When you’re an able-bodied person traveling with a handicapped person, situations arise that afford you a glimpse of life from an unfamiliar vantage point. Not too many years ago, while she was in the middle of an MS exacerbation that forced the use of a cane, Mandy and I found ourselves in London on a business trip. During our trip, short walks were OK, but anything longer than 15 minutes or so without a rest would cause Mandy great discomfort.
Part of our trip required us to visit an exhibition in Earl’s Court, an immense convention facility. I knew that Mandy would not be able to do that much walking so I called ahead to ask if it would be possible for the facility to lend us a wheelchair. It turned out that they would do just that if I promised to leave my passport as collateral. After agreeing to instead take only my driver’s license as hostage, we were provided with a chair that we were able to use for our entire visit whenever we were in the facility.
We loved London and, despite Mandy’s handicap, managed to take some nice walks between the hotel and the convention center, wander throughout Harrod’s, down a pint or two with some real English Fish & Chips at a pub called the Bluebird, and even attend a full-blown English ball. Soon, however, it was time to leave.
Upon arrival at London’s Heathrow Airport we noticed long lines of people all waiting to go through security screening. We checked our bags at the counter and were told that the airport had lost its computer system and that everything normally done with the aide of computers now had to be done manually. While I can’t recall just what part of their computer system was affected, I do remember that it had a lot to do with security. We were told that it might take up to 3-hours to get through that security line.
This was a problem. While Mandy was managing to walk through the airport, standing in lines for any length of time was completely out of the question. It was, in fact, impossible for her. She simply did not have the strength to stand. MS sufferers will acknowledge that standing is often harder than walking.
Regardless, we dutifully got in line, but after a few minutes I could see that my wife was in trouble. I took her hand and led her out of line and back into the main terminal area. We were flying Virgin Air, so I steered us to a Virgin Air kiosk that had 6 or so harried employees fending off questions from travelers, many of whom exhibited more than one frayed nerve. In turn, I very insistently explained our situation and, half-expecting to be turned away, asked if there was anything that could be done to help Mandy.
Let me say publicly that Virgin Air was most accommodating. Despite his obvious weariness, one of their employees asked us to wait in the area for a few moments, then left. So we waited and, as promised, he soon returned -- and he was pushing a wheelchair. We were so relieved. We figured that with the wheelchair we’d be able to make it through that security line. We’d probably miss our flight, but at least we’d make it through the line!
I figured that he was going to just give me the wheelchair and tell me to leave it by the gate. Instead he said that he would be with us all the way. I looked at him like he was mad and explained to him that there was a 3-hour line to get through security. He simply smiled, started pushing Mandy, and advised me to stay close.
As we approached the security line he headed for a small area that I hadn’t noticed earlier. Soon that long line was behind us and we found ourselves parked in front of a little gate right next to the security conveyors. Mandy wasn’t even asked to get out of her wheelchair. I was ushered through the standard security portal while Mandy, still in her wheelchair, was quickly examined and cleared.
The gentleman pushed Mandy the rest of the way to our gate, with me taking up the rear. Depositing us at our counter, he bid us a good trip, and headed off to save the next unfortunately person to stumble into the scene that day at Heathrow.
Sometimes the difference between a miserable day and a good day rests solely on your ability to cast aside pride and simply say the words, “I was wondering if you could help us.” Trust me, the first time’s the hardest.
Published On: June 02, 2008