Saturday, February 19, 2011

Traveling with Medical Needs

I am not your average backpacker who feels this need to live off the land. I don't go into the wilderness with a bag, a sleeping bag and two pairs of underwear. I tend to over pack, this is due to a constant nagging I was given having to do with my many medical conditions as a child. Don't do this, you'll hurt your this! Don't do this, you might die because of this! I have an increased chance of dying because of many of these things but I try not to let them hold me back or have them lessen my experiences in foreign countries. If the worst thing to come from my travel with my illnesses is an over packed bag and a sore back then I think I'll be okay.

Not your average bear...
I have more than one thing wrong with me. I'm a pretty defective model overall so I'll go through the list and how I cope with my quirks on the dusty road. My quirks make me who I am. I am proud to be flawed and interesting rather than perfect and boring.

1. Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder, where the subject is prone to seizure activity. I have had epilepsy since I was nine years old. I was hit in the head during a physical education class which resulted in a concusion. 24 hours later I had my first grand mal seizure (a full drop and flop) and I've had them ever since. Since 2007 my seizures have been relatively well controlled due to a great doctor in Louisiana and a new medication. It turns out I had been severely under medicated for years by my other doctors before meeting this wonderful man. I have now not had a seizure in almost three years.

Traveling with Epilepsy can be troublesome due to the fact I have to carry large amounts of medication on me. This is can be an issue at some border controls. If you have to have prescriptions for a serious illness like epilepsy carry a doctors note with you so that you have no issues bringing your meds into the country. Also, put your medical information onto a card in your wallet for your travel mates in case of an emergency. There are certain activities people with epilepsy should never do. For example, scuba dive. This is something a bunch of my friends wanted to try but I knew I wouldn't be able to do. I snorkeled instead which is much safer and I would like to point out- easier on the wallet! People with epilepsy should also take care with horse back riding, riding motor bikes and extreme contact sports. Proper head gear is essential, better safe then sorry!

See the difference?

2. Nut Allergies/ Drug Allergies
Nut Allergies have been a major pain in the ass to deal with overall as a human being. Because they are cheap and taste good people put them in everything! I am not as severely allergic as my older sister is but I avoid all nuts. Your allergic reactions will worsen with every exposure, so I try not to expose myself often so I don't end up with a heart attack at 30 due to a rogue peanut. I have been peanuted at a restaurant a few times, funny thing is they are more prone to peanut your plates in the states then here in SE Asia (With the exception of Thailand). I had to be warry of hazelnut in Belgium as they put it a lot of the chocolates. But if you ask they will tell you.
Peanut free chocolate in France

As a person with food allergies you must make smart food choices. I have only eaten Pad Thai noodles once because I know Pad Thai noodles typically come in peanut sauce! I rarely eat Coq au Van because I have an intolerance for sulfates and it's braised in red wine. People with hazelnut allergies should not eat chocolate in Belgium and people with soy/sesame allergies should be careful of sauces in SE Asia. Be smart and you'll find yourself not needing that epi-pen after all. Ask questions of your servers, have the foreign translations of the food items written down for you by a friend and be nice to the staff. I find being nice and acting out my death to a peanut makes them be extra nice to me and makes my food be SUPER peanut free.

I don't disagree that having an allergy sucks sometimes. I want to eat a lot of things that I cannot because they are contaminated by peanuts. I have a deep love of Lahksa which is a Singaporean style noodle dish but I very rarely can find it peanut free. I know of 2 places in HK who make it "Meaghan" style. Peanuts smell good and I am very fortunate to not be one of those people who is allergic to peanut dust because I'm allowed to smell peanuts, I just can't eat them!

3. Ankle/Fibula Reconstruction- 2 metal plates and 7 screws
Back in 2007 I shattered my left leg and tore the tendons and ligaments in my left foot up. I was told by doctors back then that I was always going to have to walk with a cane, that I was always going to have a limp, that there was a chance I was never going to walk again. It was hard and believe me; I cried my way through the recovery. My mother was a huge rock for me and got me through what was hands down the darkest period of my life.
See the difference in my good leg and my bad leg?
Now that I walk for the most part limp free and without a cane I try to make the most of my travels without over extending my bad leg. There are some things I have serious issues with: top bunks in bunk beds (it's the damn step ladders) and surfing. Surfing I have yet to stand up completely on the board, stupid leg! It was really a frustrating experience overall to be held back by it. But as a person with a permanent injury I know my limitations: I know that if I can avoid a huge staircase I should. The Belfry in Bruges was KILLER on my leg and although it was a good experience I don't recommend it to anyone who has ever suffered a serious tendon injury. You will regret it the next day when you can barely move your leg. I am very compassionate to those who are disabled because I lived with a physical disability for two years (limping on a cane almost every day) and then I started to recover. I've made a lot of progress but still find my leg gets more sore at night time than most people and my limp will come back when I sit on the floor. No Yoga for me unless it's on a big fluffy pillow because I find myself even limping in the morning getting out of bed! I guess it's the inactivity plus poor circulation in my bad leg that causes it to act up.

The Belfry and it's 400 steps in Bruges, Belgium

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