My father, who is being treated for esophageal cancer, recently took a trip from Washington State to New Mexico to visit his home. This was going to be like a vacation treat in between chemotherapy treatments, but the trip itself became a nightmare.
Due to the last minute nature of my father’s desperate plans to get himself out and on his own for a breather from his caregiver and situation, no-one could arrange to fly with him back to New Mexico. So my ill father began his journey on a flight from Wenatchee, WA to Roswell, NM carrying his own equipment for feedings through a tube in his stomach.
Mind you, he is weak, underweight, his mouth is a bit swollen, and he gets tired quickly. So even with attempts by his caregiver to pre-arrange a wheelchair, one never arrived at any of the airports, forcing him to walk quite a distance by himself with luggage in the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport.
Once he transferred in Dallas-Ft. Worth, they refused to let him carry his medical equipment on the plane, but instead insisted on throwing it under the plane. They must have literally thrown in under the plane. It was damaged and they refused to honor getting it fixed or replaced. This piece of equipment was necessary for my father to be able to eat–he has esophageal cancer…nothing much can go in or out of the throat right now. But alas, he arrived in Roswell with a broken feeding machine.
Due to the ingenuity of his temporary boarder in his mobile home, he was able to still use the feeding machine while in Roswell–a blessing at the time.
From this difficult journey, I have learned a few things:
- If possible, ALWAYS have an advocate travel with the ill loved one
- Make really good friends with the flight attendants and enlist their help immediately upon boarding, making them aware of the concerns and needs
- Clearly identify your baggage that contains medical equipment every time you enter security and insist that it must be carry on
- If necessary, obtain flight insurance for the equipment
- And of course, provide ample time plus some in order to be there to board early and disembark safely
Having someone meeting the traveler at the plane is critical to helping ensure the ill loved one is not overstressed by picking up their luggage or finding their way to the parking structure or vehicle. This is where being alert to individuals within the airport who can assist the traveler is critical.
When my son was little, he quit breathing while on a plane between Denver and Chicago. Unfortunately, his nebulizer was with other luggage below the main compartment. Unexpected though this was, we could have handled it had I thought about having the equipment with me, or an alternate option to assist with breathing. Something I had never thought of at the time since I didn’t travel very much with my small family.
If the person traveling has a communicable illness like the flu or a cold–it’s responsible to wear a mask, no matter how weird we look. I would consider consulting with the airline attendants to ensure no one is uncomfortable with someone wearing a medical mask. It’s probably best to ask the airline ahead of time or the security guards.
There is always so much to consider when we travel–sometimes we don’t consider the personal comforts we need to have in order to ensure our trip is smooth and enjoyable, no matter what conflicts rear their ugly head. For me, it’s a book, a pillow (maybe), something to write with–someday maybe that will be an iPad!
Next travel that you do with an ill family member or if you are ill yourself, think about all the possible things that could happen and prepare your trip with thoughtfulness and care to ensure when things happen, they don’t ruin the experience. My dad came out of this with bells on–he was just so happy to visit his home and the warmth of New Mexico, he felt he could survive this and cancer, too!