International travel is difficult.
I can’t sleep on planes, which means I’m awake for days. Then, after I arrive, I try to stay awake until it’s night-time and then I crash. The second night, which is right now, is always the most difficult; I’m not exhausted and my body knows it’s 3:30pm where I live even though it’s 10:30pm where I’m visiting.
That said, I’m also very lucky to be able to travel to Europe as often as I do. I’m in Berlin, a really wonderful city, as the guest of a fantastic academic foundation, the Irmgard Coninx Stiftung, run by a small group amazingly kind and generous people I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the past decade. They’ve been so kind to invite me here to present paper or chair panels five or six times in a decade. This is the final conference for the foundation and I’m honored to have been invited back.
Having said all that, let me say that it’s exponentially more difficult to travel with my injury. Travel itself was a challenge, as I couldn’t even carry my own (small) piece of luggage from the car to the ticket counter to check in. I had to order a wheelchair to take me through the airport, which means I get to do things more quickly (no lines) but I get a series of pat down screenings in my departure city and again at immigration when I arrive. I had to take Aspirin for a week before the trip and every day during the trip because it’s a blood thinner and I’m now at risk for blood clots during my flights. And I had to get on and off the plane — and go to the bathroom during the flight — by hopping around on one leg. Also, I was instructed by my doctor to remove my walking boot and frequently massage my calf and foot throughout my flight (and, because I live in Omaha, there were three flights to get to Berlin).
And then they lost my luggage, which included my knee scooter.
I was without my scooter for a full day, which means I had to get through the airport in Berlin on my crutches (no wheelchair waiting for me here, unlike all the other airports), I had to take a taxi because taking the bus (my usual mode of transit here) with my crutches was a questionable idea, and had to basically stick around my hotel all day because it takes a long time to get anywhere on crutches and it’s impossible to carry anything. [Thank goodness for old friends who gathered a full breakfast for me from the hotel’s buffet.] My scooter arrived early this afternoon, but my suitcase didn’t. It took a dozen phone calls and a series of increasingly angry tweets to Delta before the suitcase finally arrived around 9pm this evening, fully two days after I handed it to someone at the Delta ticket counter in Omaha.
Being without one’s luggage is an enormous hassle. Being without one’s luggage when one has a major leg injury is catastropic. It’s not simply the annoyance of having to wear the same clothes for more than one day or to be without one’s toothpaste or deodorant. Because of my injury, I was advised only to bring a small carry-on bag that I knew I could carry myself; this was very good advice because of all the hopping around and walking on crutches I ended up having to do in airports. But it also meant I packed my spare compression socks, the special plastic bag that goes over my boot so I can keep it on in the shower, a change of clothes, and so on. So, when my luggage was, of course, lost, I didn’t have these important items in my carry-on. Now that my luggage has finally arrived, I’m elated. Nothing changes my mood quite like taking a shower without fear of falling down and then putting on clean clothes.
Finally, a city like Berlin is a particular challenge. There’s a lot of walking around inherent in being here. You walk to the bus or the train and you walk to the conference site from the hotel. But walking doesn’t work for me, so I use my scooter. Except that the sidewalks here are made of at least three different kinds of paving stones. One type, basically huge pavers, is great for someone on a knee scooter, but the other two kinds, small stones and medium stones, are incredibly dangerous. I have to go very slowly, lift my injured leg up because the scooter bounces on the rocks, and make certain that my wheels don’t get caught between the stones and cause me to fall (or, worse, step down on my left foot). A fifteen minute walk thus takes me twenty five minutes of white-knuckled work. Doing this walk twice a day is stubbornness, a hallmark of mine, and I’m well aware of it … but knowing that I’m being stubborn and desisting from being stubborn are two totally different things. But I’m committed to doing it and to not taking a taxi for the less-than-a-mile journey.
Plus, I get amazing looks from Germans while I’m riding my scooter around town; they don’t have knee scooters here in Germany and people can’t help staring at the man coming toward them on the scooter. When they pass me and finally see the elevated boot, they almost all say “Ahhhh.” If I could find a way to import these scooters to Europe, I think I’d make a fortune.
Now I’m off to try to fool myself into falling asleep.