Friday, December 7, 2012

Make Me a Bird. So I Could Fly Far, Far Away

Note: The title of this post is adapted from a quote from Forrest Gump.

Usually I, as Lady MacBeff-the-blogger, wear my expat mama hat; sometimes the one with the single-mom brim. But today's post comes from the caregiver corner of my hat collection.

The person I give care to is my ex-, my daughter's father, who made a bad call with a daredevil sport in the Swiss Alps seven years ago and became severely disabled. He's now more like my brother. Actually, more like a son; like a kid sometimes, he gets stubbornly fixated on things. And like some with traumatic brain injury (TBI), he can lack awareness of, or interest in, reality - a condition that we caregivers don't have the option to ignore. It can be frustrating because it's like bearing 200% responsibility for everything. But then, one does not want to begrudge someone who now clearly is getting a very raw deal for the rest of his life.

Case in point, O. decided that he WILL take a round-the-world trip for his 50th birthday. O. used to travel without a care. His sibling and parents have travelled the globe. Li'l G and I cross the planet routinely to visit our U.S. family. O. does not see why he shouldn't do this, too. Well - there are, in fact, many good reasons why not; but truth is, none of the reasons is truly insurmountable.

Only, to surmount them requires a heck of a lot more than just calling a travel agent. And this trip... it's so risky. Imagining all the what-ifs makes me want to just crumble to dust. It's unbearable to think of his tragic vulnerability if, say, his wheelchair broke down in Dubai or there were a toileting emergency on a 20-hour flight over Asia, or a real medical emergency or if his passport were stolen. His bearing zero responsibility for dealing with these problems - and not even being able to imagine them or see why he should bother to try - can almost be seen as one of few upshots to his particular brain damage, in my eyes.

Wheelchair Stranded at Zurich Airport
This was the stunning (depressing, apt, ironic, rude?) tag attached at Zurich Airport when one of the few flights attempted since O's accident was cancelled.

So, I'm trying to make this trip come true. Main destinations: Dubai, Singapore, Australia and Hawaii. Because few of us have two whole months free for such travel, let alone the nerves for it, my first task - the one the whole thing hinges on - is to find a person to travel with O.

This must be a person who is pleasant, unshakable and incredibly trustworthy. To say nothing of O's gullibility (like when he recently thought a store gave him a raincoat for free as a present; while I received a $300 invoice a few weeks later), O's very life will depend on this person. I placed an ad in the local university's online bulletin board. I really wasn't sure what to expect in response.

The responses have been overwhelming - both in quantity and substance.

A few are just ridiculous. The ad does mention that a fully paid, business-class trip around the world is part of the compensation package. It's no surprise that this elicits some responses that amount to, 'Sounds awesome. Dude, take me.' Remember, we have to place O's life in this person's hands, so we're not hiring anyone who sounds too light-hearted and -headed. The superficial, greedy-sounding responses make me feel like Little Orphan Annie when Daddy Warbucks offers a cash reward to find Annie's parents, and scores of desperate scam artists line up claiming to be her mom and dad.

Most responses, on the other hand, are sweet and seem sincere. Some are witty and convincing. Some are heartbreakingly moving. Some people just felt compelled to say how touched they were and how they wish O. the best of luck in fulfilling his dream.

If you're interested, here is the ad - mostly in German, with some English thrown in to ensure applicants can really manage an international journey. If you really want to know what it says, ask me or Uncle Google:

Job: Temporär
Begleitung für behinderten Mann auf Weltreise

Wir suchen eine Begleitperson für einen sehr netten Mann im Rollstuhl (als Folge eines Unfalls mit dem Deltasegler). Sein Wünsch für seinen 50. Geburtstag? Eine Reise nach Australien und Hawaii, mit Zwischenstopps in Dubai und Singapur! Wir wollen nicht, dass seine Behinderung ihn verhindert, seinen Traum in Erfüllung gehen zu lassen.

Deswegen suchen wir eine angenehme Person (m oder w), die SEHR vertrauenswürdig ist, und die sich auch 6-8 Wochen Zeit nehmen kann. You should be abe to speak English pretty well, especially so you can support the traveller at various international airports, hotels, with nurses, etc.