A few years ago, a friend of mine and I were turning 25 and wanted to do something really amazing to celebrate. We decided that we were going to go on a 7 day Boat Cruise that involved three countries in Europe, and 6 cities all together. We saved for months and happily ‘drank the garri’ (Nigeria lingo for lived like paupers) for these months. My friend and I planned, saved, prayed about the trip. It was the most exciting thing to happen to us as at that time. My parents made sure I had all the herbal and pharmaceutical drugs to manage my sickle-cell condition during the trip. I could sense their apprehension as it was my first overseas trip without either of them accompanying me. We were to travel by air to Venice in Italy, then board a Cruise liner to the other cities. We were going to sail through some really amazing cities. The plan was that at each city we sail through, we dock, spend the day there and get back on ship at the stipulated time. The ship itself had so many fun activities we were to enjoy while on board.
The D-day came! We both boarded the plane, giddy with excitement as we were going to have the time of our lives. While on the plane and in the air, I began to feel funny. Pain! I began to think back at my other trips abroad and how I usually fell ill during and after each flight. I must have ‘sca-bashed’ (Nigerian lingo for prayed frantically) hoping that this will not be another sorry experience. I could not afford to fall ill for any reason after all the money I had spent. I popped some pills and hoped for a painless vacation.
As we landed, all was well until it was time to be medically examined before boarding the ship. The first thing the doctor who examined me noticed was that my permanently yellow eyes had turned to red. The next thing was that I saw him whisper to another doctor and heard the word ‘Quarantine’. “Who dis oyinbos wan quarantine?” (Who do these white people want to quarantine?) I thought to myself. After that, I saw myself frantically defending why my eyes had an abnormal color. Thankfully, they let me get on the ship. As we were told to hold on a little bit before they showed us our rooms, I felt the pain intensify. To cut the long story short, I missed the first city and suffered through the second city. My friend had to force me out of the room to enjoy what we had paid for. I became really ill and had run out of pain medication. We had to look for a pharmacy in a non-English speaking city first instead of enjoying the sights, sounds and food. Thankfully, we still had some fun.
Falling ill during or after a long airflight is not something just peculiar to me, but quite common amongst many Super Strong warriors all over the world. The reason why Sickle Cell individuals fall ill during or/and after travelling by air are highlighted below:
- Exhaustion after a long flight.
- Low oxygen concentrations at high altitudes.
- Dehydration as the result of not drinking enough water on the flight, or from drinking tea, coffee or alcohol during the flight.
- Sitting in a seat for a long time which results in poor blood circulation.
To avoid a story like mine, we will tell you a few things to do as a Sickle Cell individual before embarking on an air-flight, especially a long distance one:
- Visit your medical doctor or talk to a medical officer who is knowledgeable about sickle-cell disease when planning your trip. It is also important to run some tests to ensure that you are medically fit.
- Get a summary of your healthcare information so that you can pass it to a hospital in case you need treatment abroad.
- Ensure you are kited with a lot of pain medication, folic acid, anti malaria and any other drug you use to manage your condition.
- Research where you are travelling to and ensure you have had the vaccines required for that area or country (if necessary), and also know how to access healthcare at your destination.
- Ensure you have bought travel insurance to cover you during your trip (this can be expensive).
- Travel when you are free from infection and/or crisis.
- Get a good night’s sleep on the night before your departure.
- Drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic drinks prior to and during your flight, and continue to do this for a few days after your arrival.
- Get up and stretch your legs during the flight; walk up and down the aisle a few times to improve your circulation.
- Avoid alcohol, tea and coffee before travel as it can dehydrate you.
- Watch out for any unusual symptoms of pain or breathlessness and inform the cabin crew immediately you feel unwell.
- Check with your airline to see if they can reserve enough oxygen on board your flight just in case you need it.
- Avoid smoking.