Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Health Issues on the Road

Many of our friends have asked us about how we handle health care on the road. Kay has kept her primary health care in Boston and I am using the VA in Manchester, NH.

On our first trip last year, we both contracted Valley Fever while in Arizona. We were a long way from our health care providers. A virus should have run its course after 10 days. Since we were both experiencing flu like symptoms for over two weeks and not starting to feel better, we found a walk-in clinic and received excellent treatment. After another two weeks and an antibiotic, we finally started feeling better. The rest of our trip was uneventful.

When we returned home, I got my thyroid checked, and there was no significant change in the spot that was being watched. However, a routine mammogram turned up a growth in Kay's breast. It was biopsied and found to be malignant. Kay had the growth removed and because it was caught early enough, she needed neither radiation nor chemotherapy. We were both glad to be home for this one!

Everything was fine as we started out on our second trip across the country to the Desert Southwest. Although I had my eyes examined at the VA and got new glasses before we left, Kay decided to wait until we could go to Mexico and have her eyes examined and buy the glasses there (much less expensive as she has no insurance for this). But, during the first two weeks of our trip, Kay realized that she needed more than just new glasses. Kay began to notice that lines that should have been straight were wavy or distorted. She also noticed that when she looked at the diamond shaped yellow caution road signs, the sign would sometimes disappear and just a pole was there with nothing on top of it.

As we traveled towards Colorado Springs, Kay began researching ophthalmologists. She found one with good reviews and called and made an appointment. The ophthalmologist told her that she had a hole in the macula and referred her to a retina specialist. The retina specialist said that she needed treatment within the next three months. If she did nothing, in all likelihood she would become blind in that eye. This surgeon recommended that the two existing cataracts be removed before the repair of the macular hole. That would have meant a delay of 10 weeks in our departure from Colorado. Due to the weather, we were not staying in Colorado long enough to get the necessary surgeries done there.

The retina specialist in Colorado Springs referred Kay to a retina specialist in Phoenix. The new eye doctor said that he did not need to remove the cataracts before he repaired the macular hole in her eye. The surgery involved removing some torn layers of tissue in the eye and removing the vitreous fluid in the eye. Then, a gas bubble was used to replace the fluid. After the surgery, Kay had to keep a face-down position for four days and nights. That position causes the gas bubble to apply pressure against the hole, forcing it to close.

Because Kay had a gas bubble in her eye, she was not allowed to significantly change altitude. We stayed in a campground near Phoenix for three weeks.

The surgery was a success. The hole is repaired. Kay is still experiencing some of the same symptoms (although to a lesser degree), but has been told that the eye will continue to heal over the next six months. The gas bubble is gone and Kay has been cleared to move about the country!

We have learned that we do not need to let fear of health issues stop us from traveling. Plan to take care of health issues when you are home; be prepared to take care of health issues as you travel. It can be done!