Travels Abroad

The one’s a red cross…

Summertime in Swish

It’s been almost nine years since I last traveled abroad.

That July 2015 trip with Belinda took in Kent, England, and stays in Quebec, Canada, Bean Town, New England and the Big Apple, a combination of family time, intellectual pursuits and city chill, albeit in high summer. Boston-Cambridge MA is an integral part of our family’s shared history, Montreal is my favourite, lekker place; throw in New York, and a great jaunt was underway.

Since then, the zeal for travel seemed to dissipate.

I could say it’s due to being a very happy – if unadventurous – homebody, fully immersed in living in, and imbibing South Africa, that the attractions of foreign shores simply were insufficient to pull me away from my perfect world under African skies.

The reality is that I’ve been more than a bit tentative – not a word that’s often attributed to me by some – about hurtling out of the country again. Until 2015, I was a regular international traveller.

I thought I had picked up a really bad flu bug on that break across the northern hemisphere, which caused my shortness of breath, severe fatigue and an inability to do basic physical activity like walking even short distances. When the ‘bug’ persisted back at home, I consulted with doctors, was diagnosed with severe pulmonary edema (fluid on the lungs) due to heart failure and put on treatment to ‘dry out’.

The heart failure was a consequence of my 2007 diagnosis of cardiomyopathy (a weak heart muscle). Good medication had kept me going without any problems for eight years. But now, my heart was simply not pumping strongly enough to move oxygenated blood, other fluids and waste, through my body. The symptoms persisted over the next year, growing worse as my heart approached end stage failure.

In August 2016, I was admitted semi-permanently to hospital, was eventually put on the heart transplant list and received a donor heart in October 2016.

I have been blessed beyond measure in this second life. The bilateral aneurysms on my iliac arteries (servicing the lower body) which were diagnosed in 2023, and other comorbidities do not detract from this amazing life that I’m able to live.

But I (we) have conveniently found much to keep me (us) busy and rooted in South Africa in the almost eight years since my heart transplant. It was relatively easy to push that season of travel far away, to never really consider that there was a need, a reason or a desire to travel. I thought I was permanently connected to the busyness of home life, that breaking away from the country for even a short stay elsewhere, was not a possibility.

I convinced myself that there was nothing else stopping us from traveling abroad. Until we found a gap in a schedule and started planning to visit Heath and Kelly in Swizerland this year. And I realised the real reason for not travelling has been fear of how I might cope as a heart transplant  recipient. I recognised that the summer of 2015 trip had left much trauma embedded in my body and spirit.

I have remembered again consciously (not that I ever forgot) how I struggled during those three weeks of travel. I found the heat and humidity unbearable then. My slug’s pace of moving along was still way too frenetic for my comfort. It seems I walked big chunks of the route across continents and oceans – with countless stops to rest and catch enough breath to get to a next stopping place. I was very sick but had no idea that it was much more than flu.

My psychological and spiritual state was in disarray. I was abroad geographically. And away from myself also. That stressful experience has surged to the surface in the preparations for this latest northern summer.

My ability to engage in detailed planning has always been galvanized when preparing for travel to new places – a function of never wanting to experience the discombobulating nightmare of being lost. This time around, preparation has been at another level.

I’ve been able to draw on the rich experiences of many other transplant recipient colleagues who do not have my scary cat approach to travel. I am in awe of them

There has been endless sifting, weighing, scrutinizing & poring over. Many more calculations – of time, distance, energy, metabolism, elevation, volume, blood, sleep, food, sugar, liquids, dosages – were made than for any previous trip, perhaps driven by the memory of 2015.

For example, I took much time tallying the essential medication I would require, ensuring redundancies in my ‘system’, in case a piece of luggage containing tablets went astray.

Medical insurance – including med-evac to get us home in a medical emergency – required careful consideration of the fine print. One policy I examined specifically excluded heart transplantation as a pre-existing condition. Not for me then, duh.

There are some risks one can do little about. In 2015, moving through an airport immigration check from Canada to the US, a gung-ho, armed American INS official shouted an instruction which I did not hear or could not comprehend in my heavily congested, fluey state. The situation turned nightmarish very quickly because of my failure to respond. I never want to be confronted in that way again. The solution is to comply fully in a foreign jurisdiction with the demands and expectations of officials representing that jurisdiction.

Alternatively, we can just stay at home, and enjoy our rights as citizens. In that sense, South Africa literally is the best place to live, constituting an important reason for not going abroad.

Yet, despite all the challenges – the ones evoked by our 2015 travels and new issues we would not easily have anticipated – we committed to travel again during this northern summer. We managed to put most of our fears & misgivings aside and voila, here we are, blessed to enjoy an amazing summer holiday on Lake Geneva with Heath & Kelly. We are finally relaxing. A lot.

Pix mainly courtesy of family members.

Travels Abroad
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