Preparing For My First Trip Post Diagnosis and Pandemic
Last updated: March 2023
Editor's note: Read how James' trip went in his follow up article, "Going on My First Trip Post Diagnosis and Pandemic."
Prior to my diagnosis, I was most definitely a frequent flier. As I was working in China, I’d take any chance I could to explore other cities in Asia. Don’t get me wrong, it was nothing too extravagant - I’d get the cheapest flight possible and slum it in a hostel.
However, when AS decided to turn up and spoil the party, my jet-setting lifestyle came to an abrupt end. The only flight I took was a one way trip back to London to receive a diagnosis and treatment. It took a year to regain the strength to walk again. Unfortunately, I couldn’t celebrate this achievement with a holiday as my return to walking unassisted coincided with the arrival of coronavirus.
After another two years of self isolating, I was itching to get out and explore the world again but at the same time I was very nervous at the thought of doing so.
Agreeing to a trip
My fears of catching COVID and unfamiliarity of going outside meant that I could barely bring myself to take a train into central London, so a flight to a foreign land definitely felt out of the question for me. But when a close friend asked me to be best man at his wedding in Mexico, it was just too tempting to turn down - especially when he explained the itinerary.
The plan was to start in Mexico City, then head to Morelia for the wedding before a few days in Tijuana and finally crossing the US border to explore San Diego and LA. How could I refuse? I had never been to North America before and the thought of being able to finally explore a new part of the world had me salivating.
As excited as I was, I was also terrified. Everything sounded fantastic in theory but I didn’t know if I was going to be able to deal with it all psychologically. After spending so long trying to dodge the virus, the thought of sitting on a 14 hour flight with hundreds of strangers breathing around made me extremely anxious. I had similar worries about the wedding itself.
I felt like I had the responsibility of representing Europeans to our Mexican hosts and was worried that a potential mental breakdown wouldn’t be a good look. Not only that, but I hadn’t travelled since life dealt me the AS card. I didn’t know how my body would cope with the long flights and days filled with walking and exploring. I also had concerns about transporting my medication.
Nevertheless, despite all these worries, I put on my big boy pants and booked the trip. I had a little pep talk with myself beforehand; I told myself I deserved a getaway after the last few years and was going to power through and enjoy myself as much as possible without overdoing it.
Getting ready for a holiday can often be stressful, but this was something else. Not only was I very out of practice, but I had never brought along the uninvited passenger that is AS.
Then there was all the medication that my body has relies on to function. I was very confused as to how it would all work. My Enbrel injections need to be kept refrigerated before use and I was warned that they could not pass through any kind of scanner. I wasn’t sure how well it would go down with customs if I asked them to let me through with a bag of needles that they couldn’t check. I was nervous about being the first person arrested for smuggling drugs INTO Mexico!
I decided to call up my rheumatology department for some advice. The nurse told me that it might be a good idea to inject at home before flying out (coincidentally my regular injection day) and skip the one injection day that fell during the holiday.
If I was staying in one place it would have been okay to bring the injections with me but as I was visiting multiple cities, it was likely that the Mexican sun would heat up them up to the point that they would be dangerous to use.
Calling the airline
The next call I made was to the airline. The 14 hour flight was probably the scariest part for me. I didn’t know how my body would cope with being stuck in a seat with limited leg room for such a long time. I was also anxious about the protocols in place to protect me from potentially contracting COVID on the way. I was intending to wear a mask on the flight, but having the other passengers doing the same would make me feel a lot more at ease about the whole thing.
Then there was getting through security - I anticipated spending a long periods standing in queues which could end up being very a painful experience for me.
I explained my situation to the airline and they were amazing. They reserved a seat with extra leg room and offered me wheelchair service to take me through security at both ends if I needed it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to need the wheelchair ride, but I figured it was definitely worth signing up for just in case.
In regard to mask wearing on board, they assured me that masks were compulsory on the flight to Mexico. However, I was flying back from the USA and there was talk of the policy changing there in the coming weeks so they could not confirm what the situation would be on the return trip.
This put my mind at ease that at least on the way there I would be protected and would be arriving in Mexico as pain free as possible, ready to enjoy my trip.
Speaking to my friends
I figured that the last bit of preparation that I needed to do was to have a conversation with the friends I was travelling with. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin anyone else’s holiday.
I was up front with them and warned them not to expect too much from me. There were plans made for every single day of the trip and I couldn’t know for certain if my body would be up for all of them. The schedule looked like a lot of fun but it involved a huge amount of walking. I was concerned that no matter how much I wanted to get involved with everything, it might prove to be too much to me. I would certainly need extra time to prepare for the things I was doing and may well need to take a breaks from others.
Luckily for me my friends were very understanding and completely accepted that I may need to put my health first at times. They let me know that it was okay if I needed to skip some of the planned activities and take a rest day if I wanted to.
I was very touched by this and extremely relieved that I had the complete support of my friends, regardless of what plans my body may have. My nervousness was turning to excitement. I decided to get in the mood by ordering tacos for dinner and loading up Duolingo to improve my very questionable Spanish. I couldn’t wait to get to Mexico!
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