Have more or less successfully survived Loncon3. Lots to post about, but that should be done in a more organized fashion, so that will be coming later.

(Also, yes, while that was probably the longest trek from the ExCel area to Greenwich in history, I did finally make it to Greenwich, and, no, Google did not lie: Greenwich DID have a Marks and Spencer with more than tolerable sandwiches which you can eat right in front of the Cutty Sark. I approve of this.)

My original plan was to leave London Monday morning and trek out to Bath, spending the afternoon looking at Bath and then the following day doing one of the little tourist bus trips out to Glastonbury and Wells. That did not happen, but for a very good reason: [personal profile] kate_nepveu and her husband Chad kidnapped me for a lovely high tea near Green Park, complete with all of the Proper little finger sandwiches and scones and little cakes including something that is apparently called Battenberg cake that I loved if Kate, alas, didn't.

I had a few awful moments of thinking that I wouldn't make it - I woke up a bit dizzy, then got better, then got very dizzy again, but after I stayed prone for a couple hours I felt better and by the time Kate and Chad showed up I was slightly light headed but otherwise fine.

Getting there was...entertaining. We started with the DLR (fine). Then the Jubilee line (less fine.)

See, the London Underground will tell you that the Jubilee line at the Green Park station is wheelchair accessible. It is -- but only from ONE of the train cars at ONE location, where the platform has been raised up to be level with the train and then tapers off with slightly steep ramps back to the rest of the platform. The rest of the platform is a solid FOOT down from the train, not something my wheelchair can handle. FORTUNATELY, Chad looked down the car and saw the raised platform and sent me there, allowing me to escape just as the doors were closing.

And then we had to get through the Green Park Tube station, which I can report has not improved in twenty years. So you can see that all of the little cakes were Medically Necessary, as was the delightful conversation.

They also turned out to be medically necessary for another reason: Paddington Station.

Getting to Paddington Station was fine - I rolled into a little cab and we rolled around London and then the cab driver waved down disability access for me. This got a little confusing - I can't actually buy my tickets at a kiosk (like THANKS CHASE BANK) but we got me to the main ticket station. Where the access person took off telling me I was in helpful hands.

Here I encountered the hands down least helpful person yet in the UK, I told him I needed to get to Bath Spa. He sold me a ticket (at, I later found, NOT the cheapest price for the train I was on) but failed to tell me a) what train I could get on (I ended up guessing, correctly, Bristol, but seriously....) what platform the train was on. And then this:

"Where can I request disability assistance?" (National Rail's webpage said I needed it at Paddington and Bath - this is correct.)

"You don't need it for this train."

That was a lie.

My access person had left so a helpful Brit helped me roll my suitcase to the information booth and said he would help me on the train. I still wasn't sure if I could GET on the 7 o'clock train - the electronic board suggested not - so I rolled up to the desk to request information assistance, who chose that moment to tell me that yes, I DID need ramp assistance.

So off I headed to the access area, slightly worried because the train was scheduled to leave in 20 minutes at this point, but telling myself and access that I could just take the next train. Another wheelchair user happened to be requesting access to the same train. We were told that it was on platform one (good) and it was coach C (way way way way down the platform, less good) and the access people were all running around so since time was running out the wheelchair user took me down to Coach C on platform one, followed by the helpful Brit with my bag --

-- it was the wrong train, and the helpful Brit had already taken off.

We had five minutes to reach coach C (way way way way way down) on the other platform, and no access people in sight.

I offered to take the next train. I had underestimated the helpfulness of other Brits; the other wheelchair user was in an electric, so he offered to take my suitcase (it's wheeled) and we rushed. I never ever want to push my manual that quickly, that distance, again. At the station end of the platform we explained the situation and were allowed through Secret Inaccessible doors and then sped down that way. At that point I started having breathing problems. My suitcase went on ahead of me; a porter saw me and started running with me down the platform. The ramp was set up and the train left while we were still getting ourselves into place.

That took awhile because I was still having breathing issues and palpitations. After that, I got my head down and pretty much stayed there until Swindon, which is to say if you are looking for a lovely description of a train ride from London to Bath you need to look elsewhere.

The Bath train station was a lot less exciting, but at that point the only thing I wanted was a bed. Any bed. See why the high tea was so helpful? I had no need for dinner.

I have more to say on Bath (which is lovely) and seagulls and other things, but for now, time for the next train.
So Sunday was not a great day: by noon, I felt that if I heard the phrases "this lift is not in service" or "diversion" once more I was going to cry. This was entirely apart from the growing problem of trying to get to a disabled bathroom (see lift thing). I gave up, had a hellish time getting back to the hotel ("diversion"!), napped, tried again, got dizzy, and really gave up. The entertaining part was stealing WiFi from all of the wheelchair inaccessible Starbucks. A photo essay is coming once I am back home.

I was about to try to flee London altogether for about anywhere else on Monday (France sounds lovely) but as I wrote here, I was determined not to let the London buses totally defeat me. Plus, I had exactly three things that I'd really wanted to do: the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Platform 9 3/4. AND I had plans to meet up with fellow writer Fabio Fernandes at some point, and the meet up plans did not say "France."

So, after resting for a long while, off I went to the Tower of London.

I can't take the Tube, so, buses. This has its good points - you see a lot along the way - and its bad points: bus transfers, and the way the bus sounds an emergency alarm when you try to get on or off it. Having said that, Orange County bus systems could learn one thing from London buses: wheelchair users aren't strapped in, which saves everybody time.

Anyway: Tower of London!

It had been twenty years since I'd been there, almost long enough to feel as if I were visiting it for the first time. Which, as I soon realized as I went BUMP BUMP BUMP BUMP and then BUMP BUMP over it, was actually fairly accurate - seeing the Tower by wheelchair is a very different experience.

Since wheelchair users can't access about 60 percent of the Tower, I got a discount. Then BUMP BUMP.

The Tower is currently - celebrating? Remembering? I can't think of the right word - World War I - with a display of metal poppies filling the moat area and various World War I costumed figures wandering around. This was moving, and fascinating, and also, BUMP BUMP.

And bump.

Thanks to that I spent a lot more time listening to World War I stuff than I probably ordinarily would have - it provided nice resting points.

I was tempted to stay below, but a chorus of protests insisted that I get pushed up to the upper levels, so BUMP BUMP past the lines for the crown jewels and BUMP BUMP (you might sense a theme here) As I noted on Twitter afterwards, you don't really realize how big that Tower is until you bump your way through it.

Alas, the Chapel was closed for artistic renovations, but, in an attempt to slow down the bumps, I took pictures, pretended to commune with Anne Boleyn's ghost, and completely missed the approaching crowds. A yeoman warder DID, however, and spotting me and another wheelchair user told us that since two wheelchair users were currently in the only other accessible indoor area, we would instead go to the Crown Jewels.

I am sworn to secrecy on this next bit, except to say, SECRET ENTRANCE. THAT felt like a castle.

It also meant that I got to see the Crown Jewels after all. I must say that the most impressive part of this, for me, wasn't the crowns, but the gilt plate created for the later banquets. So that was cool. And afterwards, another yeoman whispered a great secret to me: that if I headed over to St. Katherine's Docks and followed his very specific instructions, there was a lift.

At this point I did not have any great faith in lifts, but I am glad I did this: that was probably my favorite area of London so far, even if I didn't actually find the lift.

Then it was back to the hotel to collapse a bit and regain my humanity before meeting with Fabio. We chatted. We stopped for dinner. We kept chatting. A chainsaw flew up in the air.

"Uh-"

Said chainsaw was from a juggler clad only in purple shorts, standing up on a ladder, juggling that and three other objects. Oddly NONE of that except for the chainsaw caught my attention.

The epic experience that was doing Buckingham Palace by wheelchair - and I do mean epic - deserves a separate entry. But for now, I think it's time for the next major challenge: me and my suitcase making it on and off the Docklands Light Railway. (And making it to the Docklands Light Railway, for that matter.) Wish us luck.

London

Aug. 9th, 2014 02:51 am
So, after missing my initial flight, dealing with a flight delay out of Orlando, temporarily losing my wheelchair in Dublin (that was fun), and going through Secret Back Alleyways Through Paddington Station (that actually was entertaining. Like spy stuff.) This is usually the part where I complain about Heathrow, and, trust me, there are several things I could say about Heathrow, none kind, but in comparison I feel that Heathrow's ongoing "Hi! How can we get you to hate this country as quickly as possible" is mild in comparison. Also Heathrow did push me all the way to Heathrow Express, so that was kind.

Unfortunately, the advertised as disabled friendly hotel where I am staying is not quite as disabled friendly as advertised. To get in and out I have to wait for the porters to bring me a little temporary ramp, not kept in the lobby. This also means that they have to realize I'm there, which so far means waiting outside hopefully for another guest to enter the hotel to alert them that I need the ramp. The main hotel restaurant is not at all disabled accessible, and the bathroom - but this should be a cheery post.

It's perhaps not surprising that I have had four separate people come up to me and ask, in excited voices some equivalent of "you are really doing this? Where? How? Does the bathroom actually work for a wheelchair?" All of them know wheelchair users.

My other favorite comment of the past two days: "All the Americans I've met are so friendly which is strange because you always seem to be shooting each other." Yay, USA!

All right. One last visit to the unlit disabled bathroom, and then I am off to See Stuff.
Tourist at Seaworld yesterday: "Whales don't have bones." (Turning to Seaworld staffer.) "Right?"

Seaworld staffer, who has unquestionably heard much worse over the months, patiently: "No, they have bones -- several large bones in their rib cage, for instance."

#

So, yes, yesterday I was at Seaworld with my mother, which meant an overload of dolphins and sea lions and orca and criminally minded egrets and so on. The Seaworld part was all good, and I was pleased to see that Seaworld is now edging away from its recent years of "what, us, animals? No, WE ARE THRILL RIDES," back to a more animal focus. The new Turtle Trek uses the same manatee tanks but has added a second tank for sea turtles and colorful tropical fish, with underwater and above water viewing; the underwater orca viewing has reopened, and I now have tentative and cautious hopes for the upcoming penguin exhibit, even if said exhibit currently made it rather difficult to see the best things at Seaworld, the sea lions and the harbour seals. (What?) Also cake and ice cream became involved, entirely by accident, my mother and I both mutually assure you. And I was able to replace a coffee mug. So all good.

Slightly less good were certain incidents on the way there and back, some of which were my fault entirely (the cell phone fiasco, wherein a certain fantasy writer forgot that cell phones can't actually be charged by magic) and more alarming, problems with my mobility scooter. I am hoping that these can be repaired cheaply; otherwise, it's time to look at replacing it, which is making me shrink inside. Grr.

Grumble

Sep. 20th, 2012 06:45 pm
Folks, if any of you have had any experiences, good, bad, indifferent, with Wildcat, Cirrus Plus or Invacare folding power wheelchairs, now would be a good time to tell me.

(I'm inclined towards Invacare models merely because my Invacare manual has been my one completely dependable mobility device so far, but I am open to hearing things and doing a lot more research, since they also appear to be the most expensive, and I will be paying at least some of this out of pocket. I have tried Jazzy models and they were uncomfortable and also did not provide leg support.)

In related news, despite dolphins, orca, and criminally minded snowy egrets stealing fish, today has not been a mass of awesome.
Note: I originally wrote this right after the show, then decided to hang on to the post until my Wicked review went up at Tor.com….which was delayed a bit since the post initially got lost in all of the site rebuilding excitement. So, a bit late, here we are:

******

So, yeah, Wicked show. The word surreal comes to mind. And that's without even including the car chase.

1. In a burst of optimism, C, S and I had decided to do dinner AND the show. Now, in our defense, we have actually accomplished this sort of thing before. S suggested a Thai restaurant where we'd had slow service in the past, so I suggested looking for something else – which is when C suggested a steakhouse. So to the steakhouse we went, to find that there was a fifteen/twenty minute wait for a table. Hmm. Dubious. We were still out in Ocoee at this point (none of us felt like navigating downtown Orlando restaurants on one side of I-4 and then heading over to the theatre) so we decided to head to a Toojays – a decided decline from the previous choices – which offered immediate seating...

...and proceeded not to serve us for more than a half hour, getting us way behind. Oh well. At least the conversation was excellent.

2. Car chase!

3. After the car chase we actually drove EVEN FASTER. And we were not, to everyone's shock, pulled over for either event.

4. On a related note on the car, can I just mention that shutting down one of the tollbooths for incoming traffic to Orlando on Friday night? Probably not the wisest move. Moving on.

5. As some of you may know, Orlando has recently invested a lot of money to build a shiny new event center, the Amway Center, right next to where we were heading, the Bob Carr Centre. What Orlando has not invested in, in the slightest, is UPDATED ROAD SIGNS or INFORMATION ABOUT PARKING let alone disabled parking. We had to flag down a cop.

6. Because of all of this, we arrived at the show only fifteen minutes early. Still, we were early, and others were still arriving. (I noticed with amusement that the women dress up/men dress down still applies here – nearly all of the women were in cocktail or formal dress, and the men were in jeans. One woman was in formal wear accompanied by a man in shorts. When I mentioned this to C and S they told me that they weren't looking at the guys.)

I showed the first usher my tickets.

"Hmm," he said. "Those seats aren't wheelchair accessible."

"I'm able to transfer," I said.

"But these seats aren't wheelchair accessible."

"Ticketmaster didn't let me purchase wheelchair accessible seats."

(Quite true. I tried, more than once, and couldn't, and in the end figured I'd just take the cane and the wheelchair and deal with it when we got there – my standard approach to these events. It generally works – at Stephen Lynch, for instance, they allowed me to transfer from wheelchair to chair, and had a place to stow the wheelchair during the show. Same thing with Blue Man Group. This is the first time I was halted at the door; the most I usually get is "can you transfer?" and "are you bothered by strobe effects?")

"Let me see what I can do."

So, he wandered off. Meanwhile, the ushers started calling out to the approaching people hurry, hurry, that the theatre had a strict seating policy, that everyone had to get inside soon, hurry, hurry.

Our usher returned. "We aren't sold out," he told us, "so I can exchange these for wheelchair accessible seats."

"Fine," I said, by now getting a bit worried about missing the show.

So he wandered off again. The ushers got more strident in their calls. S went off to ask if this ticket exchange meant that we would be missing the show. "Oh, no," we were assured.

"TWO MINUTES," yelled out the ushers.

S went looking again.

With a minute and a half to go and warning beeps going, the usher returned with our new seats. We were escorted up to our seats by a second usher who was trying to get them to hold the show for us. Instead of balcony front, we were now in orchestra back – the very back, where they have removable folding chairs that they can add for extra seating if they wish, or for the ushers to watch the show.

So, the first act went by. It was fun, entertaining, despite my complaints, and I was in a considerably better mood by the time intermission hit. S pushed me towards the restroom – I was feeling a bit dizzy – where, naturally, there was a line.

And where, equally naturally, people started cutting in front of me, even after people had lined up behind me, because, "Oh, I didn't see you."

In the bathroom, the ushers worked to hurry us all up, reminding us that time was limited – and I assume wanting us to buy drinks. Business done, I headed out, deciding I wanted a drink –

And looked up at the bar.

The bar can be reached on either side – right or left – by ten stairs.

I wheeled myself to an usher. "Is there a wheelchair accessible bar?"

"No," he said, in a lovely moment of honesty. "There is a bar downstairs, but with the line for the elevator you won't be able to reach it and return before the show resumes."

(As it turned out, although he might have been right about the elevator and the timing, he was wrong about that bar – that, too, was wheelchair inaccessible.)

"Ah," I said.

Dilemma. I definitely needed something to drink, and I couldn't see S. If I waited for him –

I wheeled myself back to the seats. C had already returned. "Can you get me a drink?" I asked.

"Sure."

This led to S wondering where I'd vanished to, of course, but that worked out.

I was the only person in a wheelchair at the show.

***********

For what it's worth, I've been to performances at Universal (Hard Rock Café/Blue Man Group) which provided storage place for my wheelchair during the show and allowed me to transfer to the seats I or someone else had chosen. "Whatever's comfortable for you."
I thought about writing a year end summary, but figured I hadn't even really talked about December yet. So, lessons learned in December:

1. Butterbeer is indeed foamy, sweet, delicious, and, to be truthful, just a teensy bit nauseating. Or more than a teensy bit nauseating.

2. Hogwarts can be explored in many ways. Some of these ways have elevators. Some of these ways lead you through the final store. Some of these ways involve lengthy communication with team leaders and discussions of just exactly where the damn Universal parking lot is and why is it unlikely that any wheelchair user barring a marathon trained one is overly likely to be able to manage getting a manual wheelchair from the damn parking lot to Hogwarts. Suggestions, again, that Universal consider a) moving its disabled parking, b) expanding its disabled parking, c) telling its parking attendants where the disabled parking is so that people do not go round and round and round lakes and find themselves going through the entire parking lot AGAIN.

3. You can, indeed, spend considerably more time in December contemplating disabled parking than you had ever wanted or wished to.

4. Four people can attend Gatorland and have a very different idea of it. Possibly because two of the people sat on gators; three of the people bought fudge, and only one person (to my knowledge) got mad at the bathrooms.

5. Alligators, are not, for the most part, the cutest creatures on earth. Baby alligators, however, are still remarkably adorable, even knowing that they will happily remove your fingers.

6. One issue with living in Florida too long, and spending extensive time in the Everglades, is that the response to a 16 foot and very fat gator is, oh, whatever.

7. The fudge at Gatorland is, hands down, the best fudge at any theme park in Florida, bar none, hands down.

8. I can on occasion be repetitive and wordy.

9. Some of you are doubtless thinking we all learned lesson 8 well before this December.

10. Sea lions are awesomely cute, even when you are hearing a story about how one of them nearly ripped the head off a fellow sea lion leaving him with a bloody and kinda bare scalp. And by awesomely cute, I mean, dangerously awesomely cute.

11. Dolphins are best appreciated under the influence of fudge. And coffee. And coffee and fudge. I think you get where I'm going with this.

12. A restaurant can be perfectly adequate and even enjoyable until you take relatives there, hoping they will enjoy themselves.

13. Waiters who are unable to talk will also find it difficult to deliver correct orders.

14. This sort of combination will lead to skipping any form of tiramisu and heading right on to the Coldstone Creamery. Which, all in all, is not an entirely bad thing.

15. The Sanaa restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is actually an interesting way to see Animal Kingdom without venturing into it; animals wander by, people bang drums, plus, creative and wildly exciting booze.

16. We, as humans, can design amazingly entertaining and even artistic electrical fences.

17. A woman from the Philadelphia can go to great lengths to try to convince a British magician that she is not, absolutely not, anything like anyone on the Jersey Shore, whatever her accent, while wearing high heeled boots, fishnets and a miniskirt that barely, but barely, covers her butt.

18. Some Americans are, alas, unable to distinguish between images of Queen Elizabeth II and Lady Liberty.

19. It is not as easy as you might think to perform card sharks for an extremely drunk man, also from Philadelphia, and also, absolutely, and completely, not like anyone on the Jersey Shore, however much said drunken man may be appear to be impersonating several of the cast members of the Jersey Shore.

20. The combination of drunkenness, miniskirts and questionable assumptions about the British Royal Family will send even the most warmth-loving British magician out to do card tricks in the cold.

21. From [personal profile] fizzgig_bites and myself: the word of the staff at the Big River Grille & Dining Works at Disney's Boardwalk is not to be trusted in pretty much anything. Except perhaps the beer. Which we didn't order.

22. Fireworks.

Ok, that wasn't a lesson, exactly, more a moment to be savored—it was a pretty amazing show. Hmm. Lesson. I like fireworks, although again, we all kinda knew that one already.

23. It is, indeed, possible to back out of an elevator only to confront a clown.

24. The longer spiced apple cider simmers, the better it tastes. If you are clever, you can conceal this as a cooking technique. If you are not, everyone will yell at you for concealing the spiced apple cider from everyone.

25. A clown can throw a light at a child, and steal it back again.

26. An egret directly outside your window can end up being a rather aggravating experience, especially if the egret is also aggravated.

27. You can spend several minutes trying to sum up visits from friends before realizing that you actually can't, and should have spent this time eating chocolate or baking brie instead.

28. You can spend much of the month barely discussing either of the three most lifechanging things that happened in it.

29. Your very best holiday present may come from a very unexpected place, and may actually end up getting delivered in March.

(Traditional publication/writing summary for the year probably coming up soon. Probably.)

(And as I was typing this out, last lesson: my cats are really never going to get used to fireworks, are they?)
I started this blog entry soon after returning from WFC, and then never got around to finishing it (this happens to a surprising number of my posts.) Since discussion on this point has heated up in the past few days, I figured I'd finish it up.

Cut for those who can't stand to read anything more about airport security. )
Notes: We began encountering major, but major, disability access problems right after our arrival, most of which I may be covering in a separate post. Assume that many of the time gaps are filled by my irritated realizations that I can't actually get where I am trying to get, thanks to stairs, holes, lack of elevators, or other issues. (The others are filled with resting at the hotel or lounge or gaming.)

Also, certain incidents have been removed to protect the guilty. For instance, it's entirely possible that a pillow fight occurred at some point during the con, but I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not said incident actually took place.

Also, I took far more pictures than this, but as it turns out, my camera hates, but hates, indoor shots - as the following pictures will amply demonstrate.

Cut for large images, including steampunk wheelchairs, three dimensional chess, and my Stitch backpack commandeering stuff. )
From Cigna's wheelchair contractor, who, as it turns out, does not actually supply wheelchairs (raise your hands, everyone who saw that coming) "Insurance can be difficult."
How not to get a wheelchair:

1. Admit, after significant badgering from family and friends, and after a very bad fall, that you need one.*

2. Head to wheelchair convention and try out some lightweight manual wheelchairs designed for shorter people. Cheer up and realize that maybe a wheelchair isn't so bad. Receive assurances from many very hot women and men that wheelchairs are actually very hot and sexy and you will look just fine in one and a lot better than you will look with a broken knee.

3. Easily get a script from the doctor. Feel reassured, knowing that central Florida's large elderly and disabled population means that a large selection of wheelchairs are readily available at a number of excellent and helpful medical supply centers, with trained staff willing and able to assist you in measuring you and working with you to provide the best wheelchair for your needs.

4. Call Cigna, an entity that terms itself a health insurance organization, and receive specific confirmation that yes, yes, they do cover supplies from Colonial Medical Supplies, based in downtown Orlando, as long as a prescription is provided.

5. Fuel up with French food. (Yay Sweet Traditions Bakery in downtown Winter Garden!)

6. Head to Colonial Medical Supplies. Because, to repeat the point, you have been assured by no less of an authority than Cigna that products purchased with a prescription at Colonial Medical Supplies will be covered by Cigna.

7. Be informed, kindly and regretfully, by a sales agent at Colonial Medical Supplies that in point of fact, they do not have an account with Cigna and that products, including wheelchairs, purchased at Colonial Medical Supplies, with or without a prescription, will not be covered by Cigna, and that in actual fact Cigna has never paid for any supplies purchased at Colonial Medical Supplies. "They keep sending people to us," the agent says. "I don't know why."

8. Call Cigna's 800 number and spend a few happy moments chatting with a computer.

9. Confirm with Cigna's agent that although just last week they claimed they did, indeed, work with Colonial Medical Supplies, in actual fact they do no such thing and never have. Receive names of two other companies in Orange County that absolutely, positively are durable medical supply companies that absolutely, positively will have wheelchairs available and that absolutely, positively work with Cigna.

10. Contact first company named. Number has been disconnected. Contact second company. Number has also been disconnected.

11. Contact AT&T Directory Assistance. Confirm that the second company does not in point of fact exist anyplace in Florida. AT&T is slightly more dubious about the first company, giving three potential companies with similar names. AT&T directory assistance person confides that this is why she no longer works for health insurance companies. "You wouldn't believe it but honestly having people shout at me here is so much less stressful."

12. Two of the companies named by AT&T do not sell wheelchairs. The third terminated its relationship with Cigna last year.

13. Call Cigna's 800 number and spend a few happy moments chatting with a computer.

14. Reach Cigna agent, who initially checks my address and notes that Cigna apparently does not cover any wheelchair suppliers in my zip code, Winter Garden. Announce that I am quite happy to go anywhere in Orange or Seminole Counties for the wheelchair, and that given that I am physically located in downtown Orlando, not in Winter Garden, at this moment, because Cigna sent me there, the Winter Garden address is irrelevant, even if a Winter Garden zip code is attached to the account. Agent cheers up and says chirpily that Cigna covers several wheelchair supply stores and she'll conference call me in.

15. Spend the next forty-five minutes listening to Cigna agent dial various companies listed in their database as customized wheelchair suppliers. These include: an emergency walk in clinic, a supplier of post-mastectomy supplies and breast reconstruction services, "the number you have reached is not in service...", two physical therapy rehab centers, two more companies that refuse to work with Cigna, and a drug addiction treatment center. Begin to question the quality of the Cigna database of customized wheelchair suppliers.

16. Reach a company that may possibly have customized wheelchairs. When the name "Cigna" is mentioned, there is a distinct hesitation on the other side of the phone.

17. Sympathize deeply with this hesitation. Realize, at the same time, that you have in no way consumed enough alcohol to deal with this.

18. Company reluctantly admits to working with Cigna, but is unsure what wheelchairs might be available, and asks for my location.

19. "She lives in Winter Park." "Garden!" "Oh, Winter – what was that?" "NEVER MIND. I can get to to Winter Park." [For non locals, they're about a half hour to forty-five minutes apart, but by that time I really didn't care.]

20. Company even more reluctantly agrees that they do, in fact, have a location in Altamonte Springs, but they are not sure about the wheelchair availability. (The person we were speaking to was in Atlanta.) I give my height, weight and medical condition. Altamonte Springs location is called.

21. Several minutes later, Altamonte Springs location confirms that it does not have wheelchairs.

22. Still cheery Cigna agent announces that we still have one more company on the list! The next company, she assures me, is a national supplier of wheelchairs without a local Orlando location that can come directly to your door.

23. Point out to Cigna agent that this wheelchair is not a temporary thing and the general idea, agreed upon by Cigna originally, was that I would be able to go and try out different models to ensure that I found one that met my needs so that I don't have to buy any more wheelchairs in the future, and that no, I do not just want a random wheelchair shipped to my door. Cigna agent assures me that Cigna wants the same thing. She calls the national supplier of wheelchairs.

24. National supplier of wheelchairs no longer works with Cigna. They provide another company, who, interestingly enough, is not in the Cigna database. Next company is called.

25. AT&T drops the Cigna call.

26. Realize yet again that wheelchair shopping should not be done without the assistance of hard liquor. Purse is regrettably free of hard liquor.

27. Start calling next company; during that call, Cigna agent calls, resulting in some confusion. Cigna agent explains that this particular company does work with Cigna. Nearly fall over in shock. The bad news is that they do not accept calls from patients. My doctor needs to call them, explain my needs, and then they will send a wheelchair right to my door. If it needs to be adjusted for my height and weight, they can do that then.

28. Explain, again, that this is a long term wheelchair and that Cigna had agreed that I could be properly measured for a wheelchair that would be the right size (I have difficulty with standard sized wheelchairs because I'm short) and that I would be allowed to try out different wheelchairs to ensure I was in one that met my needs. "Well, you can call them and explain that, and you can have your doctor explain what you need."

29. "A. Wheelchair."

30. Clarify that what this means is that despite my policy that includes customized wheelchairs, Cigna has no actual way of letting me purchase, with my health insurance, a customized wheelchair fitted for my height and weight in central Florida, even though I will be paying 30% of the price.

31. Imagine what things might have been like if I'd been trying to buy a power chair.

32. Think just how many people – me, my parents, two different Cigna agents, AT&T, various receptionists, sales agents, and so on – had to waste significant time on this because of Cigna's inability to keep their computer database updated.

(In all fairness, it is possible that the Cigna agent misunderstood and that this final company can provide customized wheelchairs – I was too exhausted to call them again once I got home, but I will be following up on this.)

33. Ah, migraine. How nice to realize that for once, you have arrived with a genuine and completely explicable cause.

34. On the bright side, this means that I entirely missed the whole boy not in a balloon story.

********

According to Forbes, Cigna CEO H. Edward Hanway earned $12,236,740 in 2008; here's some more fun stuff about Cigna's revenue and profit in 2nd quarter 2009.

*********

* I have been using a standard issue wheelchair, but it's too heavy for me to use without assistance and is designed for taller people. The idea is to get an ultralight wheelchair designed for petite women – which do exist and are readily available, if perhaps not through Cigna – to increase my independence and have my friends stop worrying about me when I'm walking.

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