riders in her lap when we accidentally scooped up an unsuspecting pedestrian! If you are renting a chair you’re not familiar with, take a few moments to figure out your turning radius, and know how far the foot rests stick out. Also, if your chair has extendable leg rests, make sure you know how far these stick out and ask your partner to let you know when they have extended them if they are capable of making that adjustment without your help. Look well ahead in your path of travel, and try to detect problems or obstacles ahead of time.
While we were completely unprepared to experience the parks on that first trip with a wheelchair, we were determined not to make the same mistakes on future trips! Do your homework. Are you going to need a disability pass, or can you get by without one? Many of the rides in Disneyland were designed in the 50’s and 60’s, with no thought to making them handicap accessible. Do you know which rides have lines you can access, and which ones have alternate entrances? Can your significant other transfer from their chair, or do they need to stay in? If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to answer all these questions, check out our free downloadable guide at Disneyability.com.
I hope these few tips will help make your trip more magical! I’ll continue to add tips to this site, so check back regularly to get the latest information. Until then, push like a champion!
Does the thought of taking a summer vacation get you excited or does it send chills down your spine? I loved traveling before I became chronically ill. In addition to yearly Disneyland vacations, I loved exploring new areas in other states or within the ones that I lived in. Weekend road trips without a destination were my favorites.
Soon after chronic pain became a part of my daily life I began to loathe traveling. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go exploring, instead it became too painful. Not only did my excursions increase my pain while away, it would take weeks and sometimes months to recover from them once I returned home. Not wanting to spend most of my time recovering I opted to stop traveling.
The reason traveling was such a horrible experience for my during those early years of my chronic life was because I had attempted to travel just like I did before my illnesses. Do you enjoy traveling? Why or why not? Have you changed the way you plan, prepare, and go forth with your getaways? By changing how I plan, prepare, and execute my trips I have fallen back in love with traveling.
What am I doing differently? The most important thing I do is I plan with my illnesses in mind; I like to think of them as my invisible traveling buddies. In my post Packing for your Invisible Traveling Companions I share how I pack for each condition and how I prepare to keep them as happy as possible while away from home. I also adjusted my expectations. My posts Unrealistic Expectations and Realistic Expectations both offer advice on making vacation choices that work best for my body and its limitations. Planning for and accepting that I had to pad my schedule with Vacation Downtime is another reason my traveling experiences have improved. For even more tips be sure to check out The Disabled Diva’s Top Ten Travel Tips and listen in as Shane and I discuss these topics and more in episode #3 Vacationing with a Chronic Illness on my podcast Dish’n with The Disabled Diva. And last but not least find out why I recommend Disneyland over Disney World for people with chronic conditions and where service animals are not permitted in each park.
No matter what your illness or where you are planning to go, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to have your most important medical information on hand. I am giving away a downloadable Emergency Medical Information Wallet Card. By keeping this card near your identification your traveling mates and/or emergency personnel will find your information quickly. With a quick glance a paramedic or doctor will know what medications I am allergic to, what medications I am currently taking, my surgical history, blood type, and more. Don’t expect your loved ones or traveling mates to remember all of your medical information during a crisis, help them out by downloading your free copy today!
Where will you go this summer? Planning a Disneyland vacation? If so be sure to check out my Disneyland Accessible Guide and you too will have a magical experience!
Like many Americans I have a pre-existing health condition and am worried about what will happen with the latest healthcare bill that our government is trying to push through. I will be honest, I was never a fan of Obamacare, but there was one thing that I did like and benefited from. The provision for pre-existing conditions was the best thing about Obamacare. It helped those with chronic illnesses continue care whether they were forced or chose to change their healthcare plan.
Living with one or more painful chronic diseases is expensive whether our medications, tests, and assistive devices are covered or not. Continuing coverage makes it less costly. Even with insurance I have racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt, but that amount would have been much higher without it. Truth be told, without health insurance I probably wouldn’t have any debt because I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor. Without continuing coverage I would have been even more miserable than I was and wouldn’t have been diagnosed with other conditions because I wouldn’t have wanted to risk having the symptoms blamed on my pre-existing ones. Not understanding all that was going on with my body would have prevented me from learning how to treat or manage them whether I chose to do so pharmaceutically or naturally.
Without continuing coverage for pre-existing conditions patients with chronic or terminal diseases won’t be able to afford proper testing, monitoring, or medications that help them live a better life. I know this because it is exactly what happened to me before Obamacare mandated that pre-existing conditions be covered. My husband’s employer switched insurance plans. Employees were not given an option other than to pay the ridiculously high premium of COBRA to stay with their current plan. If we had chosen COBRA we couldn’t have afforded my medications or medical care, we would have had to give up eating and using electricity to pay the premium. In order to not live like cavemen and not wanting to hunt neighborhood animals for dinner, we moved to the new plan. We were immediately told that it would be anywhere from 12-18 months until they would cover my pre-existing conditions. I was lucky to have a fabulous primary care doctor at that time. He discounted his cash pay rate and instead of seeing me and prescribing my medication monthly, he agreed to see me once every three months, he also was willing to write scripts that I had been receiving from specialists. Obviously this was before the government cracked down on doctor’s prescribing opioids. At that time I could have never afforded to pay cash for my doctor’s appointments and full price for my prescriptions on a monthly basis. Thank God I didn’t have to have bloodwork done to monitor how my meds were affecting my body because paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for lab work was not an option.
Without this provision good people will have to either give up medical care and the medications they rely on or live on the street and go hungry in order to get medical care. Is that really what we want to see? Without this provision people will die. The terminally ill won’t be able to afford to extend their lives. The chronically ill may choose to commit suicide because they can’t afford what they need for pain relief or complications from their pre-existing conditions will make them even sicker. Unfortunately, many chronic illnesses have overlapping and similar symptoms and physicians are quick to blame what we have first before searching for new answers. Can you afford thousands of dollars a month in medical expenses? I know I can’t. Oh and before you suggest that no one will go hungry or homeless if they apply for welfare assistance, that isn’t an option for many. Anyone above the poverty level will not qualify for assistance even though their medical expenses would have them living under it. Another possible outcome of people no longer being assured of continuing care is a higher divorce rate. Without this provision I wouldn’t qualify for assistance of any kind based on my husband’s income alone. But if we divorced I could keep a roof over my head, food on my table, and receive the medical care I require. Families shouldn’t have to be torn apart and people shouldn’t have to even consider these kind of measures in order to continue their care. One last thing, just because individual states have the option to keep this provision it won’t help those who live elsewhere or guarantee that those who do live there will be fully covered. Can you imagine uprooting your life and that of your family just to afford your prescriptions? Because states would only have a limited pool of resources to fund it, starting over somewhere new is risky as you might not get the care you need after all.
Contact your state’s senators! Tell them that how important this provision is. Give examples of how losing it will financially ruin you, make it personal. While I currently treat my conditions outside of my healthcare provider, I am always at risk of having abdominal adhesions from endometriosis and internal scarring severally attack my bowels at any moment and require surgery. This would be considered a pre-existing condition and would financially ruin me.
Contact your senator today! Click here for a list of United State Senators.
Traveling can be fun, even with a chronic illness. Do you think I allow fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, degenerative disc disease, abdominal adhesions, and coccydynia keep me from traveling? No I don’t. Sure I don’t travel in the same manner as I did before becoming chronically ill, but with some planning, I have been able to visit some wonderful destinations. Read on to find out how you can too!
*Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. Meaning that at no additional cost to you, I receive a commission when you make a purchase through my links. The proceeds earned fund the giveaways I host in my Facebook groups.
1. Research where you want to go. Is the location and climate suitable to your chronic needs? Is it handicapped accessible? Click here for more advice on choosing your vacation destination.
2. Bring extra pain medication. The average person relaxes while on vacation, a chronically ill person pushes past their limitations. By preparing for the worst you will have what you need when you pushed your body beyond its breaking point.
3. When possible plan downtime throughout your trip. Click here to find out how I incorporate downtime into my vacations.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If your body needs to rest, REST. Go easy on yourself if you have to cancel or reschedule vacation activities. Instead of letting anger or disappointment get the best of you, focus on the things you were able to do and rejoice in those accomplishments. Click here to learn about my natural sleep remedies!
5. Be realistic with your expectations. Click here for tips on adjusting your expectations in order to a fabulous trip. Don’t plan a trip that requires your body to perform as it did before becoming chronically ill. Plan with your limitations in mind, while looking for alternative ways to do what you want.
6. Accept assistance. Whether it is from a traveling companion or the staff at the airport, train station, hotel, etc., accepting their help will decrease both emotional and physical stress.
7. Choose a mode of transportation that will keep you and your body the most comfortable. Click here for tips on choosing how to arrive at your destination. Weigh the pros and cons of going where you want via a mode of transportation that will increase your pain versus traveling somewhere else in your body’s preferred mode.
8. Plan for the worst, but don’t focus on everything that could go wrong. I may experience only one outstanding moment and fifty horrible ones during a trip. Instead of tarnishing my memories with the rotten moments, I focus on the one wonderful moment and hold tight to that feeling.
9. Plan and pack with your chronic illnesses in mind. Click here for advice on keeping your invisible traveling companions happy while away from home. You can run, but you cannot hide from your chronic illnesses.
10. Allow yourself to have FUN!!!! Sometimes we, the chronically ill, feel like we don’t deserve to be happy. We often fear being happy because we are terrified of having that joy taken from us. Stop punishing yourself and have a good time. Remember that it is okay and possible to be ill and happy.
Living with multiple chronic conditions has changed many things in my life, including what I expect from a vacation. Psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, and endometriosis often create havoc before, during, and after each trip. I may not be able to escape my conditions for a week, but I can still have a fabulous getaway by having realistic expectations. Here are five unrealistic vacation expectations and how I turned them around.
How to survive a Disneyland or Disney World character meet and greet
Survive a character meet and greet? Aren’t those supposed to be fun? For most people, both adults and children, they are. It is a chance to meet their favorite characters, get autographs, interact, and have their pictures taken. But some of us (adults and children) have physical and/or cognitive issues that can easily cause our day to go from magical to maddening. Some may not like to be touched. Others may need to be the one to initiate physical contact. This can be problematic as most characters love to give hugs. And beware; if one hug could set off a meltdown or cause physical pain, there are some characters that don’t know when to stop hugging or squeezing. On a few occasions I have exited a meet and greet feeling like I had just been beaten up because the character was overly affectionate. There have been times when I chose to stand to meet a character only to come dangerously close to falling when a character has pulled me in for a hug.
However, there is a way to meet your favorite character without physical or emotional trauma. Before visiting the parks, think about how you or the person (adult or child) with the physical or cognitive sensitivities reacts to everyday greetings. Are they in constant physical pain? Do they initiate physical contact or are they okay with someone else being the initiator? Will they tolerate a quick hug but nothing more beyond that? Will a prolonged physical touch or a rough hug cause physical pain? When I am experiencing a high pain day, every touch no matter how light feels like a punch. I could feel bruised for hours or days from the gentlest of hugs. Do they have a weak immune system, could receiving a hug from a character that has already had thousands of other bodies pressed against it cause this person to become ill?
Next, write a list of what would make the meeting more magical. Keep it simple. No touching, handshake only, be gentle, one hug, etc… Depending on how many characters you or the guest with sensitivities is planning on meeting, you may want to print out the requests. This would also be beneficial if the person will be meeting characters with other party guests and not always you. Whether you print it out or not, make sure that everyone who could possibly accompany said person to a meet and greet is informed of the requests. When you arrive at the line for your chosen character, you will see that they always have a cast member with them. Some have several cast members in attendance. Be sure to inform the first one you see of your requests. They will then inform the character prior to your turn to meet the character.
By following this simple tip, you can avoid messy meltdowns and physical pain. Find out how to have a most magical Disney vacation by discovering what you should know about visiting the parks with a physical disability, chronic illness, special needs, a service dog, and more by reading my Disneyland attraction posts. Information about Disney World attractions will be coming soon as well as a tool to help handicapped guests in both parks. Visiting with a handicap of any kind can be daunting, but when you know what to expect in advance you have that much less to stress about.