A carnival strength game that looks like a spine in a circus tent and a man about to hit the game with a hammer

Traveling with Chronic Pain

I actually started writing this article prior to our last pre-winter trip to the beach over Veteran’s day weekend. What I experienced over the weekend certainly had an impact on the direction of the article, and me getting it down on paper.

I wasn’t expecting this

This is what transpired; I woke up Saturday morning, a five-hour drive away from home, with a deep pain in my lower back, radiating to my hips. The pain made it almost impossible to walk. I had never, ever felt this type of pain in this particular way. Experiencing something so different while away on a trip was also new to me. I thought I had every base covered.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up

Now, imagine you are at the carnival. Do you remember the strength game where you hit a spot at the base of a tower with a sledgehammer, and if you were strong enough, a wood block would shoot up the tower and ring a bell?

Well, that’s how my spine felt on every heartbeat. The pain would start at the base of my spine as if someone had hit it with a sledgehammer. It would then radiate up my spine hit my neck and skull and powerfully ring the proverbial bell in my brain. Next heartbeat.... same thing... It would last about 15 minutes. The guy swinging the hammer was either the Rock or Andre’ the Giant.

We shall assimilate...

To say the least, unexpected and different pain can be one of the things you will need to deal with when you have chronic pain, and you travel.

In each of my “travel” articles, I’ve had my standard disclaimer. I know we all are different, with this horrid disease coming up with new and novel ways of tormenting us, all the time.  I swear, sometimes I think our cancer cells are like the Borg (nerd alert) on Star Trek, where they go around assimilating other non-related cells to their collective mind, with the intention of search and destroy. Sorry, I digress.....

We are different in how we handle pain, what we are physically capable of doing, and what we are willing and able to deal with physically and mentally when we travel.

The first, and most important questions about travel with blood cancer

The first box we need to check when considering travel, (after your doctor’s approval), is the “how important is this?” box. The box may have to be checked several times.

Is the event you are traveling to, very important to you or someone else? Is this event or trip going to be meaningful to you in your life’s journey? Are you ready for consequences (financial and emotional) if something stops your travel? These questions all focus more on you, and important people in your life.

The bottom line is, if you answer “no” to any of the questions, then my opinion is that you probably ought not take the trip.

Planning for travel with blood cancer and chronic pain

Once the decision has been made, there are a lot of things we can do to help ourselves along the way. Here are only some suggestions for the to-do list (in no particular order):

  • Take extra pillows, especially for neck support. If you are going by plane and can’t bring big pillows with you, call ahead to your hotel to arrange for those pillows there.
  • There is a good chance you may be more comfortable in a handicap designated room. Reserve one ahead of time. If you are supposed to stay with family, make sure they have accommodations to aid in your comfort and safety. You also might want to leave the Spider-Man undies at home, just in case your hosts catch you on a bathroom trip in the middle of the night.
  • Check ahead to see options on bed mattresses or recliners in the room. We actually had rented recliners delivered to our room on some extended stays.
  • If on a car trip, test yourself prior to that for how long you can go before stretching your legs, eating, resting, etc. Plan your route accordingly. Also, work up in your time and distance traveled.
  • If traveling by plane, call ahead for assistance from the airlines. This can be very helpful in reducing fatigue-related pain and getting yourself from point “a” to point “b”.
  • You also need to seriously consider where you sit in the plane. Remember that you have already made the decision that this is important, so spending extra money for a seat closer to the front with more room may be beneficial. Also, realize that there are passengers out there that don’t believe you have a right to recline your seat. Be prepared to either stick up for yourself or trade some of your comfort to stay out of a confrontation.
  • Sometimes airlines will give you free upgrades if you call and explain what your situation is. This should be done as far ahead of the trip as possible.
  • Make sure you have all your meds in a carry-on. You don’t want lost luggage to ruin your trip. You also will want to stay ahead of the pain by making sure you maintain proper medicine schedules.
  • Plan ahead to know where medical facilities are located at your destination.
  • Develop your “I’m tough” attitude. You will need it. There are things you will have to push through, but also be ready to throw in the towel and head back to your safe zone if you think things are becoming unmanageable.
  • Always have a plan “B”, or exit plan.

Make it so

These are only a handful of suggestions. Some will work for you, some may not. I do know that I have tried all of these suggestions at one time or another, and they helped in some way.

I started off the article about the initial questions to ask yourself. Once you do make the decision to go, remember that the decision is important to you or a loved one. Treat it as important. Remember to prepare for the trip, but also positively prepare your mind that you are not going to let those damn Borg ruin it for you. Your fun and pleasure are extremely important to your well-being, especially at this point in your life. Try not to let the pain ruin that, or at a minimum, set things up so it has minimal impact.

As Captain Picard might say (another Star Trek nerd alert), “Make It So.”

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