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!!