By Sister Sue
Canadians love to travel! We are socially and culturally inquisitive and let’s face it, one fifth of us are foreign-born immigrants. We have family and friends we need to keep in touch with and visit. We need to plan that trip but we're scared because of our sickle cell disease.
Trips abroad can be exciting and daunting at the same time. Having a medical condition just adds to the stress. A little forethought and preparation can help decrease that anxiety and set us on an explorer’s path.
It wasn’t too long ago that people with sickle cell disease (SCD) were advised not to travel on airplanes. In the “old days”, airplanes were not properly pressurized and oxygen levels inside the cabin could fall and trigger serious problems in people with SCD. That isn’t the case anymore as airplanes are well pressurized and the air in the cabin is properly regulated. This makes air travel much safer for people with SCD.
Whether it’s an airplane trip to Lagos, a Caribbean cruise or a road trip across country, preparation is key! Here are some things I think you should think about before you go:
Before you buy your ticket -
- If you’ve been in hospital recently, or if you have been seriously ill, you should check with your doctor that you are fit to travel. Sometimes we have to give our bodies some time to heal. Everybody is different. Maybe this year you explore your neighborhood but “watch out world… next year we’re coming!” Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure what you should do.
OMG! The doctor has given you the all clear!
WHAT?! You’ve purchased your ticket?!
OK! Time to make a “TO DO” list!
Before you travel –
Like everyone else, you need to check on the usual stuff. Travel advisories, visa requirements, recommended immunizations for the area you plan to travel to. Specific to people with sickle cell disease however this is the stuff you need to think about:
- If you are traveling to a destination where malaria is present, it’s a good idea to get malaria prophylaxis (malaria prevention tablets). Talk to your doctor
- Diarrhea causes dehydration and dehydration is especially bad in people with sickle cell disease. Diarrhea is common in tropical countries so be prepared to drink bottled water if you are not sure if the water is safe. Also ask your doctor about antibiotics to treat traveller’s diarrhea and how to use them.
- If you are on any medication (Like Pen V or hydroxyurea), make sure you have enough to last you for the duration of your trip. It probably makes sense to have a little extra, just in case you have to stay a bit longer. Remember, your medications may not be available at your destination.
- You should pack your medication in your hand luggage not in your checked baggage. Checked baggage doesn’t always make it to where you are going!
- Get a summary of your medical history form your doctor. Of course you’re not planning to get sick when you are on holiday, but things happen! At the very least, know your steady state and the names of your medications. This will be very helpful to make sure you get good care. If you are traveling to a place you have never been before, it’s a good idea to do a little research where to go if you do get sick. Being prepared will give you piece of mind.
On the day you travel -
The most common problem people with sickle cell disease have during airplane travel is painful crises. You can minimize your risk by doing the following:
- Stay well hydrated - drink a lot of water before and during the flight. Although they do give you things to drink on the plane, you should still buy some bottles of water to take with you on the airplane - remember to purchase these AFTER you have gone through security at the airport.
- Keep warm during the flight - airplanes can get very cold, so dress appropriately and carry a jacket or a blanket.
- Avoid sitting for very long periods without moving. Stretch your legs, pump your calves, take a walk to the washrooms - get your blood flowing especially on long flights.
- Make sure you have some pain medication with you in your hand luggage so that if you do start having pain you have something that you can take right away. Don’t wait!
- Try to get some rest during the flight.
While on holiday –
Have fun but be sensible!
- Alcohol causes dehydration. Don’t overdo it! And keep drinking water - Lots of it!
- Just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean you have to party all night! You still need to get your rest.
- You know yourself better than anyone. If something isn’t right, seek medical attention sooner than later. Emergencies are much more difficult to manage.
Don’t let sickle cell disease hold you back. Plan, prepare and enjoy your adventure!
Safe travels everyone!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SCAGO.