Vacation and chronic illness: the goal is survival

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A view from the boat at the Grand Palladium, Riviera Maya

WHAT IS THE GOAL OF VACATIONS?


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The chronically ill person desperately wants to be normal – because normal is so much more fun.

I can’t speak for those who have always been ill, because they don’t have the memory of being ‘normal.’ But I can remember, almost three decades ago now, what it was like to go on vacation for the express purpose of having fun, taking a break from daily life, getting a tan or a snow burn, doing more exciting things and far fewer of the regular ones…

This is my first morning back from our first vacation in over two years, so, as I haven’t been blogging for a couple of weeks now, I thought I’d take the opportunity to capture the thoughts that a week at the Riviera Maya inspire – because if there’s one thing different for someone barely holding it together in ‘regular life,’ it’s going on a real vacation.

In no particular order:

Getting there: Airplane, taxi, private car, boat, bus…

I have an irritating combination of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a major mobility impairment (I do not walk well for any length of time – working on it). I think I would be dealing better with the CFS if I could do as I used to, and get out for short walks on a regular basis, staying well within the energy requirements. And I know I would have deal infinitely better with the mobility if I had more energy.

But what is, is.

To start the trip, we had to get from home in New Jersey to JFK Airport (from where there are far more non-stop flights), which means I started the trip by trying to nap in the car as husband did all the two-hour drive. I remember being an equal partner in the driving – and, as we both age, it would be nice to be able to help. Instead, as you can probably imagine, just getting to the airport has used up most of the energy for the day already.

The wheelchair IS available (always a concern when pre-arranging things), and I’ve gotten over that hump: me not being my slow self is a benefit to my family – whatever the loss of face from being pushed around (and I still feel it after all these years!), the gains in speed are worth it. There can also be some benefits – we often go through a shortened line for security, and have (and need every second of) advance boarding on the plane. My walker, Sylvia, is there for me to lean on – but needs rolling with us, and is one more large thing to deal with at every stage. On the plus side, more than once her seat has been used to transport baggage.

Then just somehow find a way of sitting mostly in one position from boarding to landing, and managing to get at least an hour of actual sleep to restore some of that energy, and we’re at the Cancún international airport for the next part: gathering of the party. Which, since their plane has been mysteriously delayed, requires sitting at an outdoor restaurant with all our stuff for two more hours, until son and girlfriend arrive from Houston, instead of hooking up within ten minutes as originally planned.

Find and negotiate for transportation to the hotel. REMINDER: if you can pay for things with your credit card, your bank usually has a far better exchange rate than almost anything you can generate on the spot, so use it if you can. But the rest of the world is not the US, and you must be prepared to accept lower hotel or taxi exchange rate if all you have is cash. Mexico has ATMs which will give you local currency – if you can find one. The usual perils of travel apply.

Finally, another hour+, and we’re at the Grand Palladium. Checking in takes no more than the usual (three tries to get acceptable room for the Houston contingent), and we end up, finally, at the dinner buffet.

Getting around at the resort

The biggest problem for me is that we love this resort – hugest pools, wonderful beach, great dining – but there is NO way for me to get to most of the places I want to be without an enormous amount of walking (with my trusty walker, Sylvia). We knew that even before we went the first time: TripAdvisor mentions it, the map shows it, and it is a plus for most people (given the array of eating opportunities). They will send you a trolley if you request one, but it can only get you to approximately where you need to be – so most times I opted for just walking the shortest route.

I am trying to learn to walk again, and I’ve walked this past week probably more than in the previous six months, and it was all agonizing, and that’s about the best I can say about it. If my current experiments fail, or I get even slightly worse, the next step will be a wheelchair, and most often husband pushing, and I REALLY don’t want to get to that stage. I am not a small person, and he already has his own limitations and aging. It may force us to consider an easier – and smaller – vacation destination. For now, I just loaded up on the extra ibuprofen (don’t tell my pain specialist – he’d have a fit), and gritted my teeth.

We finally got into a rhythm where the rest of the family would go on ahead, and let me get there at my own pace (which now includes frequent stops to put Sylvia’s seat down and rest). They didn’t like it – love you, family! – but it did help because they could stand in line if necessary. And the critical part for me was that if I was walking with family, I pushed myself much too hard not to always be the laggard, which increased both pain and a horrible new feeling of breathlessness. By the end of the trip we’d worked out a reasonable combination. Adjusting expectations is crucial.

Conclusion: I could have used the hotel’s help a bit more often, but did about right IF they let me do it my slow way. For next time – think very hard ahead of time, and use the trolley more often, even if I have to wait for it, because energy expended in walking can’t be regained, while energy expended in waiting is far less. And the hotel was uniformly helpful – when asked. Must give up some of the do-it-myself pride – which is still, after all these years, hard for me.

Days of sun and pool and never leaving the resort worked for me

I encouraged husband and offspring and potential new family member to do what THEY wanted to do (the kids did a wonderful day at Xcaret snorkeling through THREE underground rivers), and husband took them sailing.

While we older folk established a chair on the beach or near the pool (never worried a minute about STUFF at this kind of a resort), everyone spent the days as they wanted to – the kids did a lot of snorkeling in the salt-water pool – and I spent most of my time in the water.

And not just lazing: I am counting on neuroplasticity and slowly building up whatever muscles I have (because there is still some nerve conduction going on – maybe 30%) to improve my walking. I had counted on the pool being the exact depth for exercises I can’t do at home. So a good half of the time in the pool was spent – in Paradise – doing exercises and retraining muscles and brain.

Don’t sweat what you can’t change

I just ignored the parts I couldn’t do (didn’t go sailing this time, and have still, after five trips there over the past decade, not made it into the salt-water pool), and enjoyed every minute of the rest.

One of the days had a rougher-than-usual sea, and I got a nasty scare getting into the ocean (bit of a tumble) AND out of it (pushed very hard to get out before the next wave, and ended up not being able to breathe for a bit), and I almost let that keep me out of the ocean. But it was back to its normal calm later, and I did get a wonderful session in the beautiful blue-green water.

Marred by my only sunscreen fail. Kiddies: wear your sunscreen. Reapply every couple of hours, regardless of whether you’ve been in water. Don’t forget covering EVERY SINGLE AREA (I missed my lower arms ONE TIME and have spent the next few days slathering with green aloe gel). And let the stuff sink in as recommended. Wear a shirt part of the time even if you look like a dork. Tropical sun goes through less absorbing atmosphere, and will GET YOU. I never missed before, never had a problem – and it got me this time.

The cost to a chronically-ill person

Even in lowest possible energy-expenditure mode, vacations are a stretch. I never actually managed to unpack, used the same clothes more times than I had planned, didn’t find the after-sun gel until days into the trip, didn’t find my critical meds on the way home until it was almost too late…

The small things accumulated steadily.

I ate too much of the wrong things – half of the time from simple exhaustion (okay, the rest of the time from simple greed). Once I go down that path – eating more carbs than I can handle – it takes at least four days of eating very carefully to reverse the process. And there was no way to muster that energy in a situation where the level of exhaustion was very close to the edge, all the time.

The weeks of planning and packing took their toll (but now I have bathing suits!). I lost untold writing time because the arrangements had to be made with my good time (and even then I almost forgot to get us seat assignments for the trip there).

I lost track of where I am in writing NETHERWORLD, and will be doing a complete reset.

My guess: it will cost me another week just coping with the aftermath, and that if I’m lucky.

Would you do it again?

As often as possible.

Because I still can, and a day will come when I can’t.

Because the time with two of my three kids was priceless – and next time I hope we’re all together for the ‘annual family vacation.’

Because I have the feeling that a week of NOT stressing over what I couldn’t control, and being in basic survival mode (in a beautiful place, with food cooked by someone else), plus three of us in the room going to bed at a reasonable hour because we were exhausted (all of us), whether from fun or making it through, is a good thing (I’ve been going to bed WAY too late).

Because the soul needs beauty, and seeing coatis and mapaches and agoutis and iguanas and pelicans and flamingos in their natural habitat was wonderful (wish the idiot tourists would read the sign that says Don’t Feed the Animals Because it Kills Them).

I hope this brings me back to writing renewed.

And because it was, for all the effort and increased pain, fun.

We ill folk can get into small loops where pain and exhaustion are minimized – but so is everything else. Including fun.


***** Kindle Countdown Deal Amazon US Oct. 10-Oct. 18, $0.99, IN PROGRESS *****

Please visit Pride’s Children on Amazon for your copy at a buck if you don’t have one, and give them for presents! It’s an easy way to make a recommendation.


The same person who writes the blog posts writes the fiction.

Share your challenges with ‘vacations.’

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11 thoughts on “Vacation and chronic illness: the goal is survival

  1. Janna G. Noelle

    The before and after of vacations is tough enough as it is, so I can only imagine how much harder it is for a person with chronic illness. I’m glad you had a good time and that just chilling at the resort worked for you. That would work for me too!

    The best part about vacations, I find, is that it recharges the creative well. Not immediately upon return – my first few days back are usually like, “Duh, how to I write a sentence that’s not in passive voice? What’s that word I’m looking for?” But within a week or so after the fact, all the effort of having gone there and back again starts to make itself felt.

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’ve got my fingers crossed that you are right.

      The first couple of days are dedicated to such boring things as laundry – we can’t have damp clothes staying in their ziplock bags and getting truly vicious – and the suitcases MUST be unpacked and put away.

      I am entranced by the concept of the ‘go bag’ on shows like Criminal Minds: a bag you can just grab as you go out the door. If I find any extra energy… I need one for tropical vacations, don’t I?

      Food differences have to work their way through the systems, and getting back to a normal fooding also takes work, so I now have to pay for the rich desserts and the fresh rolls at breakfast.

      I hope for renewed effort – and, not having the trip to deal with, it should be easier.

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      Reply
      1. marianallen

        I have a kind of “go bag”, with jammies, OTC meds, and personal grooming products packed. I do have to grab clothes, but I tend to take two pairs of trousers besides the pair I’m wearing and two tops besides the one I’m wearing that would mix and match into multiple outfits. Maybe a nice blouse and skirt which would also mix and match. Roll ’em up and stuff ’em in the duffle.

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        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I need a ‘beach vacation’ go bag – I figured I could duplicate most of the last-minute stuff for less than a hundred dollars: medications, sunscreen, etc.

          Then I need to put all my summer stuff neatly in one drawer – and raid that drawer for packing.

          The bigger problem is that I needed new bathing suits (done), and that the resort offers lovely dinners in themed restaurants – so I needed to look presentable for that.

          The biggest problem is that I come home – and don’t implement all this because I’m so far behind.

          Maybe this time…

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    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Didn’t get any writing done today (didn’t expect to), and am crashing, but cleaned up a lot of business.

      Wrote the post, answered questions, posted comments on sites I couldn’t get to from where we were, all the stuff that accumulates when you’re elsewhere.

      My mother always said, “Lo bailado, nadie te lo quita” – lit., what you have already danced no one can take away from you. I need to do as much as I can AND I need to write.

      It was good for all of us, and only a bit bad for my waistline.

      Tomorrow! Back to the writing!

      Liked by 2 people

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