Recovery, Challenges, Completed Challenges

Flying BOS to SFO: I am not invisible

Traveling as a quadriplegic can be an adventure filled with anxiety, but it can also be a transformative experience. This past fall, I had the opportunity to travel across the country to meet my team and the groups I work with at Neuralink in Fremont, California.

It was my first time traveling in six years, and I wasn't sure what to expect. However, with a little bit of planning and research, the trip turned out to be a huge success.

One of the first things I had to do was research flights that were capable of stowing my power wheelchair in the cargo hold. I contacted the accessibility team at JetBlue, and they went out of their way to accommodate me and answer all my questions. With that sorted, I moved on to the next hurdle, which was getting my durable medical equipment from New Hampshire to California. We had to purchase a Hoyer lift that could be folded for travel, and this was an out-of-pocket expense of around $2300. But I knew I would be using it again in the future.

Transportation from the airport to the hotel was next on my list, and I was fortunate to have my accessible van from MobilityWorks, which has offices in just about every major city.   We were able to rent a similar model for the duration of our stay. We settled on a hotel five minutes away from the office, and while there were some logistics to work out, mainly ensuring that we could roll the Hoyer lift wheels under the bed to get me in and out of bed, we were able to make it work.

At home we have morning help seven days a week to get me out of bed and ready for the day. On occasion, we have night help to get me from my chair and into bed for the night.

This trip, I was unable to find a nurse to travel with me, or an agency, close by the hotel, who could help me out for the week. This meant Michelle had to do double duty in taking care of me and working at her demanding start up company. There were a couple of 4 AM, PST conference calls she had to be on, but she made it work.

The actual day of travel was non-eventful, and I could not have asked for better service from Logan Airport personnel or JetBlue. Everyone literally went out of their way to assist me, and I was grateful for their help. Upon arriving in California, I was awestruck by the sheer magnitude of what Neuralink offers under one roof in Fremont. I met with the engineers, got to see the product being made and tested, and got up close to the robot used to do the surgery. It was like being at Disneyland, probably better!

But it was a small act of kindness that really made an impact on me. On my last night in California, as my wife dropped me off at the hotel lobby doors and went around back to park the van, I rolled into the lobby and heard a voice behind me saying hello. The accent was definitely not my wife's, but I turned my wheelchair around and began speaking with the woman who had approached me. She put her hand on my arm, leaned over, and said, "I just want you to know you are not invisible."

She told me the story of how her boyfriend from years ago was in an accident and became paralyzed, and she was with him every day at the hospital. She understood what I was going through and reiterated her statement that I am not invisible. This simple act of kindness had a profound impact, and I can't think of a nicer gesture from anyone I've ever met, let alone a stranger. She is an executive at Lucid Motors, and I will never forget her story or her act of kindness.

All in all, the trip was a huge success, and I'm already looking forward to my next adventure away from home. If you are disabled and have anxiety about traveling, I want you to know that it is possible, and there are resources available to help. Do your research, plan ahead, and don't be afraid to ask for assistance. And who knows, you may even have a transformative experience that you will never forget.

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