Preparing for a long, difficult journey with sickle cell disease

A writer considers the health precautions required for a trip to Cameroon

Dunstan Nicol-Wilson avatar

by Dunstan Nicol-Wilson |

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An eight-hour flight, a three-hour boat ride, a six-hour bus ride, and then a two-hour hike up a mountain: This is the journey I would take if I decide to visit extended family in one of the more remote parts of Cameroon. It would be a challenging, long, and arduous trip for anyone, but especially for someone with a chronic condition like sickle cell disease.

When I first heard about the trip, all I could think was that it sounded so exciting, and I’d love to visit another African country. I couldn’t wait to go. Like most of my travels, I knew I’d need to rest, pay extra for additional comfort and accommodations, and take things more slowly.

However, once the trip details were explained to me, I felt overwhelmed. How would my body be able to handle this?

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Sickle cell demands that we carefully prepare before traveling

I’m accustomed to challenges, and I always want to say I at least tried, but this trip could trigger a sickle cell crisis at every step of the way. The easiest part would be the eight-hour flight from the U.K. to Nigeria. I’d need extra legroom, and might have to ask for supplemental oxygen to help keep my oxygen levels adequate. Plus, I’d make sure to bring plenty of water and have medication on hand in case of any flare-ups.

After landing, I’d have to get on a small speedboat with cargo exposed to the sea elements, and navigate the treacherous three-hour journey across the Atlantic from Nigeria to Cameroon. Combined with the anticipated hot weather, cold ocean, and cramped space, the strain on my body would be a lot. In addition, I would have just gotten off of a plane, so any repercussions of the flight would also be affecting my body.

After making it to Cameroon, I’d have to take a six-hour bus ride to a village. Again, I’d most likely be dealing with the same cramped conditions and minimal comfort. At this point, I would need to take a break before continuing the journey. I don’t think my body could handle further strain. Exhaustion would have kicked in by now, and that’s one of my primary triggers.

The final stretch of the journey would be the hike. I’ve hiked a mountain before, but suffered a crisis right after. However, I learned some lessons from that experience that I could implement on this trip. For example, I could walk at a slow, reasonable pace, stay hydrated, wear appropriate clothing, and take lots of breaks.

This trip would be, without a doubt, the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I can think of precautions to take at each step, but that doesn’t guarantee I won’t run into issues. It would be silly not to feel trepidation. I love experiencing new things, but this would be a dangerous journey.

I might have to research alternative ways to get to where I want to go and consider breaking up the trip more. It’s not something I can do in one go, but I refuse to believe I can’t do it at all. I just have to be intelligent and cautious. Sickle cell will not get in the way of my desires; I just have to plan more.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


John Moore avatar

John Moore

My son has tried to push through the challenges of doing very physically intensive activities much of his life. It has led to stays at numerous hospitals outside our state & outside of the U.S. When he was younger, I don’t believe he had figured out how to listen to his body, to know when it was feasible to keep going or quit. The stress of the experience would lead to days of pain after the event. He is older now & I think he’s knows his body better & pays attention to the first indications of a possible crisis, now. It’s hard seeing him limit his life’s activities, despite his enthusiasm to take on adventures that might trigger a crisis. It’s been quite some time since he has had to be hospitalized, after having monthly red blood cell pheresis. But, he also seems to have become more sedentary & less physically active. It’s led to a significant weight gain & depression. I have invited him to join a gym with me or go bike riding, but he has declined, so far. Trying find something that will interest him to at least work on his cardiovascular system. I won’t prod or push, but will continue to invite & suggest, every now & then. Spring has sprung, the weather is getting warmer, flowers are blooming & trees are budding to life. I hope it will inspire him to get outside & be more active, but it’s his choice & I respect that.


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