Mobility accommodations helped me enjoy an early spring vacation

How this columnist prioritized his health during a recent trip to Disney World

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by Mike Naple |

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It’s officially spring! Flowers bloom, rain falls, and allergies flare as we begin to emerge from our collective hibernation. Before formally springing forward, I took a vacation to Florida where I spent a week visiting different amusement parks, and my comfort level with asking for and using disability accommodations reached a new frontier.

The trip served as a maiden voyage for me — and not because I’d never been to Disney World. Rather, I wondered if visiting a large, crowded amusement park seven years after my pulmonary hypertension (PH) diagnosis would be a positive experience.

Preparations and research to reduce anxiety

When my partner suggested we join his siblings on this trip, I was anxious initially, a bit resistant. I was overdue for a change of scenery, but not ready for the amount of preparation a trip like this requires due to PH. Fond childhood memories with friends and family at Disneyland in California made me wonder if I could recapture some of that magic riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Space Mountain.

Once on board, I called my pulmonary specialist to see if he had any concerns or recommendations for how to have a good trip without sacrificing my health. PH affects the heart and lungs, and I wasn’t sure what that meant for riding roller coasters or other attractions featuring high speeds and quick acceleration, jostling and jerky motions, and sudden drops.

Bringing my care team into the early stages of the planning process definitely paid off. They offered some useful suggestions, we discussed how to maintain oxygen therapy while in Florida, and they cleared me for the rides.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, and no two individuals with PH are the same. I’m describing my own experience with my PH care team. I recommend consulting your doctor for medical advice should you plan a trip to an amusement park.)

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The Challenges of Traveling With Chronic Illness

Preparing for this trip then led me to research the disability accommodations available for guests at Disney parks and resorts. Growing up in Southern California, I stayed overnight at Disneyland for my high school senior class trip. Classmates, friends, and I spent the night crisscrossing our way through the different lands, going on as many rides as possible before the sun came up. At the time, PH was completely unknown to me, so I chalked up any shortness of breath I felt to the thrill of the roller coaster.

Shortness of breath is a major symptom of PH. I couldn’t imagine trekking through amusement parks as I did when I was a teenager, since these days I often find myself gasping for air after a brief walk down the street. I rented a scooter to ensure I could easily travel from the hotel to the different parks. While I was surprisingly pleased with the seamless scooter rental process — the rental company dropped it off and picked it up from the hotel — a nagging thought scraped the back of my mind like nails on a chalkboard. Was my PH progressing?

Prioritizing comfort and health with accommodations

Even though I use overnight oxygen therapy as part of my PH treatment plan, I haven’t always brought the necessary concentrator equipment with me when traveling for an extended period of time. Sometimes the logistics of managing a chronic illness while traveling, the added costs, and the bulky medical devices get the best of me. It’s a trade-off between short-term convenience and shortchanging my health, and I don’t always make the right choice.

Traveling to California last June for my brother’s wedding was the first time I ordered an on-site oxygen concentrator at the hotel. Maintaining my oxygen levels improved the quality of my health and put me in a better position to participate in a joyous family celebration. But ordering the equipment at the last minute, at a higher price, served as a lesson for the future. I reserved equipment for the Florida trip many more weeks in advance.

Accommodations to manage PH and prioritize comfort and health also extend to air travel. There can be risks related to flying for people with PH. Others may give us judgmental or ignorant looks when our accommodations are visible. As I travel more, I’m choosing to make every effort to suppress feelings of shame or internalized ableism in favor of wheelchair assistance, portable oxygen, and other accommodations to improve my air travel experience.

All of these accommodations support the reality that the more oxygenated my body is, the more energized I feel and the better I’ll be overall. It’s hard to imagine what my Florida vacation would’ve been like had I not put my health first.

Follow Mike on Twitter: @mnaple.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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