My First Trips With AS
Last updated: June 2022
When I got diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis it was during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all know, everything was closed and traveling was not an option in order to avoid viral infection. I restricted myself to travel less when I started biologic medication, knowing its immunosuppressive effect that increased the chances of getting sick. Thankfully, COVID vaccines happened and even though pandemic is not over yet, there is still a slight sense of normalcy. The idea of traveling is not that scary as before as long as you continue using face masks and sanitizing protocols.
Last fall I had the opportunity to participate in an away rotation in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City as part of my medical school training. Besides being all excited about this new learning experience, there were concerns about traveling for the first time as an AS patient in biologic therapy.
Since I was going to be out for a month I needed to bring with me two Humira pens. This medication must be stored in cool temperature in order to remain stable for usage. I had to know how I was going to keep the medication cool during a five hour trip.
Keeping my Humira cold during my flight
After asking my rheumatologist for advice, she mentioned that sometimes the pharmacies that provide the medications can provide a cooler for patients that travel. I called the pharmacy as soon as I could, but they were out of stock of those specialized travel coolers for the medications. Thoughts about taking the medication with me in a lunchbox came up, but I wasn't sure that it would maintain the right temperature for all those hours.
Luckily, my mother, who is a nurse, talked to her coworkers about my struggle with the medication and they recommended her an insulin travel case that should fit my Humira pen. It did fit perfectly and I could carry it inside my personal bag making sure it didn't get lost. After a 6 hour trip both pens were still in the right temperature and I was able to store them in the refrigerator.
The uncomfortable plane seat
Now that I had the medication issue under control I felt ready for this new adventure. It wasn't until I was on the plane and sat on the not so comfy chair that I realized that my back will probably suffer after long hours seated.
The urge to stand up and stretch due to pain or stiffness started around two hours of flight. Because of that I had to take a couple of "bathroom breaks," but they were actually an excuse to ask the people next to me to move so I could walk and stretch my achy back. This gave me a temporary sense of relief during the trip that allowed me to get to my destination.
After this experience I learned that aisle chairs will definitely be more convenient for future trips. That way I can stand when needed without feeling I'm bothering other people.
Learning and improving my travel skills
After this first experience traveling with AS, two more trips have occurred. As I continue to improve my planning skills for trips while having a chronic disease, I reaffirm that as patients we have to keep taking care of ourselves no matter where we go.
Having in mind factors such as length of flight, location of seats, destination's weather, medication needed and type of activities being done during the trip are very important in order to prevent flares, keep our bodies in a good state and and enjoy the trip as much as possible knowing that you are keeping your health under control.
Now that summer is here, I know many of us have new travel plans. I would love to hear about more planning tips and suggestions to travel with AS. Feel free to share them in the comments.
Do you notice worsening flares in colder weather?