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Traveling with MS: Irene Seizes the Day

Irene takes her first solo trip abroad since her diagnosis with MS. Here she recaps her rather exciting trip to the "laidback" town of Tento, Italy.

The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy
The Grand Canal in Venice

This year, my friends who are finishing up their PhDs in Tento, Italy asked me to drop in for a visit. “Nice laidback, medieval town.” “Great Italian food and wine.” “Stunning art and architecture.” “If you come NOW, you’ll escape the hot weather.” “You must see the Riva del Garda.” These were the words they lured me with, of course I did not need any luring, but that’s a different story.

I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis about three years ago, and this would be my first solo trip abroad. I planned to spend a few days there and went lugging my trusty Avonex in an ice pack. Waiting at the luggage carousel in the Verona airport, I watched a hundred red suitcases go by—hey! I thought that was a rare color!—none of them mine. A bunch of policemen with sniffer dogs came in, checking random suitcases. An airport security guard walked  up to me and asked me where I was coming from. (Hmm. Was I supposed to say Chicago, where I was flying in from? Or India—where I am actually from. Or Munich, which was the last airport I was in?). I muttered each of these answers but it turned out he only wanted to tell me to quit waiting for my luggage because it was likely to be delayed in Munich. You know how they always tell you to carry on your medication lest you lose your checked-in luggage? Well I did that… except that I also only carried on a most random collection of clothes. So much for being stylish in Europe. 

Woman with MS visits Tento, Italy

While my luggage was delivered to me intact a day later, I still had to go to a day-trip to Venice in the one normal outfit I had. My friend taking me around Venice kept apologizing for the walking I’d have to do; I said we’d see how far I could go. I usually can’t walk for more than half an hour, but I am quite proud to say that I managed to walk one way across the entire island. I managed to see quite a bit, visit some lovely places, watch a boat race, eat amazing spaghetti carbonara for lunch. An American tourist saw that I was from India and asked me if I practiced yoga or if I knew a Kumar from Hyderabad. (Why do you guys do that?!) I could not say I was often too exhausted for yoga or that we had 1.2 billion people in India, so I just smiled and shook my head at her (the famous, confusing, Indian head shake!).  

MS Relapse or... Earthquake??

The next day back in my friends’ apartment, I was doing some exercises, stretching and checking my balance when I almost fell to the floor. I got quite upset of my lack of balance and wondered why everything seemed like it was shaking, if my travel insurance would cover medical expenses in Italy in case I had to go to the ER, etc. When I heard something fall in the kitchen, I ran (ok, legs working!) to look out of the balcony to realize it was a minor earthquake! 

Back in Tento, we visited the Castello del Buonconsiglio with its amazing architecture, art collection and a collection of Egyptian antiques, which was a nice surprise (I’ve only been “Egypt obsessed” since I was a kid). Someone actually donated these to the city council, on condition that they donate 500 florins to a charity in return. How awesome!

Although going to Europe involved losing some luggage, I was glad it was home-delivered to me a day later. I was worried I could not walk far, but I did manage to walk across Venice. I did have to use the bathroom everywhere, sometimes begging bewildered waiters to let me into restaurants to use the bathroom, but it always worked! I would have never dreamt that I’d see Egyptian treasures in a small town in the north of Italy. And I really hadn’t seen a lake as beautiful as the Riva del Garda! Of course I thought my middle brain conked up on me as I fell to the floor. But heck, it was just an earthquake.


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