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Guest Post: Justin Berkman Goes Abroad

Justin in Egypt
Justin in Egypt

Traveling with a J-Pouch can be nerve-racking and a tad more difficult than it is for healthy-coloned folks, but from my personal experience, J-Pouch travel is infinitely easier and more pleasurable than traveling with active ulcerative colitis. I would compare traveling with UC to getting a colonoscopy with absolutely no pain medication or anesthetics while traveling with a J-Pouch is like getting a routine pouchoscopy.

As a comedian, I spend a great deal of time on the road. My last UC flare began in the spring of 2008 and continued until I underwent my first surgery in December of 2010. Even though I feel incredibly grateful that people pay me to tell jokes, my “business” trips were not that fun during those two and a half years. Often, to get to my gigs, I have to take two flights, then rent a car, and then drive two to four hours to reach my destination. Doing these marathon trips while experiencing intense stomach pain and defecating 30 times per day was pretty brutal. There would be times when, after the plane landed, I had to push old women aside as I made a mad dash to the nearest toilet. There were tons of uncomfortable and worrisome moments, but a few will always stick out in my mind.

I’ll never forget the time I was driving from Albany, NY to Canton, NY, when I was in the middle of nowhere and I knew that I only had minutes (if that) to reach a restroom. I’m sweating, clenching every muscle I could possibly clench, and envisioning the worst-case scenario. Thankfully, I spot a gas station, do that uncomfortable walk/run while attempting to keep my butthole closed and just make it to the facilities, barely avoiding having to get the rental car detailed. I know I’ll never make a more satisfying trip to a gas station bathroom. Then, there was the time when I was driving from Milwaukee, WI to LaCrosse, WI and faced a very similar situation. On this occasion, I found myself running through a fancy hotel, hoping to make it to a toilet before I soiled the marble floors of the hotel lobby. I think many of you know that having UC involves a series of close calls and unfortunate mishaps.

A few months ago, I was asked to go on an overseas tour of the Middle East to entertain the troops during the holidays. I would be going to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. I immediately accepted and was excited about the opportunity. Since my J-Pouch surgeries, I have resumed my frequent travel schedule and I haven’t had any real problems while traveling. However, all my trips had been domestic and I was aware that I had to take extra precautions with international travel. I would be going to places where the food and water have wrecked the stomachs of people without my issues, and I would be visiting countries where there probably wouldn’t be a surgeon or doctor around who knew anything about J-Pouches.

I returned from my twelve day trip on Friday, and I’m happy to report that I’m doing just fine. I made sure to pack everything that could help me if any J-Pouch related issues arose. I brought Lomotil, Immodium, Cipro, Protonix, and my butt-burn ointment. Because I performed at the American embassy in Lebanon and on military bases in Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt, I had American medical personnel available if I ran into any issues. Also, the military has evacuation plans in place if you run into a serious medical problem so that they can get you to a hospital that can provide adequate care. I avoided drinking the water and tried to only eat foods that I thought were safe.

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Making the locals angry!

My trip wasn’t completely problem-free. I experienced some stomach pain that was alleviated after I popped a Protonix and got some serious butt-burn. However, I was more than willing to experience some butt-burn in exchange for such a remarkable, fun, and fulfilling trip. I was able to snorkel in the Red Sea, visit the place where Jesus was baptized, do some karaoke with Russian tourists in Egypt, and joke around with a two-star general from New Zealand. More importantly, I was able to meet and entertain hundreds of troops who were incredibly appreciative to be able to see some comedy while they were away from their friends and families over the holidays. So, even though I became a little worried when the troops stationed in Sharm Al Sheikh, Egypt told me that the food they ate there had given them what came to be known as the “Sharm Shits”, I was confident that the “UC Shits” were much worse and I’d survive if I was to be afflicted with this unfortunate ailment.

If any of you are contemplating any sort of trip or excursion, but are concerned about traveling with a J-Pouch, I strongly encourage you to go on your adventure. Although I still worked as a touring comedian while I had active UC, ulcerative colitis robbed me of so much and kept me at home and in pain way too often. Now that I have a J-Pouch, I am unwilling to let my health situation deter me from living the life I desire (I try to avoid doing anything too stupid, though). I feel like I’ve been given a new opportunity and another chance to truly live. I want to make sure that I take full advantage.

Check out what Justin has wrote for BPT in the past.

 

Updatin'. The last 10 days.

Man have I been busy.

I feel like I’m so disconnected from you guys. Sad face.

But here is what I’ve been doing, which is some pretty awesome stuff. This is how the last 10 days went.

Fly to Chicago.

Meet up with Lauren, volunteer at their CCFA office. Have a great super awesome time doing puzzles, drinking wine, and watching Dawson’s Creek.

Drive 4 hours to Wapaca, WI with Andrea from GMB for Camp!

Closing ceremony to Oasis WI

Man, I love camp. Every time I’m at camp I wonder why I didn’t think about that as a career choice back in my younger years. Camp makes people better versions of themselves. I do love it. Oasis Wisconsin was very different from Michigan. Not bad different, just different. So many things were different and some of them I prefer. Some of them I’d like to take home and adopt them into our MI camp. Anyway…it was interesting being the new counselor…who wasn’t new. I definitely felt on the outside for a day or so, which reminded me what it was like to be the newbie, and to make sure that I’m always including new people. At the same time it reminded me that its good to be out of your comfort zone, try new things, meet new people. The beauty of it all is that when you’re at Oasis, you know they’re going to be good people. I was lucky to have Andrea and Megan there with me, which helped to soften the entrance to the group. The most obvious thing that I noticed about their camp was that…it didn’t seem like a camp for sick kids or counselors. The kids at this camp were noticeably more healthy than our kids, and same goes for counselors. Granted there were about 80 kids at WI and about 150 at MI, so perhaps that other half is all sickies. I’m not sure. It was very different in that aspect though.

Camp ends…an hour later drive to Appleton Airport. Fly to Minnesota. Then fly to Denver.

Get to Denver, get driven in a murdered out escape to my super boss hotel. Change out of camp clothes into adult clothes. Go meet the people who are at this patient panel, eat dinner, go back to my room…pass the fuck out.

Wake up at 6am…shower for the first time in a day or 2 (but who is counting). Proceed to have an amazing meeting.

There were none of these 😦

I got to Denver and I was all “Is that fog? A building? What the hell is that?”. I also didn’t see a single mountain. I began to think I didn’t land in Denver at all. Whelp, turns out, there are some serious wild fires happening over there, and there is just smoke upon smoke upon smoke. Hence the fog/wall I thought was seeing and why there were no mountains. Boo.

I signed some non-disclosure agreement saying I wouldn’t say what we talked about at this meeting. I probably can’t even say that I was at a meet that I can’t talk about. BUT…a large pharmaceutical company gathered patients together to talk about medications, newly diagnosed patients, and other patient related things. I must say, after this meeting I have a whole new respect for big pharma. I no longer just think it’s a big fat man, who resembles the Monopoly guy, sitting behind a desk playing around in freshly cut $100 bills. They actually are pretty normal looking. None of them wore a tux. Not a single one. I really think that these people want to help patients. They want to understand them, and make sure they are meeting their needs. That was refreshing and also reassuring.

Meeting ends around 5:00pm. Go to my room, order room service. Pass the fuck out.

Wake up at 6:00am. Get picked up…fly to Minnesota….fly home. Get puppies. Sleeeeeeeeeeeep.

After being in 3 time zones, 5 airports, and 5 planes…I am tired. Whooped. Beat. Cashed. D) All of the above.

I havent put this bod through that much ‘stress” in a long time and I am happy to report that she help up pretty well. I’m SUPER tired. I have had shitty sleep and I’m been feeling a little “off” since I got home, but there was a lot of travel and food I couldn’t control in there. Overall…pretty stoke that I had these opportunities and that I was able to take part in them without any limits! Go j-pouch!
I got home, slept for a bit and got back to the grind. Back to work, back to planning my ass off for Girls With Guts. You guys, that is going to turn into something beautiful and I am so excited for when I finally get to disclose everything we are doing! I think you’re going to be pumped too! Also Charis is coming to town next week. Giggle fest to ensue.

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