Holiday Travel with COPD


The idea of travel is to escape from the routine.  However, people with breathing conditions do better with a routine when trying to remain healthy.

This is where my obsession with thinking things to death comes in handy.

I have an Aunt who I love dearly, even when I want to strangle her, as she lives in denial about her own COPD, making travel hard on everyone who journeys with her.

Auntie’s situation is further complicated by dementia-like complications due to either actual, physical impairment, or exacerbated by her running short of oxygen due to overexertion.

Last year, Auntie was supposed to travel with her seniors group to Italy and the Mediterranean, but she cancelled at the last minute due to her subconscious fears that she was not in any shape to go.  Auntie lives in denial and blames everything on her failed back, vs. acknowledging that oxygen deprivation while active is another serious impediment.  Because she’s lying to herself, there’s not a lot that can be said without starting a fight on a known sore spot.

Having something to look forward to is an important part of anyone’s life, handicapped or not.

So, I visit Auntie about every 3 months, taking her out and about, and generally assessing how her quality of life is progressing as she continues to live in denial about the reality of her challenges.  My goal is to not be a jailer, but rather to ensure that she is not cut off from the world as the progression of her various health issues, and her active denial, tries to make her world smaller and smaller.

With all this in mind, I now have to deal with my own health issues as I try and keep her access to the world open and fun.

The biggest challenge my COPD causes is congestion / sleeping / early morning lung cleanout issues.

Because my Aunt has a disabling back injury, and uses a variety of pills to get up and pills to go down each day, her predictable list of reactions is pretty well known.

Because I’ve been hiding my disability for years, my predictable list of reactions is pretty well unknown.  However, pre-planning is critical to ensure that I can both be an aide to my Aunt (to keep her temper / frustration under control), as well as give myself plenty of breaks so that Auntie doesn’t end up on my last nerve when we are both having a tough moment.

Enter my Cousin, her other niece, to help keep us from killing each other in the event I have failed to plan ahead sufficiently to keep my own temper when exhausted.

From my point of view, anything is manageable so long as we leave enough time to get from point A to point B, and have a backup plan if exhaustion sets in.

For example – Auntie doesn’t travel well.  Her endurance is about 2 hours, and then it’s hairy for another 2 hours, before she loses it.

So, I’m planning to join her at home the day before departure to ensure she’s all packed so that she’s not leaving anything until the last minute.  Those minutes are already spoken for with travel to the airport, getting through Security, getting through Baggage Claim, transport to the boat, getting through check-in, and getting to our cabin.

Normally, I’d have flown her into the port the day prior to departure so that she’d have a break between flying / security / travel stress – all before she had to run the gauntlet of checking into the boat.

However… I joined an existing trip (arranged by her) to make sure she goes and has something fun to look forward to (vs. getting afraid and canceling at the last minute), and she packed all the travel into a single day.  Ugh!

Auntie is in denial about how slow she is, how much rest she needs, and how aggravated / stressed out she gets when she can’t keep up with other people of her age or older with whom she is competitive on some subconscious level for “passing” for normal / healthy / robust.  She has zero memory of times when she’s lost it and had a meltdown like a 2 year old.  So, I plan ahead to try and avoid those challenges as the most common response to a handicapped person having a meltdown is, “What were they thinking (to allow someone that impaired to travel)?”

Being handicapped comes with a subtle bias that one is a child, less than autonomous, and has a keeper.  Seriously; it’s just that black and white to me about Society’s subtle prejudice.  Since no one wants to be a flag waving poster child for their challenges in life (unless they want to be angry all the time), one learns to ignore the biggotry and indifference of society to continue to survive without a keeper.

As I said to my lawyer when talking about his reservations to me taking this upcoming trip, because travel *is* exhausting:  “What, I’m supposed to sit here and stare at the walls with whatever remaining time I have left, because Society thinks all handicapped people should resemble Camille, laying in bed, singing of heartbreak, until we die?”

Needless to say, he backpedaled as we talked about what I’d be doing while traveling (not a heck of a lot, but with new and more enjoyable scenery) and he backed down.

But, it did get me thinking about my changed circumstances for this trip vs. the last time I took my Aunt on a cruise (2009), and last years helicopter flight over the grand canyon (fun but exhausting) and has started me over-thinking and over analyzing every aspect of this trip so that it can be an enjoyable trip for all 3 of us.

The biggest issues I can foresee for me are:

  • Naps  (got to have a backup plan if I’m wiped out)
  • Congestion (I get the sofa bed so I can sleep sitting up)
  • Privacy (I’ve already cased the deckplan for public bathrooms as clearing my morning congestion is time consuming, noisy and gross)

With any success, I’ve thought about all the major issues the 3 of us might encounter from daily living, and the rest of the to be determined unknowns just involves day trips and how far the 3 of us might have to walk in the heat / humidity if we decide to go on any excursions.

Even if I rarely leave my stateroom and enjoy each port from the privacy of my balcony, it will be better than staring at the walls at home as I’m trapped indoors for the Winter / Rainy Season.  And, bonus round, there will be nightly entertainment on the ship, so we don’t have to go anywhere for 7 days to be distracted by talented folks.  Yes !

Being handicapped is just a label.

Only the person battling their particular physical challenges gets to decide what they can, or should not, do with whatever time they have left in this world.

My advice is to plan ahead and try.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  And, life is too short to spend it being miserable.


2 thoughts on “Holiday Travel with COPD

  1. Good for you!! Enjoy your mini-vacation even with a crabby person being a drag now and then. 🙂 You are so brave! And a very excellent example of how the ‘handicapped’ ought to think about their circumstances…why let them bog us down more than they do? Cheers!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am lucky, in that mine is a birth defect, so I’ve fought restrictions all my life and managed to have an upbeat attitude because I’ve never known any other way of life. I worry about losing my eyesight and hearing, and know that – were I to become handicapped mid-life for those issues – it would not be pretty. I already get very aggravated when I can’t sing (due to breathing issues), and I wasn’t any great shakes at singing to begin with, LOL.

    In the case of my Aunt, though, she was a champion with a reliable body. Her body’s betrayal, plus aging, is why she finds it so very difficult now.

    I’ve always been out of the race when it comes to competing, and she’s always been the leader of the pack. When you have that kind of Alpha / Dominant experience, I think it makes it especially heartbreaking to realize that you can’t keep up – even when you try your hardest – as your body has failed in its mission.

    I’m more like those kids in the jungle, playing guitar on an beat up cigar box instrument. I’ve never known anything else, so it’s all good.


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