Half-way around the world from home, I’m writing at our friends’ kitchen table in their Tel Aviv apartment, watching a lemon sway from the branch of a tree on the neighbor’s patio, listening to the swish and blare of traffic, the wall clock’s soft tick, a distant outdoor chime of Rock-a-Bye Baby, a jackhammer’s clatter.
Al and I have traveled nearly 5,500 miles to get here, partly for business, partly to see his family, and mostly to visit Mindi, our eldest, who has been living and working in Israel for almost six months.
It has taken the past four days for my body to adjust. The trip was, by most travel standards, easy—our flights were on time, our connection a 20-minute walk through cavernous Heathrow. We had minimal turbulence, ample food, excellent service, and our bags arrived with us. But for me, it has been very strenuous.
I haven’t traveled abroad in 16 years. Then it was challenging because the girls were young. Now it’s challenging because I’m getting older, my hands are more damaged, and I don’t sleep as well, even under the best of conditions.
I was prepared, but not. I packed well-organized carry-ons but didn’t realize that I had to pull out my laptop for security checks in Boston and London, which required unzipping and unpacking and repacking and re-zipping twice. I knew we’d have in-flight meal service but didn’t anticipate all of the myriad shrink-wrapped and hermetically sealed food items and utensils that I couldn’t open without Al’s help. I wore soft sweat pants and brought slippers for the plane but realized as we squeezed into our seats on both flights that comfort and coach don’t belong in the same sentence.
All of this took a toll on my body, especially my hands. So many barriers, from the seat belt clips that I had to pry open to the lavatory door’s narrow pull grip. With a current count of eight ulcers, I knew I needed to change all of my bandages at some point along the way or my skin would deteriorate, but I also knew I needed to be meticulous about keeping the wounds clean in the process.
I solved the problem somewhere high over the Mediterranean, using disposable aloe hand wipes to clean my fingers before replacing all the dressings. One of the flight attendants, noticing the mounting pile of bandage wrappers on my tray table, asked if I needed any help. No, I said, I do this all the time (just not at 30-thousand feet).
Sleep was elusive. I avoided everyone’s advice to take sleeping pills because I didn’t want to get groggy and dehydrated. So I dozed as much as I could and caught up over the next few days.
Yes, it was a major challenge. But so worth it.
There is no better medicine in the world than seeing your daughter all grown up, finding her way in a complex foreign culture, thriving. And there’s no better feeling than knowing, despite chronic medical challenges, you can still fly halfway around the globe to see her new world through her eyes. And you’d do it again, in a heartbeat.
Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.