What do you do when your delightful location-independent arrangements are interrupted by illness or a travel injury?
I found out the hard way on my recent Panama trip.
In early February, I spent a delightful week traveling around Chiriqui Province in Panama with Jackie Lange and her Panama Relocation Tours bus.
I was seeing what I wanted to see, in the company of interesting and enthusiastic people.
But my plans for my time in Panama were suddenly, seriously derailed.
I left the tour in Puerto Armuellas, where I stayed for a couple of days at a little beach rental called The Hideaway — more on that in another post.
On Saturday, I left Puerto, as the locals call it, and took the bus to David. From there I headed to Santiago on another bus, where I met a friend for lunch.
I had a lovely visit, then got on my third bus for the day, heading to Chitre. In Chitre my friend Bonnie and I enjoyed a tasty dinner at Salsa y Carbon, then drove down to Casa del Puerto in Guarare, my home base during my time in Panama.
I was feeling great, was on an emotional high from having spent such an enjoyable week, and basically felt on top of the world.
Until 4:30 that morning, when I woke up with my right shoulder on fire.
I’ve never experienced such pain, even during childbirth. We’re talking serious, 10-on-a-scale-of-10 agony. The pain was so bad I threw up.
What do you do when you’re away from home, speak the language poorly, and something like this happens?
I Was Lucky
Bonnie has lived there for 12 years and knows everyone. She was able to get a local massage therapist to come to the house — on a Sunday! — to try to get me some relief.
After the massage, which took place overlooking the ocean, my pain was at least manageable. I’d rate it about a six on that 10-point scale. But it was still pretty intense.
The next day, Bonnie drove me to the massage therapist’s practice where she applied electrode and ultrasound therapy. It helped, but the pain was still intense.
On Wednesday, Bonnie hooked me up with Luchi, a trainer and physical therapist.
The man is a marvel. He’s incredibly knowledgeable, and was able to zero right in on the trouble spots. I won’t say the sessions were comfortable — anything but! — but he found and worked on the areas he needed to work on.
During the course of treatment, he taped me up several different times, in different ways. He used this lovely blue kinesiology tape that was very hard to coordinate with outfits!
I had nine treatments before leaving Panama . . . and once back in Florida I got myself to the chiropractor ASAP.
I’ve been home for three weeks now, and I’m finally pain free although my right shoulder and arm are still weak. I’ve returned to my twice-a-week Aqua Aerobics class, although I’m not ready to use weights yet.
I’m able to sit at the keyboard again, which I couldn’t do at all for the first week after the injury.
So What Happened?
According to Luchi, I had some previous damage to my arm. During my travels around Chiriqui, I was hauling a backpack that weighed 15-20 pounds. That may not sound like a lot, but it was too much for this 65-year-old body.
Constantly picking it up, slinging it over my shoulder, removing it, and putting it down — especially on that last day with my three bus journeys — was just too much for it. Since the arm couldn’t do its job, my shoulder compensated, did more than it should, and eventually said, “no, thank you!”
I also got some numbness and tingling in my three middle fingers of my right hand, which feels very weird. That was one of the things my chiropractor was able to help with, although it took two adjustments of neck, back, shoulder, elbow, and wrist to make that happen.
I Thought About Going Home Early
The first few days were so painful I could only grit my teeth and get through the day. Then I started thinking about heading home early. After all, my planned travels around the country weren’t going to happen if I couldn’t carry anything!
I even went as far as calling the airline to see what the penalties would be for changing my flight.
But I stayed.
My time in Panama did not turn out the way I planned.
I didn’t get to El Valle and some of the other side trips, but I still get to see my friends and enjoy the warmth.
Getting Home Was a Bit of a Challenge
Originally I had intended to take the bus from Las Tablas to Panama City the day before my flight home. I added an extra day so that, if the bus trip wore me out too much, I would have a day to recover before I had to deal with the airport.
I asked for help — more than I’m comfortable with.
I’m a fairly independent woman, and I don’t find it easy to ask for help. So I created a way to make asking for help a little easier.
I rigged up a sling for my arm (and proved to myself once again that a sarong is the most useful and versatile garment ever invented!) It was there to remind me not to overdo, and to provide a visual cue to others that I might need some assistance.
When I got off the bus in Panama City, I happily availed myself of the services of the man with the luggage trolley, who delivered me and my bags to a taxi. When I arrived at the hotel, I asked the cab driver to take my luggage in for me, and I asked the desk clerk for help getting my bags to my room. Normally I wouldn’t have done any of those things.
At the airport, I used one of the curbside luggage guys, and he delivered me to the “special assistance” checkin line. When I explained that I would need help getting my luggage to the gate because I couldn’t lift anything, they told me the best way to do that was to get a wheelchair.
So I did.
When I landed in Orlando, my husband actually parked the car and came inside to meet me. Normally, he would have simply pulled up in front to load.
What Would I Have Done Without Friends and Their Connections?
I don’t know.
I didn’t get travel insurance for this trip because a) I didn’t think I’d need it and b) healthcare in Panama is really affordable. I think it’s the last time I make that mistake.
If you have a good policy, they will be able to direct you to the professional help you need when you don’t have the local connections I was fortunate enough to have.
I personally don’t have any experience with travel insurance, but Nora Dunn (she was a guest on the podcast not long ago) uses a company called World Nomads. Since she’s been a digital nomad for about 15 years, I trust her recommendation. So I’ll check them out before my next trip.
A friend who travels extensively also recommended Allianz Global Insurance, which he and his wife have used. As he pointed out to me, Allianz offers an annual plan as well as coverage for individual trips, and they’ve been happy with it.
In the meantime, I have to figure out how to travel without a backpack. . .
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