Adventures in Overseas Travel: Lessons Two and Three

Having spent a recent night on Concourse C at O'Hare airport in Chicago, I am reminded of the trials of my last international trip. That's not to say the trip wasn't amazing, but the logistics of it all left much to be desired, especially as it wouldn't have been nearly as bad if I had been healthy. And since 'tis the season for overseas travel, here is a series that will hopefully inspire you not to do what I did. Read Lesson One here

Lesson Two: There's no such thing as preparing too far in advance

On my second trip to the Caribbean, I was determined to not face a possible medical crisis on the first day, so I tried to prepare. I doubled the number of supplies I was taking. Half of my suitcase was filled with medical supplies. I brought entire bottles of pills so I would have what I needed in case I got stranded somewhere in addition to the usual traveling over-the-counter pharmacy. I even went to the doctor the week preceding my trip, so I could get new prescriptions.

As reliable as the office is, I did not anticipate the new computer system, which caused my doctor to delay calling in the order I needed. When Friday rolled around (I was leaving at 7 a.m. on Sunday), I went to pick it up. There was no record of a new prescription. Slightly alarmed, I called the endocrinologist on call, and she said she would phone it in right away. I called multiple times over the next few hours to see if the pharmacist had received a prescription for me, but the answer was always no. I figured it was just taking a while. The problem was, I didn’t have a while.

With less than 24 hours to go, I called the endocrinologist on call again. Turns out, 16 hours later, she hadn’t called it in yet. She’d worked until midnight. I get how difficult that is, but I had explained that there was a certain level of urgency, due to my access disappearing the next morning. It was getting difficult to remain calm. She promised to call it in as soon as she got off the phone.  

By the time that happened, it was snowing. I waited it out, figuring that they would need some time to fill it, and six hours should be plenty. Wrong again. When I finally got over to the pharmacy, still no prescription. This time she had called it in, but it hadn’t gone through. Nearing the end of my rope, I called the physician on call a third time in less than 24 hours. She was kind enough to talk directly to the pharmacist. I got my prescription, but had no time to test it before I left, as I’d been advised. Nothing like trial and error on vacation!

Lesson Three: 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday is not as early as you think

I usually drive myself everywhere, even the places some people might reach by plane. It's just one way I assert control of my environment. I am very careful about when I leave so I don’t sit in much traffic. I figured that, if I left my apartment at 5:00, I would arrive at the airport around 5:30 at the latest. That gave me 90 minutes. I would be fine – I didn’t have to park, there would be no lines to check my bag, security would be a breeze, etc., especially since the first leg was domestic.

Things I didn’t count on:

  • When you reserve a Lyft/Uber in advance, it is perfectly plausible that they arrive on the later end of the 10 minute arrival window.
  • Most people don’t have a lead foot like mine, so it will take more than 30 minutes to get to the airport.
  • The process of checking a bag is a lot longer now that we have to do it all ourselves at kiosks.
  • Even though TSA personnel should be familiar with common medical devices, they will still take every opportunity to pat you down and wipe some kind of indicator strip all over it.
  • Wearing an ankle brace will set TSA all aflutter and they will start the swabbing process all over again.

When all was said and done, I just made it. When I went to drop off my checked bag, there were so many, we were all just leaving them in a big mess “behind the wall.” (This happened once at O’Hare with a standby flight, and that bag made it.) I was thankful that the second leg was delayed by an hour, but it didn’t help. My bag did not arrive until the next day. At least I was traveling with friends and I could borrow a shirt.

The bottom line: whatever time you think you need to get all your ducks in a row, double it.