I experienced an unexpected blessing on my Baltics trip – the fibromyalgia monster within was tamed to a gentle kitten’s playful bite.
Maybe it was all the walking? On average, I must have walked 5 or 6 hours a day, even with multiple cafe rest breaks to allow my feet respite from the pavement and my stomach to indulge on fluffy Napoleon cakes and creamy Midas cakes and dark, rich breads that taste as cozy as a fire after a long day of skiing.
It definitely wasn’t the baked goodness.
Or that I went easy on my body. There were moments I should have sent my muscles into screaming spasms of pain. On the island of Hiiumaa, the only bike at my disposal was a small one-speed with a chronically sinking seat that required me to stop every few kilometers for adjustment. The lighthouse lay 40 kilometers away on the other side of the island. Decision time. Baby my knees or satisfy the wanderlust?
Wanderlust it was. To reward my complaining knees for their cooperation, I climbed uncountable steps to the top of the lighthouse for views of the Baltic Sea. My knees whimpered. I told them to shut up and closed my eyes to the sun on my skin and the wind tangling my hair. Later, after the 40 kilometers back to my bed, I nursed my knees and muscles with ice and a cold shower. Was this the smartest travel decision? Probably not. I ignored my own advice to pace myself, though on a one-speed bike you’re not getting anywhere fast.
But somehow my fibro stayed in check. My muscles ached, but never beyond a 5 on my doctor’s pain scale (10 being I-want-to-curl-up-and-die-right-now; 1 being “what pain?”). My knees recovered. My neck and back lay dormant, ready to shriek if pushed on, but otherwise content to slumber.
No, it wasn’t fibromyalgia that gave me any difficulties. This time it was an old-fashioned cold and my own clumsiness. In Estonia I developed a cold that lingered through Latvia, jumping ship as I headed into Lithuania. Beyond the annoying need for a pack full of Kleenex, I lost my voice in Riga and sounded like a chain-smoking Muppet. Great first impression when meeting your bunkmate! My tumble down the stairs in Riga and the subsequent tour of the Latvian medical establishment further complicated my trip. Mornings became exercises in cleaning wounds and applying bandages. Trips to the aptieka for medical supplies felt like ridiculous comedy sketches. To the Latvian pharmacists, here was an American jabbering away in English and basic German, not only with an accent, but – remember – a chain-smoking Muppet accent, while gesturing at various parts of the leg and throat like an agitated mime. All I needed was white gloves and a striped shirt.
What I learned:
- Always carry a basic first aid kit. Mine helped me stem the blood after my fall on the stairs and patch up enough to get my pack to the hostel.
- It really does pay to research the location of hospitals and clinics of the country you are visiting, both public and private. I knew right where to go and what my options were when my wound became infected.
- Have medical insurance. If you already have medical insurance, call them before your trip to find out what your coverage is while traveling internationally, as well as how and when they will reimburse you. If you don’t, purchase special travel medical insurance.
- Patience is critical. The wait at the hospital ER in Riga was long and crowded, but once the doctor got to me, he was efficient and skilled.
- Minor sickness is easily handled by most European apothecaries. And Icelandic moss cough drops are amazing.
- Do not expect the doctor or pharmacist to know English. Even if they know English, medical terms and medicine are advanced vocabulary. Pantomime, draw, get someone else who knows English to write down what you need in the local language. Worst case scenario, the pharmacist will pull out items until you wildly gesture at the one you need.
- Keep a sense of humor. Some of my best friends of the trip were the same ones who met me in Riga, that spooky vortex that stole my voice and tripped me down the stairs. The scrapes and bandages were fantastic conversation starters. Allan, Yuki, Brooke, and Xin – thank you. If you judged me, I never knew!