A Travel Warning

October 5, 2011 24 Comments »


Keep moving!

It’s my sister’s birthday today and I’ve decided to write this blog post for her birthday present. No bows or unwrapping required. Yes, this is what budget bloggers do instead of buying presents…we write. After all, my sister doesn’t need more stuff in her life, but she could use a good Facebook wall update and some tweets.

Strangely this birthday present post has to do with travel and quite frankly something you should all be interested – so don’t tune out…listen up… I promise I won’t make you sing at the end!

Do you ever feel like the universe is speaking to you; tapping you on the shoulder and giving you a stern look that says, “Hey you – pay attention!” Ever since I returned to Mongolia the Universe has spoken to me. It started with my friend David telling me about a co-worker of his who had a sister in the hospital who just had her toes amputated due to a blood clot in her leg that was found too late. Unfortunately the surgery didn’t work and she would be losing her lower leg in the coming days.

A week later I had a call from my sister. It started out normal as I was hopping on a plane the next day to go see her so I figured she was calling about picking me up at the airport. However after the small talk hellos, she said, “I’m in the hospital.” My heart sank and my voice dropped to a serious low octave. “What’s wrong?” I replied.

Dali hiking

Cyndi and I hiking in Dali China

She went on to tell me that in the morning she had completely fainted for no reason at home and luckily came to and went to the doctor to see what was wrong. They found blood clots in her legs – Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), and one had broken free and passed through her heart to her lungs otherwise known as a Pulmonary Embolism (PE). At the point where the clot passed through her heart and into her lung –she fainted.

Now my sister is as healthy as possible. To say that she’s a running and exercise enthusiast is an understatement…fanatic…a bit closer…addicted is probably more like it. (Yes – she’s is probably hating this birthday post right now…) So why all of a sudden was she literally floored one day before her 51st birthday?

This is where travel comes into the story…


Flight Danger

Four days earlier she had returned from a long haul flight from Singapore to Minneapolis. A flight she had taken many times before as she used to live as an expat in Singapore for years. Long haul flights, dehydration, and immobility associated with those flights are a known cause of DVT.

My sister is now out of the hospital, but DVT is not quickly fixed – it sticks with you for upwards of 9 months in the form of medication (blood thinners) that you must take to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Also, currently she has to give herself shots in the abdomen to prevent clotting. All of this medication means no drinking (or very little drinking for 9 months…boo) She joked around that it was like pregnancy…but you really get no reward at the end!

DVT Facts:
A Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a clotting of the blood in any of the deep veins – usually in the calf. If a clot develops, it usually makes its presence known by an intense pain in the affected calf. Medical attention should be sought immediately if this occurs, especially after a long journey. In some cases this can be fatal, if the clot breaks off and makes its way to the lungs where it can then affect the lung’s ability to take in oxygen. The DVT risk applies to any form of travel where you are stuck in one place for hours at the time (train, car/bus, or plane)

DVT Symptoms:
DVT can occur some days or even weeks after a trip. In most situations the person will have no symptoms and through normal movement the clot will break up. A large clot can prevent the blood flowing through the veins. When this happens a person might experience pain, redness and swelling in the calf – this pain is made worse when walking or standing. Complications can occur if the clot breaks off and travels to the lungs, blocking the flow of blood. Breathlessness and chest pain can occur hours or days after the clot formation in the calf. This is a potentially fatal condition and urgent medical attention is required.

Reducing your risk:
Those at risk should try to exercise at least every hour on long journeys. Get up and walk around every hour if possible. Exercise the calf muscles by rotating your ankles. Stay well hydrated. Some people also recommend to take aspirin daily 4 days before and after a long haul flight or long journey.

Strangely after this whole episode happened with my sister, I continued to hear stories of DVT from friends of friends randomly. How could these three little letters be so prevalent in my conversations where it never existed before? The Universe was speaking to me.

I’m on long haul flights frequently and I recall hearing things about this in the past; seeing little exercise and stretching diagrams in the backs of seat pockets, but I never really paid attention. In fact, I normally pop a sleeping pill and try to move as little as possible on a long haul flight. However, now I will take heed; I will get up every hour and walk, I will stretch, and I will drink liquids that aren’t solely alcohol. My perfectly healthy sister landing in the ICU was all I needed to jolt me into paying attention; hopefully it did the same for you.

FYI – I’m writing this post at 30,000 feet from the plane on my way to San Francisco; and yes I just got up and walked around and I didn’t even have to go to the bathroom. I also ordered lemonade. So my dear travelers – you should too.

A BIG Happy Birthday to my sister Cyndi who turns 51 years young today! I’m relieved you are ok. Sorry I’m cheap and didn’t get you a present!

Have you or anyone you know ever experienced DVT from long flights or travel? Tell us about it in the comments.

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