My Big Long-Term Travel Mistake

When you travel full time, you’re bound to make a mistake or two. It might be something simple like getting on the wrong train or screwing up the language in a hilarious manner. However, some mistakes are obviously bigger than others.

Technically, I’m not sure my biggest one could really be considered a “mistake.” It was more like I neglected refused to take some things as seriously as I should.

For the last couple of decades, I’ve had some chronic medical conditions. These were all stable before leaving the US and were well managed by medicines. I knew at least a couple of them should be monitored regularly, but it’s harder to do that when you’re doing nomadic travel.

mistake

When we’ve been in a place longer, like Brasov, San Miguel, and Budapest, I should’ve had them followed up since we would be around long enough to do followup doctor visits if needed.

One of my issues is familial hypertension. I hadn’t really been having any symptoms, but that isn’t surprising. Hypertension is often referred to as a silent killer because of this. I know this. But for whatever reason I didn’t want to accept mine had gone out of control.

During one of our stays in the UK when I ended up needing a dental extraction, my blood pressure (BP) was through the roof. I chalked it up to having to take lots of ibuprofen and the pain I was having, accompanied with sleep disturbance. The dentist insisted that even with factoring those things in my BP was way too high.

Like a dummy I ignored it.

mistake, banging head

He also informed me that my x-rays showed bone loss that was typical in “uncontrolled glucose levels.” Before leaving the US, my doc suggested I bring a glucometer with me or ask someone to use theirs since I was in the prediabetic levels. Being a medical professional and having a strong family history of diabetes, I know the symptoms of diabetes very well. Despite having at least one of the incredibly classic symptoms and the aforementioned x-ray evidence, I chose to shove this out of my mind.

I also have thyroid issues, and one of the common signs that my medication needs to be adjusted is regular sleep problems, which I was having plenty of. Did I go ahead and get that checked?

Of course not!

So fast forward a few years to now. Since we’re settling down, I’ve established care with a doctor again. I was pretty sure my thyroid levels were out of whack. This can cause elevated blood glucose levels as well as raise blood pressure.

During my first visit with the new doctor, I knew there was a bit of a problem when I saw the medical assistant’s expression as she took my blood pressure. “How bad is it?” I asked. “Um, it’s really high.” When I asked for the number she asked if I was sure I wanted to know.

Not a good sign.

It’s also not a good sign when your nurse coworkers are checking your BP for you and say, “Oh, Talon, that’s not good.”

Yes, I know.

mistake, ruby beach

Blood work did indeed confirm my thyroid is out of whack, but it’s higher than it should be if it was just the thyroid causing problems. And it isn’t coming down despite a few weeks of additional medications.

In addition, my blood work showed my glucose is rather high. Some additional studies have confirmed I’m no longer prediabetic. I’m definitely solidly in the diabetic club now. And likely I have been for a few years at least.

Trying to deal with the diabetes and hypertension issues while the thyroid slowly comes back into a healthy state has not been fun.

With my family history of diabetes, my docs have really just been waiting for the day when I converted, but I’m still kind of angry about it.

I think we all know how I feel about carbs.

More so, though, I’m pretty ticked off at myself. I know better, and I’m at a loss as to why I didn’t follow these conditions better while we traveled. Yes, being constantly on the move does pose a challenge, but there were plenty of times when we were based somewhere long enough for me to get my BP checked and to have blood work done.

I feel especially stupid for my choice to be in denial about diabetes. I’ve had family members lose their vision (a HUGE fear of mine) and parts of extremities. I know how important it is to keep those glucose levels controlled, and I remember thinking more than once: “Hmm, these symptoms are classic for diabetes.”

Why didn’t I get them checked out? I have no clue. Before long-term travel I never ignored weird or persistent symptoms. It’s one reason my cancer was detected early.

I certainly can’t blame it on healthcare costs since most countries we visited were cheap by American standards (remember my $230 USD trip to the ER in Australia?). In some of those places, I could’ve even walked into a lab and had blood work done without a doctor’s order.

Thankfully, my “mistake” didn’t lead to anything super serious. Yeah, we’re battling to get my BP and diabetes under control, but it could’ve been much worse.

So, if you decide to travel long term at some point, please do yourself a favor and get regular medical checkups. There’s really no good reason not to, and it just isn’t worth avoiding.

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21 Comments

  1. Talon, my good friend has been HIV positive for about 20 years now and has always taken good care of himself. About a year ago, he stopped taking many of his medications, no reason why. He said he was just sick of taking all that and didn’t pick up the refills. He is an exceptionally bright man, so like you, there was absolutely no reason for it. But he did it, and got very very ill and almost died. He has since had to move to live near his daughter in Alaska, had to stop working, which upset him more than anything, (though Lord knows why – LOL) and he is doing very well now and is again taking care of himself. He has lost a lot of his short-term memory and can’t play bridge anymore, or read very well because he can’t remember the last sentence. I guess there really is no explanation, except we all have “lapses” in our good sense. Hope you are feeling better now too.

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    • Oh my, that’s pretty huge! I’m glad he’s turning around and doing better, but how incredibly sad.

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  2. Great post Talon! Well we really tend to forget some things with travelling. Even those things that we usually do not forget. I have my share of those events like forgetting my plane ticket when already at the cab half way thru the airport. I am sorry to hear on those health issues and good luck dealing with this! Again, nice post!

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  3. Thyroid disease runs in my family, my thyroid was surgically removed maybe 15+ years ago and I’ve been on synthetic thyroid ever since. This past summer, my doctor advised me to wean off of a low-dosage hormone that I had been taking for years and years. I didn’t know it at the time, but by the time the hormone was out of my system, it had dramatically impacted how my body was absorbing the thyroid med. Long story short, it’s the closest to mental illness I ever hope to be and I was hanging by my fingernails when blood work showed my thyroid levels were way too high. Even when we think we’re doing the right thing, it can kick you in the ass. Good that you’re getting back on track. Be well.

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  4. It’s too easy to forget self-care when traveling – there’s simply too much going on. I’m glad you’re getting it figured out, albeit at a price. But hey, better late than never. TAKE CARE.

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    • It definitely is harder when you’re moving around a lot, or if you’re in a country where it’s harder to get care. But if someone is doing long-term travel, think they need to make sure they’re getting things followed or a routine check-up whenever they’ll be somewhere long enough to make that practical.

      Yes, better late than before I lose my vision or something!

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  5. Sorry to hear that you’re dealing with those health issues and thanks, both for the reminder to pay attention to health issues and for the reminder that we humans sometimes have an incredible capacity to ignore things we are reluctant to face.

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  6. As I was reading, I was thinking, “How could he do this?” (ignore your health). Then, I realized that I often do the same thing–like be 3 years late for a mammogram. I hope you get your medical issues under control for your sake and because I know there are 2 beings that still really need you. One of them is soft and furry and meows. The other is a biped.

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    • Definitely working on it! My body isn’t cooperating, but we’re doing everything we can to whip it back into shape.

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  7. Big hugs Talon. I know how medical issues can slam you, and how easy it is to ignore them when we are suddenly feeling pretty good. However, looking backwards doesn’t help. At least as you said, you caught it before it is super serious.And what is up with our bodies craving what is so bad for us. For you it’s carbs, for me it’s sugar. Arrg. I am glad you are on the road to good health now. Oh, and thanks for the reminder.

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  8. Bummer. Sorry to hear this, man. But glad you’re facing it head-on now, and can help stabilize and improve your health. Here’s to a New Year!!

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    • Yep, at least it’s getting being worked on. Hopefully things will settle for me healthwise soon.

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  9. It’s weird, I think we all do that at some point, ignore something we really know better than to ignore. I do it all too often with my colitis issues, which is how I’ve ended up in the hospital a few times. I rationalize away symptoms or tell myself they’ll improve with a little more time, and then I just get sicker. I know there are certain foods I shouldn’t eat because they make my disease worse, but I don’t like feeling deprived, so I eat them sometimes anyway. It sucks & it’s hard & it’s a constant battle to remind yourself to do the right/healthy thing. At least you’re addressing the problem now, & hopefully you’ll start seeing some improvements soon.

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    • That whole not feeling deprived thing is big for me. And I’m a bit of an emotional eater, too. ARGH!

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  10. Good luck dealing with this! I have these same issues and have tried all kinds of different diets. The only thing that has had radical success for me is intermittent fasting (an eating window of 4 hours a day, although I will eat fat – like cream in my coffee outside of those 4 hours). Good luck. This is manageable, but it takes a radical behavior change. At least it did for me.

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    • Yeah, I’m dreading the thought I may have to do something like a ketogenic or low-carb diet to get the diabetes under control. Hopefully the meds will do their job so I don’t have to make radical changes.

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  11. as i plan my route for my next long term travel, thanks for reminding me to take care of my health Talon

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