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Let's Talk About Traveling With Back Pain For A Bit.....



Since everything is beginning to calm down with the Norwegian Star mess, after this week from hell, I'd like to take some time to keep it real and address how I manage to travel with my bad back. And yes, the x-ray above is an x-ray of mine from July 2016.

I haven't chronicled it much (if at all) on this blog, since I try and keep it limited to travel and travel experiences as much as possible. But this past week, I had a (personal) issue come up where my ability to travel was questioned. At the time, because I was having a horrific back day as it was (to the point that I actually cancelled my morning doctors appointment since I physically could not force myself out of bed), and I had taken my medication before this afternoon appointment, I was unfortunately loopy, and easily flustered.

I have a bad back. There's no two ways about it. I've had multiple back surgeries. I've had a spinal fusion done (probably the most horrific experience of my life pain-wise), and I also have a spinal cord stimulator implanted to control my pain. If you see my friends refer to me as "Vicky" or my "walkman", they're joking around with me about the amount of metal in my back. I cannot get an MRI done. I can't get through airport security without having to flash my medical ID card or setting off a metal detector. And I have even more issues trying to get into Citi Field to see the Mets play with their handheld detectors. It was embarrassing at first, but I got over it.

I still travel-everyone on here knows that. I run a travel blog and a matching Instagram and Twitter account. But what is never discussed is what I have to go through in order to be able to physically do it. 

Let's start with my most recent trip, which required me to fly non-stop from Newark Airport to Hong Kong. That's about a 16 hour flight. Any of my friends who have ever traveled with me will tell you just how miserable of a flier I am. It is a painful, uncomfortable, miserable experience, whether it's two hours or sixteen. I do what I can to combat that-which almost always requires me to shell out extra money (sometimes hundreds) for a premium seat, with room to stretch out or lay down. I always book aisle seats. I get up. I walk around. A lot. I stretch. And I have medications that I can take which will eventually (mercifully), put me to sleep.

I've also shelled out money for an orthopedic back pillow and seat cushion made by the company who makes the Purple mattresses. Having lumbar support behind my lower back is probably the biggest help, and those tiny little airplane pillows just don't do it for me.  They are both heavy, and they suck to lug around through the airport-especially when traveling internationally as most international carriers have now implemented weight limits for carry on baggage.

When I'm traveling with certain friends, I also almost never have to lift or carry my luggage because I have some of the best friends that a girl can ask for. In South Africa, land of hotels that don't have elevators or bathroom doors (but that's a different story for another day), she quite literally carried my full size suitcase and carry on every single day from the bus to our room, and back to the bus. And while it sucks that yes, unfortunately I do have to ask for help because anyone who knows me personally knows that I am one stubborn son of a bitch, this is my current situation and there is nothing that I can do about it.

And speaking of being a stubborn son of a bitch, one thing that I almost never discuss is how dearly I pay for most of what I do when it comes to my levels of pain. Yes, I may go snorkeling, or climb a few flights of stairs to see a Buddha statue or sign up for a longer than I would normally take excursion to Jerusalem because when else in my life will I ever be back there-but it costs me more than anyone knows or more than I would ever let on.

South Africa last September was my first land-based tour since before the accident. I was making good progress with the spinal cord stimulator at the time of the trip-but I also realized after that trip that I 100% was not ready to repeat it. Land tours often entail spending a lot of time on a bus sitting, with occasional stops to take photos or stretch. I had my medications. I slept-alot. I actually slept through the stop for whale watching because my medications made me so drowsy. Didn't even know we stopped. I stayed right there sound asleep. And there are times when I just give up and skip things if I have the opportunity to do so, taking losses on prepaid, non-refundable excursions rather than deal with more pain. This is my reality.

This is also why I've opted to do more cruising. Cruising gives you lots of down time to relax and take it easy. I'm fortunate enough to live only a 20 minute car ride (on a good day) away from the NYC and Bayonne Piers. When it's an international cruise, it requires a plane ride and I have to deal with it. It is what it is. But it affords me down time, and time between ports to rest and recuperate.

This is my reality-this is what I choose not to share. Nobody wants to see that. But since it was brought up this week, and left me extremely frustrated because I feel like I didn't clearly explain myself, I've decided to share my back story now because I know that I'm not the only one. I know that some people choose not to travel at all because it's not something that's easy to do. I try and live as normal of a life as possible. I know my limits. If I don't think I can handle something, I eat the cost and skip it because I'm certainly not looking to injure myself worse than I already am. I wouldn't wish my situation on my absolute worst enemy on my worst day. There was a time when I could book a three week trip through Europe and be able to quote you airlines, flight numbers, times, and activities for  every single day of those three weeks from memory. I'm lucky if I can remember what I ate at my last meal sometimes with my medications. They make me stupid and I despise the fact that I have to take them to make it through the day. 

Laying in bed after the encounter that brought about this post, I continued to beat myself up. If you've ever been unfortunate enough to be in a car accident and innvolved in litigation, one thing that your lawyer will no doubt drill into you in to start at the top of your head and work your way down when describing your injuries. As I'm laying in bed, my right shoulder is throbbing as it often does. Guess who was too loopy to remember to list that injury? Me. I also thought of other, stupid things from the conversation that I neglected to mention at the time. I was asked about ports on my Christmas cruise, and forgot that we stopped in Orlando as well as The Bahamas. Pain meds make me "stupid". I don't know how else to say it. The fact that I have to justify this at all is frustrating. It's something beyond frustrating. But this is what it's come down to.

I don't think there's another person in the world who wants to throw themselves out of an airplane or off a bridge more than I do. I'm an adrenaline junkie, and I live for that rush-even though it's been many years since I've done something that I personally would consider reckless or stupid or insane. By my standards, I've been quite tame. Did I swim with a crocodile-yes. I stepped into a giant acrylic container and floated in the water and took photos for a few minutes. Did I cage dive with sharks? I did. I climbed down three or four steps to get into and out of the cage (and still received assistance coming out). Did I go down a water slide at the Atlantis resort in Nassau? I did. I spent $195 per person (for each of us) to wait in line for a half hour to go down a single water slide, and then left because I wasn't feeling up to anything else. I spent almost $400 for one person to go down one water slide and for the other to go down none because I was  having a bad back day-something that unfortunately, I'm unable to predict.

So maybe, before passing your judgement, you should take a few minutes to take the above into consideration. And while I was laying in bed, thinking about what I wanted to say when I put this all in writing, I had a witty ending idea. Which of course, I forgot because I was loopy. Shocker. So for now, I'll be conquering the world, one country at a time.


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