A Cross-Country Vacation With Our Son With Complex Disabilities

family traveling on a hike At home, we’re used to it. We grow blind to the house full of equipment that makes daily life possible. We settle in to the well-oiled routine that makes things, if not easy, well, manageable.

On vacation, all that is stripped away, and we come back down to earth with a bump.

It’s the simple things that become difficult.

How can he sleep safely without his system of supports and his tilting bed? We shove a pile of pillows under the mattress, more pillows around him, then check numerous times a night that he hasn’t slid underneath them and suffocated.

How can he sit safely and comfortably? At home we have a different special supportive chair for him in every room, and one for the garden. Here, he’s lying on the sofa, his body contorted into strange positions or sitting in his wheelchair from dawn to dusk, the only place he’s really secure.

Bathing is a challenge when we stop in hostels with shared showers in a cold cubicle down the corridor.

Without a schedule it’s so easy to lose track of tube-feeds and medications. Without our usual system of bottles and bowls it’s hard to keep a supply of clean syringes and cooled boiled water.

I spend nights sitting up in cold rooms checking his temperature and
piling on blankets – if he gets cold he can stay cold for days.

Yet we start to adapt. We find that a snuggly dressing gown can make a lot of things more comfortable, that his three-wheeled chair copes better than our car in the snow. Propped up on the sofa with cushions he watches his sister cavort around the living room in her Elsa dress and beams at the sun coming in through the picture windows. We manage a special family meal before the restaurant gets busy.

We venture on a boat trip, and he enjoys the feel of the sea wind on his cheeks. We discover our eldest has a talent for photography (or at least
enjoys taking Mummy’s camera and dangling it perilously near an icy

We meet people who will move mountains (OK, furniture) to help us get Benjy into their quirky pub-on-a-barge. We eat scones for breakfast, tapas for lunch, fish and chips from the chippy for tea. We make do with more cuddles and less therapy, more talking and less TV.

We get home, exhausted, relieved not to have run out of milk or medications, incredulous that we avoided a trip to A&E, exhilarated to have made the trek across the country and back, to have been out in shorts and out in blizzards, thankful to be back to our home comforts, more aware of how lucky we are to live in a country that provides Benjamin with all that he needs to make home comfortable… and planning to go camping next!

So if you get the opportunity to go on vacation with your disabled loved one, I say, go for it! It might be hard work, it might be nerve-wracking, it might take you out of your comfort zone. But it might also teach you things you didn’t know, about your loved one, about the world around us, about yourself. You might not come back rested, but you’ll come back refreshed.

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