Taking MS On the Road: International Travel, Spasticity, and Hot Baths
Last week I went on an adventure, one which involved a passport and long 8-9 hour flights over “the pond.” I traveled from Virginia to Switzerland for a meeting involving other MS patients. During this travel some of the things I was concerned about were fatigue and spasticity, both problems related to my MS.
The welcome dinner for the event did not take place until Sunday evening, but I boarded a plane Thursday to arrive Friday morning. The reason I traveled a couple of days early was to get adjusted to the time difference and to recover from the exhaustion of travel. Plus, I wanted to see just a bit of the area.
An "overnight" flight sounds like a great way to sleep on the way over; however, leaving at 6pm from the U.S. and arriving at 8am (in a time zone which is 6 hours ahead of home) is like waking up around 1am on the plane to eat "breakfast" and begin a full day ahead. I don’t know about you, but I don’t exactly function well on only a few hours of sleep (assuming I was even able to fall asleep and stay asleep on the plane).
In preparation for this trip, I used the Internet to scope out the airport and any train/tram routes I planned to take. I was able to find a map of the airport and learn how to request mobility assistance if I anticipated the need. The airport I flew into was relatively small and I did not have difficulty finding my way around (except for ending up right underneath the very sign I was looking for on more than one occasion).
Having scoped things out and planning a few extra hours in Zurich before moving on to my final destination, I knew where the train station was located and what type of ticket I needed. I took the train into town, toured a history museum, and went by tram to Lake Zurich where I ate lunch. Just the little bit of walking I did, being strenuous enough, wore out my MS legs. Probably the lack of sleep also greatly contributed to this physical fatigue.
I should note that this was my first international travel since being diagnosed with MS. I was concerned with endurance and fatigue, both problems which I seemed to handle in a creative way.
Upon arriving to the hotel in my final destination on Friday afternoon, I soaked in a long HOT bath, took some baclofen and gabapentin for the spasticity, and slept for several hours. I didn’t wake again until about 8pm for dinner (had some soup), watched an hour of TV and went right back to bed. Saturday morning, I was suddenly awakened by the sounds of a demonstration on the platz (square) outside my hotel window. Little did I know beforehand that May 1st is Switzerland’s Labor Day and protests are common.
After discovering that shops were closed (due to it being a holiday) and exploring select historical buildings and an excellent art museum, my legs were again very sore, very stiff, and very much in need of attention. Another long, hot bath was in order. Both evenings, I soaked for a lengthy period of time which helped to turn my MS legs into jelly. I also wrapped the wash cloth around my feet, one at a time, and used that to help stretch my calves and hamstrings multiple times. This was followed up with more baclofen and a long night’s sleep.
The evening baths and stretching sessions seemed to keep my legs in decent working order for which I was both pleased and relieved. I was really concerned about my mobility on this trip and definitely made use of my folding cane to help navigate the winding streets. I also stopped as needed, which was a bit more challenging than I had anticipated as chairs and benches were very difficult to come by since many restaurants with outdoor seating were closed.
I did once explain to a polite waiter (in my best forgotten German) that I was happy to sit. “I bin gern zu sitzen.” If my brain had been functioning fully at that exact moment, I should have said, “Ich wünschte nur, sich zu setzen für ein paar Minuten danke.” (I only wish to sit down for a few minutes, thank you.)
Since returning home, I have been slowly readjusting to my normal schedule. Actually, it has been busy. My music students performed in their annual Spring Recital on Sunday and in the days beforehand we made up the lessons which were missed while I was away. Now I’m ready for a REALLY LONG nap!!
This trip was a personal test of sorts to see how my body handled the many stresses it was put under. There were definitely negative effects felt, but I was very pleased with my creativity and the respect with which I listened to my body’s needs as they arose. I am now confident that I could do this again. I just need to make sure that a bathtub is available to help kick my MS legs’ butt. LOL.