Earlier this summer I travelled to Greece with some of my family, and it was the trip of a lifetime – we visited two islands, Rhodes and Samos, then finished the journey in Athens. During our sixteen-day stay in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet, I hiked up mountains and jumped into the turquoise sea, ate the most delicious food, and walked among ruins from thousands of years ago. Whilst this trip is definitely one I am incredibly lucky to have been able to experience, the fact that I did so while having lung function in the low 40’s makes it that much more extraordinary.
When I was admitted to the hospital last November my lung function had dropped to a worrisome level, transplant was briefly mentioned to me; were my lungs to not improve, we would need to start looking at beginning the evaluation process for a double lung transplant. While I lay in my hospital bed for those interminable days, I never thought I would be able to again do the things that I loved most, one of them being travelling.
Yet there I was, a mere 7 months later, summiting a mountain on Rhodes. I know that I am incredibly lucky, and I will not discount luck in the journey that brought me both to Greece, and back to relatively stable health. I fought back hard once I was released from the hospital, and I continued to do so even on vacation – starting before even setting foot on the plane.
I packed my meds, my nebulizers, my compressor, masks, gloves, sterilizing wipes, inhalers, insulin, and then I packed my clothes. I made sure I had one week of extra medication in case something were to happen, and I brought along some oral antibiotics prophylactically, in case I were to start feeling sick 8000km from home.
Staying healthy throughout my trip started at the airport: I donned my mask and my gloves when I got into areas with lots of people. I pre-board all my flights so I can get to my seat and clean it top to bottom! This includes both sides of the tray table, the armrests, where my head will sit on the wall/window, the seat itself, the front pocket, the seatbelt, and any buttons ill be touching. I also wear a mask throughout the whole flight, this 10 hour one was a bit tough for sure – but there are so many germs in a plane, you don’t want to expose yourself to anything! Once in Greece I continued my therapies the same as at home, meaning I was often up later than everyone else doing my physio at the end of the day. I travel with my cousin often, and we have developed a pretty great system where I use my pep and then she does manual physical therapy (PT) on me, I feel the double duty really helps to keep me “healthy” while I’m exerting myself more than usual on vacation.
I walked, and walked, and walked on my trip. The temperature was in the high 30’s, and we were out from morning to night, I think the walking definitely helped my lungs stay in tiptop shape, on top of my usual regimen. I also climbed quite a few peaks, some to visit acropolises, others to reach remote medieval forts. These adventures contributed to my airway clearance, that I am certain of! Being away and constantly being active really helped contribute to my health because I was constantly active; which we all know is great for CF. Greek food tastes amazing, and also has a ton of healthy fat in it. While the rest of my family felt somewhat guilty about how gluttonously they feasted, the meals helped me keep up my weight!
Travelling with CF isn’t easy, but it’ definitely worth the extra trouble. You may need to wake up earlier than everyone else to do your physio, and be up later than everyone else for the same reason, but if exploring the world is something you want to do, you’ll feel the minor sacrifices are worth it. Remember to plan for extra rest, more so than the rest of your party, stay compliant with your treatments, and make sure you pack enough hand sanitizer – and you can visit the world against all medical odds!
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