I recently had the opportunity to spend a weekend away with some of my oldest friends. We all went to college together, and in the years since we have all started families in different corners of the country. The busyness ofparenthood and the geographical distance make it hard to get together, so having the chance to spend a whole weekend enjoying one another’s company in the absence of day-to-day responsibilities was a rare luxury. Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis is a stranger to the concept of “convenient timing,” and my knee flared a few days before the trip. While still excited about seeing my close friends, Rheumatoid Arthritis mixed anxiety about mobility and pain levels in with my anticipation of the weekend itinerary.

Anytime I travel I not only have to consider the weather and events at my destination, I also have to pack for RA. There are many travel considerations when you live with a chronic health condition that are always at play. However, as I was in a flare there were some additional items I packed. For instance, I anticipated being in my knee brace the whole time, so I packed slim-fitting jeans that the knee brace could go over. While I really wanted to wear a pair of adorable red wedge shoes that I can manage on a good day and that look perfect with the dress I packed for our evening out, I knew the chances of wearing footwear with even a slight heel were slim to none, so I also brought some dressy flats. Finally, I packed far more lidocaine patches than I would if not in a flare. Aside from these “extra items,” I tried to pack as light as possible (something I’m terrible at) to avoid my luggage from becoming too heavy on my joints.

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While you can choose what to put in a suitcase, you can’t always control whether your travelling companions will be helpful. Over the years I have had all kinds of friends. Not all people are cut from the same cloth, and this is definitely the case when it comes responses to chronic health conditions. One of my closest friends also suffers from chronic pain and fatigue, and she and I are always able to understand and validate one another. Then there are the friends who don’t understand what I’m going through from first-hand experience, but they do their best to imagine what I’m going through. Finally, there are the friends who can’t wrap their brains around the fact that I have a degenerative disease and therefore might not always be able to keep the plans we’ve made. The people in this last group don’t tend to become old friends, as they get frustrated with my “flakiness” and I get frustrated with their lack of understanding. Fortunately, on my weekend getaway, my college friends proved to be empathetic, caring, and accommodating, traits that have certainly played into why we’ve remained friends for nearly half my life.

I was able to be on the same flight with one of them, and she couldn’t have been more considerate. My friend offered to carry my bag, told me to sit while she looked up our gate information and bought bottles of water and magazines for the flight, asked if I would be more comfortable in the aisle seat, and if I wanted to take a taxi versus a train from the airport. Once we arrived and met the rest of our friends in the city, this level of consideration continued. They continually checked in with me and asked if I needed to rest, if I was okay with walking or if we should get a cab, offered to take the elevator with me even when it was just a flight of stairs, and never showed any impatience with me when I asked if we could walk slower or stop for a moment.

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Had I been with less considerate people, I wouldn’t have had the amazing weekend that I ended up having. It was not pain-free or frustration-free. Pain paints a thick film over one’s perception, and I admit to having several “Rheumatoid Arthritis sucks!” moments. I also hated taking pain pills, constantly popping my knee (one friend joked I had created a new dance move), and feeling like I was slowing down the group. And I was bummed to leave my perfect red wedges in my suitcase and don my boring black flats instead. Yet, because my friends were such good sports about the inconveniences my impaired mobility posed, I was able to thoroughly enjoy my time with some of my favorite people. They say that old friends are “gold,” but old friends who are considerate about one’s chronic health condition are platinum.

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