Flying with Needles

I am traveling to New York this week and what came to mind in my packing preparation was RELIEF.  I suddenly realized that packing & traveling is so much easier now that I don’t give myself injections.  When I was diagnosed, my first medication was Copaxone, a daily injection.  It was a great drug actually and I am very lucky that it was available when I was diagnosed all those years ago.  The medication came as a powder that had to be kept refrigerated and I mixed it with saline each night before injecting myself.  Traveling with syringes was difficult enough but keeping the medication refrigerated on international flights was quite an interesting challenge.  After four-ish years on Copaxone I switched to Avonex which is an interferon and is also injected.  This was only a weekly injection (thank G-d!) but it also required refrigeration.

Preparing for a weekend trip now is causing me to look back on the process of packing my medications.  I had to always bring extra doses as a precaution even though that meant the annoyance of having to travel back with the syringes and a cooler.  Everything was packed into a cooler with my prescription information taped to the outside in order to show security.  For international flights I was able to have a crew member keep some extra ice packs in their ice bin for me and just keep trading them for the ones that had already warmed up.  I have to say that I was always very fortunate to find people who would help out and who made this process easier.  Being on a plane for 13 hours and remembering to switch out ice packs every two hours was far from a fun addition to a trip, but I always appreciated having helpful crew members.

Oh and I almost forgot, packing the syringes and keeping them cold was hardly the only challenge to traveling with MS.  I often had to give myself my injections in flight!  I would love to say that those experiences were made easier when I had family with me but to be honest, only one person comfortably fits in an airplane bathroom, at least when there is a needle involved….  If you think running with scissors is bad, just imagine what can happen when flying with needles!  Needles and turbulence don’t exactly mesh well together!  The only difference with in flight injections when I was with family, was that I could inject from my seat rather than the bathroom.  My parents would stand in the aisle and hold up a blanket to provide some privacy while I relied on the terrible reading light to inject my thigh, hip, or stomach mid-flight.  This certainly gave me more space than the bathroom and allowed me to have a steadier hand in case of any turbulence.

Needless to say, packing this week for my brief trip to New York is a walk in the park in comparison to my childhood travels.  Traveling with an illness is never easy.  I have to prepare all my medications in advance, even those that don’t require injection or refrigeration.  I also have to make sure other accommodations are already set up in advance at my destination so that I can maintain my health routine like daily exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient sleep.  But not having to deal with syringes either in conjunction with TSA or while attempting to inject mid-flight… well, that’s a huge relief.

For those who are still facing this challenge, I recommend being as open as possible with the flight crew as soon as you board.  That always made things much easier for me.  If you can time your injection for before or after a flight, of course you should do so.  But, if you’re stuck having to inject in flight, don’t procrastinate!  As soon as the seat belt sign is off and there isn’t turbulence, go for it!  Otherwise, you never know when turbulence will hit and how long it will last.   One time I had to wait almost two hours after preparing to inject which caused several complications such as the medication being the wrong temperature once I was actually able to inject.  As much as I prefer procrastinating something like stabbing myself with a needle, my advice is the sooner the better.  I would also recommend altering your “injection site” schedule a week or two in advance so that you can inject an easy access and less provocative location like your stomach or arm.  That way, if you face any complications with injecting in the bathroom, you can comfortably do so from your seat (comfortable being a relative term in this context of course).

Despite flying without syringes for four years now, I still feel relieved almost every time I fly.  I wonder when it will set in that I am just a “normal” traveler now, whatever normal means.  In any case, I hope this helped those who are still flying with needles and provided insight for the others reading as well.

Alright I’m off to The Big Apple!  Ciao!

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