Scenes from a Sardinian Airport: Improvised Mobility.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was recently took a mini-vacation, at the invitation of some Russian friends, to Italy. My friends informed me in advance that there wouldn’t be too much walking or standing involved in this trip. We would drive to the seaside, spend a few days at the beach (to and fro via car or bike, which I can still ride; more on this later), and then head out to sea in their very own boat.  Even though there wouldn’t be much walking, there would still be a lot of traveling. I was told to pack as compactly as possible, especially for the boat.  I took this advice literally and decided to risk bringing my folding cane instead of the Evil Aid. The folding cane looks like this:

I know it’s odd. I’ve never mentioned the folding cane before. This is because I hate the folding cane.  In my opinion, the only thing it has going for it is that it folds. Compactly. And it’s very lightweight.  But otherwise, it is not stylish or cool (I know there are MANY stylish and cool canes out there. But I bought this one in a rush, as I needed to procure it before I left for Russia. It was the best of what my favorite mobility store had to offer. Cool will just have to wait), it makes a TON of noise, and it doesn’t really afford the support I need. This is the main reason I was prescribed a crutch instead of a cane in the first place. Because I have very little function in my left hip abductor, in order for my walking gait to be properly corrected and my back to be relieved of the strain, I need an aid that can actually bear some of my weight. Straight canes can’t do much weight bearing.  They mainly help with weight redistribution and balance.  So for me, for long distances, canes are out.  Not to mention that because I am an active individual, the whole “Oh now let me find a place to prop my cane while I search in my wallet for change for the cashier.” act gets really really old.  When you are moving around the town like mad, making a lot of pit stops, you become very grateful for the cuff on your forearm crutch, which allows the aid to dangle from your limb (albeit precariously, and somewhat ridiculously) as you push elevator buttons, search for change or your metrocard, pick over cherries at the supermarket, etc.

But for short distances? Where there is no urban marketing? No endless library steps to climb? Just beach bumming and short distance transfers from car to boat? A cane should do the trick. And for the most part it did, with the help of these two tools:

Ankle brace with super sexy velcro straps. This puppy is ugly as sin, but it helps keep my tendonitis pain from becoming unbearable when it flares.  It’s a temporary solution until I can see a specialist in the States and have a whole new conversation about inserts or an AFO. Neither of which I’m too keen on or frankly, inclined to accept. (Had inserts as a kid. Hated them. Yanked them from shoes in anger and frustration. Shoved them into the closet and subsequently lost them. In those days the ankle was already wobbly (one reason for the inserts), but bounced back a lot more quickly from strain. Le age–>le sigh.)  Moving on to the other improvisational tool:

Yeah that’s right, that’s my suitcase. Purchased especially for travel around Europe, as I can fit absolutely everything I need into it and still bring it on the plane. Plus around the airport it requires no lifting or even tugging.  The wheels swivel 360 degrees, so the little suitcase can be rolled along beside you, parallel to your body as you walk.  I have happily found that this works quite seamlessly with Evil Aid ambulation.

But in Cagliari, Sardinia, our last stop on the boat after Corsica and my point of departure from my friends for Moscow, I found that this little rolly suitcase can actually function (should the need arise) as an improvised mobility aid.  You may or may not want to try this at home or in your local airport.

Here’s the thing. My whole cane+ankle support plane held up just fine in Italy, including during our time on the boat.  There really wasn’t much walking (only a wee bit of strolling) to speak of and there really was a major premium on space.  But the airport in Cagliari was a different story.  It’s like any other airport anywhere else in the world. The process of checking in, passing through security, and passenger boarding required a fair amount of walking and an extraordinary amount of standing in place. (Sardinia is a RELAXED place to say the least. No one rushes to do anything on time.) Also, there are very few designated places to sit.  The aforementioned circumstances, combined with an hour long car trip from port, were a death knell for my gimpy leg.  After twenty minutes of waiting at the check-in counter, a re-route to another check-in counter, and another twenty to thirty minutes of waiting behind Russians who had done some SERIOUS shopping in Italy and were checking at least two bags per person, my leg, even with help from the folding cane, was done for the day. Like done done. Like mocking me, “And just when you thought you could do this without the Evil Aid! Ha ha!” done. And there were no golf carts or wheelchairs in sight. Not a one. No nearby desk where one could request assistance.  If I hadn’t been able to use my rolly suitcase for support, as a kind of mini-walker on one side, and the folding cane on the other, I never would have made it to security, much less to my gate.  The entire time I was waiting to check in I was panicking, because I was flying with an unfamiliar airline (Meridiana) and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to bring the rolly suitcase on board.  I was prepared to plead with the nice Italian man who issued my boarding pass, “Please please don’t take this from me. I’m using it to walk.” But fortunately, he politely waved me along and even asked if I needed assistance negotiating the aircraft stairs. Um, yes please. At that point walking up a set of stairs with a cane in one hand and carrying the rolly suitcase in the other was an exercise that was absolutely out of the question.  And I did receive assistance, but it led to two absurd/amusing incidents, one in Sardinia, and the other in Moscow, but I’ll save those for another post. After the check-in, things went pretty darn smoothly.  All the walkways in Cagliari are smooth, with no major bumps or carpets to trip over, and finding my way to my gate, through security and then border control, was pretty darn easy.  The Italian border guard did have a little trouble locating my entry stamp in my passport, and was all set to accuse me of having entered the EU illegally, until he flipped right to the page in my passport that contained my entry stamp.  The poor guy honestly seemed more relieved than I was, smiling broadly and clearly thinking to himself, “Phew she’s not illegal after all. Less paperwork for me! Hooray!.”

And from there, with the aid of one hideous folding cane and one nifty hot pink rolly suitcase, I made it back to Moscow. Here are a couple of snaps from the boat trip:

Full moon. Bonifacio, Corsica.

A small port in eastern Sardinia.

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