I have heard the mantra, "safety first, safety last, safety always," from my father my entire life. It has become particularly relevant since my accident. It seems his perpetual repetition of this stems from his belief that safety is sometimes sage and sometimes overkill. On a pre-COVID trip to New Orleans for the American Association of Respiratory Care conference and tradeshow, I experienced the two extremes while dining out. VOCSN has made not only travel, but excursions like dining out and gaining access to other public places so much easier. Unfortunately, although impositions on mobility as a result of ventilator dependence are essentially a thing of the past with VOCSN, there are still challenges and safety concerns that come up in my day-to-day life, many of them resulting directly from my use of a wheelchair.
In order to attend an evening event with the rest of the Ventec team, I needed to take a somewhat questionable lift in order to ascend to the second floor of a restaurant. These pseudo-elevators are increasingly installed in older buildings to afford greater accessibility. Although they are not my preferred method of travel between floors, I appreciate those businesses that are trying to accommodate disabled patrons. This particular lift, however, did not quite solve the accessibility issue. In order to enter the lift, one had to surmount a four-inch lip.
This obstacle would have been easily surmountable were I in my manual wheelchair, which would have made it easy to pop a wheelie and get into the lift. I was, however, in my five-hundred-pound power wheelchair. When we made the staff aware of the issue, they immediately rushed off to find a solution. Their solution, two serving trays for a makeshift ramp. When they asked if this would do, Rosanna, who had organized the event and confirmed that there was accessibility for me, replied with horror that it was not sufficient. The staff rushed off with alacrity in search of another solution. They returned with a stack of menus which they used to brace the trays.
At this point, my fight or flight instinct kicked in and naturally I chose flight. I immediately began to extract myself from this horrifyingly dangerous situation as quickly as possible. Not only would the makeshift ramp be incapable of supporting the weight of my wheelchair, it was also slippery and surely would not stay in place. During the inevitable fall that would occur if I attempted to mount the serving trays, the accessories on my wheelchair would surely poke my eye out, stab me in the back of the throat, knock out a few teeth, or at the very least give me a fat lip. Eventually, the manager brought out a very sturdy steel ramp which was perfectly designed to bridge the gap. Why none of the other staff knew of its existence, we will never know. In the end, I was able to safely make my way to the upper level and enjoy the company of the rest of the group.
Now, the very next evening a group of us dined together in a restaurant which was overwhelmingly concerned with all of our safety. When making reservations, the restaurant manager informed us that they could not accommodate our party of eight at a single table. Although they could make no guarantees, they would do their best to provide us with two tables reasonably close together. When we arrived, the restaurant was empty, and we were given two adjacent tables. My sister cheerfully said, "Oh perfect, we can just square these off and push them together." The manager quickly said this would not be possible, as discussed over the phone. He said that for our safety and the comfort of other patrons this was strictly impossible. We had to concede and sit at two separate tables. The irony behind their concern with our safety was that I sat with other members of the Ventec team in order to engage in conversation, while my nurses and caregivers sat at the other table. Was that safe?
We, in an attempt to mediate our frustration at the ridiculousness, spent the entire dinner making jokes about safety at the restaurant's expense. Even more bizarre was the way that the tables were arranged made it very difficult for the waitstaff to navigate the restaurant. If the tables had been turned as we suggested, there would have been much more room for them to move about. At the end of our meal, which, by the way, was incredibly delicious, my sister thanked the manager for a lovely evening and informed him that all the members of our party felt extremely safe. He responded with a terse nod and we left having the last laugh.
Both evenings served to remind me why I am so thankful to be a part of the Ventec team. At the first restaurant, when I was ready to leave, several of Ventec's finest refused to be so easily defeated. Some made complaints to the management, another ran down the street to a nearby construction site in order to find materials capable of bearing the weight load, and another decided if I was leaving he would be joining me. I was completely okay with accepting that the location was non-accessible, but they refused to enjoy the evening without my presence. Their actions showed me how deeply they value me as part of the Ventec team. The “safe” dinner reminded me that the Ventec team is not only made up of people who work together, but of a group united in purpose and friendship. Despite the un-ideal seating arrangement, we spent the evening laughing more than we likely would have if we were all seated together. Everyone who is a part of Ventec puts their heart and soul into making the lives of those with unfortunate circumstances better. As we made the best of a dinner while safely separated, I was reminded of just how proud I am to be a part of the amazing group that is Ventec Life Systems.
The views expressed by Loa are not necessarily the view of the Ventec Life Systems, its members or the clinical board. These blog posts are the personal experiences of Loa. The blog posts are not intended to provide clinical advice or training related to VOCSN. Always consult a physician or trained clinician prior to using VOCSN. Please refer to the VOCSN Clinical and Technical Manual for detailed instructions, including indications and contraindications for use. VOCSN is available by prescription only.