September 28, 2012

Traveling with Parkinson's

In September, 2009, when I was 80, my doctor told me I had Parkinson’s.

Among the many things I wondered that day was: How would this new diagnosis change my lifelong love affair with travel?

Here’s the partial verdict thus far: not so much. At least not yet.

In May, 2010 -- within a year of that revelation about my health -- I journeyed for three weeks in Turkey. It was a rigorous adventure, and I spent days walking the crowded sidewalks of Istanbul, exploring the haunting ruins of ancient Greek cities along the Aegean coast, and hiking up and down the hills of Cappadoccia in central Turkey. I didn’t see many people my age in the remote places I visited, and I felt pretty good about that.

For the first time in my life, I used a cane – the collapsible, travel variety – on a few of the most arduous hikes. And I found the cane came with an extra bonus. Ten minutes after I entered a spectacular cave church -- the "Dark Church" -- in the Goreme Open Air Museum in Cappadoccia, the small space filled with a big tour group that completely  filled the place. Eager to escape the crowd, I bent over and stepped forward, holding my back with one hand, and maneuvering with the cane in the other. I felt like Moses fleeing Egypt, as the sea of tourists suddenly parted, and I made a quick escape.

Here's that cane, temporarily out of service as I snap a picture
in the rugged Honey Valley, Cappadoccia, Turkey.  

In June, 2011, I spent a momentous weekend in New York City. Quite by accident, I was there when Governor Como signed the Marriage Equality Act into law. As if those celebrations weren't enough, the city also hosted the Gay Pride parade that same weekend. I walked everywhere – no doubt fueled by adrenaline and buoyed by the uplifting spirit of the time – and felt fantastic.

Here I am at the Gay Pride Parade as the SAGE 
(Service & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) contingent marches by.

In August, 2011, I spent three weeks on the road in northern California and the Pacific Northwest. For much of the time, I was a happy passenger in a comfortable car, but there was still lots of walking – in Yosemite, around Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, Mt. Ranier, and in Seattle, along Oregon beaches, and in San Francisco. Essentially, that trip seemed effortless to me. At 82, I kept thinking about that wonderful experience as “the trip of a lifetime.”


I should have stayed out west! Right after returning home, I totaled my car, injured my back, experienced a 5.9 earthquake from my hospital bed, and endured a hurricane.

In March, 2012 – seems hard to believe it’s half a year ago already – I journeyed back to my beloved Nepal to attend the wedding of Nimesh and Bhawana. (The bride and groom are now comfortably settled in with me here in Washington.) The Kathmandu portion of that trip was packed with wedding events, and – aside from some mild fatigue and a stomach upset – I felt good. The hardest part of the Pokhara portion of the trip was saying goodbye to the people there I love. I don't like thinking I may never see Nepal again.
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I accompany the groom (Nimesh) on his ride to the house of the bride (Bhawana).

Two grandfathers holding hands. That's Nimesh's granddad.

Here I am, ready to leave for the Pokhara airport with Laxmi and 
Rahel, who traveled with me to join Ramesh in the U.S. 
I'm saying a sad goodbye to Laxmi's mother and Ramesh's mother.

Then, over the recent Labor Day weekend, I traveled to New York City with Nimesh and Bhawana. I’ve been there dozens of times and was eager to see how I’d fare this time, especially compared with my hyper-active weekend there just last summer. The contrast was dramatic. Walking was much harder this year, but not because of my Parkinson's. This time, it was my back pain that caused the trouble. But being with my young housemates certainly made everything easier for me.

While I feel lucky to be doing as well as I am, I'll need to make some changes when I plan future travels.  Parkinson's is a progressive disease, so my range of travel options will certainly shrink. The travel recommendations below for people with Parkinson's may help me as the years roll on. Maybe they’ll be useful to you, too.

Resources: TRAVELING WITH PARKINSON
There are many more links. Just Google “travel with Parkinson’s disease.” How on earth did we ever manage before the internet made info collection so easy?

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