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There Are No Easy Answers - Traveling with a Flare, Part 1

I recently returned from a glorious two weeks in Scandinavia, all while experiencing an active flare of Crohn's Disease.  The most common question I get from readers is "how do I travel while experiencing a flare"?  I understand wanting specifics and details of what to expect. But, friends, let me tell you from first-hand experience - there are no easy answers.  I'm humbled every time my disease surprises me, taking me to a darker place, a new pain, a threat to my hopes for the day.  And every country is different, every city, every traveler's experience is different.

There are no easy answers.

The answer is that you find out as you go along.

You do your best to prepare.

But most of all -- you don't let Crohn's/IBD stop you from traveling.  Life is too short, and this world is painstakingly beautiful.  My dear friends, it is at our doorstep, and our challenge is to listen to the call of our dreams, flaring or not.

My flare started with my monthly cycle, and in the days before leaving, I was experiencing extreme pain, intestinal bleeding, fevers - all the bad stuff.  I was in denial up until the morning of my departure, when I forced myself to call my doctor for prescriptions for steroids and antibiotics.

That's a fun one!  Getting through to a nurse, and then getting through to a doctor, and then getting through to a pharmacist to fill prescriptions mere hours before an international flight.

Did I mention I also ended up in urgent care that day - not for my Crohn's, but for an infection in my leg?

We almost missed our flight.  My carry-on was overflowing with medications - some of which I hoped I would never need to take.  But as you've read on my blog before, it's far better to be prepared. It's much harder to handle these needs overseas, so if you are at any question of needing a medication - take it with you!

In my haste to not miss our flight, I forgot to put a copy of my prescription with my mesalamine enemas, which I had packed 14 in a ziploc bag in my carry-on.  I was prepared to declare the bag as medical in the security line.  I was prepared to face additional scrutiny, and rightly so.  That much liquid in a bag looks suspicious, indeed!  I get it.

I was not prepared for what went down in one of the busiest airports in the world, while actively flaring and having not slept a wink on an 8 hour overnight flight.

I was bleary-eyed and weak, dashing to bathrooms and wanting to crumple over in pain.  But I was faced with endless lines, corralling travelers through the airport like cattle, only to end up tagged at security for a review of my carry-on.  It was crowded, and I was overheated.  Throngs of crowds pushed against me, all waiting for their bags to receive additional screening.  A French family was out of control with their stress of missing a flight, kids crying, flailing in front of us.  A group of surly teenagers waited on a friend, all clustered at the security desk.

Then my bag was called, and I was immediately asked to explain what the enemas were and why I needed them.

I looked pleadingly at my husband, the shame and embarrassment creeping up my flushed, feverish face, as at least a dozen people stood all listening and staring at me.

I tried to explain. I showed the receipt for the prescription.

The security guard was belligerent and insisted I needed the actual prescription to be able to keep it.
At the threat of losing my meds, I started crying and begged, "please, sir, I need these to live.  I have to have them."

My hysteria was not a good picture, and security staff are understandably in a difficult position keeping millions of fliers safe on a daily basis.  I felt the teenagers laughing and staring, everyone in my business, as the guard held up the bag of my enemas.

"Please, this is humiliating.  Can we please have a private discussion?"  I finally asked, remembering my rights.  As if I'd said the magic word, two security guards promptly escorted my husband and me to a private room.  There, more calmly, I was able to produce additional medical paperwork sufficient enough to see me through to keep the medication.

Lesson #2 - ALWAYS have a copy of your prescriptions with you!

As we left the secured room, my exhaustion, jet lag, Crohn's pains, and dehydration washed over me in waves, and I completely lost it.  My husband guided me through endless crowds until we could find a slightly more private place to sit and re-gain my exposure.

I hadn't even made it to our destination and felt like I was falling apart.  But I re-grouped.  I braved bathroom lines several more times.  And I committed to following my travel dreams, graciously reminding myself the travel journey itself is the hardest part - the long flights are very hard on the body.

What happened next?  Check out my next post!


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