The Things You Don’t Think About: Chronic Illness and Travel

Our second blog by Becky. Please see her introductory post about ulcerative colitis for some context! 

So in my World Outside Health, things have been fairly hectic. My partner and I have decided to temporarily jack in our jobs and go travelling for a couple of months later this year. This has been a big and frankly terrifying decision on a variety of levels, not least of which related to my ulcerative colitis.

Though to be completely honest, I actually didn’t factor in my colitis at all for an inadvisably long time. Having had a flare-up at the beginning of June, by the time we were making decisions about our trip I was on a dose of steroids (think anti-inflammatory, not American high school movies) so comprehensive that my bowels were on their absolute best behaviour. This, combined with the fact that less than one of my 23 years has incorporated colitis, and I just, kind of…forgot.

oops

Hence why this post is titled ‘The Things You Don’t Think About’. By the time I remembered that I did actually still have colitis, there wasn’t that much time to remember all the extra preparations, expenses and concerns I now have to deal with. Frankly I still haven’t really got my head around a lot of this stuff, so please excuse my falling back on Lazy Blogging 101, and making a list.

  1. Travel insurance

Travel insurance is one of those grown-up things that probably wouldn’t have occurred to me until very late in the day anyway (or, you know…at all), but when I did remember (for which read: when my dad reminded me and sent me a link to his own insurer) I was literally holding my laptop at arm’s length and looking at the quotes like:

scared-peeking

And I had every reason to. Despite answering what I saw as the ‘right’ answers to the questions asked about my ulcerative colitis (that I’ve never been admitted to hospital and actually still have my colon, etc.), the cost of travel insurance quadrupled. Quadrupled. My insurance has cost almost as much as my flights. I mean, ouch.

And whilst I understand why this is necessary from the insurer’s point of view, I still felt kind of  affronted. Like, sorry about my chronic disease, Insurer People, I HOPE IT’S NOT TOO INCONVENIENT FOR YOU.

  1. Medication

So up until my last appointment with my IBD nurse (previously mentioned Bringer Of The Knee-Weakening Relief), I had gotten myself into such a state about how to sort out all the prescriptions I would need / want whilst I was away, I walked into that appointment like it was my execution. Thankfully, my nurse once again took all my problems out of my hands, banished most of them and then handed the remainder gently back to me with a couple of additional treats. Here’s one for Things You Don’t Think About more generally – up until you’re diagnosed with something that requires medication, nobody actually explains to you how prescriptions work. I like to think of myself as a relatively intelligent and knowledgeable person, but this time last year I did not know how much prescriptions cost, what the cost was for or why it was applied, how to set up a repeat prescription, how to collect a repeat prescription, what the hell a milligram was or whether you needed to see a doctor for individual prescriptions.

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I finally got my head around all of that, and then this last month has been like ‘Prescription Mysteries: The Travel Edition’. But I think I have, at last, cracked it.

I have yet to tackle the issue of fitting what I’ve just calculated to be 728 tablets into my bag.

  1. Worries

But to be honest, the biggest difference between travelling now, and travelling before my diagnosis is the worry. I’m a pretty natural worrier as it is, but now there are so many other things to lie awake thinking about; what if I have a flare-up? The cost of medication will be sky-high anywhere else (moment of thanks for the NHS), never mind if I had to be hospitalised. What if I have to come home and we’ve wasted all that money? What if I stay but am ill the whole time? A lot of our trip consists of very long bus journeys – what if they don’t have toilets on? What if they do, but someone else on the bus is in it when I need it? What if I suddenly need the loo, and I’m in a city I don’t know? What if I eat something that upsets my stomach? And on and on and on…

Now, it should be made very clear here that I’m going to Canada, not the back reaches of a South American rainforest, so there are hundreds of worries that I’ve already been spared. But the simple fact is that being anywhere other than home when you have a chronic illness is a completely different ballgame. I can’t afford not to think about things anymore – I have to think, I have to plan, I have to be as prepared as I can be, and I’m still more likely to get ill and be forced to pack in than someone with a clean bill of health. Which sucks.

But, but, but. Thankfully, we live in a modern era. The prevalence of IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease – a blanket term for colitis and its very close cousin, Crohn’s Disease) in the Western world means that there are loads of resources out there that have been created so that people like me can live their lives in as unrestricted a way as possible. My nurse pointed me in the direction of IBD Passport; a site that has been built with the specific purpose of giving advice and support to people with Crohn’s and colitis who want to travel, and it’s been invaluable! My nurse herself could not have been more supportive in helping me make medical arrangements for my trip. My parents – respectively a well-travelled colitis-sufferer and Ultimate Holiday Guru – have been so eager to help I think I’m actually in trouble for not having bought travel insurance yet. Everyone around me, in fact, has been as brilliant as they could possibly be.

And at the end of the day, nobody can go travelling and guarantee they won’t get ill. They just hope for the best. So now that I’m as prepared as I can be, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Fingers crossed.

 

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