Travelling with Lymphoedema: South East Asia

Note: S.E.A = South East Asia

In my last post I described my experience of travelling across Indonesia with lymphoedema. The plan was to do this for every country I visited, but, when I finished writing the Malaysia edition, I realised it was all a bit “samey”. That’s not to say the day-to-day experiences of each country were the same, but rather how my lymphoedema responded to the environment was similar.

That’s why I’ve decided to write one mothership post, detailing what one can expect if they were to embark on an adventure across South East Asia. I will then do the same for East Asia which currently has a very different climate (it’s snowy here, minus ten and I am freezing my a*se off).

So, South East Asia. Big place, absolutely manic and certainly not the most welcoming of environments for lymphoedema, especially for those with the intention of backpacking. Take one minute to study the dangers of travelling here (with lymphoedema) and you might think it was a no-go, risk-ridden mass of land almost certain to hand you a healthy dose of cellulitis. On paper it is, but, with a bit of caution and some common sense it can be scaled, explored and enjoyed like any other part of the world… Well, nearly.

I spent roughly two and a half months in South East Asia, starting in Indonesia and passing through Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, with Vietnam concluding our stay.

It’s a fantastic part of the world which bursts with tradition, colour, history, flavour and the friendliest people you will likely ever come across. There is a stark difference between every nation, especially when you consider the modern capitalist powerhouse that is Singapore compared to say, communist Vietnam. However, every single one of these countries shares typically Asian characteristics, some of which lend themselves kindly to travelling with lymphoedema, some of which do not.

I’ll break these down for you and offer some tips whilst I’m at it:


In most of South East Asia they have a variety of seasons. In fact, the seasons differ from region to region within the same country! In the rainy season you will experience reoccurring biblical downpour which will leave you soaked head to toe. Miniature streams will form all around you and all but the brave (the locals selling ponchos) flee inwards. The good thing is the rain reduces the temperature slightly giving you a temporary break from the scorching heat.

However, I found at times my lymphoedema (left leg) was not too appreciative of the wet. My feet got drenched meaning I was regularly drying myself off and applying aloe gel between my toes – a real problem area for me. Litter and waste also moved with the wet, allowing polluted puddles to punctuate the streets. Not an issue if you’re careful, big issue if you misstep. Either side of the rain however came plenty of glorious sunshine.

Temperatures hit the thirties in Malaysia. The lowest temperature we experienced was around 18 degrees in Vietnam. If you could see both Charlotte and I before we left, you’d have thought us ill. Pale we were and prone to burning too, but after enough time soaking up the rich vitamin D we began to tan. But, as wonderful as the heat was, it didn’t take long before it had its way with my leg. I swelled like a balloon at times. The sticky heat wasn’t too comfortable either making my stocking a chore to get on and off, with chafing a frequent problem.

Bring a cooling spray with you such as the menthol infused one Medi supply. Rub it on your problem area and your stockings too. It’s not going to cool you down entirely but it helps nonetheless. Make sure you perform massage twice every day when you can, it goes a long way into relieving a heavy limb after a long day in the heat.

Relevant to: All countries.


In many parts of S.E.A sanitation is lacking somewhat. Some call it unhygienic, some call it relaxed. In tourist or popular spots you tend to be fine. In lesser known, more rural areas you might (definitely) need to bring hand sanitiser and toilet roll. It’s all a part of the backpacking experience I guess, but, bear in mind with lymphoedema there needs to be a certain amount of consideration. I.e. are you particularly prone to illness – especially cellulitis? Expect sneezing with no cover, spitting from the locals (especially elderly folk), stray dogs and cats (in restaurants and homestays).

Relevant to: all countries apart from Singapore.


The religions of S.E.A are an integral part of its cultural makeup. With Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity making up the major sects, you won’t go a day without stumbling across a beautiful place of worship.

Buddhist temples of shimmering gold; stunning geometric patterns which characterise traditional Muslim mosques; Hindu temples decorated with more colour than a rainbow – it will leave you speechless. With these holy grounds come one common trait – the removal of your shoes. After a while it does become frustrating, but if you want to see inside these stunning religious buildings it’s the price you need to pay. Keep an eye on the floor as although some places claim to enforce it, they definitely don’t. If the floor looks mucky consider giving it a miss. I brought spare socks with me that I could put on when necessary.

Relevant to: all countries.


Okay, it makes sense to start with hostels and homestays as they form your basecamp. Most have a shoes off policy which, although understandable, is annoying as unlike areas of worship, hostels and homestays tend to be dirty, well comparatively (especially in the bathroom). It’s not hard to find somewhere cheap and clean however, just do your research and always read the reviews as pictures are often misleading!

A typical trait of S.E.A culture is the famous squatting toilet. Although supposedly the correct position for adhering nature’s call, it does put a strain on your legs. It is definitely not the place you want to slip over in either.

Holes the size of wells line the streets in most of S.E.A sparing only Singapore. Health and safety isn’t too strict in these parts and it is not uncommon for broken windows, fences and railing to be left as they are, exposed to those passing by.

I adore beaches. Especially tropical ones with white sand and sparkling turquoise water. I had yet to experience sand with my lymphoedema as all previous holidays since my diagnosis had been city breaks. The sand gets EVERYWHERE. Your stocking will retain the grains for days to come and can make things a little sore. Bring plasters and aloe gel in your bag, and maybe a spare stocking just in case.

Insects really weren’t too much of a problem for me, even when I did get bitten I was tentative and always kept a close eye on my bites. I sprayed myself with the bug repellent, Deet, daily. Be warned however, it is very strong so if you have particularly sensitive skin try a herbal equivalent which will usually contain lemon and eucalyptus. I kept my legs covered with soft baggy traveller pants which also kept my legs cool.

Relevant to: all countries.


Alongside the heat, commuting has caused me a lot of pain throughout my travels. I would advise to always spend extra to get the best seats, but be aware the etiquette is different. Just because your coach ticket says “seat 1B” means nothing. If you ask politely people tend to move over, but this is no guarantee.

All lymphies know the complications with flying. Wear your stocking, keep moving around, book your seats in advance and ask for assistance at the airport.

Trains have perhaps been the biggest cause of grief for me. In the UK, disability awareness tends to be quite good but only when your condition is overtly present. It is not too dissimilar in S.E.A. The people are extraordinarily kind and will make way for those in need e.g. a pregnant or elderly person. However, I received a lot of stares for taking seats when my leg was in pain and I had no way of communicating my condition. You’ll be up and down like a yoyo, walking stop to stop, platform to platform. It does take its toll eventually. Don’t be a hero, take regular pit stops when your body has had enough.

Download the app Grab (Asian equivalent of Uber). It’s a cheap and easy way to commute around. If you are able, hire a bicycle – it’s even cheaper, good for pumping your leg and a great way to see the sights!

Relevant to: all countries, especially the cities of Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.


You’ll need some time to adapt to the food which IS delicious but considerably spicy. I tried my best to taste as much as I could, but some things just didn’t agree with my palate. Two words: chicken feet.

Excuse me in advance for not softening the delivery of this next sentence. You will likely spend a lot of time on the toilet while you adjust to the S.E.A cuisine. It’s really important that you stay hydrated during this integration period as you will lose hella’ bodily fluids which does no favours for lymphoedema.

We have ADORED the food in every country. The difference in taste between each region is distinct, delicious and delightfully satisfying. In Indonesia it was not hard to stay healthy due to the vast amount of cheap fruit. I drank a coconut daily as a minimum. The rest of S.E.A has a real, and I mean really real, taste for chicken, pork and of course, rice. In fact, at times it was hard to get our hands on veg and we had to head to more westernised “health bars” to get our nutrition up. Most of your diet will consist of meat and carbs which aren’t the best options for keeping your lymphoedema in check.

Try to load up on fruit and veg in markets, but be careful not take anything pre-chopped as you won’t know how clean the utensils are.

Finishing note

South East Asia is wonderful place. Friendly, beautiful people, amazing food, stunning sights and never a dull moment.

When travelling this region with lymphoedema you just need to be aware of a few things and bring the appropriate gear to combat any issues (see a condensed, more concise list of travelling tips here). I brought a spare sum on of money which could only be touched in case of emergency and that pot soon ran out. Emergency flights, expensive coaches and above average accommodation for bad leg days – you’ll be surprised at how often you need to a rearrange.

Know your limits, know your body and come ready with a day-to-day plan. You will experience down days forcing you to cancel, rethink and rest, but in doing so you will have the energy to keep on going!

If you have any questions that I might have missed please fire away in the comments section!

You can keep up to date with my travels on Instagram @leftlegfirst_travel

Is it Possible to Travel to Indonesia with Lymphoedema?

In this post I describe the realities of travelling to Indonesia with lymphoedema. I had no idea what to expect from Indonesia. Well, I say Indonesia, but I only visited Bali and for a brief period, due to a certain volcano, Surubaya; the country’s second largest city. It really is a wonderful place, full of smiles that stretch across some of the friendliest faces I’ve ever encountered. Everyone wants to say hello. Everyone wants to be your friend. It took me a week or so to get use to waving so much. I’m from the UK. The South of the UK, near London. We don’t say hello. We hide from conversation, and panic when we catch someone’s eye accidentally, diverting our gaze to the adverts that line our underground trains. If I were to tell you every moment of my time in Indonesia we’d be here all year. So instead, i’m going to cover the noticeable lymphoedema related elements and save the day-to-day highlights for a separate post. Bon. Overview Bali is place that has seen a real surge of tourism in a short period of time. For some locals this has been wonderful, for others not so much. But if we put the argument for the consequences of tourism aside briefly, I’ll talk you through what you can expect from one of my favourite ever places. Lots of fruit. Lots of mopeds. Insects of every variety, from the swat-worthy fly to the infamous mosquito, the praying mantis and beyond. Hills, rice fields and mountains. Big beaches, arching palm trees and unlabeled spirits – drink this at your peril. Dogs, cats, rats and bats and plenty of roosters. Geckos, lizards, turtles and cork-screwing dolphins. The food was great, we ate mostly in what the locals call warungs – i.e. restaurants. However, in places like these, don’t expect a loo seat and never expect toilet roll. If you are looking for comforts closer to home there are plenty of cafes and restaurants catering to tourists. We, Charlotte and I, visited during the rainy season (mid-November) which meant, unsurprisingly, it rained. But not how I expected. It wasn’t torrential downpour every hour of everyday. No, in fact, it came in bursts usually only once in the day for an hour so. But boy did it come down. Starting in the south near Seminyak, we headed north passing through Ubud until we got to Lovina. After that, we departed the mainland and visited a small set of beautiful islands to the east by the name of Gili. Then, in an attempt to flee a brewing volcano, we headed out of Gili and caught a flight to the biggest island of Java. How did my lymphoedema get on? Quite well, actually. Although it was hot, which took some acclimatising, we were never too from water to swim in. Pick your accommodation carefully for somewhere that looks hygienic (inside and pool area) and make sure to pack aloe gel – apply it daily to your problem areas. See more travel tips here.

I tried to drink a fresh coconut every day. They are so cheap in this part of the world and you won’t have a hard time finding them either. Make sure you walk when you can to build up fitness and stimulate flow in the lymph, but don’t be afraid to take a taxi when your body tells you it needs a rest. Often I felt fine, but then all of a sudden I needed to stop, find shade and rest. That might just be my most important tip – listen to your body! We were never on the road for too long and even on our longest journeys we travelled by car with our own personal driver. His name was, and I’m sure it still is, Bagus. But more on him in a later post. Drivers are of minimal cost and allow you to customise your journey, stopping for rests, lunch and areas of interest. Good food is plentiful in Bali and cheap too. Both Charlotte and I agree that we have eaten the healthiest food in Bali. Things to be aware of For all the fun I had in Indonesia, the country is still developing and there is still widespread poverty once you look past the westerinsed cafes which dominate key tourist spots. Not only is this saddening on a moral level, but it also plays into treating lymphoedema as well. In most places the streets aren’t clean. Combine this with torrential downpour and you have yourself streams and puddles of bacteria. Keep an eye on this. If you are wearing sandals, you will find yourself hopping around them daily. Pot holes punctuate the pavements and could be lethal if you are not paying attention, especially at night. Look out for exposed nails and sharp items on the ground, fences and buildings. We had to change our route unexpectedly when Mt Agung started to show signs of eruption. This meant emergency budget needed to be allocated to flights, with more time spent planning an escape route instead of caring for my leg. Just be aware you are sitting on a very naturally active part of the world in Indonesia. I’m not an insect kind of person. We saw a praying mantis which was a treat, but anything that bites or stings I tend not to be the biggest fan of. Indonesia was full of them, although with plenty of bug spray you should be fine. I have worn trousers most of this trip just as a double layer of protection. If you don’t drink enough water the heat will win and your lymphoedema will suffer. It’s simple, drink water regularly. On one or two occasions I became overwhelmed by the constant need to pay attention to my leg, but this is part and parcel of travelling with a chronic swelling condition. What was the usual go-to remedy? Water, water and more water. There’s a shoes off policy which is common across most of South East Asia. If you’re visiting a temple, a hostel and even some shops, expect to take your shoes off. Make sure to bring wipes with you, as well as a pair of socks to wear indoors. Should I visit Indonesia with lymphoedema? This a completely personal choice. We all experience lymphoedema differently, we all react in different ways. For example, when I’m stressed my lymphoedema suffers, but I’m not too bad on long journeys. I didn’t spend months getting fit. In fact, I was only a few months out of A&E when I hopped on my first flight. You need to know your body and its limits but, I urge you not to be afraid of travelling. Yes it’s harder for us than it is for most. Yes you WILL have plenty of frustrations along the way. However, no amount of swelling, if kept under control, will beat the feeling of discovering the world beyond your doorstep. Make a plan, cover all scenarios (including the risk of cellulitis), stay hygienic and you will be absolutely fine.

My Lymphoedema Appointment in Singapore

In this blog I describe my experience of treatment in Singapore. I also share some tips I learned along the way. If you wish to skip to the tips, jump about half-way down the page to the section titled “Tips from Veronica”.

Amidst the chaos of Mt. Agung’s “imminent” eruption (it still hasn’t erupted), our flight to Singapore was cancelled. As tourists relaxed on the sandy beaches of Indonesia’s glorious coastlines, the volcano exhaled a giant puff of ash and with its molten breath the airlines stopped all flights in and out of Bali. Luckily for us, my gut instinct kicked in (superhero Josh to the rescue) the day before meaning we got away just in time. Instead we headed straight to Malaysia, although a couple of weeks later we would find ourselves in Singapore anyway having the most wonderful time.

At a later date I will share my day-to-day experiences of the various countries I’ve visited over the course of my travels however, for this post in particular, I would like to focus on the treatment I received for my leg in Singapore.

The Masso Institute, Singapore.

Before we left the UK I posted about my upcoming travels on a lymphoedema support group. Someone kindly dropped me a tip about the Masso Institute in Singapore and said to check them out should I need treatment. It’s just about the only place in South East Asia to receive lymphoedema care, so, if you’re ever in that part of the world make sure to keep them in ­mind.

The clinic, run by a lady called Veronica, is quite small and unsuspecting, sitting in a sort of student shopping mall (when you see it you’ll know what I mean). It’s clean and cool, and the relief of knowing you’re in good hands (note the non-intended pun) settles across your body the moment you walk in.

Reassuringly I was asked to fill in a medical form and soon after I made my way into a treatment room where an assistant measured my legs. The results weren’t great as Veronica made very clear and with a teacher-esque authority, she began to interrogate me as to why I had allowed my leg to become so fibrotic. Before the appointment I thought I was doing quite well, but, after an hour or so with Veronica, let’s just say the standards of self-care I had set myself increased somewhat.

I had been meandering around Singapore with a solid, heavy leg during the days leading to my appointment. In all fairness I had been hiking in Malaysia so I think I was still recovering from that! Needless to say the leg wasn’t too comfortable, and when I showed Veronica my stockings and demonstrated my usual exercises she responded with this…

“That won’t do a thing, you might as well have nothing”.

You see, my then compression garment was not up to the job. It was old, unfitted and not strong enough. My leg was far more swollen than before I left the UK (due to various factors) and so wearing my usual garment was fruitless. Same with the exercises. The pressure I was applying was too light, it needed more force. Luckily for me Veronica had a new, much tighter garment lying around in my size, as well as a few tips for the road.

She put me in the pump which was just what I needed. I had never been in one that wrapped around my torso as well as my legs before. It squeezed me so tight I felt light headed!

The appointment was fantastic. I learned so much about treating lymphoedema in my short time at Masso. Veronica is extremely knowledgeable on the subject and a skilled therapist too. Let me take you through some of the bits I learned along the way…

Tips from Veronica

Swimming pools: Now then, most of us know that a dip in the water is great for treating lymphoedema. Swimming is wonderful, but actually hydro-walking is the best exercise for us lymphies. The pressure of the water in the depths of the pool stimulates our lymph flow, forcing the lymph up from your feet. Not only that, the pool is nice and cold making it an ideal counter to intense, hot weather.

Tip: When backpacking try and find a hostel close to the sea. If you can’t, find an apartment block or hostel with a pool. I would tend to pick an apartment over a hostel for hygiene reasons. We found this place for £30 a night:

Ice-packs: Now, in the extremes ice isn’t great for us lymphies. But, in small doses, ice can provide a really easy way for quick relief. Some of the more popular backpacking destinations involve braving hot climates which can make things unbearable for those with lymphoedema. If you purchase yourself an ice-pack, you can put in your hostel/apartment freezer and cool your leg down in moments of need. Wrap the pack in a tea-towel and stroke up your leg gently. Don’t put the pack straight on your limb or it will be too cold for your lymphoedema.

Tip: Don’t worry, if you forget an ice-pack, just buy an ice-tray and empty the ice into a plastic bag and tie it up.

Get a shift on: Contrary to the former consensus amongst lymphoedema therapists, to shift lymph, in particular fibrosis, one needs to be firm when performing self-massage. Stroking a fibrotic limb will not do anything as I found out. Use the edge of your hand, and pull down your limb (towards your groin or pit) with enough force to really feel it (not too hard though!).

Tip: Purchase a massage tool like the one pictured below. I picked mine up for 20p in a Thai market. It makes things a little easier and is small enough to fit in your rucksack.

Essential oils: If, like me, you are an advocate of herbal remedies then this one is for you. Using a combination of essential oils, including frankincense and myrrh (shout out to the wise men), Veronica has created a formula that prevents cellulitis. In fact, after testing it for nine years, not one of her patients had a bout of cellulitis.

It wouldn’t be fair for me to list the ingredients, so if you wish to get your hands on her formula, please get in contact with her directly through the Masso Institute website.

It was a real pleasure to meet Veronica. If ever I should be back in that part of the world, I would gladly pay the Masso Institute another visit, not only for treatment, but to see a new friend too.

Visit the Masso Institute at

Been to any other lymphoedema clinics in Asia? Let me know!

What does Lymphoedema look like across the world?

I was born and raised in the South East of the UK just outside of London in a sleepy village called Prestwood. In my university days in Southampton, I would leave for the semester and come back home a few months later to find that nothing had changed. Mum might have reorganised the entire kitchen (every year without fail) and Dad might have sprouted a few more ear hairs. But, other than that, not much seemed to happen in our neck of the woods.

When I was diagnosed with lymphoedema my life changed somewhat. I’m still heading in the same direction, only now I have new challenges and different priorities. It was my last Christmas in Southampton and the following summer I would be heading home again.

It’s safe to say that in Prestwood, lymphoedema was not the talk of the town. I had no one to chat with, not even my doctor, and so the condition soon became very isolating. I swept it under the rug and rarely brought it into conversation, unless, of course, someone spotted that one of my legs dwarfs the other.

I didn’t even wear my compression stockings as I wasn’t aware of the risks. “Hey! I’m young… there’s no way one swollen leg will keep me down” I would think, and it didn’t. Until June of 2017 where I was brought back to reality by cellulitis, but that’s a different story.

Post cellulitis, my lymphoedema network grew somewhat. I’ve met therapists and doctors, and connected with other lymphies who, just through documenting their experience of lymphoedema online, have expanded my thinking towards the condition.

However, irrespective of this global community, those from the UK with lymphoedema still lack the support they should be receiving considering the severity of the condition. We are blessed with a superb NHS which sadly, in recent years, has been suffocated by politics meaning lymphoedema does not get the attention it deserves. Primary patients will struggle to access a community who understand the condition and, upon diagnosis, there’s no standardised route of care.

For me, post diagnosis felt like being dropped off at the gates on the first day of school, not knowing where to turn, with a complimentary ‘off you go’ thrown in for good measure. I found it hard to explain to my friends, family and colleagues what lymphoedema was, why I had it, and what on earth I was going to do about it. The condition is not in the spotlight. In fact, lymphoedema is only beginning to gain exposure in the medical world due to its relationship with cancer.

It doesn’t come cheap either. Therapists, bandages, pumps, compression garments, the list goes on. There’s no way around it – either find the money, or swell. Lymphoedema has no bias – It doesn’t pick you based on your habits. Quite the opposite, it turns up unannounced as the result of trauma like a sports injury or cancer. Sometimes we inherit the condition and when it rears its ugly, complicated and swollen head it leaves the whole family guessing who carried the gene in the first place.

However, in spite of all this, the UK remains a world leader in health care. Lymphoedema might be low down on the list but compared with most of the world, the condition is manageable as support is there (you just need to dig) and our natural and social climate lends itself kindly to those suffering with it. By this I mean it’s cooler in the UK than in many countries, and as a result we have less disease. Although socially you will still face jeers and discrimination, you are likely to fare better in this part of the world where, due to an arguably more “progressive” society, there might be more understanding.

But of course, this is just one opinion of a twenty-four year sat in a hostel somewhere in Bangkok. I often find myself comparing my struggle (it’s not always a struggle mind) with other peoples. How do other Brits cope? Is the “lymphie life” too expensive, unmanageable or inaccessible? More poignantly, how do those suffering with lymphoedema cope in parts of the world where healthcare isn’t as easily accessed? It’s an important conversation to be had as there is not one country that won’t feel the effects of lymphoedema, whether that be primary or secondary.

So, if you are reading this I would love to hear your experience of lymphoedema and how it’s defined by where you live and who you are. It’s a sensitive topic, but the more we talk about it openly, the more exposure and support we can give one another.

5 Things I’ve Learned Travelling South East Asia with Lymphoedema

Travelling with lymphoedema presents the backpacker with more challenges than they can count on their grubby little fingers. However, if approached with a little extra care, exploring the world and its vast beauty is still very much doable.

So, with that in mind, I’d like to share with you some of the lymphoedema lessons I have learnt whilst travelling and how they’ve affected me both physically and mentally. Here it goes…

Hygiene rules

To quote my first international therapist, Veronica, whom I met in Singapore, “you’re in Asia now darling”. She said this in response to me asking how often I should be washing my newly purchased stocking. The answer? Every day. You’re in Asia now is referring to the dominating heat which breeds bacteria.

Hygiene effects where you eat, swim, sleep and even where you walk. You need to be aware of your surroundings everywhere you go. Temples with no shoes policies. Pavements with rancid puddles. Hostels with dirty showers. The list goes on and on. Bring anti-bacterial gel, wipes and be ready to embrace some pretty unhygienic environments.

Put yourself first

It’s frustrating. I’m twenty-four years old and want to be as care-free as my age would suggest. But, for all things lymph related (which is just about everything) I can’t be. Darting runs into the sea? “You go ahead I’m just going to put my sea sock on just to make sure there’s nothing sharp”. Rock climbing? “I’d rather not, I’m not too experienced and don’t want to cut my leg”. Could you just grab the charger from our room? “Actually, no. I’ve just sanitised my whole foot and don’t want to run bare foot through a dusty dorm”.

It sounds minor, but I’ve been travelling around six weeks and it doesn’t stop. It’s surprising how often you need to put yourself first, but you don’t really have a choice. You’ve got to suck it up and do what you need to do. Exploring a museum? Ask for a stool to take around with you. Catching a minibus? Ask to sit at the front. Queuing at passport control? Ask for medical assistance. It’s hard at first, and I required a firm nudge from my girlfriend, but once I had done it a few times it became much easier. Trust me, it’s not wise to ignore your bodily signs for the sake of politeness or saving face, it’ll just ruin your plans for a later date.

It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes – except your compression garment.

Ah Nelly, if only it were that simple. As we established in point number one, Asia is hot. Seriously hot. For lymphies (if you have the condition you’ll know all too well) heat is the killer (figuratively not literally). Unfortunately, if you want to travel around Asia you’ll need to learn how to manage your condition in the hottest part of the day. On numerous occasions the sun became too much for me and I had to retreat to the shadows like some sort of swollen vampire.

Rule number one is stay hydrated. Rule number two is always wear your compression garment. Rule number three is treat your limb whenever the opportunity presents itself. Seriously, if you have a moment, get that limb raised and start the drainage. It doesn’t matter if you are in a café or on a boat, do what you must.

For me, the best response to the heat has been water. I have a guideline that I have been loosely sticking to: pick places right by the sea and if you can’t, pick places with a pool. Hydro-running is super-effective and will help to shift your lymph.

Nobody has a clue what lymphoedema is

But then again, why would they? I have had some strange looks from all sorts of people. Travellers, tourists, families, locals – everyone is included in the people that pull weird faces at my leg club.

A few fellow hostel dwellers thought I was in an accident. Another thought I had burnt my leg. Most people just stare at it, look me up and down, momentarily try to figure it out, then proceed with their life. I did however have a man on a bike in Thailand cycle up to me, stop, point, then burst out laughing. It was like something out of an American high school. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking “that boy has an impaired lymphatic system, that is funny to me”, but nonetheless, it was sudden, jarring and caught me off guard.

Hazards. Hazards everywhere.

Travelling is full of wonder. Glistening seas, beautiful people, exotic animals and tasty food. It’s also FULL of hazards. Strangely enough you get used to it, but everywhere I’ve been to in South East Asia so far has been full of red flags.

Bugs, as you can probably imagine, are everywhere. Mosquitoes we all hate (sorry, if you don’t mind them we can’t be friends) and they’re expected. Red ants on the other hand are kind of cool but boy do their bites sting. I’ve found them at dinner on the table, on the wall whilst waiting for a bus to come, and even in my bed.

The pavements in Indonesia casually have enormous holes every twenty metres or so. It’s due to the cost of maintenance but they are particularly lethal at night time as they are not taped off. Buildings with broken windows, fences and walls are all too common and if you’re not careful it’s easy to catch yourself on a nail.

In Malaysia, dogs with a tendency to bite roamed around the Cameron Highlands. Most taxis don’t have seatbelts.

Been to this part of the world? Let me know some of your own experiences!

Travelling with Lymphoedema: The Airport

I’m currently travelling around South East Asia for four months. My blog aims to spread awareness on lymphoedema as well as highlighting the highs and lows of travelling with the condition. This post explores some of my experiences of using airports and how it effects my condition.

My earliest memories of the airport come in the form of my father herding my family like cattle into the back of his car at two in the morning, a good five years before we were due to check-in. The issuing of passports and other such documents were usually left till we had arrived at the airport and without fail, every holiday, one of my dear siblings (you know who you are) would cause some sort of commotion. Nothing major. You know, the usual last minute panics like forgetting to turn off the hair-straighteners or deciding to change your outfit whilst the rest of your family sit in the car waiting and cursing your willingness to jeopardise the one holiday we were going to have that year.

Things were much simpler back then. I had no responsibility whatsoever except, of course, carefully selecting the sweets which would stop the families ears popping.

Fast-forward fifteen or so years and I still take that responsibility very seriously, but I also have one or two more that I didn’t expect to have. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, or perhaps even the title of this blog, you’ll know that I have lymphoedema in my left leg (shock horror) and the airport is yet another experience made that little bit harder by the condition.

Make the airline aware in advance

Leaving the UK was a mixed experience. We checked in on time, said goodbye to the parents over breakfast, and even found the time to buy a puzzle book for the flight. We were flying with Qatar Airways and a few days before we were due to depart, I decided to give their customer service team a quick call to let them know about my leg. In the end, after a few easy conversations, they were able to seat me right at the front (not in business class to my disappointment) which gave me the space to keep my leg stretched out.

We flew to Denpasar (Bali) via Doha, which amounted to fifteen hours spent in the air. Combine that with queuing and waiting at both ends for security, baggage and boarding and you have yourself a swollen leg. My lymphoedema really didn’t like the pressure. I could feel things twitching and bloating internally which caused me some level of discomfort. Before I left, my doctor explained to me that I could be at my most vulnerable after a lengthy flight. My body was already working overtime to make sure my lymphoedema was in check during the journey, so suddenly exposing it to the intense temperatures, biting insects and other threats of South East Asia was something to be aware of.

Somehow, you’ve got to keep the lymph moving. Be prepared for some strange looks from other passengers as they will wonder why you are sat on the floor of a plane stroking your body. Do it anyway, you’ll thank yourself later. Drink plenty of water and make sure you wear your compression garment.

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It all stacks up

At the time of this blog post I have already been travelling for just over a month with three more still to go. I started my adventure in full health with my leg in a good place but since then, there have been ups and downs with pain and comfort levels fluctuating daily.

In total I plan to visit eight countries across Asia. This means a lot of journeys using public transport which, as you’ll know, is all a part of travelling life. The thing is, there is only so much you can do to take care of your condition and some external factors you simply can’t help. Intense nature, mosquito bites, unexpected walks and traffic jams are inevitable. For example, whilst travelling around Indonesia Mt Agung showed signs of erupting and my flight to Singapore was cancelled. This meant a last minute rush to get off the island to avoid missing out on other plans. I started that process in great shape; I ended it tired, sore and stressed.

I’ve tried to do things with a typical traveler approach, going with the flow and all that, but that lack of structure means last minute decisions are guaranteed. An internal flight here and there enables you to explore more but it can also mean no time to make airlines aware of medical conditions, standing in long queues with a very heavy rucksack, and sacrificing your health and comfort for the chance to do something amazing. In spite of this however, if you look after yourself during the down time, you’ll be fine when the tougher times come calling.

Part 5: Itchy Feet

This is Part 5 of my fight with cellulitis. In this post, I explore the frustrations of life after cellulitis. If you wish to read Part 4: The Flood, you can do so here.

The floor of the ward was wet. Really wet. The water, which had reached my bed and soaked my clothes, was now creeping towards the corridor.

After I had crawled into bed, a nurse marched into the room to find Charlotte on her hands and knees cleaning the floor. Evidently confused, she tried to piece together how the situation had arisen. A raised eyebrow from Charlotte and my refusal to make eye contact was enough evidence to suggest that it was I behind the waterlogged circumstance we had all found ourselves in.

Eventually, the floor dried. My temperature was taken and blood pressure checked. My infection rate was dropping and slowly, my leg was whitening.

That’s when it started.

I need you to think of the last time you were bitten by an insect. Just imagine the red dot with the white circle. The relentless oozing, itching and scratching: a daily reminder of your hatred for mosquitos, midges and other such creatures.

Now take that sensation and multiply it by one thousand. That was the itchiness my leg felt as it started to heal from the cellulitis and regenerate every tiny skin cell.


Beautiful, right?

The itchy tickle never seemed to stop. Just writing this is making me scratch my leg. The worst part? I couldn’t touch it. Well I could, but just a gentle stroke. Nothing on the satisfaction of a good ole’ scratch. Again, morphine came to my rescue as it numbed the feeling in my leg. I also applied cream every couple of hours or so, which provided some relief.

This lasted for a couple of days but eventually, it calmed down and the skin on my leg was back to its usual, pasty and somewhat freckly self.

I was given the all clear and sent on my way. Standing up still hurt with every attempt and my leg would still turn a bluish-purple each time. But, irrespective of the pain, I was glad to be out.

As a goody bag, the pharmacist prescribed me the biggest bag of drugs I have ever seen. It was similar to a bag of liquorice all-sorts – equally disgusting, but far better for me. Inside, there was an eclectic mix of painkillers, inhalers, creams, gels and antibiotics. Sorted.

Upon leaving, the best tip I was given by the doctor was to cream my leg twice a day. I have done so till this day (around 4 months later) and my leg is looking much better. As she explained to me, your skin becomes incredibly weak with lymphoedema. Applying cream just gives your skin wall the strength to defend against future breakages and infections.

We left the hospital and headed straight for a taxi just opposite. It was hot outside and the streets of Bristol were full of people going about their days.

It’s odd. When you leave hospital after nine days, it feels like the world should have changed. It hasn’t, but you have, and for some reason it felt like everyone I passed would know it. They didn’t.

It was our last day in Bristol. Charlotte had spent her final week of university looking after me, so we decided to go for one last celebratory meal at an Italian restaurant called Pasta Loco. If you have the chance to go there you will not be disappointed – the food is simply incredible. I washed my antibiotics down with a glass of white wine, a natural pairing of course.


This certainly beat hospital food.

From there, Dad picked us up and we headed back home to Buckinghamshire. It was over. No more Patient X, hospital food or late nights. No more wailing elderly folk, Dr Sophie or injections. The whole ordeal had finished.

Before I knew it, I was sat on my sofa at home watching television. It was a relief to be back amongst my family, friends and my dog, Luna. I rested for a day or so and even managed the trip to Wales, which thanks to the cellulitis, was almost destined to never happen. My friends looked after both Charlotte and I for the weekend, cooking, cleaning and entertaining. I didn’t have to lift a finger and I could enjoy the fresh air.


Beautiful Wales was just what I needed

A few days passed and again I was on that same sofa, leg raised. My friends went back to work and it didn’t take long before I got bored. I couldn’t really walk, I definitely couldn’t drive and usually, I could only stay awake for a few hours at a time.

When you have lymphoedema, cellulitis can make the fluid go rock solid. This is called “fibrosis”. To me, the density feels much like leather padding. It really doesn’t give and is very uncomfortable. The trouble is without proper treatment that fluid isn’t budging. In fact, over time it just gets harder and more painful.

The fibrosis was immobilising my ability to do anything. As you can imagine, this quickly turned my restfulness into restlessness, riddling my recovery with frustration. The sofa sessions lasted a few weeks. I would sit and ponder what on earth I was going to do with my life. It might sound dramatic, but the damage my leg had taken hugely limited my opportunities.

No standing for too long. No sitting for too long. No heat, no cold. Less alcohol more water. Commuting was off-limits. Forget driving or long train journeys and don’t even consider flying. Festivals were a no-go. Be wary of insect bites and don’t stay in the sun for too long. Careful what you eat. Watch what you wear.

The list goes on and on.

So, what was I going to do with my life? I had always wanted to travel and see the world, to soak in the culture of places I never knew existed. Backpacking was the next thing on my to-do list, but with each passing leg-raised day, that ambition slowly faded. The candle had been blown out and a fear started to consume me.

But, just as the colour in my life started to turn grey, my mum handed me her phone. On the other end was a lymphoedema therapist. She was very kind, understanding and convinced me to pay her visit.

If it weren’t for mum, that phone conversation never would have happened. It was her research that led to the call, and it was seeing this therapist that got me back on my feet again.

In my next blog, I will take you through my recovery and the life-changing advice I received from an incredible therapist by the name of Carmel.

Part 4: The Flood

This blog is Part 4 of my hospital experience during my fight with cellulitis. If you’d like to read Part 3, you can do so here.

I was sat in a clunky, brown wheelchair staring out of a window that looked over the city of Bristol. The sun was setting and a pinkish-orange hue hovered on the skyline. It looked warm outside and as I gazed outwards, I couldn’t help but wander if I’d get a chance to experience the heat before it inevitably turned cold again (Brits will know the feeling).

It was cooler in the new ward, more modern too. There were fewer beds; more staff and everything felt cleaner.

During my stay in hospital I had a few visitors: friends, family friends and family. Charlotte wasn’t so much a visitor, but more of a stand in nurse. When visiting hours were over, she was allowed to stay. It was Charlotte who made my bed and helped me go to the toilet. She fed me, washed me and entertained me. It didn’t take long for the staff to realise that she was relieving them of certain duties, which meant they could focus their efforts elsewhere. I think they enjoyed her company as much as I did!

By this point I had pain everywhere in my body. The infection made me twitch and spasm uncontrollably and my leg was blistered from heel to thigh. The remedy? Liquid morphine. I took it on the hour, every hour. It was such a relief, although, it did inspire some strange, vivid dreams involving lions, my friends, and Ikea furniture.

Don’t even ask.



The blisters were nasty


After one night’s stay in the new ward I was given the option to have my very own en-suite. I gleefully accepted the offer and moments later; I was wheeled down the corridor. Usually private rooms are only for patients that are contagious so germs can be contained and kept at bay, but in my case, it was because I was easier to look after than other patients. They could herd everyone else together and leave me to it. As you can guess, I very much enjoyed the solitude. Or so I thought.

My parents, sister and some friends of the family had just visited. We laughed and shared stories for an hour or so but eventually, it was time for everyone to leave – they had dinner plans for Mum’s birthday. As my Dad left he asked, “Are you going to be alright?” to which I smiled and nodded. They headed off and shut the door behind them. I was alone.

The next three hours were horrible. As I stared at the ceiling it dawned on me that we still had no answers from the doctors. Why wasn’t my body fighting back? The claustrophobic room was small and bleak. I was afraid, lost and had no one to turn to.

The following morning I was back with Charlotte. A nurse entered the room, quizzed me on my stools, and swiftly left. It was a rollercoaster start to the day. A short while passed and my family returned. I told them of the previous nights struggle and as they sought to comfort me, a brigade of doctors suddenly marched in. There were three of them: two doctors and one consultant. They looked very serious, almost mob-like and seemed to tower over me. Arms folded and pens on ears, they fired questions back and fourth between themselves in military fashion until eventually, they revealed some news to me. I was on the mend. My infection rate was dropping and finally I was turning a corner. The double dosage of antibiotics was working.

I sat back in the bed and just smiled. I have never felt such relief as I did in that moment.



My sister, Jess


Later on I asked Charlotte to put some music on. It had been over a week since I had heard something other than hospital alarms and people groaning. We looked through photos on my laptop and as the music played I started to cry. It’s the little things you appreciate when everything is hanging by a thread.

Because my leg was beginning to heal, the en-suite room was reallocated to patients in greater need so I went back to my previous spot. With a new lease of life I attempted to shower on my own. Because the cellulitis started in my toes, I had to keep my left foot on a basin to avoid contact with the floor. I was loving every minute in the shower, but it wasn’t till I had finished that I realised the water had gone beyond the curtain. I pulled it back and to my horror the water had reached the door of the bathroom. In a panic I hobbled to the door and when I opened it, my jaw dropped. I had flooded the entire ward.

There wasn’t a nurse in sight. I looked around the ward and sat on a bed was an old man with his arms wrapped around his knees. Terrified for his life he proceeded to wail, calling for help as best he could. Alas the help never came and he was left stranded on an island of bedding. The water headed for every corner of the room until thankfully, Charlotte entered the room to prevent certain chaos.

I got into bed with a sheepish smile. It’s not everyday you flood a ward.

Part 3: Peaks & Troughs

This blog is Part 3 of my hospital experience during my fight with cellulitis. If you’d like to read Part 2, you can do so here.

Apparently, the most appropriate way to treat the people looking after you is to insult them. I’ve heard that supposedly, women love a bad boy, but I’m not sure medical professionals appreciate racism. Or sexism for that matter. In fact, I’m not sure “isms” of this ilk are particularly welcome anywhere nowadays. But maybe that’s just me?

I was lying in bed trying to time my breathing with the hum of the fan. It was late in the night and for the fourth day running, I couldn’t sleep. Every nurse had their hands full, the alarms were drilling, and there was only the one bed spare. It stayed liked this for hours, but as the ward began to simmer down a new arrival entered the scene.

Introducing Patient X. I couldn’t see him as a blue hospital curtain divided my view, but I could hear him. The yelling made it clear he was in a lot of pain and so a few nurses were needed to get him into bed. He was lowered using a crane like device and a loud breathing apparatus was fitted. I felt sorry for him.

This was a man who had clearly had a rough ride. I will not take that away from him, who am I to judge? But, I can only have so much sympathy for a person that made the collective experience for the entire ward a nightmare.

My sympathy didn’t last long. You see, although Patient X had a lot health issues, he also had a nasty streak. Over the coming hours I would learn just how nasty he could be.

One nurse was not to approach him with her hands on her hips, as he didn’t “need the attitude”. Her hands were only positioned like that because she was exhausted. It was late by this point. No one was in the mood for his attitude, least of all her. Yet she, with albeit a slightly forced smile, rearranged his pillows and poured his water.

Another nurse, he labelled as “that one” wasn’t “capable” of looking after him. This was the same nurse that had moments before wiped him down head to toe. I might add she was of Asian ethnicity.

He requested a fan as he was too hot. They took mine. I overheated. I was already overheated. I did not wish to be overheated. See where I’m going with this?

Each time he didn’t get the attention of the nurses, he repeatedly rang the alarm. This is exactly what you need when you’re trying to sleep. He would flail his arms and on two occasions he barged my table through the curtain and knocked everything over, including my water. What soaking good fun we were having together. He spilt a tiny bit of his own drink on his chest, but of course, this was the nurse’s fault. Why? I have no idea. But somehow it was, apparently.

Quite simply, hospital personnel are resilient, forgiving people made from much hardier stuff than I. Hours I spent watching them reflect insults, complaints and criticism. If they can do this daily, I can do it momentarily I thought to myself. Although, this was easier said than done.

After a few hours of lying next to him I was ready to make a run for it – all I needed was a new leg. Oddly enough, this was a discussion my mother and I ended up having. The infection was so bad and showed no sign of slowing down. At regular intervals I would stare at the red boundaries of the infection, praying that the cellulitis wasn’t spreading pass the pen markings. If it did, the infection might reach my vital organs, which could be fatal.

During one of his finer moments, Patient X told a woman who was on her hands and knees picking up a bag of his spilt crisps, that she looked good on the floor. As she stood up and brushed her knees off, he asked “Who are you?” to which she replied, “I am your doctor”. He fell silent.

This was Dr Sophie. She wasn’t much older than thirty and had intense eyes that seemed to carry the emotion of the whole ward in them. When she spoke, you listened. Daily she would visit me, shut the curtains and perch on the end of my bed, clipboard in hand. There was never good news it seemed, but somehow it was less of a blow when she delivered it.

When I first arrived, I was set to leave the following morning. By the end of day two, I needed three days in total. By the end of day three it was four days, and by the end of day four they gave up on telling me when I would be out. I kept my chin up as best as could. Dr Sophie had the fun job of repeatedly telling me to cancel the next day’s plan.

Mum’s 60th? Nope. Spa day? Nada. Paris? Definitely not. I hadn’t even told her about the planned trip to Wales, but you can guess what her advice was when I did. Each bit of bad news chipped away at me. By the time I had messaged my friends saying Wales was off, I had given up the positive act. I was in tears.

Dr Sophie decided the best thing for me was to up my antibiotics. I now took them orally as well as intravenously (directly into the blood via a drip). I was one big sack of antibiotics. I took the oral form four times a day and had about three different painkillers every hour or so.

Night time arrived again and just like the nights that came before it, I did not sleep. That was it. I’d had enough. The next day I was going to complain (I am typically awkward and don’t like doing this). The next morning I told Dr Sophie that a certain neighbour of mine was going to give me an emotional breakdown, that the ward was too hot, and that I was fed up of being surrounded by veterans. After a while, the charm of their twinkly eyes and grey hair vanished, and the constant groans one can only associate with an old person began to age me. I was becoming one of them.

She nodded, smiled sympathetically and said, “I’ll see what I can do”. She soon returned with the first bit of good news I had heard all week. I was moving up stairs to the new wards. Goodbye Patient X. Farewell old timers.

I felt better already.

Part 2: Death’s Corridor

This blog is Part 2 of my hospital experience during my fight with cellulitis. If you’d like to read Part 1, you can do so here.

June of 2017 was unbelievably hot, or so I was told. I didn’t get to experience the Mediterranean weather, but I did get to experience the mugginess that came with it.

As I was wheeled into the new ward, I couldn’t help but notice it looked more tired than I was. The lights were blinding, the walls peeling and where the curtain didn’t quite cover the window, a small blade of light stretched across the room. This was to be home for the next few days, and although it was somewhat lacking, it was infinitely more equipped than the last ward.



The headphones were a real #treat


My new bed had a TV. It didn’t really work properly, but it was a familiar sight and comfort. This bed had a remote that enabled me to move the backrest up and down, a fresh pillow and a light blue blanket. What a treat. I was wheeled across the ward and helped onto the bed by the porter. Once I had settled a nurse headed in my direction and introduced herself.

Nurses are some of the toughest people alive. They are the workhorses of the ward. They help you to eat and wash, they take blood and attach drips as well as humouring your poor conversational skills post morphine. My nurse was a Spanish woman, maybe sixty or so. She had a sort of motherly kindness that was counterbalanced with a dogged professionalism. She would tuck you in at night but if you didn’t drink your water before bed she’d stand there until you did.

My temperature and blood pressure were sky high. The skin on my leg was stretched, shiny and red. It hurt to touch, even in my pyjamas, so I lay in my underwear most of the time which, let’s just say, had a habit of revealing a bit too much (Charlotte had to buy me a size up as my leg didn’t fit!). I lay in bed, my eyes dotting around the room and before long drifted to sleep.


We named my leg ‘Ole’ Red’

I was awoken up by the arrival of a new roommate. He seemed a friendly soul, grey haired and in his late seventies I would say. His tenure didn’t last long at all however as he was there for the night and gone the next morning. This happened repeatedly: elderly folk in for the short-haul. There wasn’t much point in getting to know them as each time I fell asleep they had disappeared by the time I had awoken. So it was just Charlotte, my Spanish companion and me.

It took me a while to clock that I had been put in the ward designated for the elderly. I thought it was our aging population and incredible health care that increased the odds of these old timers being my roomies, but it wasn’t. I later learnt that I wasn’t expected to be in the ward for much longer than a couple of days, so I didn’t quite qualify for the shiny new wards upstairs. Instead I had to make do with my current company. “Can you help me pee, nurse?” I was asked numerous times. I was half naked and also in a bed, but I guess because my skin wasn’t prune-like they must have thought I was a scantily clad nurse.

I kept my head clear of negativity for as long as I could. When you feel like death the last thing you want to do is a crossword, or watch a film. The glare was too much on the screen and I could barely string a sentence together, never mind find the answer to 4 down: “a putty like substance”. Nevertheless that’s what I did, and the answer is MASTIC by the way.

Charlotte kept me engaged. She also bought me food from the M&S downstairs so I could avoid the hospital food. The rumours are true – it’s disgusting. I had one cold curry and decided if I wanted to live it would be best to stop eating it. Sometimes I would even go with Charlotte (it was quite the adventure).


Josh’s fun day (ft.Char) out of bed to M&S

In hospital you eat where you urinate. You also sleep there, drink there and well, live there. Naps were short which was largely due to the shrill of the ward alarm that would always go off just as you began to sleep; it was unforgiving and rarely gave you a moments rest.

I had never seen so many needles in my life. The nurses would just smile, pull out a needle and tap you on the arm. I would usually sit up, smile and ask the nurses how their days were going. In a bizarre sort of way I took comfort from them taking my blood, as I knew where ever it was going, it was going to contribute to my recovery. Take it! Take all of the blood!

The days were going very slowly and my bed was becoming somewhat of an island. When I stood up my leg would turn a reddish-blue where the cellulitis had disrupted my circulation. Over time blisters began to appear down the back of my leg, the ones behind the knee were particularly painful. Walking five metres felt like a marathon (not that I’ve ever ran one) so shower time took me a while. For the first time in my life I enjoyed a cold wash, which felt unbelievably soothing on my swollen, sensitive leg.

Amongst all of the trauma, there were two people that made my experience of it all infinitely better, and infinitely worse. One was a doctor and the other a fellow patient. One was kind, sweet and caring. The other was racist, sexist and nasty.

In my next blog I’ll tell you all about Dr Sophie and what a difference a good doctor can make to your whole outlook. But I’ll also talk about Patient X (I never caught his name) and the damage a negative person can do too.