Plan for Disaster…

20180124_175700I’ve endured five flights with smooth take offs and well executed landings while in ABI (acquired brain injury) mode. On flight number six I crashed. Don’t know what hit me. Take off didn’t go well and landing was a disaster.

I took my first  plane flight in ABI mode to the Caribbean a year ago. It was a test flight to see how I would fare. This was on recommendation of my OT (occupational therapist) who many times during my rehab would ask me, “Have you done …. since your accident?” If the answer was a no then we would outline the possible and probable challenges. With that information and likely projection we would work out a plan that would hopefully ensure a high degree of success.

I recently arrived back from a holiday in the Caribbean. The flight down (number 5 in ABI mode) was routine like the four before it. It had me wondering more than once why some much planning had gone into flight number 1.

Reflections of my most recent flight

Time and again I have been reminded to plan for the worst case scenario. Plan for the worst but hope for the best. When scheduling events and activities, my default mode should be to plan only the number of activities I can manage if all of them ended up in ‘worst case mode’.

As I reflect back on the most recent plane flight, planning for the worst has taken on a new dimension. The bus trip between the airport and the resort had taken longer than the previous time. Not much to do about that. With the recent rains many of the washouts had only been partly repaired making the trip much slower, longer and rougher than expected.

The initial arrival at the airport seemed to go fine. Once we had shed our checked luggage we prepared to go through customs. With the lineup being exceedingly slow, the stairway steep and the area hot and stuffy, I decided instead to go outside, get some fresh air and enjoy the quiet surroundings. (With only two international flights a week, the area outside the airport is a very calm place.)

After about 45 minutes I figured my traveling partner was near the front of the line, ready for customs inspections. I made my way back into the airport and excused myself as I pushed passed the waiting passengers. It was hard to do that unobtrusively as the waiting passengers tend to fill up the whole width of the stairway. Fortunately no one seemed visibly annoyed at having me weave past them. The visa procedure went off without a hitch. The customs inspection not so.

I was asked to remove my water bottle from my carry on luggage. I politely informed the inspector that I didn’t have a bottle. The second time I was ordered to open my luggage. Oops, there was the water bottle. Long forgotten. Fortunately there were no repercussions to my polite challenge.

After completing the customs inspection I was now confined to the hot, crowded and noisy waiting room on the second floor of the airport. The air conditioner was better at adding to the noise than at cooling the air. Waiting for 45 minutes in this space was too much for me. I was overwhelmed and went into sensory overload.

During the four hour plane flight I was alert and somewhat on edge. Unlike the previous five flights, I did not sleep one wink. By the time we landed I was overwhelmed and incapacitated due to a much more severe bout of sensory overload. I stayed in my seat for the next 20 minutes trying to pull myself together. Eventually, with the plane almost empty I felt compelled to exit. I didn’t want to have to deal with the extra attention that would accompany being helped off the plane.

The walk to the exit of the plane was slow and laboured, seeming to take forever. However, getting off the plane was minor compared to making my way to customs and the luggage retrieval area. My progress was slow and laboured as I shuffled along as best as I could manage.

I looked around for a courtesy shuttle but there were none in sight. The passengers who were being given wheel chair assistance seemed much more in need than me. And so, I continued to shuffle my way down the long corridors, thankful for a couple escalators and one moving sidewalk. While an escalator can be helpful, when I’m dealing with too much sensory loading, they can be tricky to get on and off since my balance and coordination are seriously compromised.

Reviewing my most recent flight

In working with an OT for the past 24 months, she has trained me to become my own detective. In looking back on the trip I have not been able to determine what factors caused my most recent flight to be so difficult. Also, I didn’t have the option to change my course of action during the 12 hours it took from leaving the resort by bus and arriving at home.

However, what I can change is to plan for a worst case scenario for my next flight. Having had five successful flights I figured I had seen the worst case, which was far from disastrous, while flying and have found it to be  very manageable. So, no additional thought or planning had been considered in my most recent flight.

The most recent trip made me realize that I need to find as many ways as possible to reduce my sensory loading. The less familiar the surroundings and procedures the harder it is to make contingency plans. At the same time, the less familiar the surrounds and the procedures, the greater the risk of experiencing sensory overload.

New travel plans to consider

To reduce my risk of sensory overload I will make plans that look like I’m being pampered with first class service. I need to request preferential treatment whenever possible. In going through the departure procedures, making arrangements for VIP privileges should help. (Maybe that’s why politicians look great after a long flight.) This could include a separate lounge, ostensibly with better air conditioning and hopefully much quieter.

I don’t plan to request preferential seating in the plane because I don’t know whether that would make any difference. Though requesting a window seat is less disruptive. That avoids having to deal with other passengers who might want to get in and out of their seat during the flight.

I would arrange for a courtesy shuttle if I’m in a large airport. That would limit the amount of walking as well as the distance I need to carry my luggage.

Misgivings

I’m not sure how convinced I am about requesting preferential treatment. I would feel odd getting special consideration if I don’t need it. Besides with the odds being that low, one in six, why make a fuss.

My daughter told me that such thinking is nonsense. Her advice is to plan for the VIP treatment and then just enjoy them, whether they are essential on that trip or not. Besides no one knows why I’m getting VIP treatment. For all they know, I’ve paid for it because I’m one of those hoity toity travelers that feels entitled to receiving first class treatment all the way

Really. Why should I care what others think. I just need to tell myself, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” The goal is to arrive at my destination in fine form.

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Moving Beyond Denial

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A cherished gift from my niece

At Christmas time we pull names before getting together with extended family. The intent it to have each person buy a gift for one person. To make the occasion a bit more special, the ‘giver’ will include a personalized poem with the gift. While the ‘poem’ might not meet a minimal literary standard, it is much appreciated by the person receiving the gift.

I received a gift with a poem that left me feeling much appreciated. At the same time, it left me quite upset. I was surprised by my ambivalent response. It was like being torn, like being two different people.

The poem and the gift acknowledged my ABI (acquired brain injury) status. The injury puts me in the broader category of functioning as a neurologically atypical person. That in itself was nothing new.

I have been blogging for two years about the challenges of living with ABI and acknowledging my neuro-diverse (ND) status. However, when someone else puts it in writing, something in me changes.

So what changed? When I shared my experiences that match those of a neurologically atypical person, it’s like I only half believed it. The reason I only half believed it is because often as I go through a day or two and maybe even a week I might feel like my old self. I find myself functioning in a manner that does not remind me of my ABI. It’s kind of like being in denial.

When someone else mentions my neurological atypical functioning I hear something different. It challenges my denial. I makes it seem much more real. It makes my current status as ND seem inescapable. That’s the part that made the poem and gift upsetting.

What is heartwarming is that despite my ABI I am accepted and loved. Despite my limitations I am not forgotten or overlooked. The poem reminded me that I am in important part of my extended family.

The support, encouragement and understanding that I receive from within my family helps me look beyond the limitations I experience living with ABI.