Published Friday 24 June 2016
Pam and John Stephens aren’t the type to let a few obstacles get in the way of a good celebration – and John’s 70th birthday has proven to be the perfect example.
“I wanted to do something special for John’s birthday,” says Pam. “We have always dreamed of going on a cruise and, even though John is reliant on a wheel chair to move around and needs nursing care, I thought, well, can we do this! With a lot of encouragement from friends, sheer determination, and many hours with ‘Mr Google’, the journey began. I initially kept the planning a secret from John, just in case I couldn’t make it happen.”
But happen it did, and at John’s 70th birthday party, Pam presented the birthday boy with travel documents for a 10-day South Pacific cruise.
Pam and John’s dream was made into reality thanks to the help of Leddy Mattlin and Kerry Whish, both assistant nurses at Parkview Aged Care Community where John lives.
“It all started when John was reading a newspaper and he was looking at the cruise section,” remembers Leddy. “He asked me if it would be possible for him to go on a cruise with his wife. I said nothing is impossible, but he would need someone to care for him as he is a full hoist transfer. I didn’t know if he was serious or not. But the next thing I know, Pam has asked me if I would like to go on a cruise! It’s not every day I get asked that sort of question!”
Because of John’s nursing care needs, he would require two nurses to travel with him on the trip. In exchange for nursing assistance for John while on the cruise, Pam offered to pay for Leddy and Kerry’s tickets to join them. Leddy and Kerry would help to get John ready for the day, and help him retire to bed in the evening, and the rest of the time they were free to enjoy their cruise.
“When we all boarded the ship together, I think we were all excited, but also very nervous. Would this work?” says Pam. “As it turned out, it was absolutely wonderful.”
Sometimes John couldn’t get off the ship when it docked, so while Pam and the others went ashore, he took part in activities on board. However John did take part in some on shore excursions, which turned out to be great fun for all involved.
“At the port of Vila, we all went ashore where we were confronted with many taxi drivers all wanting to drive us around the island. None of the taxis were wheelchair accessible, but the local drivers were eager to please and said they would get John into the taxi.
“We finally chose one. The driver’s name was Tony who, after much deliberation, bodily lifted John (with the help of his friends) out of his chair and into the seat of the taxi. A travelling companion of ours, Di, and I sat either side of John to keep him upright.
“Tony was wonderful. He drove us around for two hours, taking us up to the village where he lived, to various lookouts and other notable places around the island, giving us a running commentary all the way. I think this was probably the highlight of the trip.”
The cruise also holds special memories for Leddy.
“For 10 days we were more like friends to Pam and John than carers,” he says. “They treated both Kerry and I with utmost respect. Pam always reminded us to have a good time because we were on holiday, too.
“John seemed so happy. He had more freedom to do as he pleased, and he could go places without having to always have someone with him; he had a real sense of independence on his holiday.
“Kerry and I are glad that we were able to help make this happen for John and Pam, and we’re very grateful to have been able to share in this experience.”