Earlier this week I took a 24-hour trip to Denver, Colorado. Someone in Denver had a wheelchair that only had one year of use that suited all of Brad’s needs, and she was willing to donate it to us! Our friend Jude arranged the whole thing for us.
These types of wheelchairs are $30,000–50,000 new, and around $7,000 used. So to be gifted one for free is amazing!
Brad’s insurance won’t cover the type of wheelchair he needs because his diagnosis isn’t on an approved list for that type of wheelchair even though all his doctors agree that’s the type of chair he needs. Once again, bureaucracy blocks healthcare. So usually about every 4–6 years we have to fundraise for a new (used) wheelchair. We’ve had his current chair for two years, so that means if we didn’t take this chair, in 2–3 years we’d need to raise several thousand dollars.
The new chair has all the tilt and recline functions Brad needs, but also has the iLevel option which elevates the wheelchair to make you even taller than some standing people! It does need a few minor adjustments like a new battery, the joystick to be switched to the right side, and re-programming so it can be driven while tilted and reclined. But those should only take a few hundred dollars to be fixed (fingers crossed).
We looked at prices to ship the chair to us, and they were fairly expensive. It ended up being a little cheaper for us to purchase a round trip ticket to Denver for me ($217) and spend one night in a hotel ($136). Plus it was much easier to arrange than contracting with a company to package the wheelchair and ship it. Brad says my hourly rate is much better!
We decided that I would use the airport wheelchair service on the way there, and then fly back using Brad’s new wheelchair in the airports. I brought Felix with me, and it was his very first flight!
I discovered that at least on American, since your service dog and wheelchair are approved before you fly, you can check in online and totally skip the check-in desk! So it was easy as pie to get there, through security, and to my gate. I carried Felix through the metal detector and we didn’t set off the alarm, even in his normal gear. Felix used the relief area just fine in Charlotte.
He did a pretty good job during takeoff. I took a video of him during takeoff, and while he did lick his lips a lot, he wasn’t too stressed given what was happening in the environment (no shaking or whining). Below is that video.
There was a lot of turbulence for the first hour, but he wasn’t really bothered by it. He just chilled out on my lap for the whole flight and was a very good boy. He was definitely worried during landing, as that was louder and more scary than takeoff was. But he got through it OK. I did get a picture of him on me during the flight.
I knew he needed to potty, so I asked the wheelchair pusher to take us to the service animal relief area. Unfortunately if you are being pushed, you don’t get a choice about which relief area to go to. The one he took us to was DISGUSTING!!!!!!! It was full of pee and chemicals and was just terrible. Felix pooped and peed, so that was good. But there were no paper towels to wipe his feet and I had to put him back on my lap with gross pee and chemical feet. EWWWWW.
I got an Uber to Jude’s place, and the driver didn’t say a word about Felix.
At Jude’s I picked up the new wheelchair, then we headed to my hotel. It was an 18-minute walk, which was a bit challenging with a rolling suitcase and a dog on my lap, all while driving left handed for the first time! But we made it! Jude got a picture along the way of us together!
We hung out for a while in my room, then headed out to Target to grab some snacks. It started getting very cold and windy! But we made it to Target, and I got to try out the elevate feature while picking up something to eat.
That night we ordered takeout for dinner, and then I went to bed after we ate. Felix was SO GOOD in the hotel! He didn’t make a peep! We had a fantastic room with a living room area and a kitchen!
In the morning, I took a picture of Brad’s new wheelchair. It is a Quantum Q6 Edge 3 and has yellow, purple, and green shrouds covering parts of the wheelchair. The chair didn’t come with a cushion, so I had brought the cushion from our old manual wheelchair which is much too small LOL!
Jude came to the hotel for breakfast, which we managed to take up to the room even though it was difficult carrying plates and coffee with our wheelchairs and Felix!
Then we went on a short walk, but it was FREEZING outside and SO WINDY!!!! My beanie blew off several times. Jude wanted to go back to their place, so I found my way back to the hotel by myself and hung out there for a few hours. I was just too chilled to go out anywhere else for a while.
At lunch time, I navigated 15 minutes by myself with Felix and my suitcase to our friend Lennon’s apartment, where we were able to hang out for a while and eat some lunch. Lennon cooked for us, which was really great!
By then it was time to head back to the airport. Jude called me an Access-a-ride, which is wheelchair transport they get from the city. It was a big bus thing, with a lift on it instead of a ramp. It was my first time using a lift with any wheelchair, so I was a bit nervous, but it went just fine.
Felix did OK on the ride there, but I think he prefers the plane to the bus!
We again had checked in online and didn’t need to check in at the desk, which was awesome (I verified with them just in case). Then it was a quick hop through security where I found the key is to just take my time and let everyone else go around me. I went slowly and methodically and didn’t lose anything or get too flustered. I didn’t feel like being patted down, so I walked through the metal detector holding Felix and we didn’t set off the alarm.
Before departing, I went to the really far away but really awesome OUTDOOR service animal relief area! They had a whole patio with chairs for people to sit on, and a corner of the patio had an astroturf patch for dogs to relieve themselves on. It was screened in with glass panels to cut the wind and noise of the airport. It was amazing! I was so happy! I took a video of it, even.
Once we got to our gate, I was able to watch things on my phone until it was time to board. I told the guy how to work the wheelchair, and showed him the note attached to it that explains what they need to know to handle it. He was able to manage the chair just fine to get it on the plane.
When my seat mate got to the seat, she asked if she could hold Felix. I said no, that he was working. But then as the last people were boarding, I noticed an unruly Golden Retriever getting on the plane. The dog was trying to get off the plane, and also trying to go down every row of seats and say hi to everyone. It was clearly very anxious and looking for a way out of the situation. It had probably not received enough training to fly (I had been preparing Felix for flying, like I recommend in my article on PSDP’s site). I saw it going down every row of seats and the owners not doing anything to stop it from sniffing everything, and had visions of the dog being aggressive with Felix.
So I asked my seat mate if she wanted to hold Felix while the dog passed. I was in an aisle seat, so there would have been no way I could have kept the dog away from Felix if Felix was in my lap. My seat mate was happy to hold Felix. And good thing, too, because the dog was stopped right at our row for about a full minute waiting for people to clear the way ahead. I had to physically hold out my hands to block the dog from coming down the aisle and trying to say hi to Felix. I normally wouldn’t care so much, but this was a situation where there was no way to escape, and the Golden was clearly extremely stressed. It just wasn’t a good idea to let the dogs meet in that situation.
Felix handled takeoff better this time, and was totally chill on the plane when it was in the air. He struggled less with the landing this time, as well.
I had to wait about a half an hour for them to bring my wheelchair up, because they couldn’t figure out how to work it even though I had a sign taped to it that was very clear. Luckily it wasn’t damaged!
I zipped over to the relief area, and then outside for Brad to pick us up.
It was a quick whirlwind of a trip, and I was very happy to be home with the new wheelchair! I didn’t really get to do or see anything in Denver, but that wasn’t the point of the trip. Mission accomplished—I got the chair and brought it back in one piece!