I’m getting ready to go on my first “big” trip since my surgery, and while I’m excited for vacation, I’m also a bit nervous. What if I forget something? What if something goes wrong? What if my INR shoots up through the roof and I bleed to death in the hotel room like some wannabe Hollywood burnout?
In the past, I’ve found that making checklists helps me organize not only my stuff but my thoughts as well. So today’s post is as much for me as for you, my fellow cardiac patients. What follows is a list of things to do and to bring with you if you, like me, are about to embark on a journey of more than a couple of days and have a heart that you’d like to keep ticking for many years to come.
1. Check yourself before you — well, you know.
Because my INR has been stable for several months now, I only have to go in for a check about once every four weeks. But whether you have checks once a week or only on those special occasions when your home monitor gives an out-of-range reading, it’s a good idea to check your INR about a week or two before your trip. I got mine checked last week — it was a huge relief to see a solid 2.0 on the meter.
If your INR is in your good range, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, do your darnedest to get back on track before you leave, and check it again before you go to see if you’ve improved. If it’s way out of range, strongly consider postponing your trip for another time, if possible. The last thing you want is for an emergency to crop up in the middle of your adventure.
Additionally, if you’ve recently had surgery or some sort of procedure done — or if you have any cause for concern whatsoever — be sure to ask your doctor if you’re fit to travel. While the internet will tell you that most cardiac patients can fly within a few months of recovering from an operation, only your doctor will know for sure if you, specifically, are good to go.
2. Organize your medicine, and bring extra.
If you’re on anticoagulants, chances are you’ve already got some sort of system in place for keeping track of your meds. I keep my medicine in a days-of-the-week pill tray that’s broken down into morning, afternoon, evening, and night segments, and I have phone alarms set for when to take my Coumadin and when to take my metoprolol and other late-night meds. I also pop out one day at a time and separate it a little from the tray to make sure I take the right dose for that particular day of the week.
Since I’ll be away for about a week, I’ll be taking my entire tray with me, along with extra medicine. Sure, I probably won’t need it, but in the event that I lose or misplace my meds for any given day, it’ll be a huge weight off my chest to know I’ll have backup supplies on hand. Protip: if you have a tray like mine, don’t just pack it in your suitcase. Put it in a Ziploc bag first! This way, if a section gets popped open by mistake, your pills won’t be easily lost.
3. If you have monitoring devices, take them with you.
This is especially important if you have anything like a home INR monitoring device or anything specifically made to monitor your heart. Even if you don’t use it regularly or don’t have an INR check scheduled during your vacation, it’s good to have your monitor with you in case something comes up. Of course, you’re hoping it won’t — isn’t it about time you got a break? — but since you never know, you’re better off safe than sorry.
I don’t have a home INR machine (my current clinic doesn’t support home monitoring), but because I can be a little on the hypotensive side, I’ll be packing a small blood pressure monitor for this trip.
4. Google which clinics and ERs are closest to your destination(s).
Again, this is a precautionary step, but one which could prove vital if something unexpected does occur. Look for coumadin clinics first, but if you can’t find any, most lab test type places will have some means of performing an INR check. And of course, you’ll want to know where an ER is in case of an actual emergency. Be sure to write the names and addresses of these places down and keep them handy in your purse or wallet.
5. Plan your meals, or at least plan for your vitamin K intake.
I know, I know — it’s vacation time, and vacation means spontaneity and the casting off of everyday rules and regulations. I personally would love nothing more than to eat whatever I want, whenever I want during this trip, but I know it wouldn’t be very safe for me to do so.
If you’re very forgetful (or just like being very organized), the best thing to do would probably be to fully plan out your meals week by week, making sure to incorporate about the same amount of vitamin K into each day’s plan. If you’re like me and would rather wing it, however, I have a compromise for you: just plan out your vitamin K. As long as you don’t go crazy with the alcohol or suddenly start taking illicit drugs or herbal supplements, you should be fine as long as you get some semi-healthy food once in awhile and remember to eat a certain amount of leafy greens every day. (Or none, if that’s your current diet plan — although if it is, I strongly suggest changing it. Vitamin K is an important nutrient that your body needs to function properly.)
If you do consume at least a decent amount of vitamin K, you also need to be aware of storage options. Many foods with significant vitamin K require refrigeration (lettuce, spinach, broccoli, etc.), so if you plan on eating any of these be sure to bring a cooler, or get a room with a small fridge if you can. If not, know where you can go to get your daily fix, whether it’s the downstairs 24-hour cafe or the Subway across the street. If you’ll be needing to eat out often to get your greens, make sure you plan your budget accordingly!
6. Be sure to stay hydrated.
If you’re in for a long flight or road trip, take bottled water or sports drinks with you, and keep drinks (the non-alcoholic kind!) handy during your vacation as well. Hydration is important for everyone, but it’s especially vital for cardiac patients. And if your vacation destination is somewhere hotter than you’re used to, drink extra water!
7. Have fun!
This is by far the most obvious step, and yet it can easily be forgotten if you get too wrapped up in planning or worrying. Get your stuff together, get organized, and then go get out there and have a good time! Stress is notoriously bad for you, and everyone deserves to have a good time now and then — especially if they’ve been through something as stressful as, say, heart surgery.
You’ve earned a break. Now go take it.
Have questions about traveling as a heart patient or suggestions for more travel tips I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments!