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Flying and Traveling With Short Bowel Syndrome

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Traveling is as fun as it can be for me. It is equally as exhausting. I love to travel! It is one of the things I look forward to most, getting out to see different places, or revisiting places I have already been to, experiencing new things.

Traveling though is a job within itself. As fun as it can be, it is also very stressful and, at times, just downright painful (physically and mentally). Every opportunity I get to travel, I try to take advantage of it. One of my goals is to visit all 50 states in the U.S. and I have already visited 25 of them. Mostly through business travel, but also pleasure.

man sitting in an airport wearing a hat

Traveling though I have now come to realize by the end is exhausting. It takes me a few days to recover from coming home from a flight. There are many different things I must prepare for and expect to happen, but my biggest worry is always forgetting something vital to my trip. Such as my medicine. It is a common practice of mine to check my carry on multiple times during the day to make sure my medicine for the week is where it should be. I know it is there, yet I still check.

Before I leave my house, I make sure all the laundry is done and pick up. I locate anything I may need to take with me and place it in a location where I won’t forget. Chargers, computer, iPad. I charge all my electronics I am taking. I gather my work materials if it is a work trip, download my tickets to my phone for easy access. I plan for my dog, so he is taken care of. I pack what I need for the week and, to be honest, I often overpack. I refill my medicine containers for an entire week. If I will be gone more than five days, then I will fill two weeks’ worth of medication to take. I take several jackets as I am frequently cold on the plane and in the hotel. I also pack snacks in my carry on.

For some ungodly reason, I take early bird flights. So, the morning of my flight I am getting up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to get ready to leave. Some nights before I fly out, I do not get much sleep at all, worrying about what I might leave behind and rechecking all my luggage for specific items. I get to the airport no later than 5 a.m. I go check my bag, and go up to security. This is where I always get stuck. The fully body scanners pick up on abnormal areas of the body. I have a lot of scar tissue under my clavicle bone from central lines which were removed. I also have scar tissue internally in those sites. I have a horizontal scar across my stomach from my intestinal resection. When I walk through the scanner, I light up like a Christmas tree and always, every single time, get the grand pat down, where they invade all the private places of the body, in public. Never fails. I am now used to it, where I used to get very annoyed with it.

When I fly into major airports, I must mentally prepare myself to run a half marathon it feels like. I live in Lincoln, and fly from Omaha. The airport, while not small, is not big by any means. My plane will land at the opposite end of the airport from where my other flight is going to take off. Most of the time, I land, and will only have 10-20 minutes to get on the next plane. In a big airport, there is a lot of ground to cover in that short amount of time. Running at full speed down a moving walkway with a 50-lb. suitcase behind me (I now check it) and a 25-lb. briefcase on my shoulder and weaving between hundreds of people and luggage is exhausting and body shaking. I get a workout when I am in the airport.

suitcase and briefcase

If I am hungry and need something to hold me over, then I will have to find the nearest place, with the shortest line and get something. Once I get to the gate, I wait to board like anyone else. It worries me when a plane is delayed, and I need to connect. Often I need to find a different connecting flight, which throws a wrench in my plans. When I travel, I don’t like my plans being messed up, but it happens. It throws the trip off for me though. Every minute counts.

Once I get on the plane, depending on how long the flight is, I sit on a pillow I bring. The seats are thin, so after an hour or so for me, my butt begins to hurt because it is pretty much bone on seat, there is no fat back there or muscle. If it’s a prolonged flight, this can make my back hurt as well in my lumbar area. Also, I often use the bathroom several times a flight, as part of my diagnosis is frequent bathroom use. Sometimes I have no choice but to go to the bathroom when we are taking off or landing. The flight attendants will tell me I can’t go. I explain that it cannot be helped, and I accept the responsibilities if I am hurt in the process of takeoff or landing. Nine times out of 10 they let me use the bathroom during those instances.

Once I land, the fun and work begins. In big cities, like New York for example, I was terrified! I was staying in the heart of Times Square. I had a day off, so I wanted to go visit Ground Zero and the 9/11 Memorial Museum (if you ever have the chance to go, you need to go, it is a great tribute to the survivors, first responders and lost family members on that tragic day in September). When I got back on the subway, I had no idea how to get back. I was using my phone map to try and navigate back, but I would get off on the wrong stop, go the wrong direction – I was just lost. I finally met up with one of my young patients and his family, and after exploring Times Square some, they got me back to where I needed to be. It was stressful before I got ahold of them because I didn’t know how I was going to get back without calling a cab and giving him the physical address. Which would have killed my wallet.

On a business trip, I can get even more exhausted. Sometimes I get to work right off the bat, if I arrive the day of. Usually those are 12-15-hour days, sometimes three days a week. Sometimes I skip a session or two so I can go rest some, as my body tells me I need to. By the end of my travel, I look quite drained in the face. I look tired and fatigued, though I am rallying through (a common phrase I use often is “I rally.”). Food is a stressor too, because it is so expensive when traveling, but I need to eat, so it is a justified expense.

When I book hotel rooms, I usually stay in a place in the downtown area of the city, or close to. So, I am close to whatever I want to do, or a car ride away. I never rent a car – it honestly scares me to even think of driving in another state where I am not familiar, as I feel something bad could happen like a car accident. The biggest fear for me, if alone, is that if something medical happened, nobody would know what to do. I keep all my medical information on my phone, where you don’t need to unlock it, with all the emergency contacts.

I will fly out the day before I need to be wherever I am going, so I have time to unwind and relax for the airport experience. Also, before I come home, I take a day or half day to recoup before flying out and taking on all that stress again. Just recently I decided to stay behind from going out west for a cousin’s wedding, which I was really looking forward to. I also was going to visit my best friend. My plane broke down and would not get a replacement plane until 12 hours later. My family was supposed to take off at 3 p.m. We got off the plane at 5 p.m., and I was already tired. My body told me no, so I did the responsible thing and stayed behind so I didn’t go through unnecessary stress. I felt bad about not going to my cousin’s wedding, but he understood due to the circumstances.

Flying and traveling for me, like I said, is very fun. I love it, but I also sometimes pay dearly for it with exhaustion for several days after I return home. When I am not flying, I am full of energy, always going and doing something, or working on something. I like to keep busy. Besides, why stay in a hotel room all day when you’re in a new place? There is too much to do and experience. So exhaustion for me is a very small price to pay for the benefits I get out of traveling. While I have short bowel syndrome, I don’t let that stop me from going out to new places and doing new things. If a little fatigue is what I have to pay, then that is OK, the trip(s) are always worth it in the end, and I never regret it.

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Originally published: October 6, 2017
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