Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rx for RVing with a Chronic Illness

If you are healthy, living pain free and disease free, you are one lucky person.  I just read a statistic that almost 50% of adults in the US have at least one chronic illness and it gets worse for older adults.  Over 70% of us over age 50 have at least one chronic illness.  A chronic illness is one for which there's usually no cure and requires constant treatment.  These illnesses are things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pulmonary conditions, diabetes, autoimmune illness, chronic pain, heart disease, depression, etc.  The good news is that, due to new treatments and therapies, these illnesses aren't killing us like they used to.  The bad news, more of us are getting afflicted with them.

Having a chronic illness can put a real dent into a RV travel lifestyle.  I know because I have one of these.  My chronic illness is ulcerative colitis.  I won't go into to the details, but having colitis means I poop more often than the average cowboy and sometimes when I don't want to.  Having this illness requires me to cope and deal with my symptoms when they're active. It can affect how and when I travel and it places some limits on what I feel I can do.  It also means having to be treated which involves taking prescribed drugs and supplements for the rest if my life and having to be monitored a few times a year by my doctors.

Based on the statistics I mentioned above, I'm guessing there's a lot of RVer's dealing with one or more of these.  And while a chronic illness can have some impacts on your lifestyle, it may not mean that you have to stop everything.  It may just mean making changes, putting limits of yourself, adjusting how and when you do things, and adding in new procedures and logistics.  So, I thought I'd share some of the things I've changed, things I do, and how its affected my RV travel.

How I Travel
I find the RV mode of travel can be very accommodating for someone with a chronic illness.  There are things we need that an RV supports very well, like having a bathroom, a place to change, room to store supplies, a frig, and a place to rest.  My illness can sometimes make it necessary to be near a bathroom.  In my RV, there's one right behind my drivers seat.  I also think choosing the right RV is important if you have a chronic illness.  A small nimble motor home is best for me because I want my bathroom with me at all times.  A travel trailer might not be right for a person with chronic pain and back problems.  Having a frig to keep medications might be necessary.  And some may need reliable constant power for medical devices.

When I Travel
I need to see my doctors at least 2-3 times per year.  This is one reason I keep a permanent residence and do "sometiming" RV travel versus "full timing".  I schedule most of my appointments for the late fall (right before I go to FL) and for the early spring.  I like to get checked out before I leave on big trips.  This leaves winter, summer, and fall for when I do most of my RVing.  I also tend to limit trip durations to 2-3 months at the most and not try to do big extended trips.  I can see a lot in several 2 month trips.

Also, I know when (during the day) that my symptoms tend to be more active and I plan my day and activities accordingly.

Maintain Contact With My Doctors
I'm very fortunate.  I near Boston and have access to some of the best medical care in the world.  I have some great doctors who have treated me for several years.  Its important for me to maintain contact with them because they know me, they know I travel, and they know my disease.  I let them know when I'm traveling and I have access to them via email and phone.  This has been very handy when I'm having a problem and need advice.  Also, my doctors and I know what's needed when I have flare up and what drugs I need to settle things down.  This is such an important thing.  I don't want to have to deal with an unknown doctor at an urgent care clinic or emergency room in some city that doesn't know my condition or treatments, unless its an emergency.    

Know What I Need to Take with Me
Some one once asked me if I wear briefs or boxers.  My answer used to be briefs.  But now my answer is - It Depends.  Thats right folks.  Its rare, but sometimes this old cowboy might have an "accident".  I travel with a supply of Depends and use them if things flare up.  I always travel with a good supply of anti diarrhea pills and always have some on me along with some tissue.  I also carry a small knapsack with me when I venture out that has a change of clothes, extra underwear, paper towels, baby wipes, and plastic trash bag.  I've learned that "ya gotta do what ya gotta do".  It took me awhile to get my head around this.  But, I decided that I didn't want to worry about what might happen.  Instead, I just stay prepared, have what I need handy, venture out, and deal with it when and if it happens.

Ensure I Can Get My Prescriptions
My doctors can electronically send prescriptions pretty much any where in the country.  They can also fax them if needed.  My health insurance drug plan supports a nationwide network of pharmacies (CVS).  So when I need a refill, I email my doctor and give him/her the pharmacy name and address.  I've had my doctors send prescription refills to places like FL and TX and I can pick them up the next day and pay my normal insurance copays just like I do at home. This has worked great for normal oral medications. I don't need to get infusions so I don't know how that would work.

Know What I Can Do / Know What I Can't Do / Reduce Stress
I don't feel comfortable doing major multi-mile hikes or big bike rides anymore. But I can do short ones.  I can do the scenic drives. I can get out and sit by a lake or scenic spot.  Long days take their toll on me.  I can't do late nights anymore.  And I need downtime.   I've taken up some new things, like writing and photography.   I've hiked lots of big mountains, ridden a bike all over this country, seen most of the big cities, and sunned myself on the best beaches.  I don't feel I'm missing out on too much.  Now, I know what I can do and don't fret about what I can't do.

Eat Properly
When traveling, its so easy to go off a diet and start eating fast food or lots of processed foods.  Its important for me to stay on a diet with foods that I know I do best with.  I've got a frig and kitchen in my RV, so there's no excuse not to each right.  I might eat out more when traveling, but I try to eat healthy.

I think travel and the RV lifestyle can be pretty good therapy for someone with a chronic illness.  I wrote a blog article about it this summer called The RV Lifestyle - A Chronic Disease Therapy.  It can give you purpose and be a source of happiness.  When you've got a chronic illness, there can be days when there are no wine and roses.  But it won't always be that way.  Living and traveling with one of these means having to make adjustments, accepting what you can and cannot do, and finding joy in things you can do.  Also know, you're not alone.


  1. Terrific post about something not written about very often. When my mom was terminally ill with cancer, I'm convinced that being able to take her places in the RV added a few years to her life (and made wonderful new memories that I will always cherish). After a few particularly bad months of being in and out of the hospital one winter, she told her doctors she wanted to go to Florida for a couple weeks in the Spring. At first they all said no as her lung condition would not be able to risk airline travel, but when she told them her daughter would be driving her via RV, they all reconsidered and ultimately approved. We were able to stop and let her walk whenever needed, and she was able to lay down and nap or read while I drove. Within a couple days, she had been transported from cold and snowy Chicago to abundant sunshine, fresh air, and warm sandy beaches of Florida. Her doctors were amazed at her improvement when we returned-- it was just the prescription she needed!

    We did do some planning beforehand-- ensuring she had sufficient meds for the trip, and we also made sure we had copies of all her recent medical records including recent test results, hospital summaries, etc. I also routed us only along major interstates to be sure we were always relatively close to a full-service ER if may have ever needed one (thankfully, we did not).

    I can think of no better solution than an RV to allow people to travel who, otherwise, would be too weak or ill to do so otherwise. It really is "bringing all the comforts of home" along with you!

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Lynne. That's a nice story about what you did with your Mom. One of Stephen King's writing tips to to write about the tough stuff that no one else is writing about. That motivated me to write this entry. Thanks again. I'm enjoying your posts from UT.

  2. Ulcerative colitis? My husband suffered from something similar. It was caused by gluten sensitivity--a fact we discovered as I co-authored the book, The Gluten Connection. No gluten, no colitis. And no worries about getting prescriptions filled as we travel! Check out my blog at

    1. Linda, there's a lot of things that can cause colitis type symptoms or inflame the colon. I'm glad to here you found the gluten link for your husband. Gluten can aggravate my symptoms so I try to avoid it, but for me its not a cure. I'll check out your blog. Thanks for reading.

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  4. I have lived with arthritis and fibromyalgia for about 10 years now and am getting close to retirement age. I have been considering a R V as a more comfortable way to travel. I really want to be able to see some more of this beautiful country. Thank you for the info. Sherry