Cruise by Patty LaRoche

My college sorority friends and I decided this, our 50-year reunion, would be “special”: We would take a cruise to Alaska. What we did not anticipate were the awaiting challenges, like how Carol broke her tooth the night before our trip but decided Orajel and pain killers would dull the ache. For the first four days, that seemed to work. Unfortunately, it was a seven-day voyage.

Since Diana is wheelchair and walker-dependent, she brought along her therapist to share her handicap-equipped room…which was anything but geared for a handicapped person. Seriously. How can a “Handicap” room be too small to accommodate a wheelchair?

Six of us spent our first night in Seattle. For $238 a room (thankfully, split between three of us), we experienced a night in a nasty hotel. Nasty, as in bugs and scalding water. Regardless, we refused to let that dull our excitement for this once-in-a-lifetime trip!

Morning #1: we were awakened by a text that Diana had fallen and was being gurneyed to the ship’s infirmary. She returned in a medical boot to protect her broken foot. Because this was her “good foot”—the other one cannot support any weight—it took six of us using a lift sheet to transfer her to a wheelchair and, whenever her feet swelled, back to bed. There would be no sightseeing or shopping for our dear friend.

Morning #2: Juneau was our first stop where we had paid extra for an excursion to two sites: one to watch whales and the other to view the Mendenhall Glacier…which I imagine is quite spectacular, had it not been for the endless rain and thick fog. Still, from inside our whale-viewing boat where we were protected from the elements, we learned much from our marine biologist guide who demonstrated the intricacies of the humpback, using her seven-inch plastic replica. Diana’s two daughters (who also were on the cruise) weren’t even that lucky; they had booked a helicopter Iditarod dog excursion, but because of the weather, their trip was canceled. They stayed behind to care for their mother.

Morning #3: due to unusually rough waves, two of the girls ended up in bed, sea-sick. I attempted the treadmill.

Use your imagination.

Morning #4: We docked at Sitka and were bussed to the small village where we saw a thirty-minute, all-women, Russian dance troupe. For clarification, these were neither Russian nor professional but were volunteers on their lunch breaks. (This time, an upbeat imagination is required.) That night on the ship we danced to a fantastic “Oldies” band but had to stop when the rough seas caused us to lose what little balance we have left. Following that hour of excitement, three girls had to ice their knees and could walk only short distances for the duration of our trip.

On Day #5, the fog lifted and we were able to sit outside on the large deck and play dominoes. At that time, everything was put into perspective. One of the girls began sharing how the ice packs had not helped her hurting knee. Diana spoke up–you know, the Diana in the wheelchair who can’t walk. “Every time I start to feel sorry for myself, I thank Jesus because I know so many people have it so much worse than I do.”

Here is a woman who loves God passionately, who, because medicine was incorrectly prescribed for her now lives in a residential facility, who had to give up her job, who chokes when she eats, whose shoulders and legs have atrophied, yet she reminded us that things weren’t nearly as bad as we made them out to be.

And if that isn’t a “special” message, I don’t know what is.

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