The Burden of Travel
Written by Daniel P. Malito on May 24, 2011
As some of you know, I was afforded the opportunity to visit Ireland this week. I had never seen Ireland before, and I really wanted to see if I was still capable of traveling very far from home, leaving my comfort zone well behind. It was daunting, and until the wheels of the plane landed in Shannon, I was dreading every moment of it. Of course, things never seem to turn out as bad as the horrible catastrophe that your mind expects, and this trip (now that it is close to its end) is no exception.
For many years now, when I am asked if I want to participate in any trip that involves travel on an airplane, my initial response is always no. I am just not confident that I will be able to survive the grueling travel schedule that frequently accompanies a simple seven-day trip overseas. Inevitably, the person arranging the tour wants to see as much of the country as possible in the amount of time that we have, and that always translates into a schedule from hell for a person with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
The first day we arrived, after traveling almost an hour in traffic, we reached our hotel. All of us were ready to crash for at least a few hours. Unfortunately, that was not in the cards, since the hotel had none of our rooms ready, and we had tickets to a play for that same afternoon. Fortunately, that plan was vetoed by a majority of us when it was discovered that we would not even be able to change our clothes after the six-hour flight. I was extremely relieved because if the majority still wanted to attend the performance directly from the airport, I would have no choice but to opt-out. I had not slept in almost twenty four hours, and that would put a strain on a healthy person, much less a chronically ill individual like myself. Sure, it would have been nice to sleep on the plane, but there was a wonderfully talkative passenger across the isle from me who refused to be ignored. Each time I eventually did fall asleep, I would be awoken by continuous pokes in the arm from across the isle. Let me tell you, folks, there is nothing so thoroughly aggravating as a complete stranger who thinks that just because you have been seated near him on an airline flight that you have an obligation to carry on a conversation for his entertainment. As exciting as it may have been to him, talking about the Thai transvestites that him and his buddy barely escaped from does not a thrilling story make.
So, as you can see, I began the trip already behind in the sleep department. There is nothing that can turn the Rheumatoid Arthritis knob up to 11 faster than lack of sleep. As each day came and went, more and more sleep was taken from me. Also, almost every single excursion involved miles of walking, climbing, and riding. By the halfway mark, my feet were aching so much that I had no choice but to double my prednisone daily dose for one twenty-four hour period.
By the time the trip had seen five of it's days pass, things were looking grim. Since I had seen many of the attractions and historical sites that this part of the trip covered, I was very much kicking myself for agreeing to participate in the first place. Sure, the activities would have been worth the discomfort had I not seen them all before, but repeat visits were not worth the physical pain I was suffering. Not to mention the tremendous amount of planning that went into leaving home with all my medicines.
You may think that traveling when you have RA is as simple as throwing a few jars of pills in your suitcase and having a pain pill or two for extreme situations. While this may be true for those who suffer less than I do, for me, traveling is a total nightmare. First, I have to carry at least eight pre-filled syringes with me wherever I go. That's an issue an and of itself, but these syringes also have to be kept cold. This means I have to travel with the syringes in a plastic bag lined with frozen ice packs. Last, in case the added security at the airport decides that my syringes of medicine look too suspicious without their original packaging, I have to carry a letter with me in which my rheumatologist states my diagnosis and describes the medicine I take. As if that is not enough, I am prescribed three medicines which are all classified as the highest level of controlled substances — a.k.a. narcotics. Because I cannot risk having these medicines taken from me, I must carry the original prescription bottles wherever I go. Finally, I have to carry the bottles of my other seven medicines with me as well. All in all, my Rheumatoid Arthritis medicine regimen filled most of a back pack which had to be carried with me at all times. One other thing I have to mention is that in addition to the problem of medicine, there are my prosthetic hips. The metal in the hips always sets off the metal detectors, and I always have to be checked by hand. Truly, a fiasco in every sense of the word,
So, there I was with only a few days left in my trip, upset because the schlepping I had to do was not worth the trip I was experiencing by a long shot. Then something happened. For the last three days of the trip, we relocated to a more rural part of Ireland, and it was the most beautiful country I had ever seen. Every place we visited was a vision out of a movie, and the food and people were fantastic. It really made the whole previous week worth suffering through. Not only that, but my hurts and aches were lessened somewhat due to my positive attitude.
Now that the trip is just coming to a close, I have, once again, learned what limits I can and can not push my body to. Always having a positive attitude does help, but you really have to take into consideration the state of your health, and plan the trip accordingly. If that means a first class seat on the plane, so be it. So, the next time you are thinking of taking a trip with a chronically ill friend or relative, make sure you work with them to make the most of your time.