Emergency medicine doctor, Wellwellwell contributor and new mom, Darria Long Gillespie, MD shares her expert tips for avoiding the ER when you and your family travel.
What’s worse than spending time in the ER? Spending time in the ER when you’re on a business trip or vacation.
Who wants to see me—or any other doctor—in the ER while away? But, with 452 million business and 1.6 billion leisure trips in the US in 2013, I care for out-of-towners on a regular basis. Trust me, ER Bay 4 is NOT the best place to polish your PowerPoint or entertain your toddler.
While you can’t ever plan for an emergency, a little preparation can help you avoid health troubles.
1. Make a traveler’s first aid kit.
I know you’re streamlining to make everything fit in your carry-on, but these small items are worth dropping the extra pair of shoes. Keep in mind the season and destination: Cold and flu season? Grab a decongestant or cough remedy. Will you be outdoors? Include sunscreen and insect repellant. Here are a few things I always pack:
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fevers, aches and pains—include childrens’ versions if you’re traveling with the kids
- Antibacterial wipes or alcohol-based hand sanitizer—look for kinds with at least 60% alcohol
- A thermometer—knowing whether your child has a fever could be the difference between a call to your pediatrician and a trip to the ER
- Antibiotic ointment
2. Avoid germs.
Sure, this sounds as simple as flying the plane yourself, but there are definite steps you can take. Wash your hands or carry a hand sanitizer and use it frequently. Use it after touching any surfaces that are high traffic for hands—like doorknobs, in-flight seatbelts and tray tables. Avoid touching your face/mouth/eyes when you can.
3. Pack your prescriptions for daily and as-needed meds in your carry-on.
If possible, keep medicines in their original bottles with labels. If not, take a picture of each label with your phone. Make sure you carry a stash for longer than you expect to be gone, so you don’t miss a dose due to unexpected travel delays.
4. Rack up frequent flyer miles, not blood clots.
The immobility of being on a long flight or car ride can significantly increase your risk of a blood clot in your legs. To avoid this, make sure to get up and stretch every 60 to 90 minutes. Got a window seat? Get blood moving by doing 20 calf/heel pumps. Keeping your toes on the floor, lift your heels as high as you can, then put your heels down and lift your toes. Do ankle rotations every two hours. If you’re pregnant, on oral contraceptives or have other clotting problems that put you at higher risk, consider wearing compression stockings.
5. Let business travel contribute to your bottom line, not your bottom.
A study from Columbia University showed that on average, frequent business travelers have higher rates of obesity, lower levels of good cholesterol and higher blood pressure. Be mindful that airport snacks and late-night room service add up—I often see patients with significantly increased blood pressure or related problems after long business trips that include high-fat, high-salt meals.
6. Remember, hotels are not child-proof.
Taking a tumble on floors made of concrete and a thin layer of carpet hurt more than they do on softer surfaces at home. And no matter how many toys you bring, your child would rather play with drawers that easily pinch closed on little fingers and uncovered electrical outlets and wires. Also, hotel faucets can also get very hot, very quickly, so be especially careful when bathing little ones.
7. Don’t let travel be a pain.
Schlepping heavy luggage, lifting your carry-on and storing the extra 25 business brochures in your bag can do a number on your back and shoulders. Avoid a bad strain or pinched nerve by using bags on wheels, remembering to lift with your legs and stretching when you get back to your hotel room every night (just a gentle toe touch for 30 to 60 seconds will make a difference).
Just because you’re a road warrior doesn’t mean you have to have battle scars. Now go get ‘em and safe travels!