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Imoved slowly from a cat pose to a cow pose, holding each to a count of eight breaths. I repeated the set five times, then stretched my spine as far as I could before ending with a child’s pose. Five minutes earlier, I had woken up on the soft mattress of Hotel Savoyen in Austria, feeling a piercing pain on my lower back. These old, saggy hotel mattresses really do not help my condition – Lumber Herniated Disc or in laymen’s terms, slipped disc. I had an operation five years ago and was told to take it easy, but I refused to give up travelling. In fact, I am a frequent business traveller.
I texted my colleagues to meet 15 minutes later than we had planned. I rolled off the bed and limped across the room to wash up and get dressed. Slowly, I managed to slide into my jeans and socks. Whenever the back pain hits, I lose what little flexibility I have. Sometimes, I have no idea how I manage it.
The room was stuffy as summer was approaching. The carpet in the room was dusty. Suddenly, I felt a tingling in my nose.
“Oh dear…no, not now!” I screamed to myself in dismay. I had to sneeze.
With two seconds to spare, I quickly tossed my face flat onto the mattress to stiffen my back. I eventually sneezed without causing too much strain on my back. This is one of the many methods I use as a form of pain relief. Flat shoes and anti-inflammatory medicine are among my must-haves that you’ll always find in my luggage whenever I travel. I also constantly practise basic yoga poses to relieve the pain in my back.
Back pain is the second commonly known pain for many jet setters and it’s prone to mood swings – you never know when it will kick in. Anyone who suffers from back pain knows that there is no remedy; prevention and care are the best ways to manage it on a daily basis. So how does one deal with this condition while travelling? Here’s my story.
Managing Pain and Expectations
“Ci vediamo domain in l’earoporto Ciampino alle 10:30. I love you.”
I hung up the webcam call with my husband. We spoke about our plans for the next day, a cross country bike trip across Italy and I was excited at what’s to come. Despite the fire searing through my back, I had to travel to meet my husband who’s living in Italy.
Did I mention that we are in a long distance marriage? I officially work in Dublin and he, in Italy. It’s tough, but that’s another story to tell.
My alarm went off at 3.30AM and I woke up with jabbing pain along my left leg. My body was rigid; I could not turn my head without turning my entire body. I rolled my body to stand up. It annoyed me so much because I had been feeling very well all week but at this important moment and one that I’d been planning for, the pain decided to kick in.
I took a taxi to the airport and luckily, the kind driver helped me with my bags. At the airport, along with thousands of other sleepy travellers, I made my way to the boarding gates. The usual 15-minute brisk walk I know so well became such a difficult task and took me twice as long. I paused halfway, at the 3meter-wide corridor, dropped my soft bags onto the ground, and grimaced at the electrocuting pain down my left leg. I tilted my head low and let my hair cover my face so that no one could see me cry.
Flight FR9432 landed on time at Rome-Ciampino Airport. I was the last to disembark the plane and also the last through the immigration counters. Shuffling along with tiny steps, I dragged my body towards the arrival foyer outside of the airport. The moment I saw my husband, we fell into a tight embrace and I started crying hard into his chest to release the stress. He was in absolute shock.
A bigger problem faced us. How are we going to travel home 200KM on a motorbike given the condition that I was in? We loaded my luggage onto our white BMW GS riding machine. I strapped my waist with my husband’s elastic waistband and managed to climb up onto the rear seat.
Beneath my sunglasses and tinted helmet, tears involuntarily trickled down my cheeks. Throughout the journey, both my hands clutched the rear rack bar for stability. Even the beauty of the Mediterranean jungle and mesmerising mountains that spread out around us as we wound through the curvy roads that dry hot summer was not enough to distract my mind from the pain.
My dear husband made frequent stops for me to rest. I would get into a squat position to alleviate the pain. In retrospect, it probably looked weird to passers-by but I couldn’t care less. Four hours later, we finally arrived home safely in Chieti Scalo, Abruzzo. We breathed a joint sigh of relief. I made it.
That trip took place last year but it was such a memorable 200km journey that my husband and I still talk about it. As I’m writing this, I’m also recovering from a neck and back pain that began acting up about a week ago, while I was in the Netherlands.
You probably imagine me constantly popping painkillers but no, I don’t take them. On a daily basis, I manage the pain in small ways: I do frequent stretches in the morning and at night. I walk to office instead of taking the tram, so my legs are both my mode of transport and exercise. In the office, in between typing away on my laptop, I would wave my arms left to right, up and down. Nobody ask me why I do so, but I guess my colleagues understand; one needs constant movement after working in a sitting position for too long.
My life goes on. I continue to travel for work, even if it constantly throws up reminders of my painful problem. I have learnt to confront, understand and adapt to this condition.
Most importantly, I make sure to keep a positive mindset. With this, I am able to travel with an open and free mind. As long as my feet are capable of supporting my body, I will never stop travelling. Some things in life are worth a little bit of pain.
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