Traveling with Health Issues Can Prove Adventurous - for Better and for Worse

Traveling comes with its share of adventures – both the good kind and the bad kind. Tonight was a mixture of both. Being that I am an Israeli citizen with a lapsed passport, I was advised that I would have to renew my passport before I would be allowed to leave the country. I had the same issue during my last trip here, five years ago. Back then, I went to the ministry of the interior and stood in line for hours, only to be told that the ministry could not renew passports during the amount of time I had left in the country - with the exception of the branch in the airport, which would give me an instant passport.

This time, to avoid hassle and ensure peace of mind with paperwork in order, toward the beginning of my trip instead of the end of it, I went to the airport tonight. I left at 8:00 pm, taking a bus and a train to get there. I also needed to pick up the book and umbrella I had left at the Laundromat, so I didn’t get to the train station until 9:45 pm and to the airport until 10:15 pm. I made my way to the ministry of the interior office, open 24 hours, and stood in line (a short one), only to be told that I could not receive my passport until a maximum of 48 hours before my departure. It seemed like an arbitrary rule, but no matter how much I tried to reason with the clerk, he wasn’t budging. So I headed back to the train station.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine and I were trying to meet and hang out tonight. As I was on the bus in Tel Aviv, heading toward the train station in town, she texted me that she would meet me, so that we could rendezvous at the airport and drive home together. I told her I was still en route to the train station and suggested we meet there. She said she would meet me at the airport instead. It seemed strange, given that she was leaving from Tel Aviv, relatively close to the train station where I was heading; but I figured she had her reasons and said ok.

Then, while I was waiting for the train to the airport, she texted me again and said she had arrived at the airport. It turned out we had a misunderstanding; she thought I was heading toward the train station from the airport and didn’t realize I had not yet left Tel Aviv. Anticipating another 30 minutes at the airport, she decided to go home – ending up leaving airport shortly before my train pulled into it. She actually saw the train as she passed it, she later recounted – rolling down the window and yelling my name, waving.

My friend and I talked on the phone, as I headed back to the train station. I then approached the clerk at the ticket counter and asked about tickets to Tel Aviv. She advised me that the next train was an hour away. “An hour?” I asked, shocked. One would think that trains to Tel Aviv would be no farther than 30 minutes apart, given that almost everyone is heading there. Another staff person, either of the airport or train station, was standing next to the ticket agent. She replied, “There is also one that leaves now, but you missed it, because you were talking.” I just looked at her and left - surprisingly, manage to walk and talk simultaneously!

I then considered my options. A taxi was 140 NIS, which comes to shy of $50, which is 10 times as much as it costs to take the train. I didn’t mind so much – I was tired, it was 11 pm, and I knew that I wouldn’t get home until close to 1 am if I took the train and bus back. But as someone whose life has been turned upside down by careless drivers, repeatedly, I’m not too thrilled about driving with people I don’t know. Especially in places like New York or Israel, where drivers are known for being, shall we say, very enthusiastic. So I decided to take a train, reasoning that it would avoid the freeway entirely. After getting the ticket, I went to the airport lobby, to wait.

While I was in line to buy a ticket, someone ran his cart of bags into my leg. He was profusely apologetic, which eased the irritation, and thankfully, the pain was only mild and short-lasting. As I sat in a chair near an outlet, charging my phone, another guy came racing up to me, overly eager to plug in his own phone, and came damn near close to slamming his bag into my foot – the anticipation of which itself sends my body into fight/flight mode and sets off pain. Other than that, however, my wait was not adventurous, and I eased my mind by texting with my boyfriend back in the States.

I became anxious when I finally went down to the train, however, because the platform was full. Not only were my feet burning from the miles and miles of walking I had done earlier in the day – double or triple what I have done in recent years – but I was anxious about navigating the crowds, all pushing onto the train. Being that I have hypersensitivity, where I can end up in pain for days or weeks, from someone bumping into me or even cutting into my space, I felt very anxious about both getting onto the train and securing a seat. So after sitting down in one of the few remaining chairs, I got up five minutes before the train arrived, strategizing where to position myself. I ended up hitting bulls-eye, with the train stopping almost directly right in front of me. I promptly headed straight upstairs to the second floor of the train, reasoning that people with bags would stay on the lower floor. My thinking proved correct, so I was able to relax in a seat without anyone even sitting near me.

After getting off the train, I considered taking a taxi but decided to push myself further. I have been living a very sheltered life, in a deliberate attempt to effectively manage my various health issues. While traveling, I wanted to feel independent and free again, able to manage public transportation. So I decided to hoof it to the bus station. As I approached that station, a bus pulled up; and despite my foot pain, I willed myself to run. The bus driver closed the doors and started pulling away, when a woman standing near the front door (not getting on the bus) waved at the bus driver; and he stopped and opened the door for me. I was grateful.

As I got onto the bus, I noticed that the bus driver seemed like an angry man; but I didn’t think much of it. The bus quickly made its way through town, and I was pleased with myself for not having been seduced by the ease of a taxi. I was feeling quite victorious about roughing it. The bus was going unusually fast for a bus, however, and a few minutes into the ride, the bus driver went over some rough spots in the road, without any caution – flying over these areas and slamming down the bus each time, causing sharp pain in my back. I wanted to call out, but probably because the driver seemed so angry, I didn’t – anticipating he would not care, and that my saying something would just make things more unpleasant, without slowing the bus down.

By the time I got off bus 161 at Ben Yehuda Street at 12:10 am, my back had a sharp pain across the middle. Three hours later, I’m still in pain. When things like this happen, I get very anxious; because I have no idea how long the pain will last or what the ramifications will be. There are often consequences that affect every area of my life – not only physical but also social, emotional, and financial. Will I be in pain for the rest of my trip? Will it prevent me from walking – when I have so enjoyed being able to walk again?

When I lived in Israel in the early 2000s, walking even four blocks was a major accomplishment, as a result of debilitating chronic pain. Over the years, I have healed myself, and today I walked six miles, which is significantly more than I have walked in the past 20 years. I don’t want a setback after making such strides. I was, in fact, planning on jogging on the Tel Aviv beach in the coming week - that is how strong I have been feeling.

I do not regret choosing to take the train and bus. I enjoy pushing myself and seeing what I can do. In addition, it’s hell to be in a cab with a driver who is not careful; and I avoided the anxiety that comes along with driving on a freeway with an unknown driver. We can never, though, entirely avoid the negligence of others, because we are interdependent. When we drive a car ourselves, we are subject to the skill and care of other drivers. When we take a cab, we are subject to the skill and care not only of other drivers on the road, but of the person driving us on said road. Ditto with the bus, each with its own pros/cons.

There is only so much I can control. This experience was not just a mini-adventure, but also a reminder that it is best to live life bravely, just rolling the dice and trusting. Being that I have sustained numerous, life-altering injuries as a result of other people’s negligence, that’s a tall order. But I’m working on it.

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