Post Cardiac Event Travel

One of the biggest uncertainties for me after having a cardiac event at the age of 33 was the thought of getting back to work, and even more daunting was the thought of getting back to traveling for work (or pleasure for that matter). I live in Colorado, and my career in technology sales requires me to travel all over the country. I was fortunate enough to take a few weeks off after my cardiac event, but getting back to work meant getting back to travel fairly immediately as well. My purpose of this blog is to share some of my experiences and thoughts on how to successfully get back to traveling after having a cardiac event. Whether for business or pleasure, most people will likely face similar uncertain thoughts as they approach travel for the first time or two after a cardiac event.

Preparation, like most things in life, is critical to traveling after a cardiac event. The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to have a successful and stress free trip. The first time that I had to travel after my cardiac event, I knew that I was going to have some anxiety, so I began preparing for that trip much earlier than normal. I believe that I was traveling on a Wednesday, and my preparation began on that Monday (normally I would have packed and prepared the night before or the day of my travel depending on my flight time). My first action was to make a list. I would highly suggest this to anyone, because your mind will undoubtedly be going in many different directions. My list included the usual items like pants, shirts, underwear, socks, toiletries, etc. But, beyond the regular items, there were suddenly much more important things to remember than matching clothes. I now had added to my list my medications, clothes to exercise in each day, heart healthy snacks/food, and a list of my medical information (I would suggest taking a copy of your discharge paperwork from your hospital or cardiologist). Making a detailed list will ensure that you don’t forget something important to your health, as well as the not so important items. A quick funny story. After my first few trips post cardiac event, I felt that I could go without a list. While I certainly didn’t forget any of the critical health items, what I did forget were both my undershirts and ties for work. The old me would have been upset that I had forgot those items, but now it was something that I just laughed off and went on with my business.

As for the actual travel, I again would highly suggest allowing for ample extra time. Being rushed often makes us stressed, and stress is something that we can likely all agree is a good thing to avoid post cardiac events. For me, getting to the airport early so that I am not rushed is important to reducing stress. If flying or travel is something that stresses you out in general, I would also suggest talking with your primary care physician or cardiologist prior to travel. They may be able to make suggestions, or provide medical help to reduce/relieve that stress or anxiety.

Rather than going into detail about my personal travel stories, here is a list of “lessons learned” after my first few trips post-cardiac event:

  • Pack items for the plane that will occupy your mind (so that you don’t sit and dwell on your health thoughts for the duration of the flight). I find that a good book is best, but I also always have calming music and my tablet with a couple of good movies loaded.
  • If you plan on dining at the airport, do your homework to find a real restaurant with heart healthy options. Skip the quick and easy cheeseburger. Again, plan for extra time. Most airports have sit down restaurants with plenty of heart healthy options, but they do require planning extra time in your schedule.
  • Pack exercise clothes. We all know that physical exercise is critical to our heart health. I always pack exercise clothes for each day of my trip, and I commit to exercising each day away. This helps reduce stress, and of course helps heart health.
  • Pack healthy snacks. Skip the high sodium peanuts or chips on the airplane and hotels, and pack your own heart healthy snacks. It can be difficult (or just inconvenient) to try and find healthy snacks, so pack some from home. For me, I like raw nuts, carrots and organic fig bars.
  • When packing my medications, I have begun packing three additional days worth. I do this just in case I get stuck somewhere due to a cancelled flight, etc.
  • Prior to traveling for the first time, I talked with both my primary care physician as well as my cardiologist to make sure that they didn’t have any concerns. Beyond just asking them if its ok to travel, I also reviewed with them things that were in my toiletry bag. For example, I use Zyrtec for allergy medicine and Tylenol as a pain reducer. I asked to make sure that none of what I “used” to take would interfere with my heart medications.
  • Make sure you have a list of your medications, dosages, contact numbers for your PCP, cardiologist and pharmacy. Again, these are all just precautions, but good to have in the rare case that you may need them.
  • Don’t fear travel. I have quickly learned that traveling is really no different for me now than before, with the exception that I better prepare and allow for more time.
  • Lastly, ENJOY YOUR TRIP!! Whether for business or pleasure, I have found that I am much more appreciative of travel now. If you’re traveling for vacation, make it as stress free and relaxing as possible. Nothing is better for the heart (in my non-medical opinion) than pure relaxation and fun.

I would love to hear what tips others have as they have began traveling again.

Until next time, “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

Caption (photo below): My awesome kids during our first family vacation
after my surgery. Nothing better than playing on the beach with them,
holding my wife’s hand as we walked down the shore, relaxing and
just plain enjoying life!!

kids beach

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Exercise: My Physical, Mental & Emotional Therapy

12k – 7.5 Miles – 52:45 – 7:05 Minutes per Mile – 2nd place in my age division – 3rd place male overall

If someone had told me a few months ago that almost exactly 6 months to the day after having a stent put into one of my main heart arteries that I would have run the Taste of Louisville 12k and come in 3rd place overall, I would have been mad at that person for even suggesting something so crazy. Well, a few days ago, that is exactly what I accomplished. 

As  I was recovering from my procedure in the hospital, all of the doctors and nurses stressed the importance of two things to prevent future issues: Diet and Exercise. How many times have we heard those words preached throughout our life?? While it is so obvious that eating healthy and exercising is critical to our long term health, so many of us find ourselves ignoring these simple truths. For me, unfortunately it took me coming close to death to truly put Diet and Exercise at the front of the line when it comes to priorities and how I live my life. If you had asked me prior to learning that I had a heart issue, I would have said that I felt that I ate fairly healthy and exercised quite regularly. Looking back, I was feeding my body a lot of toxins and processed foods, and only exercising about 50% of what I should have been. I don’t ever intend to preach to anyone in this blog, but if you’re reading this, I would strongly urge you to consider taking the words Diet and Exercise very seriously. I will focus on Diet in another blog, but today I want to talk about how exercise has so positively effected me mentally, physically and emotionally.

My primary care doctor (who is also a health coach) has told my wife and I for years that weight control is 80% diet and 20% exercise, but that both are equally as important to leading a healthy & happy life (Again, some advice that I wished I had heeded the first time I heard her say this to me years ago). As I have noted in previous posts, the days immediately following my procedure were filled with dark, scary, uncertain and unsettling thoughts. I wasn’t sure how (or if) I was going to get back to the normal life that I was previously living. Simply put, I felt fragile. Thank goodness that I live in what is often considered the most healthy city in America, and my doctors were insistent that I should begin cardiac rehab immediately after being discharged. Cardiac rehab is about getting you back to feeling comfortable with the idea of exercising again. It is where you go to regain your confidence in your ability to walk/run/lift weights/etc as you recover from a heart incident or procedure. You are in the presence of cardiac nurses, with heart and oxygen monitors attached to your body to track your every step. I can honestly say that without cardiac rehab, I may be sitting here 6 months after my procedure still feeling scared to get up and walk. But instead, I am sitting here writing about how I am in the best shape of my life. I read stories about heart patients all the time that are afraid or embarrassed to go to their cardiac rehab appointments. If you’re reading this and in that situation, please go. Cardiac rehab got me back to running confidently at the pace and distance that I was previous to my procedure. As much, if not more importantly, getting back to exercising allowed me to get back to life mentally and emotionally.

Physically, I’m doing great! I am in the best shape of my adult life right now, and I will continue to get even better, faster, stronger. I find at least one hour every day to dedicate to exercise. In my opinion, there is no more important investment that a person can make in themselves than investing in your health. As grave as it is to say, without it, there is nothing. The best part about the physical fitness (aside from looking in the mirror and seeing the results), is the direct correlation and effect it has had on my emotional and mental well being. I am now a profound believer that physical, mental and emotional health are 100% connected. From a mental perspective, exercise has meant everything to my physical recovery and state of mind. I think that the best example that I can give is that after my procedure, any tiny feeling/pain I would have in my body led me to believe that something may be wrong. It could have been something as simple as my foot falling asleep, or a muscle twitching in my arm or leg, or a minor headache. The power of exercise on shifting that mental concern is that if I go for a 4 or 5 mile run and feel great, than when I have a minor feeling in my body I don’t have any reason to believe that it is a cause for concern. As my cardiologist puts it, by me exercising at a high level every day, I am putting my body through the equivalent of a stress test every day. Finally, from an emotional standpoint, exercise has really helped me contain and maintain my emotions. Prior to my increase in exercise, I would often let my emotions get the best of me. Whether it was getting overly stressed about something at work, or getting upset with my kids over something silly, I did not have a good handle on my emotions. Now, I am able to keep calm much better and maintain a more level emotional state (not that I’m perfect with this, but it is much better).

Finally, the last thing that I will say about exercise is that you don’t have to be in it alone. For me, there have been many friends, neighbors and family that I have reached out to when I want to go for a walk, run, bike ride, golfing, etc etc. I am very fortunate to have had many many very good friends and family help me through my journey to this point. When it comes to exercise there are two special people that have been there for and/or with me every step of the way. First is my wife. I’ve ranted and raved in other posts about how incredible she has been, and exercise is no exception to that. Whether it is encouraging me to go for a run, running together (on those rare occassions that we are together without the kids), playing with the kids more outside as a family, buying me new athletic gear, telling me how great I’m doing, and on and on, she has been nothing but encouraging and supportive of my exercising needs and desires. Second, is my friend Wes. Everyone knows that saying that you will find out who your true friends are when adversity strikes. Well, I have had a lot of friends live up to this saying throughout my little journey these past 6 months for which I’m extremely grateful, but when it comes to exercise my man Wes has been the best friend I could ask for. From going for walks with me shortly after the procedure, to running 8 miles together at 5am on many occassions, to sending me encouraging text messages after a good workout, Wes has truly been there for me. If you find yourself in a position where you can be someone’s Wes or what my wife been for me, do your best to encourage that person. I may never be able to fully and accurately express it in words, but that support has meant absolutely everything to me and being where I am today.

“Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

Taste of Louis

 

 

6 Months!!!

Today, 6/1/2016, marks 6 months since I had my stent placed on 12/1/2015. I went for the run below this morning and ran 4.17 miles at a 7:10 minute pace. I’m in the best shape I’ve been since probably high school. I’m running a 12k this Saturday. More to come after that race on how exercise has helped me physically, mentally and emotionally…

Until then my friends, “Dream as if You’ll Live Forever, Live as if You Only Have Today!”

6_1_2016 Run