I shift on the paper covered table and take another uneasy glance at the monitor on the wall. I look at the diagram of a knee on the opposite wall and then take another look at the x-ray of my knees on the monitor. The bones look kind of close together. I look at the clock and back at the monitor. Really close together. I take a deep breath and fidget again as a knot forms in my stomach. “Both knees look the same,” I assure myself. “I only pulled the one knee on the plane coming home from Azores. All this waiting is just making me jittery.”
Finally, the doctor enters the room, a warm smile on his face that puts me immediately at ease. He looks too relaxed to be giving me bad news. He looks at the x-rays, moves my knees around, asks if this hurts. And this? “No, no, no, oww!”
The doctor sits and gives me another warm smile. I am so sure his next words will be “Looks like you strained something,” as he prescribes ice and a week or two of rest that I have to replay his actual words in my head. Did he just compare my knees to those of an 80 year old woman? I am listening with full attention as he begins to talk about surgery. “I’m hiking all fall. And I am going to Iceland in December. I can’t have surgery!”
Once I am home, I sit at my computer and stare at the travel plans outlined in my online calendar. Am I out of my mind? I already have something I haven’t been able to shake – fatigue, joint pain and other symptoms that appeared after my first bout of Lyme disease and stayed around long after my third bout of Lyme disease has been officially declared banished by a recent Western blot test. Now, I’m planning to keep traveling with bad knees? Who travels for the sheer joy of seeing new places when they have chronic health problems?
Well, after some deep thinking, I decided that I do. The travel outweighs the difficulty. In fact, I’ve just come back from a round of trips to St. Michaels, Chincoteague and Iceland. Besides, I probably wouldn’t have had any less knee pain from hiking up and down the stairs at work all day than from hiking up and down 175 stairs at the Assateague Park Lighthouse. And honestly, the view from the top of the lighthouse is a little more amazing.
Here are five reasons you should keep your suitcases packed, too:
1. You’re going to feel awful anywhere, so why not here?
If you feel lousy, you might as well feel that way as you sit on a beach in an exotic location. You can enjoy the view instead of starting at the living room wall. You may not get as much out of your trip as someone who is in good health, but you’ll still be able to have some “wow” moments. Maybe you have to stay at the bottom of the hill instead of hiking up the 100 steps to a famous Church in the Azores, but you still can admire the tilework on the steps from below and enjoy the amazing views from the outlook a few feet from the parking area. You can chat with the older lady who is sitting alone on the nearby bench and hear how she finally was able to save enough money to come home for a visit after spending the last 50 years in the United States. You can discover the lizard peeking from a crack in the wall beside the bench. So much better than wondering if you should hire someone to paint the living room ceiling with clouds, right?
2. Travel can distract you
You probably won’t feel magically better when you hop on a plane. In fact, you might even get some new aches and pains. You might have a flare up of your illness. On the other hand, that can happen at home if you feel really stressed or if the weather is acting up. At home, you’d probably have a hard time distracting yourself from the pain. When you keep focusing on how bad you feel, everything feels even worse. But being on an adventure with all kinds of new things to see and do can distract you enough that you may just find yourself forgetting how crummy you feel for hours at a time.
3. A new location may actually make you feel better
True story – We actually sat and watched my hands swell up again as I arrived at my home airport after a trip to Florida. In my experience, warmer climates, less humidity or different elevations can actually reduce some of your symptoms. Traveling may help you discover a place where you can live with less pain.
4. If other people with disabilities and chronic health conditions do it, you can, too
It can be hard to convince yourself you can do something if no one else has. Following in their footsteps can give you the confidence to get out there and do it, too. I still go hiking with two bum knees. Not enough inspiration for you? How about traveling in Ireland, Netherlands, Thailand, Germany, Turkey, and all over the United States while being legally blind like Colin O’Donohoe, the World Maestro and composer?
5. You can inspire others to follow their dreams
I’ve talked to people who say they are waiting until they lose 50 pounds or until they have more money or until they reach some milestone before they follow their dream. Maybe you’ve been thinking you will follow your dream to travel once your health improves. Stop thinking about how you can’t travel and think about how you can. Maybe you won’t be able to go on safari in your current state of health, but can you explore the state or country next to you? As you begin to figure out how you can travel within your limitations, you may just encourage the friends and family you love to reach for their dreams, too.