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Ricks Dream

09 January 2020
When Claire and I first connected one thing she quickly made a point of bringing up was that she had a disabled son. She told me later this was because many males saw it as a hassle they didn't want and would suddenly lose interest, so better to move those on their way as soon as possible. Later we talked about Rick, his Leukemia, his Autism, and how he had been in a wheelchair for the last three years. He had beaten Leukemia, twice, and when it came back a third time, it was only a bone marrow transplant that had saved his life. The drugs he was taking to prevent his body rejecting the bone marrow transplant, were in turn eating away at his bones. In particular the ball shaped bones holding his hips in place had been replaced by two big holes, so he could no longer walk and confined to a wheel chair. Claire mentioned Rick was obsessed with ships, in particular passenger liners. When I sent her a few photos of me later, I threw in one of myself when I was a 13 year old standing on the top deck of a passenger liner. There were no names in sight, just two huge blue funnels in the background. A few minutes later she came back to say she had shown it to Rick and wanted to know if the ship was the 'S.S. Australis'? It was. I was astounded Rick had worked it out.

The day I flew up and met Claire for the first time in person, when we eventually arrived at her place Rick was waiting in his wheelchair. As soon as I walked in he had his pile of ship books out wanting to show me them and talk all about them. Eventually Claire had to intervene and sent Rick off to his favourite place, down to the Marina on the estate where he could look at the water and boats. He would trundle off along the paved paths, the flat tyres on his wheelchair grinding into the concrete. The next day I had to go and buy a puncture repair kit and fix his tyres for him.

A year or so later, after Claire and I had both moved to Brisbane, we took Rick in his wheelchair down to the passenger terminal to see a passenger liner that was in. It was the Pacific Star, battered and scared, nearing the end of its life. Rick repeated something he had told us before, his dream had always been to go on a passenger liner, his voice would slow down as he said he knew he never would, especially now in a wheelchair.

Claire and I would take Rick to many hospital and doctors appointments, some regular ones, some one offs, for many varying reasons. It was always just us taking him. It was hard work getting him up the garden steps to the car, especially when we eventually discovered the bag he always had on his back had about 8 hardback ship books in it, which weighed a ton. Wherever we went, we would have to plan out in advance where we could park temporarily to drop Claire, Rick and his wheelchair off before going and parking elsewhere. The times I drew up right at the front doors of a hospital and could blatantly see everyone giving me the 'you cant park there' glare, right up to the point where I pulled his wheelchair out of the boot, when they would all turn away. One day we had an appointment at a specialist, and he said he thought he could replace Ricks missing hip joints, privately. Knowing we couldn't afford to, he said he would do it for free, one hip a time to reduce the risk.

The thought Rick could be walking again, soon had me thinking and doing some online research. I soon found what I was looking for, a 2 night 'cruise to nowhere' out of Brisbane, where the ship just goes out and around for a night, and back. They are 'taster' cruises for those not sure if they want to commit to a full one, to try it out. So Claire and I told Rick, if he gets through both of the operations, and walking again, we would take him on a real liner. He couldn't believe it. He agreed, he said he didn't want to go unless he could walk up the gantry onboard. He talked about it over and over. He had the first operation on one hip, a metal ball joint replaced his missing one, but of course, was still stuck in a wheel chair from the other one. After the all clear from the specialist, he had the second one operated on. Both were a success. We soon had Rick up on crutches and hobbling around. Each day he got a little bit better, the cruise was only a couple of months away, so we booked it to encourage him.

As the time approached Rick was just about off his crutches. The day finally came and we went to the passenger terminal to board. He insisted on walking aboard himself, but we had to part support him. His face was a picture as we walked along the deck, as though he was in some fantasy dreamland. Before long he was off wandering around the ship. We would walk past the bar and he would be in there having a break, with a big glass of spirits in front of him. We were out somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean, and on the second day the ship just stopped, and sat there drifting for a few hours. The joke was we had arrived at 'nowhere'. The deep blue colour of the pacific is utterly amazing and like nothing you see anywhere else. Kai was with us too, and Claire hadn't been sure about a cruise, but now everyone was in agreement, we all wanted to do a full one.

It was incredible to give Rick his dream, to take him on a real ocean liner. The following year we took him on a 10 day cruise to Noumea and Vanuatu and other islands. Walking properly again he was able to board the tenders to get off at the island stops, which can be tricky at the best of times. With bars everywhere and all you can eat food, he had a ball out at sea on a passenger liner.