The Telegraph blog post, by Juliette Llewellyn, 10 Nov 2017: What it’s like to travel again after 14 years of being housebound
It was the summer of 1995. I was 24 and in the GP surgery waiting room about to get travel vaccinations ahead of a year-long trip to Nepal and India, where I was planning to work as a tree-planting volunteer in Uttar Pradesh. I had never been and I couldn’t wait. Trekking in the Himalayas was at the top of my bucket list and I had already been imagining how I would capture the snow-capped mountains from atop the pinnacle. But the holiday never materialised.
My multiple jabs, which were administered over the course of two months, went terribly wrong. Instead of protecting me against infections, the cocktail of vaccinations triggered an adverse reaction. What should have helped me travel the world prevented me doing so – and no one could tell me for how long.
For the first few days following the initial set of jabs, I had severe muscular pain all over my body and was almost paralysed on my right side. Weak and fatigued, I stayed in bed for several days. I tried every painkiller available at the chemist’s but nothing was working. This obviously wasn’t just a simple case of the flu, so I went back to my GP, but he couldn’t work out what was wrong either. As a last resort, I saw other physicians for a second opinion but even they couldn’t establish an accurate prognosis.
Finally, one doctor referred me to the University Hospital of Wales where a consultant did an extensive investigation. I was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) and fibromyalgia, and I also developed multiple chemical sensitivity or MCS, an allergic-type reaction to low levels of chemicals in everyday products, which is a symptom of ME. All these conditions combined meant that I was unable to lift my body off the bed or even feed myself.
The consultant was unable to confirm that my ailments were the direct consequence of the vaccinations, however he was unable to find any other probable cause. The initial symptoms appeared when I had my first few jabs and progressed rapidly during the two months while having the rest.
Travel was impossible as I struggled to remaster the basics of daily living. I was housebound for a long time and only glimpsed the world through friends’ postcards. My preoccupations for the day were rudimentary: How was I going to get dressed? How was I going to eat? Life before then was adventure-filled, with trips to Europe and destinations further afield such as Egypt and Russia. I wanted desperately to again explore beyond the four walls of my bedroom.
Finally, in 2009, after 14 long years of rehabilitation and therapy, I got the chance. It had been more than a decade since I had last seen the sea, so I organised a trip to Findhorn near Inverness for a coastal retreat and walks along the beach.
When I arrived, I was like a child – full of joy and excitement at the sight and sound of water lapping against the shore. I dipped my feet in the cool water and felt so grateful that I was less restricted than before. Sure, I still packed a walking stick, but I could walk on my own.
The distances were modest and I ambled along small stretches of the six-mile sands. There was a real sense of freedom exploring alone for the first time in so long. My newfound confidence was bolstered by a lot of preparation: several weeks of mapping out my itinerary, extra support from a personal assistant, researching accommodation that was suitable given my chemical sensitivities, contacting proprietors beforehand with health requests and booking travel assistance at the airport.