Take the High Road


How to Drive 1,800 Miles with Fibromyalgia

I have fond memories of my westward road trip from Atlanta, Georgia, to Mesa, Arizona, in August, 2002 – even though I was alone, wrestling with fibromyalgia, and driving 1,800 miles!

I had visited Arizona a few years before; the hot, dry climate made my body felt great. I decided then that I would make my home in Arizona. When the time came, I was excited about my decision to head west. However, I knew had to do some serious travel planning. The travel plan I developed had two components: pre-travel preparation, and pain and fatigue management.

Pre-Travel Preparation:
Pre-travel preparation included packing (and repacking) my car a few days before departure, rather than at the last minute. This gave me a sense of accomplishment and lowered my stress level. Packing early also allowed time for others to help me pack, especially helpful since some of the items were too heavy for me to lift. I was taking only what I could pack into my red Corolla. The night before I left, my oldest son Jason loaded my computer and peripherals into the trunk and tucked my books into every nook and cranny he could find – such items are a must for a writer and teacher.

Pre-travel preparation also included getting my car road-ready. I cleaned her inside and out, got a tune-up and oil change, and applied Rain X to all the windows. Rain X is one of many products useful for increasing visibility while driving in the rain. It causes the rain to bead up and quickly run off the sides of the windshield.

The single most important benefit of packing ahead was that it helped me plan the placement of items so as to maximize my mobility within the confines of my car. I quickly realized I shouldn’t store anything behind the driver’s seat. The ability to reposition my car seat was crucial to relieving painful pressure points in my neck, legs and lower back while driving.

The night before my departure, I removed a small amount of water from four 20-oz bottles of water and placed them in the freezer, along with some protein bars. In the morning, I placed the frozen water bottles next to ice packs and the frozen protein bars. Throughout the first and second days on the road, the ice packs stayed frozen, the water cool and the protein bars firm.

Driving eight hours a day was an ambitious goal for me. However, I knew that if I could drive 600 miles a day, I would spend only three nights on the road. Nevertheless, financially I planned for four nights on the road, just in case I had overestimated my capabilities.

Pain and Fatigue Management:
My pain and fatigue management plan included eating a healthy breakfast and heading out each morning around 7:30 a.m. I would check into the next motel around 3:30 p.m. While I had planned to stay only at motels with swimming pools – anticipating that a swim would help to stretch my muscles at the end of my day – I soon discovered that I was much too tired to do little more than find dinner, watch a little television and go to sleep. While driving, I stopped no less than once every two hours to rest and stretch aching muscles.

My pain and fatigue management plan required the following supplies:
– a U-shaped air pillow;
– a soft-sided, zipper-top thermal cooler;
– twelve 20-oz bottles of water (four frozen);
– three small ice packs;
– six protein bars;
– protein powder;
– vitamin supplements;
– over-the-counter pain medication;
– prescription medications for pain and sleep; and
– earplugs.

I used the U-shaped air pillow as a soft cushion around my neck, placing it between my neck and the car’s headrest. This technique helped me to rest my shoulders while giving support to my neck. I only used it when I needed to reposition my body due to aching pressure points. As my head rested against the air pillow, it caused my back to stretch up slightly, changing my posture. It was a welcome change. On occasion I also used the U-shaped air pillow behind my lower back, which helped to relieve strained back muscles.

The soft-sided, zipper-top thermal cooler, placed close to me in the passenger seat, kept the ice packs frozen, provided me with cool water throughout the day and prevented my protein bars from melting in the August heat, especially as I travelled through Texas and New Mexico. The zipper top allowed me to slip my right hand easily into the cooler to retrieve a bottle of water, a protein bar or an ice pack, and then quickly zip it back up.

I drove from Atlanta, Georgia, to Vicksburg, Louisiana, on the first day. I left Atlanta around 5 a.m. to get ahead of rush-hour traffic, so by 1 p.m. I was quite tired. For my first day on the road I wore shorts, but I soon realized that it was difficult to place ice bags on hurting muscles without something between the ice and my skin. Any piece of cloth would have worked, but since I had nothing like that with me, I wore lightweight slacks the next day. This allowed me to place an ice pack on top of a knee, under a knee, and under both knees or thighs. I also wore an unbuttoned, lightweight, long-sleeved shirt over my T-shirt so I could place the ice packs on my shoulders, upper back and neck. The ice packs were a key source of pain relief during my trip.

Because my car did not have cruise control, the muscles in my right leg gave me considerable pain throughout the trip – even though I had frequently used ice packs and taken over-the-counter pain relievers. With my arms tired of holding the steering wheel, my back stiff from pressing against the seat, and my fanny muscles aching for a new position, I was usually consoled by the fact that soon it would be time to stop and find a motel.

By 3 p.m. my eye-hand coordination and ability to concentrate had decreased. By 3:30, I was checked into a motel and stretched out on the bed. If needed, I took prescription pain medication and rested until I felt somewhat revived.

After a couple of hours, when some energy had returned, I would venture out in search of dinner. Depending on how I felt, I either ate in a restaurant or brought take-out food to my motel room. Around 8:30 I took prescribed medications for sleep. I inserted my earplugs, checked the locks on the door and turned out the lights. I was asleep by nine o’clock.

At breakfast the next morning, I mixed protein powder with orange juice and took vitamin supplements to help maintain a stable, consistent energy level. I ate a light breakfast; I knew I could eat a protein bar later in the morning if I needed an energy boost. Following breakfast, I returned to my room and stretched out all my muscle groups as prescribed by my chiropractor. I loaded my car and set out again on my journey west.

Before making such a long trip, I anticipated my needs, creating a pre-travel plan as well as a pain and fatigue management plan. And I stuck to it! I believe this is why I was able to drive 1,800 miles in three days, arriving in good shape and with high spirits. As each day took me closer to my new life in Arizona, I felt a renewed sense of independence and emotional wellness. I had not let the pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia keep me from pursuing the life I wanted.

(Anna Rae Pamplin is a freelance writer living in Mesa, Arizona, U.S.A.)


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