Sunday, June 01, 2008

Leaving Paradise

The HipHubby and I reached a painful decision -- it’s time to leave Paradise.

The tension between the life I want to have here and the one I can have on an island of this size had been building for a while. Recently, however, that tension became one, giant, never ending battle to acquire the resources I need to lead a quality life in the face of ignorance, prejudice and outright stupidity. And I snapped.

The straw that broke the gimp’s back? Being told I could not purchase a membership to the only health club with lift equipped pool because their legal department didn’t have provisions for dealing with “people like me”, and that even if I could join, I would be forbidden to use that lift because it’s use was restricted by law to rehab patients only. But that just the setup for the breaking point. The actual shattering of my spirit came when I was unable to get the ONE attorney who knows anything about disability rights law to phone me back when I called her for a referral to an attorney to fight this obvious violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and local civil rights laws.

That’s when I lost it. The rage I felt opened my eyes to the reality that living a good life in a wheelchair is a daily battle, but trying to do so here -- where there are inadequate medical resources, poor accessibility, and lack of choices in general -- makes that daily battle ten times as hard as it would be elsewhere.

So even though neither the HipHubby nor I want to take on the enormous task of relocating our little family back to the mainland, it has to be done. So far, we’re doing a pretty good job of not being totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work involved:

  • getting this house on the market and sold;
  • finding, buying, and furnishing a new house, and renovating it to be wheelchair friendly along the way;
  • dividing our belongings into three action piles of sell/donate, pitch, and pack (followed, of course, by selling/donating, throwing out, and/or packing everything in those piles); and
  • moving two people and ten cats at least 1500 miles without anyone losing their minds or going broke in the process.

No problem, right? ~LOL~

The decision about where we go has been the subject of much discussion.

Our criteria for the ideal location are a bit different than most couples. While we’d love to keep a warmer climate at the top of the list, there are other factors that trump it outright -- all of them related to my health and well being. I need access to a doctor to manage my Baclofen pump nearby. I also need a general practitioner, a neurosurgeon and an open MRI machine, a urologist, a pain management specialist, and a pulmonologist to help me manage my various health conditions. I need access to a Medicare supplemental insurance plan because the Medicare co-pays are driving us toward bankruptcy.

Since I no longer drive, I’d like access to a Para transit service so I could actually leave the house on my own, without having to drag the HipHubby out with me. And I would love to have access to a health club with a wheelchair lift for their pool and staff that understand being disabled and wanting to be healthy isn’t a crime.

After our experiences with moving to DC and down here -- both places we had never been before -- neither one of us has a lot of enthusiasm for going to a place that we have no practical experience with and trying to figure it out from scratch. That, of course, pretty much eliminates a warm climate from the running since neither one of us have lived any further south than Washington DC. And since neither of us have any desire to return to DC (housing prices alone take it from the running, but there’s also my 9/11 PTSD and the city’s poor air quality to make it a definite NO), our choices are looking more and more narrow -- and more and more northern.
So after a lot of discussion about surviving winters and weighing snow against access to doctors I know, trust, and with whom I have existing relationships, we made our decision: when we leave the US Virgin Islands, we’ll be moving back to my home state of Michigan -- specifically Lansing, Michigan, the state capital. It offers everything we’re looking for medically, and housing prices are so low we may be able to buy a home outright (depending on how much we can get for our USVI house). In addition, the last time I live there I was working in the disability community, so I already know the area and what is has to offer to crips. And the big kicker: my family is nearby, something that has become very important to me since my mother passed away.

The moving process is already underway -- we’re doing what we need to do to get this house ready to sell (e.g. making minor repairs, cleaning and packing up personal belongings, and starting to stage the house). Next week we’ll start bringing in Realtors to do competitive market analyses to see what we can reasonable expect to sell this house for and how long that will take (the scariest part of it all for me). After that, we’ll decide on one to represent us and get the house officially listed.

I’m overwhelmed because there is so much work ahead, but incredibly relieved to know that I will finally be going to a place where I will have competent doctors nearby, places to shop other than Kmart, choices of service providers, and all of the restaurants we don’t have down here!

Lansing, Michigan, here we come!

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