Every year my wife and I take a trip to Washington to visit family and friends. This year however, was different because of the recent purchase that made life so much easier. Only days before our trip we received our VMI Dodge Caravan wheelchair van which would be in incredibly large blessing upon our lives. Up to this point we have driven a converted Chevy Silverado equipped with turny seats on both sides enabling me to be a passenger as well as driver. Unfortunately I have not developed the skills to transfer independently, therefore my wife was transferring me every time I got in or out of the vehicle. Not being able to independently transfer limited my independence as well as took an enormous toll on her back. The practicalities of a van were always there but we had adapted to our routine.
Our trip to the Northwest was always met with anticipation and dread. There was always the question of how we were going to stuff an extended cab pickup with a months worth of luggage and medical supplies, not to mention a wheelchair in the bed of the truck. A trip from sunny Arizona to the rainy skies of Seattle with limited interior room causes undue stress about the wheelchair in the back, exposed to the elements. On numerous road trips we have tried to figure out the best way to keep the wheelchair dry and have not found one. While in Washington we previously found ourselves at the mercy of the weather and not able to enjoy our time with family and friends.
This trip was going to be different. As we began to load all of our luggage and supplies into our new VMI Wheelchair van, it seemed like the space was never-ending. We were even able to fit some of my sister-in-law’s things in as well. With the van equipped for me to drive directly from my wheelchair (vs. transferring), it enabled me to drive for extended periods and allowed my wife to recline the passenger seat and sleep which was not possible in our Chevy Silverado with turny seats that are unable to be reclined. As we proceeded North, the first thing that was very apparent, aside from our cavernous cargo area, was the incredible highway gas mileage. With plenty of power to take the hills and pass slow-moving trucks we still managed great mileage. No longer did we have the dread of the daily showers or down pours that awaited our arrival.
Upon arriving in the Seattle area a shocking wave of sunshine appeared for three days, followed by an entire week of rain and mist. Previously this would have been miserable, trying to keep not only the chair but ourselves dry in the transfer process. At a minimum it would take 5 min. to do a complete transfer in the truck not counting the time it would take to cover the chair. This year again was different. We were able to start the wheelchair van and deploy the ramp from the dry comfort of our hotel or family’s home. Then a quick push and we were in the dry interior of our van. The convenience provided was unparalleled to anything we could have imagined. Staying dry or close to it was a dream come true.
During the trip I was also able to drive independently for the first time since my injury. Not only was I able to go have coffee with my brother-in-law and friends without my wife, I was actually able to work and visit out-of-state locations. During my trip the van had a minor sensor for the power door go out. On previous trips when we had trouble with our truck modifications it was nearly impossible to find someone to fix the issues we had. Not so with our VMI van. They have a nationwide dealer network and I was able to find someone only 30 min. away that was able to quickly troubleshoot and fix the sensor getting me back on the road and enjoying my freedom once again. Although with that freedom also comes the frustration of driving Seattle rush-hour solo. I guess there are some ups and downs to independence.
With such independence I was able to take my nieces to get pizza and while parked waiting for it to be done they proceeded to have a dance party in the middle of the van because there was so much space. From that point on there was a continuing argument about who was riding with uncle Stephen. Being able to drive independently and not rely on others changed not only my life but the lives of my family as well. Before, even if I was able to drive alone there would have only been room for one person to travel with me comfortably but now I can take four and not have to rely on someone to transfer me. Besides that, there was surely not enough room for dance parties in the truck.
The freedom granted to me from my VMI van is priceless. It has allowed me to go back to work, run errands, and dictate my schedule as I please not always having to work around someone else’s. There isn’t enough thanks that can be given for the independence I have received through this one life changing purchase.
Written by Stephen Willoby