Travels with Parky

This is an article I wrote for “On The Move”, the magazine of Parkinson’s Movement on my experiences when travelling to the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal earlier this year. In the magazine, the article had to be slightly edited to fit the space available, but this is the “uncut” version 🙂 .

 

IMG_7690When preparing for traveling, like everyone with Parkinson, there are a few critical issues to consider:

1. How many sets of medication should I bring?
2. Will I have to change my medication timings due to traveling over multiple time zones?

When preparing for traveling to the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal, there was an additional consideration for me to take into account:

3. Do I pack an adorable cuddly raccoon in a red hoodie in my check-in luggage or in my carry-on?

Traveling to Montreal took me on an unusual route: From Stockholm to London for a few days, then on to San Francisco for a few days and from there to Montreal and WPC 2013. I was going to be “on the road” for 16 days, going over multiple time zones several times and attending 3 conferences.

So that gives the answer to question number 2; yes, I would have to change my medication regimen, several times.

After a lot of thinking, I decided on four complete sets of medication, to be on the safe side, and to pack one set in my suitcase, one set each in my two carry-ons and to give one set to my colleague. Question number 1 sorted.

The racoon is of course the loveable mascot of the WPC, Parky, created by initiative of one of my fellow WPC 2013 ambassadors, Canadian Bob Kuhn, to give the people coming to the congress a chance to support the WPC and at the same time have something to bring back to children and grandchildren. Parky proved to be an excellent travel companion. Not only did he help me pack my medications, he was also an excellent ice breaker and conversation starter, but more on that later. And of course, I couldn’t check him in! Question number 3: check!

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As you all probably know by now, I am an engineer by training and a few years ago, I decided to combine my engineering skills with my patient experiences and try to improve things for myself and others with chronic diseases. Pretty much exactly three years ago, in September 2010, I started studying at a master’s program in Health Informatics at Karolinska Institutet, a program combining technology with all aspects of healthcare. It was just what I was looking for! Just a month into the program, I went to Glasgow for the 2nd World Parkinson Congress, and came back with an even greater conviction that I could really make myself useful and contribute to the Parkinson community.

In March 2012, I was registered as a PhD student at the department for Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics at the Karolinska, and my research is focussed around how we can use observations we make about our individual disease to learn and even improve our own health. In my opinion, we can influence the effect our treatments (pharmacological and other treatments) have on us, both for better and for worse. I am not entirely sure of the situation in other parts of the world, but in Sweden, we have a lack of neurologists, and we don’t have that many Parkinson nurses either. This means that I see my neurologist once or twice a year, about 30 minutes every time. In other words, I spend in total one hour in neurological healthcare every year. The rest of the year’s 8 765 hours, I spend in selfcare. During all those hours, I can observe my condition and learn about my individual variations and patterns and this gets easier and less burdensome if I have useful tools, for example different apps and other devices. So, I figure that the information that I can collect during all those hours of selfcare every year, can be of use when I see my neurologist, as a way of giving both him and myself an idea of how I’ve been doing since last time and in my research I am exploring collecting and presenting information that is both relevant and useful, using apps and devices like sensors and other things.

 

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IMG_7505 The methodology I am working on in my research, came in very handy when going on this multi-legged trip. I hadn’t travelled much across multiple time zones since starting medicating for Parkinson, so I was concerned about how to adjust my medication timings in the best way so that I would be able to get the most out of all the conferences as well as hopefully also have some energy left. I decided to try to make sure that I could start the next day on every new location with my morning dose on the ordinary time in local time. When travelling west, this meant adding a dose or two during the day of travelling and for travelling east, I took out one or two doses compared to my ordinary daily dose. I tried to keep to the usual intervals between doses to be able to function during the flights as well. The results were very good! I took notes during the travelling on when I took my meds and how I was feeling and I was very happy and a bit surprised that I was able to give my presentations at the conferences as planned and also have energy for some sightseeing.

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Travelling with Parky was, as I said earlier, an enjoyable experience; we had a milkshake together in downtown San Francisco in preparation for a presentation at a Quantified Self meetup (if you haven’t heard of the Quantified Self, google it, I think you’ll find it interesting) and saw the Golden Gate bridge together. He also kept me company in all the airports and made sure my ticket was safe. In Montreal, he helped me meet new friends and basically was the center of attention. But in London, he was a bit out of line… I left him in the apartment we had rented when we were at the Medicine 2.0 conference and when we came back, he had drunk our beer and even eaten our chocolate!

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Safely back in Stockholm, we both are looking forward to going to Portland, Oregon in 2016 and meanwhile, Parky has also made some new friends.

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