A man looks at a path to his destination

Challenges of Living in a Rural Community

Today I wanted to talk to you about something that is a personal obstacle for me when it comes to my healthcare: distance. I live in a very rural community in the middle of Washington. To give you an idea, it’s about a 3 hour drive to my cystic fibrosis (CF) clinic, assuming we’re driving in good traffic and weather - and if you know anything about Washington, that’s a BIG assumption. This means that when I have to go in for a check-up, it’s AT LEAST a 6-hour drive round trip. That’s not counting the time I spend in my actual appointment, which is often around 3 hours in and of itself - we’re up to 9 hours, people.

All in all, a day trip to and from my CF clinic takes about 12 hours when you factor in food and potty breaks. (Gotta get those calories!) Not only is there a substantial commitment of time, but there’s also the monetary cost of gas to get there and back, any food or snacks along the way, and the less obvious cost of vehicle maintenance and wear-and-tear.

Factors to plan around

If I have appointments across multiple days (e.g. CF on Monday, diabetes on Tuesday) that means that we also have to make sleeping arrangements. In some ways this is easier than going up to Seattle multiple times a month, as it cuts down our travel time; It also means that we have to plan and pack overnight bags, reserve a hotel room for a night, and mostly eat out (unless we want to heat up Marie Callender's in our hotel room for two days).

Another factor to plan around, at least for me, is the social aspect. Not only do I hate going on long trips by myself, it’s also impractical - especially if I’m feeling ill. This means that not only do I have to schedule appointments around my own life, but also a caregiver who can go with me. I’m lucky enough that my dad is around and usually willing to drive me. He’s my go-to person for these trips. Having company helps to ease the stress of the day, and stave off the boredom. Plus, if the doc decides that I need to be admitted, the car doesn’t have to sit in the parking garage for a week or more.

Nearest CF hospital

Not only does living out in the sticks make my normal appointments a hassle, but if I have an exacerbation and/or need to be admitted, the nearest hospital that has the facilities to care for a patient like me is over an hour away. This makes planning for admittance extra important. If something is forgotten, it’s not like my family can just run home and grab it and be back quickly. I have a specific list of things that I pack when I go to the ER, just in case they decide to admit me. Some of these things are necessities, like CF-specific medications that most hospitals don’t carry (e.g. Trikafta); and some are creature comforts to make my stay more comfortable, like fuzzy socks and my favorite throw blanket. I covered some tips on packing for a hospitalization in a previous article.

Lack of pharmacies

The last obstacle I will share with you is the lack of pharmacies. There is only one “local” pharmacy near me and that is in the next town over - maybe 30 minutes away. Luckily, we live in the age of home-delivery pharmacies (of which I take full advantage), but that doesn’t do me any good if I need medication right away. Having only one pharmacy in our area means that almost everyone uses it, so it’s constantly overloaded with prescription orders which isn’t conducive to filling prescriptions in a timely manner.

Do you face location-based challenges to your healthcare? Share your thoughts, or any strategies you implement to make it easier on yourself - add a comment below to hear back from others in our CF community!

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