I'd use these skills when returning to the lake after my ankle fracture and subsequent hospitalization. The day after surgery my departure seemed imminent. Even as I was still hooked up to a variety of bags and machines a social worker stopped by my room to ask if my summer home would allow single floor living for awhile. Thanks to my Lifespan Design Studio friends Doug and Ellen, the answer was yes.
After Dave and I purchased the camp from my parents and determined the best way to save it was to pull most of it down and rebuild, we went back and forth on whether to include a first floor bedroom. It would increase the footprint and the cost, pointed out my eighty-year-old father. "Don't do it for your mother and me," he said. "When we can't do stairs we'll stop coming to the lake." I thought of my grandmother, and the many years my uncle parked her wheelchair on the porch so she could continue to take in the view she so loved. My dad may not want that bedroom, but I did.
Once architect Doug was in on the project, he was all for the downstairs bedroom—so much so that he added a wheelchair-width doorway into the room and another into the downstairs bathroom. Because they embrace the philosophies of universal design, Doug and Ellen encourage the kind of forward thinking that allows people to stay in their homes despite future health challenges. The wall sink I wanted to re-use for reasons of nostalgia, Doug pointed out, would perfectly suit someone approaching the sink in a wheelchair.
I had thanked my dad for his input but told him Dave and I planned to add the downstairs room. "Anyway, you know me—I'll probably use it first, after breaking my leg or something." From then on, no matter where Dave and I slept in the camp, when referring to that room my mother called it "Kathy and Dave's room." It could accommodate my folly, but would never touch her aging.
Six years later, my father now deceased after negotiating the camp stairs until the end of his life, I was facing that exact circumstance. Our foresight made the summer home an even more welcoming environment than my permanent residence in Pennsylvania, a three-floor town home that kept me fit while in full orthopedic health but which now provided an imposing challenge. An added bonus at the camp: my cousin had purchased a classy commode for her aging mother to use while visiting one year and had left it behind "for our use." How we'd grumbled to see it fill up so much of the newfound closet space in our rebuilt camp. It was the first thing I told Dave to set up.
Dave drove home with me strapped into the back seat of our Ford Contour, facing sideways with my leg propped up on a pillow. When we got to the lake Dave pulled onto the lawn so he could deposit me right beside the front porch. He pulled my walker from the trunk, snapped it into the open position, and helped me pull myself from the car.
I faced the first of many challenges to come: the step up onto the front porch. I stood there with my walker, the clock ticking—gravity was creating an inferno in my foot—with no clue how to negotiate it.
Now that I've had a bit more experience I think I'd turn the walker around and push down on it while hopping up backwards, but I wasn't feeling like such a monkey that day. The youngster who once loved the obstacle course and scrambling into her cot beneath the lowest beam was now completely stumped by a four-inch step. Through some sort of ugly push-me-pull-you Dave and I got 'er done, but I was already realizing how hard the next few months were going to be. I was so thankful for the design of the camp: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, porch: everything I'd need, close together on one floor.
As I made my way to the couch on the porch to prop my leg up so I could eat the take-out we'd picked up on the way home, Dave honored my new reality by helping "make camp": one by one, he pulled all the area rugs from my path. Perhaps the opposite of the "red carpet" treatment, but in my new reality, just what the doctor ordered.