My Long Journey to South Korea with RA

Sara Nash Health Guide
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    As an avid and enthusiastic traveler, one thing I was adamant about from the moment I was diagnosed with RA was that I was not going to let it stop me from seeing as much of the world as I could. I knew that traveling would be different with RA, but what can I say- I’m stubborn about giving up the things I love.

    That summer, though I had never done anything so ambitious before developing RA, I set out with two friends to go to South America for three weeks.  The trip included seeing Macchu Piccu, trekking through the Amazon and staying on a tiny island on Lake Titicaca. It took weeks of planning, several doctor visits and all my organization skills to make sure I was prepared for such a trip- and for anything that might happen. Though it was hard on my body, the trip went fantastically, and I victoriously dubbed it my ‘I have RA, but RA doesn’t have me’ trip.

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    With that first adventure under my belt, I no longer felt so worried about the possibility of travel, and last year, I planned another adventure with my friends to the Middle East. In between, I also took several trips abroad for my job, and with the exception of a few hiccups here and there, everything went smoothly, all things considered.  With this much travel under my belt and my RA under pretty good control, I felt I had everything down to a science.

    Then, a few months ago, I found out I would be going to South Korea for a work trip. I waited for the familiar twinge of excitement in my stomach at the prospect of getting to travel some place new, but all I felt was a knot beginning to form instead.

    All I could think about was that South Korea was half way around the world, and I would have to be on a plane for nearly a day in order to get there. Gulp. To top it all off, I’d be leaving for the trip right after a busy, stressful time in the office when I knew I’d already be run down from working overtime before I even stepped on a plane. I wanted to feel overjoyed, but instead, I just felt worried.  How was I going to manage that long of a distance with my RA? What kind of shape would I be in when I arrived? Would I finally be pushing myself too far?

    I was scared the answer might be yes, but since I have chosen not to disclose my RA at work yet, and because I’m a stubborn one, I decided I would have to take my chances. At my next visit with my rheumatologist, I remembered to bring up the trip. We came up with a game plan to help give me the best chance possible of feeling good. One thing I had in my favor was that I would be flying direct, so instead of a 24-hour flight, it would only be 14 hours (choke, choke). My marching orders were to take prednisone the day of the flight and the day after, no alcohol at all, and to take a supplement my doctor suggested to help with the jet lag. He even gave me specific instructions on when to eat, and when to sleep, and when we to wake up during the flights.

    Though I still felt a little overwhelmed and stressed, I figured the only way to find out if I could do it was to try.  So, a few weeks ago, I packed all my meds, supplements, pressure socks, eye mask, shoulder pillow and more, bought a giant bottle of water pre-flight, and took off.

  • I followed my instructions to the T, even letting that little wine cart pass me by as they brought our glamorous dinners to us on the plane. After eating, I knocked back my drugs and managed to sleep a good bit.  I also made sure to get up and walk around plenty, stretching my legs and arms and giving my hips a break from all the sitting.  Somehow, the 14 hours passed by more quickly than I’d thought possible, and I arrived in Seoul feeling a little groggy and stiff, but not in any significant pain. In fact, I’d felt worse off following a six-hour flight to California in May!

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    Getting adjusted to the 13-hour time difference took its toll on me, but not nearly as much as I’d expected. The supplements my rheumatologist had suggested helped me get a full night’s sleep each night despite the jetlag.  Unfortunately, there was no helping the fact that many of the meals we attended required me to sit on the floor- something I’m able to do for a little while, but not very long. I did the best I could, changing positions when I needed to as gracefully as possible, and managed to get through the week without a flare. 

    I worried that the flight home might finally do me in, but I followed the same instructions and was able to get through it without too much misery.  Granted, my body was beyond happy to stretch out with my feet up for most of the next week, but I’m relieved, and not a little bit amazed, that I was able to pull it off.  No doubt all of my planning and my rheumatologist’s high-maintenance game plan helped make the trip a success, but I can’t help feeling a certain amount of luck was involved, too. In a way, I wonder if my RA was taking the opportunity to prove me wrong once again.  The one time I really expected it to rear its ugly head, it didn’t.

    So now that I know I can do Asia…I’m thinking Australia’s next?

Published On: July 14, 2010