Ireland, 2004.

The Trip That Helped Me Walk Again

May 5, 2011

in Guillain-Barre, illness, Ireland

When I was 22, I got very sick.

It happened my senior year of college, on the first weekend of winter break. I woke up Saturday morning and felt “funny.” My hands were clumsy and I dropped a bowl. No huge deal, but while out that night with girlfriends, I felt strange walking in my boots. Permanent pins and needles. Like all my foot parts weren’t working quite as they should. By Sunday morning, I was inexplicably walking flat-footed, the arches honed from years of dance class gone just like that.

By Monday morning, I couldn’t walk.

My mom rushed me to the doctor, who examined me and said a funny French name: Guillain-Barre syndrome (you can read more about it here). Tests at a neurologist later that afternoon confirmed it was the rare autoimmune condition with no cause or cure. Serious cases cause nerve damage that leads to paralysis in the arms and legs, which is what happened to me, but most people eventually recover completely. GBS often appears after a viral or bacterial infection — I’d felt mildly ill for a few weeks, but had chalked it up to final exams and other school busyness.

I was admitted to the hospital for a week, immune-boosting liquid pumping into my veins. After discharge, two days before Christmas, I needed physical therapy for months to learn how to walk again. My mother had to bathe and dress me, among other humiliating things.

I returned to campus for the next semester in February. I could walk, but very slowly and unsteadily. My balance was off and my foot arches had yet to return. The doctors advised against me going back to school at all, but I wasn’t deferring graduation. I’d worked my tail off — I’d scored a 4.0 GPA for the semester, something I’d found out in the hospital. I also had a school trip to Ireland planned for late February.

I’d paid for the trip back in the fall and one of my best friends was going. Plus, I’m part Irish and wanted to see where some of my “people” had lived. So I went on an eight-day trip around the Emerald Isle via coach with 30 college kids and two professors.

Ireland, 2004

Standing in the beautiful Irish countryside.

When our sightseeing started, I forced myself every step of the way, walking around Galway, going to a feast at Bunratty Castle, viewing the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin. One of my friends, Megan, stayed behind the rest of the group and walked slowly with me all throughout the trip. She was like my mom, telling me to take it easy and worryingly cautioning me against getting too close to the edge at the Cliffs of Moher. In the course of it all, I often forgot how sick I’d been and the challenges I still faced. I was in a beautiful country learning about religion and history, slowly learning to dance again in pubs, scouting the streets for pizza after one too many Irish meals. After months of feeling slow and sick, I finally felt like a young person again.

I returned from Ireland in much better shape, mentally and physically, than when I’d left. I don’t undermine the role my previous physical therapy played in my improvement. But walking around outside everyday in a foreign place is much different than walking on a treadmill in a hospital.

I graduated with honors that spring. Later that May, I took a three-week cross-country road trip with my friend Nicole. That trip, too, got me through to the next level of recovery. I remember two friends we made who forced us to walk miles one day through downtown Hollywood. I cursed them, but I hadn’t walked so many miles since before I got sick.

I’ve completely recovered from Guillain-Barre, save for some minimal strength issues in my left leg. I never forget being sick, even though it’s been seven years, and I never regret the trip to Ireland during such a rough time. In fact, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Has traveled helped you heal from something, physically or emotionally?

34 Comments - Add Yours!

    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks, Laura! It was quite a challenge, but it’s something I try to grow from still.

      Reply
  1. Stephanie

    Wow! That is an amazing story- you are amazing! I know that travel has helped me with a lot of things emotionally, but I never really realize that ti could help someone physically heal. Powerful stuff.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks so much, Steph! I know you’ve felt the emotional benefits of travel from all your insightful posts.

      Reply
  2. Bobbi Lee Hitchon

    Amazing post Lauren. Never knew that happened to you. Your bravery is very inspiring.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks, Bobbi! I’ve only mentioned it once or twice very early on in this blog, but never wrote a whole piece about it.

      Reply
  3. Candice

    Wow Lauren, learned something new and incredibly admirable about you today. What an ordeal! I don’t know how you got through it, but I’m glad Ireland helped the healing process. Travel seems to do that, huh?

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks, Candice! I know there are people who have been through much worse physically, including people who never recover from things, and I just feel lucky I was healthy enough to take that trip and all the ones I’ve taken since!

      Reply
  4. Ashley

    Fantastic post Lauren. I love that you wouldn’t give up!

    I was hit by a car in Uni while crossing a road and broke my leg pretty badly, leading to months of being in a cast and working with Physical Therapists. Mine was no where near as bad as yours was, but it all happened 6 months before my study abroad trip in France & I totally agree – planning for and being in a new country is great motivation to recover and push yourself (within reason)!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Oh my God, Ashley! That IS a terrible accident! I’ve never been in a cast, but I always thought it would be very hard. I am impressed with you for going ahead and following your move abroad.

      Reply
      1. Ashley

        I would have hated to miss out and it was SUCH a good trip. Besides, that is what eventually (5 years later) led me to living here in Sydney! I met my now boyfriend (an Aussie) while backpacking around Europe.

        Reply
  5. Suzy

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I can’t imagine how it must feel to lose the ability to walk all of sudden and without warning. That’s great that Ireland could help you heal. I think getting away from home is so good for the mind, but who knew it was great for your health too!

    Reply
  6. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler

    Amazing story and inspiring post! I’m glad you are okay now and able to walk. Travel has definitely helped me through emotional times in my life, but it’s good to hear a story of how it can also help in other ways.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks so much, Christy! The emotional is just as important — if not more so — than the physical, so I’m happy that travel has helped you in that realm. Happy travels!

      Reply
  7. Katherina

    Hi Lauren, just came across your blog through Suzy’s stumbling… and loved this post. So sincere and inspiring!
    Traveling has helped me heal from heartbreaks and loneliness… but I never thought of it as something that could heal you from a physical aspect too.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Glad you found me, Katherina. Travel as helped me with those two areas as well. Maybe it’s the magic elixir for all ailments, in both mind and body 🙂

      Reply
  8. Beth

    Love this post, lady! You are an inspiration. Travel has kept me from gettting burned out at home, at work and in my relationship! 😉

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Yay, my favorite former co-worker! Thanks for dropping up. Hope you have some fun outdoorsy trips planned for the next half of the year.

      Reply
  9. Jackie Lambusta

    I remember that as if it were yesterday. I remember driving up from Rowan in a panic and seeing you lie helpless in your hospital bed. We played board games, reminisced about old times, and I even remember looking out the hospital window, seeing the most beautiful sky as the sun set, and looking over at you as we both guessed that it was your dad letting you know he was there…watching over you. You are an incredible woman and you’ve always been a source of inspiration for me. I love you always, my dear friend.

    Reply
  10. Heather

    Wow — that’s a lot to go through Lauren, and it really does take strength, courage, and determination to persevere. After spending time with you, I’m not surprised that you handled everything so well.

    I think travel had a healing effect on my mom when she came to visit me in Sydney. She’s had many health issues for so long now, but those days in Australia really seemed to lift her up. For me, I think this past year helped me distance myself from so not-so-healthy things, and I hope I can continue to take care of myself now that I’m home!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Aww, thank you Heather! I am glad both you and your sweet mom found some healing in Oz. I have faith that you’ll be able to continue with the trend now that you’re back home.

      Reply
  11. Ali

    This is an amazing story! I really admire you for pushing through. I got a little teary reading this one. Such a scary thing to have happen to you, and I’m so glad you’re ok now.

    Reply
  12. Laurel

    What an inspiring post and so glad to hear that you’re OK now. I think travel can “fix” a lot of things about us, I just didn’t know it could do wonders for such a serious illness.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thanks Laurel! It’s not something the doctor would order, but sometimes you need alternative medicine 🙂

      Reply
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