Joanna Bernet, from the Masurian Lake District in Poland, has been a dialysis patient for the last six years. Determined to continue with her passion for travelling despite her diagnosis, she set up a specialist agency to enable people like her to access high-quality care at their destination. This is her story.
For me, and for many others, seeing new places and enjoying new experiences has a huge power to refresh and relax, mind and body. From the moment I start to plan my trip, I am happy and excited. And during the trip, I almost forget my disease, feel joy and freedom, and my self-esteem grows. I am certain that for people like me, who have chronic illnesses, travelling is truly therapeutic, with a tangible healing power. I always come back from my trips in good shape, with better blood test results and more energy.
Travelling when on hemodialysis
When I started my dialysis treatment 6 years ago, I thought I would be unable to travel. My physical and mental health were very poor, and I couldn’t imagine how I could combine any trip with my essential treatment. However, when my doctor told me this was not the case, I was immediately determined to travel again. The most challenging aspects of travel for those of us on dialysis will vary, but, like me, many kidney patients have other conditions as well which present their own challenges. I, for example, am partly disabled, and need help at airports, when boarding buses or trains or when having to make payments in cash.
Addressing the challenges of travel
The most important thing for me was learning to ask for help. It wasn’t easy, but it was essential in enabling me to travel, often alone. During my trips I have realised that other people genuinely want to help me, and I have found this makes me very happy, and it also moves me. My first step when planning any trip is to find a dialysis clinic at my destination which can take me, and of course now I run a travel agency specialising in arranging holiday dialysis for other people, I know many of the best places. And I always choose those with the highest medical
standards, which can be the well-known brands, or lesser known, but tried and tested by me or other people who I trust. One week before a trip, I make sure my medicines are ready, and print out a list of what I will need to take with me. If I am flying, and travelling alone, I only take small hand luggage, which I check in so that I don’t need to carry it onto the aeroplane. I never take clothes which I will need to iron, and I use laundry services at my destination.
Favourite holiday destinations
I think my favourite place is Spain, because it has so many beautiful, and varied, places to visit. Barcelona is breathtaking, and I also love Seville, the capital of Andalusia. Malaga, with its charming surroundings, and islands like Majorca and the Canary Islands, from the largest, Tenerife, to the smallest, La Graciosa, are full of beauty and culture. It is also important for me that all these places are easily accessible and not very expensive.
Advising other dialysis patients about travel
The most important thing I would tell a fellow patient, is, simply, decide where you want to go! Once you know that (and my agency can help, as explained below) the planning can be fun. My top tips would be:
- travel alone if you are comfortable with that, but if you can, choose a friend or relative who you will enjoy spending time with;
- take as little luggage as possible;
- keep in mind the temperature – avoid going south in the summer, as it can be very hot, and you will need to take care not to get too thirsty and drink too much;
- if you have other disabilities that make travel challenging, ask for assistance, e.g. at airports, and it can be sensible to plan this help in advance;
- don’t worry about not speaking the language of your destination – there are good online translators, body language… and we are there to help you even once you are away.
Running a dialysis travel agency
I would probably never have come into this business if I hadn’t become a dialysis patient myself. When I visited Italy for the first time, the clinic where I had my dialysis treatment was looking for Polish representatives who could promote their clinic among Polish patients. I started to work with them, and soon realised that people wanting to travel to other places would welcome the same service.
Now, we often help patients decide where to go on holiday, choosing a destination which can best meet their specific needs. We then take a big burden from patients, by booking their dialysis treatments and helping with completion of their medical documentation. Once they are on their way, we also offer constant support – patients we work with can always call us for advice. I love seeing how happy and grateful people are when they come back from holiday. They almost never complain, but look back happily on their wonderful surroundings, delicious food, and beautiful moments, often in the sun.
Don’t worry about travel
Very understandably, our clients’ main concern is that they can trust the clinic and the medical staff at their destination. They often worry about not speaking the language, which is why we are on call for them if they need any help. It’s also reassuring to remember that the medical procedures of dialysis are very similar everywhere, and we only use clinics with the highest medical standards. People are often nervous before their first trip, but once it’s done, their fears disappear. Indeed, they often choose to return regularly to the same place. Some people say that it was “the adventure of their life,” bringing them back to life, and allowing them to dream again. And time and again, I see our clients deeply touched by the kindness of the people they meet in their holiday dialysis clinics.