For some, India is about as exotic as it gets. It is a vibrant culture brimming with unique flavors, sounds, and colors. India invites visitors to leave their comfort zones and experiment with new languages and unfamiliar cuisine but all of this adventure comes with challenges, especially for travelers managing chronic illnesses.
Sometimes the things we take most for granted in the United States can be difficult to find in India. In more remote locations, clean water and safe food can be difficult to obtain and in the event of an emergency, finding specialized medical care could be problematic. For people who need to be cautious about germ exposure, India’s crowded cities can be daunting. In short, India is probably not the first place you’d consider going if you had PI. Or would you?
If you asked Emily what she thought of India she would tell you, “It’s been an incredible experience!”
For several months Emily has been in India as a Boren Fellow studying the Urdu language as part of her Asian Studies graduate program and she has loved every minute of it. During her stay in India, Emily has not only sharpened her Urdu skills, but also “attended a Muslim religious procession, witnessed the largest democratic election in the world, saw the Taj Mahal, visited desert forts in Jaipur, and attended multiple local weddings.”
“India can be a full assault on the senses and taking time to recharge is important.”
This either sounds like a dream trip or a PI nightmare waiting to happen. But Emily is an astute young woman who didn’t jump into India with her eyes closed.
She spent a lot of time before departing the United States making sure a reliable medical support system was in place for her during her nine-month stay abroad. She worked with her medical team at home to locate a doctor in the village where she is living who is well versed in PI and well connected to her medical network at home. When she needs a doctor in India she has one she trusts waiting to help.
She states, “The biggest hurdle was making sure I could access my medication.” So, she worked with a specialty pharmacy in the United States to ensure that her monthly medical supplies could be shipped to India without delay. Of course, no worthwhile adventure is without a few snags to thicken the plot and Emily did have a few close calls with her medical supply delivery. She explains, “A few times the boxes were delayed once they reached India and I had to worry about heat, but it was never particularly hot whenever I was due for a box. Luckily, I won’t be here during the summer when it can get up to 120°F.”
She is aware that just under the surface of India’s intoxicating mixture of sights and smells lurks risks for every unwary traveler, especially a traveler with PI. She admits, “I do take a lot of health precautions here.” She and her hand sanitizer have developed an extremely close relationship, and every day she slathers herself in mosquito repellent to avoid the dengue fever present in her region. The extreme heat means increased hydration. She knows “India can be a full assault on the senses and taking time to recharge is important.” So, she is sure to unplug when needed to sleep and recharge. Fortunately, Emily has only had a “couple of minor gastro-related bugs from eating bad food.”
At this point you’re probably wondering what the heck her parents and doctors were thinking when Emily announced she wanted to go to India.
“At first my parents were against it,” Emily says. “My immunologist was also unsure and said, “Does it have to be India?” But once I showed how determined I was to go, everyone helped me find a way to get here.” As she moved closer to her departure date Emily was able to show her support network that “I could mitigate health risks because I am studying in an American school that is careful to provide properly sanitized food and helps students find housing accommodations.”
“The biggest hurdle was making sure I could access my medication.”
Over time her parents and doctors could see that Emily was focused on a particular set of admirable goals and that she had thought through everything she needed to in order to ensure a safe and successful experience. Ultimately, Emily found that people became very supportive of her goals, especially after being awarded the Boren Fellowship, a prestigious grant allowing graduate candidates to study less common languages in areas of particular interest to the United States national security that she hopes will propel her into a career in “foreign relations, human rights protection, or development work related to South Asia.”
So does Emily think traveling to such exotic destinations is something for every PI patient? Of course not. But she does think everyone should “try new things.” She admits, “Studying abroad can be difficult for students with PI, but in my opinion there is no reason why someone with PI who has their condition well controlled shouldn’t go overseas if they have the means.”
As a person facing the challenges of PI, Emily is realistic about the limitations the disease can put on some people but her positive attitude is always searching for ways to find triumph in every attempt at something new. She says, “Obviously many of us are at different levels of health, but people should push themselves no matter what. Maybe some people are only healthy enough to go on a week-long vacation somewhere in the United States, or start taking a dance class at a local studio, or go on a walk through a local park, but pushing yourself and accomplishing something that is big for you at whatever stage of health you’re at is incredibly satisfying.”
So what is an American girl with PI doing in India? Great things.
Emily is racing into life full throttle but with her head in a most sensible place. With the support of her family and doctors, and careful planning she has been able to live out a dream and open doors to her bright future. This is the type of young woman who is poised to be a leader in her generation. She is an example of what is possible if you try and work with your doctor.