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Wheelchairs at SFO

Wheelchairs at SFO by applerom on flickr

I have a lot of compassion for the people who push my wheelchairs at airports. It’s a physically demanding, often unpleasant-looking gig. If nothing else, imagine having to go through airport security a couple of dozen times a day. Even without the long lines able-bodied passengers face, you still have to deal with taking your shoes off, going through the various detectors, getting patted down, and all that other fun stuff. (Yes, wheelchair attendants also get subjected to random pat-downs and extra searches.)

BUT…

My experience with the wheelchair service provided by Prospect Airport Services, Inc. at SFO, coming of a British Airways flight from London Heathrow, on Tuesday April 22, 2014 sucked goats.

There were about 7 of us coming off that 10+ hour flight who needed wheelchair service. Only 4 attendants were deployed to help us. Coming off the plane, we were pushed into a group just off the jetway in the terminal, then abandoned for a bit. The way they stacked us up, I felt like a poorly parked car in a valet lot.

We were told we’d be pushed to Passport Control “relay style.” Which meant that we’d get pushed a little ways, then sit while the one attendant pushed someone else. When I asked why this was happening, I was told that there weren’t enough attendants for each person in a chair to have one. Then I was told that sometimes there are 30 people needing wheelchairs coming off flights from Asia, with only 8 attendants assigned to deal with that flight.

That was the extent of personal communication I got from any of my attendants. They talked to each other and traded comments with other airport employees. We might as well have been baggage for all they engaged us. No, this wasn’t a language issue. My attendant at Heathrow spoke little English (she’s Romanian, and I exhausted her English vocabulary pretty fast), but she managed to be smiling and friendly and to convey that she thought of me as a person.

How does this suck, let me count the ways:

1. It takes longer for each chair-user to get where he or she needs to go. After a long-haul flight, that’s a pretty big deal. If you’ve got pain, a long-haul flight makes it worse. Then you end up in this frustrating and stupid situation.

2. It’s dehumanizing. I seriously felt like a cow, or a piece of luggage, or a car. Not like a person.

3. No chance of a bathroom break. If one of your problems is a bladder or bowel condition, that’s just flat unacceptable.

4. This encourages attendants to engage in unsafe practices, such as pushing two chairs at once and forgetting to set the brake on the chair. I witnessed the first of these and was subjected to the second.

5. Being treated like this makes it unlikely that any chair user will tip an attendant. For people who are working this kind of job, tips make a difference. (When I get good wheelchair service, I’m a generous tipper.)

Prospect might contend that this is just how it works–that they can’t staff to a 1:1 attendant to client ratio because of the ever-fluctuating numbers of people traveling each day.

That’s crap.

On this one trip, I landed in four airports in three different countries. SFO was the ONLY airport using the “relay” system with too few attendants for the clients using wheelchairs. SFO was the ONLY place where the attendants didn’t talk to me. In fact, I landed in Ireland at about 6am local time, and yet the attendant was cheerful and chatty and gave me great advice on what to do and see in Dublin. (I landed at SFO at about 6pm.)

Prospect–you need to do better than this. Will it cost more to have enough attendants available for every wheelchair client at SFO? Yes. Might it eat into your corporate profits to do this? Yes.

Here’s a thought on that issue: Cope and deal.

The way you’re doing it now is likely to lead to expensive lawsuits later. I’ve found info about your “push two chairs at once” problem going back to 2007. That this is still happening–not so good, kids.

Also, you’re looking at more blog posts like this, which will get reposted on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. If you’re really unlucky, a post like this could go viral. Ask some of your corporate brethren how much fun it is to have negative customer experiences go viral. And how much $$$ it can cost.

Or, you could fix this problem by providing the service you’re employed by SFO to provide. This isn’t the first time I’ve been treated like this at SFO. It’s not acceptable. Fix it ASAP, please. I will be paying attention. So will other people.

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I haven’t even left California yet and I’ve already screwed up. Awesome.

Checked my e-tickets two days ago and discovered that for reasons lost to the mists of post-menopausal memory, I booked us on a 7am flight out of San Francisco.

Which means we need to get to the airport no later than 5am. Crap.

Much furious consultation with my spouse ensued. We decided to get a motel room at a place near the airport that offers free shuttle service, plus a well-lit place to park a car for the 10 days we’ll be gone.

Of course the problem isn’t confined to the California end of the trip. We arrive in Dublin at 6:55am. Which means that we’ve got ~9 hours to kill before our room in Dublin City Centre opens up.

I can’t manage sightseeing after a transcontinental+transatlantic flight. My body absolutely will not tolerate that kind of nonsense.

The answer is yet another airport motel room. I emailed customer service at the Radisson Blu Dublin Airport and discovered that they’re set up to deal with situations like this in a couple of ways. They’ve got what they call Day Rooms that are available from 9am-5pm, or they’ll let a weary traveler rent a room overnight and check in very late (like, say, early the following morning), then check out at 3pm for no extra charge.

I went with option B, which will allow me to stagger/roll out of Customs and Passport Control straight to the free shuttle, straight to my motel room to collapse in an insensible heap.

While I haven’t yet stayed in their motel, so far I’m quite happy with the Radisson Blu customer service folks. They’ve followed up with me and seem intent on making sure I’m taken care of.

The morals of this story:

1. Pay attention to your flight bookings, and try to make your departure and arrival times work for you rather than against you.

2. Flexibility and good problem-solving skills are key for traveling with pain. Be willing to change your plans to make yourself more comfortable.

3. Money helps. A lot.

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pills_sparktography

Writer’s Note: I committed this epic cautionary tale several years ago, before I started this blog. But it remains my personal reminder of why I must always, ALWAYS think and plan before I walk out of my door and hit the road. I repost it in the hopes that you’ll learn from my mistakes and not end up wandering the streets of a foreign city in a foggy half-delirium. ‘Cause it’s not safe to do that.

In my own defense, I was pretty distracted before this trip–my marriage was in the process of imploding, I’d just been informed that I was about to be laid off, and I was about to go into my second surgery. Yeah, that year just sucked.

I

think what I like best about Toronto is the fact that no one attacked me while I was walking its streets in a bleary haze of leftward* SNRI withdrawal.

Well, that and the food. The food was awfully good in TO. And the number of live theaters, and the recycling bins in all the cute little city parks, and the lake, and… Actually, I loved Toronto even after I got my medication disaster straightened out.

So what happened?

A series of blunders that added one upon the other to create a situation in which I missed 3 doses of Cymbalta (an SNRI) in a row.

Blunder #1: Booking a red-eye flight.

I’d never recommend this special little corner of travel hell to any of my readers, so it’s a mystery as to why I inflicted it upon myself. (Actually it’s not. It was a budget-based decision, and a bad one. Not to self: Pay more and fly during the day. Always.)

Blunder #2: Not adjusting my med schedule before I left.

A couple of days before I left, I should have shifted my med times by about two hours so that I could take my pills before I left home for the airport. This would have been an easy thing to do. Now I start shifting my pill-taking times before I take a trip through a wide band of time zones.

Blunder #3: Not just taking the stupid pill before I left the house.

SNRIs aren’t all that time sensitive. I could have just taken my Cymbalta before I left for the airport.

Blunder #4: Not planning to take my non-narcotic meds on the plane or in the airport.

I always put a bunch of meds in my purse anyhow–it would have been easy to think “Gee, I need to take my Cymbalta twice a day. I could put some in my purse and take it at the end of the flight in the morning.” But I didn’t. So the Cymbalta wasn’t anywhere I’d see it (triggering a memory that I needed to take it) while I was in transit.

Blunder #5: Flat-out forgetting to take my meds when I got to the hotel.

I was exhausted, in pain, and (oh the irony) starting to withdraw from the Cymbalta. I got to the hotel and promptly collapsed into bed, and the thought of taking meds never even crossed what was left of my mind.

 

I am a professional. Do not try this at home. Or on the road. Ever. By blundering like this, I put myself at  real and serious risk of harm. In addition to the dizziness, confusion, headache, and lethargy I put myself through, I could have had a seizure. Seizures can cause brain damage. Brain damage probably won’t improve my pain.

I seem to have learned my lesson–I’m much, much more careful about planning my medication schedule when I travel now, and I’ve had no repeats of Total Medication Fail. Hooray for learning without horrible personal consequences!

* Whenever I or the pharmacy have done something stupid and I miss doses of key meds, my visual sense shifts to the left. I don’t know how else to describe the sensation.
Photo (c) sparktography on flickr

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I write a lot about how to travel with chronic pain. But what about the opposite–what shouldn’t you do when you travel with chronic pain or a hidden disability? How have I screwed up my trips in the past? Which screw-ups have caused major pain flares, debilitating exhaustion, or a post-trip crash that was worse than expected?

Oh, where to begin? I think I could come up with 100 ways I’ve messed up over the years. But to begin, here are 10 major screw-ups that could seriously mess up a traveler with pain. How do I know? I’ve committed most of them. Learn from my mistakes…don’t do any of this stuff, and enjoy happier, healthier, comfier journeys.

  1. Be spontaneous! Decide to take a weekend getaway…on Friday afternoon.
    Spontaneity is great when it means picking up flowers for my sweetie on the way home from work one night. For traveling with pain–not so much. Spontaneous travel means no time to research anything at my destination, no time to prep my meds, little time to pack properly, and no way to relax or prepare myself physically for the rigors of travel.
  2. Don’t research the destination.
    Going someplace I know nothing about sounds romantic and exciting and adventurous, right? Yeah, right up until I find out at my arrival airport that my medication is illegal in the country I’d tried to visit and I ended up right back on the plane home, or stuck in a tiny windowless room answering questions for hours, or in a foreign jail.
    No, this one has never happened to me. But it’s an example of something that could really happen to a traveler with  pain who didn’t do her research on her destination.
  3. Plan out every minute of every day of your trip.
    Now this one I’ve done. I’m most guilty of it on business trips. I plan to spend whole days in sessions, attending lectures, and walking exhibition halls at conferences. And after about one day of trying to be “up and at ’em” all day long, my concentration tanks, my pain revs up, and if I keep it up, I end up collapsed on a floor in an incoherent heap. Usually in some embarrassingly public place.
  4. Travel like a  healthy, broke 19-year-old boy.
    That is, pack a big ol’ camping backpack full of gear,  budget $25/day for lodgings, refuse to book any motel rooms so as to “stay flexible,” don’t carry any food or plan for any prescription refills, eschew phrase books, and end up “sleeping” in third-rate hostels or on train station benches half the time. Oh, and be sure to stay up all night clubbing and drinking as often as possible.

    I’d be dead within a week, no matter how many aggro travel writers claim that this is the only true way to experience the world.

  5. Get up early whether it feels good or it hurts like hell.
    My family has a lot of morning people in it. These people expect everyone traveling with them to be out of bed and ready to head out on excursions by  7 a.m. on a daily basis. When I try to keep up, I end up with severe pain flares. My body hates mornings, and doesn’t give a good ******** that Haleakala is prettiest at sunrise.
  6. Stay out late, hanging out at dive bars or crowded clubs.
    On the other hand, I have friends who are major-league night owls. They like to stay up all night dancing to trance music in the woods at Burning Man-style weekend-long parties. I can’t do that any more than I can do the dawn patrol.
  7. Drink too much.
    ‘Cause there’s nothing like alcohol to make an already difficult physical situation better. Especially if the liquor will be blending with multiple medications. Whee!!! *splat*
  8. Don’t use the wheelchair at the airport, even if you need it.
    Pride is important. So is being able to stand up and walk around. My pain requires me to choose between these two important items. The times I’ve chosen pride and walked through airport security, I’ve regretted it. Every single time.
  9. Cut transit timing close.
    I once decided that one hour would be plenty of time to catch a flight at LAX on a holiday Monday. I was right, by a margin of about 5 minutes. They were actually calling my name at the gate and threatening to close the doors by the time I made it out to the concourse. The stress this caused definitely did not diminish my pain.
  10. Fail to keep emergency food and drink close at hand.
    Why carry water and food when traveling? There will always be something on hand at my destination to eat and drink, right? Nope. Not if I arrive at a small town near the Kern River at 9:12 p.m. Even the convenience store in that town closed at 9 p.m. And that’s not even going into that time in Tuscany where the four of us in the travel party had to make dinner out of saltless crackers, apple sauce, powdered Ensure, and a bottle of Limoncello donated to us by a bunch of Aussies who took pity on us.The bright side of that trip to Italy? I lost five pounds.

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Cozumel

Cozumel was worth the pain

My friend Laina posted about motivational quotes and making mistakes in weight management last week, and it got me thinking about traveling with pain. (Because you know, it’s all about ME!)

Laina’s metaphor for tripping up and going off her food plan: dropping an egg on her kitchen floor. If she drops an egg, her next act is not to throw all the rest of the eggs in the carton onto the floor too. Similarly, if she eats a cookie at work, she doesn’t declare that all her weight loss efforts are in vain, go home, and have ice cream and cake for dinner. If she has a cookie at work, she goes home and has a healthy dinner.

What does that have to do with traveling with pain?

Lots!

Okay, it’s not a perfect parallel to the eggs. But the base meaning matches up: Making mistakes doesn’t mean you have to give up doing something important, or healthy, or fun. Just because you make a mistake when you’re on the road and bring on a pain flare, doesn’t mean you immediately have to stop your trip, go home, and never travel again.

I make mistakes when I travel all the time. ALL the time. I forget things when I pack. I don’t plan perfectly for transit days, or I have to make compromises for budget that make transit difficult. I mess up with my medication schedule. My most common travel mistake: I overdo it. I hike too far, stay at the museum too long, sit through a four-hour meal at a gourmet restaurant.

Sometimes my mistakes don’t have major consequences. And sometimes the consequences are severe. The Atlanta Airport Incident was the result of a number of mistakes made over the course of a week-long trip, compounded to create a really bad situation.

Oh well.

I definitely won’t do that again. Because I am going to travel again. To the Caribbean, I hope. Possibly the Mexican Caribbean.

No matter what mistakes I’ve made on trips, no matter what mistakes I make when I travel in the future, I won’t stop traveling.

You don’t have to stop traveling either. You will make mistakes when you travel. You will have pain flares on the road. Some of those pain flares may result in a few hours’ inconvenience, others may wreck whole trips. But a wrecked trip doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Instead of thinking “crap, I wasted tons of money and I had a horrible flare and so I’m never leaving the house again!” try reframing the experience thusly: “Crap, I had a horrible flare on my last trip. What can I learn from the experience, so that the next time I travel I’m much less likely to have even a small flare? How can I change the way I travel so that I have more fun and less pain?”

So how would I do a Caribbean cruise differently to keep myself on my feet in the airport bathroom?

  1. Travel with a companion, if possible.
  2. Keep in mind that huge cruise ships are huge and plan accordingly:
    a. Consider renting an ECV to use on board ship.
    b. If I’m attending a conference, bring my own folding reclining chair to use during sessions.
    c. Plan my conference session attendance carefully, so as to limit walking back and forth across the ship.
  3. Request a special diet on board ship.
    I don’t eat a typical American diet at home. I eat a lot of fresh raw fruits and vegetables, no fast food, minimal packaged food, and I don’t eat out very often. The cruise ship food had a huge negative impact on my health. I’ve since learned that I can request special foods, including much more raw fruits and veggies than are typically available in the buffets and dining rooms.
  4. Spend a full day and night at the disembarkation city after the cruise.
    Fort Lauderdale

    The lounge chairs where I crisped myself at the beach in Fort Lauderdale

    Most big-ship cruises steam into port at the crack of dawn and passengers are shuffled off ASAP so that the ship can be turned for the next crowd of passengers. I was off the ship in Florida before 10 a.m., but my flight didn’t leave until midafternoon. So I was exhausted, and had several hours to kill with no place to put my bags and no place to lie down. So I rented a lounge chair on the beach and got myself a nice sunburn. I got up and got a “meal” at a convenience store sometime around noon.

    Bad calls all ’round.  I’d’ve done much, much better if I’d gotten a room at a motel and crashed for the night, then flown out the next day.

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Arno River Florence

The Arno River in Florence, photo (c) Eustaquio Santimano

Almost 10 years ago I traveled to France and Italy with my ex-husband and Andrew & Catherine–long-time friends who have traveled with me many times to many places over the years. Andrew has severe Crohn’s Disease. Catherine has moderate to severe asthma. This was my last big trip before I got sick myself. (Wow. I’d never really thought about that before.)

France was great. We did Paris for a week, then Nice for the weekend. We ate great food, drank cheap wine, gaped in awe at Gothic cathedrals and strolled sandy beaches bordering the glorious azure sea.

Then we boarded the train for Italy. It all went south from there. (Ha ha.)

I got us the top two floors of the renovated medieval castle tower in the Tuscan countryside, in the “village” of Stigliano. As a bunch of medieval history nuts, we were utterly thrilled by the idea of staying in a genuine 14th century tower. And it was great! Except that just like in medieval times, the tower had no elevator–only steep stairs up to the 3rd and 4th floors. Also apropos of a medieval town, Stigliano had no grocery stores. It had a restaurant…which shut down permanently about 4 days before we arrived. And unlike a medieval town, Stigliano had no pubs, no taverns, and no market days with food sold in the town square. Over the five days I spent in Tuscany, I lost five pounds. We did manage to take in some sights, to tour in Florence and to explore the slightly bigger neighboring town of Rosia. But the next time I travel to Italy, I’m doing pretty much everything differently.

Using the zillion mistakes I made as the Official Trip Planner as a base, here’s what I’ll do next time I venture into Italia:

* Work with a disability-friendly Italian tour company

Look what I found when I was researching for this post:

Accessible Italian Holiday

Neat! Drool-worthy resort hotel-spas with hydrotherapy pools and super-suites. Expensive as all get-out, but if I ever gather up the money I am *so* staying at some of these places. I expect that they’ll do all they can not just to minimize my pain during the trip, but to help me with long-term wellness.

* Check the Italian bank holiday calendar when planning the trip

Almost everything in Italy grinds to a halt on national holidays–public transit, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

This gets somewhat less true the bigger the Italian town you’re staying in. In the biggest cities you’ll probably be able to find a place to grab a bite, and the subways will have limited service. But even if you’re planning to be in Milano or Roma for Italian Independence Day, you’d be wise to know in advance that the holiday is coming. Stock up on food and coffee for that day, and make plans that don’t require public transportation.

* Stick to the major cities of Italy 

I don’t want to drive in Italy–Italian roads scare me enough just as a taxi passenger. What can I say? I’m a wuss.Rome's famed Spanish Steps, photo (c) Eustaquio Santimano

But I want to eat and to get around. That means I need to stick with the big cities, and Italy’s got plenty of gorgeous metropolises to choose from. Florence, Venice, Milan, Bologna, Pisa, Rome, and Naples all have cosmopolitan services, including restaurants open late and reliable public transit (well, sort of). You’ll also find reasonable access to transportation and services in good-sized towns like Siena, Parma, Verona, Pescaro, and Brindisi.

If you want to spend serious time out in the picturesque Italian countryside…take a bus tour, or find a travel companion who will drive a rental car. Period.

* Research food options and availability

In the big cities of Italy, food availability isn’t a major big deal. Restaurants stay open late at night and plenty of trattorias serve on Sundays and holidays. Hotels serve breakfast to guests as part of the room rate.

Though corner markets aren’t as prolific in Italian cities as they are in France, enough of them exist to make shopping for snacks a doable deal–so long as you don’t need it during the afternoon siesta, on Monday mornings, on Thursday evenings, on Sundays, or on bank holidays.

But in the tiny little towns, it’s worse than that. There may be only one restaurant, only one multi-function shop selling any food, or nothing at all. That one eatery in the village will probably have limited hours; the grocery store will probably be closed every afternoon for siesta as well as shut tight all day Sunday. Nothing remotely resembling a 24-hour supermarket exists anywhere in rural Italy.

Think through your food needs thoroughly before you get on the plane or the train. If necessary, bring packaged food with you so that you’ll have emergency backup supplies. On our first night in Stigliano, we made do with powdered Ensure, applesauce, and tasteless crackers. Plus a bottle of Limoncello donated by a group of Australian travelers we’d met in town. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t tasty, but it got us through the night.

* Rent or buy a cell phone

This Rick Steves article does a good job of describing the different options for cell (mobile) phones in EU countries, including Italy.

My major point of difference from Rick’s advice: DO get a cell phone that functions in Italy, even if you’ll only be there for a couple of days. Traveling with pain isn’t the same as traveling healthy–relying on pay phones and hotel phones doesn’t work well at all for travelers with pain or disability. When I need a phone, I need a phone. I don’t need to spend spoons buying a phone card, then hunting up a pay phone that works, or getting back to my hotel to use my room phone (which may not exist if I’m staying in a budget hotel).

* Preload the cell phone with the phone numbers of cab companies that cover every place you plan to visit

A taxi is a quick, easy way to bail out of any number of pain-inducing situations. They’re not cheap, but they’ve saved me from intense pain (and collapsing on the sidewalk in a foreign country) more times than I can count.

* Learn a few useful phrases in Italian

Things like: “Where is the nearest bathroom?” “Do you sell bottled water here?” and  “Can you please call me an ambulance?” You know, the usual stuff. This little chart includes useful phrases.

In fact, the more I know of the language of the country I’m visiting, the easier it is for me to deal with my pain. It’s also more fun when I can eavesdrop on conversations on public transit and read signs in museums. Rick Steves sells a full-fledged Italian phrase book, if you want to get further into the language.

Portofino Italy by soa2002

The Italian coast town of Portofino, photo (c) soa2002

* Avoid arriving or departing Italy on Sunday

We purchased tickets (in France) for a Sunday trip from Nice to Siena.  The times on the tickets flat-out lied to us, and we found ourselves sitting for hours on a drafty platform while the train’s engineer had a smoke break, a newspaper break, then shut down the locomotive and walked away. His explanation? “It’s Sunday.”

Italy is a Roman Catholic country. (Har har.) That means that public transit service on Sundays is minimal at best, nonexistent at worst, incomprehensibly off-schedule always.

* Know that you cannot depend on public bus service

My early research claimed that a bus line ran past our little mountain town, serving other local villages and running on into the more cosmopolitan Siena on a daily basis. I made the tragic mistake of believing this to be true.

I never saw a single bus on the road past Stigliano. When we walked 4 km into the tabac in Rosia to buy bus tickets, the sales clerks had never even heard of the bus route we were talking about. They started searching under counters for literature to try to figure out what I was talking about. I gave up.

* Italian breakfast breads taste terrible

Even though we had nothing to eat for breakfast but the packaged breads, we couldn’t manage to choke ’em down. Which pretty much left us with the espresso. Zippy!

* When hiking, remember that in Europe the topographical maps use meters, not feet

Not one of the four people in our party realized this before we embarked on a hike with a 1000 elevation change. 1000 meters, that is. We figured this out at the summit of the mountain, while gasping for breath and rationing sips from our single 1-litre bottle of water.

By that point in our trip, we were all giddy from lack of food. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Have you been to Italy with your pain? If so, what tips would you give to a first-time visitor to Italia that I haven’t thought of? If you want to go to Italy, what else do you think you need information about before you go?

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Vytas Sunspiral and his bike

Traveling with pain is like meeting Vytas Sunspiral. He's big and kind of scary looking, and his bike is WAY out of the average comfort zone. But you meet him and discover he's adorable and sweet and funny and bright, and his bike is fuzzy and nice to pet.

Traveling with pain is scary. No doubt about it.

Stuff happens on the road. In Amsterdam, my hotel room was robbed while I slept. On the balmy island of Moorea, a roach crawled into my ear and got stuck. I starved for five days in Tuscany.

All that (and more) happened back when I was under 30 and perfectly healthy.

Now the number of things that can go wrong has increased drastically. An attempt at mid-summer camping found me freezing under a pile of blankets, sleepless and miserable and physically unable to move. Time changes screwed up my med schedule, leaving me dizzy and impaired on the streets of Toronto. Just a few months ago I collapsed in an agonized and incoherent heap on the floor of a bathroom in the Atlanta airport while traveling alone.

So why do I bother to leave my house again? Because it’s fun!

No, seriously. The only thing worse than facing the fears and problems of traveling with pain is not facing them. Traveling is a quintessential human experience. When I’m chatting with my airplane seatmate about the latest TSA idiocy, or standing on a street corner in a foreign city trying desperately to determine whether I’ve been reading the map upside-down AND sideways, or joining a crowd in a world-class museum to spend a few hours staring and breathtaking art, something magical happens. I stop feeling like a chronic pain patient and start feeling like a real person.

Traveling is also the best painkiller I’ve ever used. Nothing makes my chronic pain worse than sitting at home in a darkened room watching insipid daytime TV and thinking about my pain. (In fact, some studies suggest that most pain patients make their pain worse by planting themselves in one spot and doing nothing but contemplating said pain in an endless mental loop.)

Getting out of the house and traveling does all sorts of wonderful things for me, both physically and emotionally. Physically: I walk more when I travel. I change positions more frequently. I spend more time outdoors in fresh air and sunlight and wind and rain. Emotionally: Seeing new things is fun. Even if I’m starting to feel twinges of pain, when I’m traveling there’s so much to see and do that I almost always spot something Bright & Shiny that takes my mind off the twinges long enough for them to subside, or at least be temporarily ignored. Endorphins are my best friends.

Liz Hamill outside de Young Museum

One of the fabulous sculptures I met outside of the de Young Museum in San Franciso

Even if you don’t believe that traveling will make the pain better, consider this: you’re going to feel pain, period, whether you’re at home or not. So why not see some new scenery while you’re at it? Even if it’s just the view from the window of a different bedroom than usual, for only one day.

Okay, so that’s why I overcome the fear of traveling. But how do I do it? And how do I minimize the problems and pitfalls?

Traveling with pain is like doing anything else that’s difficult. Plan. Plan some more. Plan for what to do when the plans get wrecked. Then, move one foot in front of the other until I’m out the door. Concentrate. Keep moving. Enjoy the ride. Turn off at interesting road signs. Chat with strangers. Laugh, even when it hurts. Laugh especially when it hurts. Remember that even the worst pain peaks, then recedes. Be liberal with the painkillers when necessary. Have more fun. Eat good food. Sleep lots.

As for minimizing the problems and pitfalls, that’s what this whole blog, and the book inspired by the blog, are about. All those bad things that I described happening to me because of my pain at the beginning of this post? Here’s how to mitigate them:

It’s all a learning experience. Every single time I travel, I gather a few more nuggets of useful information about how to do it better next time. Reading other folks’ blogs and articles helps too. It’s great to learn from other travelers’ mistakes as well as my own!

I’ve made my choice–I won’t let fear keep me from traveling, pain or no pain. Will you make that choice with me?

What do you fear about traveling with pain? How do you overcome that fear? What makes you want to overcome it? Can I post something that will make you want to travel, or travel more, or travel someplace new/exciting/dangerous/amazing?

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