Case Study

Last night during a lull in the Insomnia Wars, I had a dream. Personally, I think dreams are underrated; they are always significant (if only to know what not to eat before bedtime). This dream had as its main feature a lost suitcase and my futile efforts to recover it, despite realising at one point that it had nothing of value in it. My keys were returned to me, and I hadn’t even realised they were lost. I say ‘keys,’ but it was/is just one key on a chain with my Route 66 medallion and two of those mini-sized plastic cards: Dunnes Stores and my library card. (Wow. Not only were the key(s) the same ones I do in fact own. I’m after realising that they represent my favourite and/or most needful things: a roof over my head, body fuel, mind fuel, and travel. I had already had all I needed. See? Don’t dreams ROCK?)


A little background would be in order, as it’s been so long since I’ve written anything on this blog. A few months ago the Occupational Therapist assigned to me did assessments of both my personal and my home’s strengths and weaknesses. Only weaknesses get the State to part with any money, however, so she concentrated on those. The steep slope of my driveway (far too steep to be safe in my powered wheelchair) and the fact that my shower is not on the ground floor disturbed my OT the most. She wrote a smashing letter detailing the dangers of my dwelling-place and instructed me to apply to the Council for housing forthwith.


And so I did. The letter had the desired effect! Within one week I had an interview; within just two days (it must be some kind of record) I was informed that I WAS ON THE LIST! Whoo-who! Since there was no available ‘sheltered housing’ (similar to US independent living), the Council offered me the new scheme called Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). I could find suitable private accommodation and they would pay 300/month toward it. Suh-weet!!!!


Back up. Whoaaaaaaaa, Nellie! The paper on which the letter was written was tangible enough, and I’m sure their wish to help me out was sincere, but there is, in reality, no available local authority housing. There is, in reality, virtually no suitable private housing available either.


What’s a poor cripple to do? I’ve been searching since mid-May, ever since I got the OT’s letter, but the few places I saw online, when I rang to see if they were wheelchair-accessible, were off the market as soon as an able-bodied person could get themselves over there. (It helped that these lessees didn’t have the added HAP paperwork, of course. Irish landlords hold a deep horror for all paperwork and the spectre of government that accompanies it. Unlike American landlords, they’re not afraid of my disabilities. One of the perks of living in a place where people are not obsessed by insurance, I might add.) Anyway, Arranging Transport is my third most time-consuming activity: first place goes to Sleep; second goes to Filling Out Paperwork. (You may wonder at my describing Sleep as an activity, but if you had the dreams I do, you’d know why! I accomplish in those hours all those things I used to do in real life — and then some. It’s a pleasant place to be.)


Then, lo and behold, last week I found a place in Letterkenny, way the hoo-hah out there and offering a greater chance that I could be stranded because of lack of — you guessed it! — Transport. I’ve had several occasions here where the wheelchair taxi gets me to my destination but cannot get me home again. These occasions have been inconvenient and scary, but I did manage to get home in the wheelchair; in this new place I would not be so lucky. In addition, my neighbour warned me that the noise transfer from overhead in these apartments was horrific. In my stair-climbing past, I always chose top floor apartments if I could get them, but those days are long gone. Unless I can get a wee bungalow, I’m doomed to living under people’s feet. (Hmmm…methinks there’s another self-discovery essay lurking in those words…)


Anyway, I arranged to have the prospective landlord collect my walker and me so I could look at the place. (My wheelchair weighs more than I do. It does not, despite its ads’ proclamations, “fold up for easy transport!” LIE. It’s a job for Superman.) The fatigue from the outing, which took three hours to prepare for and about an hour to complete, left me decimated. The thought of an actual move, and the stress that accompanies it, overwhelmed me.


I wondered: if I have to move anyway, do I want to stay in Letterkenny? Perhaps there would be something in Sligo? Donegal has no trains, but Sligo does. All the Irish Rail trains accommodate wheelchair users, you see — unlike the buses — and I have a free Travel Pass. Sheltered housing is available in Sligo or Mayo, too, for when I need that full-time care. So I looked online and sure enough, there was a place in Ballymote I’d tried to get into when I first came to Ireland. (Remember: my US disability pension does not allow me to live in the major populated areas of Ireland. Rural areas are much less expensive but require a car, and I no longer have that option.)


I talked to the letting agent and arranged that I would take the bus to Sligo and the train from Sligo to Ballymote. The buses on the Letterkenny – Sligo – Galway route have no wheelchair access, so the driver was going to somehow get me into a bus seat and stow my Rollator in the luggage compartment. The agent was going to meet me at Ballymote. I was hoping that my friends from Tubbercurry would meet me at the apartments and bring a transport wheelchair so I could see the place properly and judge its interior wheelchair access. The whole adventure, all told, would take twelve hours.


And I don’t manage well with hour-long events? What was I thinking?


And therein was the problem: I was thinking, not enquiring. I was swallowing whole both the medical practitioners’ recommendations and the fears of well-meaning friends. I felt I had to move because THEY felt I had to move. Further, I had given in to What If? scenarios and future thinking. What if we have as much ice and snow as last year and I can’t get up the driveway at all? What if I can’t get to the __________ (supermarket, doctor, bank, etc. etc.)? What if I never get to see ____________ (my kids, my grandkids, my friends) again because I can’t get a ___________ (train/bus/plane/taxi/horse & cart)?


I keep thinking I need access to various forms of transport, but I don’t. I’m not going anywhere. My life is like the key chain in my dream: I have books; I have food; I have a roof over my head. And I have the memories of my travels, as expressed in my dream by the Route 66 souvenir I bought when I drove cross-country from Albuquerque to Maple Park. (I had lots of baggage on that trip.)


In the dream, I had arranged my suitcases in the last train carriage in such a way as to discourage anyone else from sharing the space. My intent was to sleep the whole way, you see. After leaving my stuff strategically placed, I wandered along beside the train, looking at the people on the platform (and probably searching for the dining car). I had arrived early and the old-fashioned, Orient-Express-like train had not yet left the station. When I returned to my compartment, however, there was another woman there. She’d moved my suitcases to another car and I was livid. “This is my compartment!” I shouted at her. “I need to sleep and I must lie down! I can’t sleep sitting up! You had no right to move my suitcases.” (Was this the dream equivalent of Who Moved My Cheese?)


The woman, who reminded me of an Irish pal of mine I’ve lost touch with, Sharon Brady, said, “Well, the train is full now, but if you want your bags they’re three or four cars down. I stuck them under the seat.” I didn’t have time to saunter; I needed to get those bags! I rushed along outside the train, the top of my head even with the bottoms of people’s feet (there’s that image again!), asking if anyone had seen the brown soft-sided suitcases with leather accents. The stationmaster was beckoning me onto the train, but still I kept going forward, well past the point the Sharon lookalike had said she’d put the bags. I reached the front of the train and there was no sign of them. Exasperated, the stationmaster told me I had to get on, then and there. I did, downcast, and vowed I would search every cabin again at the next stop.


I made it back to my train car, still agitated that I could not find my suitcase. (It had gone from two suitcases to only one, for some reason I can’t fathom.) The door slid open and a passenger from further down came in, holding my key chain. “Are these yours?” he said. “They must have fallen out of your coat pocket when you came looking for your bags.”


I instantly felt inside my pockets. I was unaware of even wearing a coat until that point, let alone having lost the keys. “Why, yes! They’re mine.” I took them from his hand. “You didn’t find the bag, though?” The Sharon said, “There must have been something of great value in that suitcase to mean more than those keys.”


I went over in my head what I’d packed in the suitcase. Nothing of value, just some clothes and toiletries. I thought to myself, Surely there was something more important in there to have obsessed about it to this degree? I racked my brain, but no: there hadn’t been anything of importance in the case. And then I was struck with how ungrateful I’d been toward the person who’d found my keys. I had focused on the worthless suitcase and hadn’t even noticed I’d lost the key to my home. Anything else could be replaced, but not the key. “Thank you, young man. Thank you so very much for finding my keys. I’m sorry I was so ungrateful.” I turned to the Sharon and said, “You’re right. There was nothing of value in that case. All I need, I already have.” Then I woke up.


The Real and True Reality? I do not have the strength to go further than the door of the wheelchair taxi or Town Bus. I don’t have the stamina for more. Indeed, a move to a new home would do more harm than good. Yes, I would get 300 euros a month, but when has money ever been the key to Happiness? I could win the lottery tomorrow and it wouldn’t change a thing. And the best bit? Not only am I physically unable to undertake major journeys, I don’t need to go any further than my own front door. I’ve got the ruby slippers. (No, really! I do! Lee Barnes gave them to me last winter.)


This is the second detailed, memorable dream I’ve had featuring baggage. A few days before my hospitalization at the end of April, I had one where I was focused on a black backpack. My childhood friend Gayle, who passed away thirty years ago and appears in dreams before life-changing events, was with me. She kept saying, “You don’t need all this stuff. You don’t need this where you’re going.”


And Gayle was so right, as was the Sharon in my dream last night (who is, of course, a representation of the Me I’ve lost touch with). We carry all these cases (worst-case scenarios; best-case scenarios) without checking the contents to see if we really need what’s in there. Not only that, we use our precious energy dragging them with us at all costs. We can’t use the key to open the door to our Present if our hands are full of yesterday’s baggage, can we?


When I woke up today, I felt a great relief. I don’t have to find a new place to live. I don’t have to spend what precious energy I have left searching for what I’ve lost, either, for I haven’t lost anything of value. What I treasure is either still here, or is in a place to which I cannot travel — and for which I can pack no suitcase.


A point in case.

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