My life as a travel writer gone bung?

Arriving home from an extended overseas trip always feels strange. Having experienced a lifestyle not ruled by the clock, suddenly everything seems so regimented. Get up. Shower. Eat breakfast. Catch a train. Mutter a mandatory curse about unreliable trains. Arrive at work to spend the next eight hours sitting at a desk. Only this time it’s different.

When I stand up to get my morning coffee, I feel a pain in my leg. It’s strange. I don’t remember pulling a muscle. Fast-forward 24 hours to the emergency ward of Box Hill Hospital and the doctor confirms my worst fears: I have deep vein thrombosis (DVT). My heart sinks. What did this mean for future travel? As an aspiring travel writer, I fervently hoped this wasn’t the end of my dream.

DVT is the formation of blood clots in deep veins, often caused by long periods of immobility. The condition occurs most commonly in bed-ridden hospital patients; however thrombosis can also occur in healthy people who sit for long periods, such as on long-haul flights or car trips. The main danger with DVT is that the clot will break loose and travel through the bloodstream to the lungs, where it can cause a pulmonary embolism. In some cases, this can be fatal.

It was only luck that took me to a doctor. Having travelled regularly, I was blasé. I had heard of DVT, but it never crossed my mind I might get it. I mean, whoever heard of anyone getting DVT? Fortunately, a friend had. She advised me to see a doctor.

The next month is surreal. I’m admitted to ‘home hospital’, which involves a nurse visiting me at home to administer blood-thinning injections. This prevents the clot from propagating, and hopefully, dissolves it. Then I learn to self-inject and I’m left to my own devices, toting a personal bag of injections.

Treatment for DVT varies from case to case, but sometimes the blood thinning injections are replaced by Warfarin tablets, which are taken for three to six months. During treatment there is an increased risk of bleeding, so regular blood tests are required to monitor dosage.

For the next month, I have plenty of time for hindsight. On my flight home I had barely moved. Sitting beside the window, I was conscious of disturbing adjacent passengers, so didn’t get up for a walk. And there were other things increasing my risk; being more than 40 years old, taking birth control pills, and, quite possibly, dehydration.

Fortunately, I’m lucky and the blood clot dissolves after three weeks. I can still travel, but need to take precautions: wear compression stockings, do leg exercises, drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol. Even in the worst case scenario – a recurrence of DVT – I can carry blood thinning injections with me. One thing’s certain; I won’t be requesting a window seat.

Have you had experience with DVT? Or something else that has threatened to put an end to your dream?

Note: This article was first published in YOURLifeChoices (Winter 2009) and I have re-posted it here because it’s still very relevant. Only six months after my experience, my brother-in-law also got DVT (in fact, he had two blood clots after flying from London to Melbourne). I’m thankful that my experience meant that my whole family was more aware and, as a result, he got to the doctor sooner than he may otherwise have.

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8 thoughts on “My life as a travel writer gone bung?

  1. My Mum is still on warfarin after getting clots from her last flight. My husband is funny though. He was paranoid about getting DVT on his last trip to Canada and bought compression stockings to wear. I had to remind him that he’s a mild haemophiliac so his blood doesn’t clot!

    • Last year I went to South America and this was my first long-haul flight since I had my DVT fright. I was quite paranoid, but I took all the precautions and didn’t have any problems this time. I’m so glad that things went well, as I don’t want to be afraid to fly… or for that matter, take a long train, bus or car trip.

      I also hope your Mum doesn’t have to stay on warfarin for too long.

  2. May we know how long was the flight that did the damage? I often make the nightmare haul from Sydney to London and reverse. I’ve taken to breaking it with overnight stop in Korea but it is still 12 hours either way. I also used to prefer a window seat but now take an aisle for reasons you have expressed. Thank you.

    • It’s hard for me to say exactly how long the flight was that did the damage because I actually travelled from Uganda to Melbourne… the travel included five hours on a truck to get to the airport, then a flight to Dubai (via Ethiopia), 12 hours in the Dubai airport and then a 15-hour flight to Melbourne. It was about 43 hours of travel in total, however I spent a lot of my time in the Dubai airport walking around (I definitely wasn’t inactive or just sitting the whole time).

      I actually think my biggest mistake was not having a proper stopover in Dubai, but also because I was snuggled up in the window seat for the entire 15 hours of the final leg. I barely moved. My brother-in-law’s flight was more straightforward. London to Melbourne without a stopover (so probably 20 hours).

      Anyhow, I think you are wise having a stopover in Korea. Last year, when I travelled to Peru, I had stopovers in Auckland and Santiago so the longest leg was 14 hours. I will always have stopovers now 🙂

  3. Whoa…Well, nothing like a sobering flashback now and again to serve as a healthy reminder. Thank you for sharing, I definitely learned something new. At least you were smart and went for a check-up right away. I’d be suffering for a week or two first before going in, lest face the ridicule of my buddies. (Just b/c I’d don’t yet have a Mrs to override my “crazy” friends like the majority of them, that doesn’t mean any getting off the hook there…) Luckily I tend to pace the alleys anyway, hunting for more snacks and drinks, even just standing nonchalantly for several minutes here and there on the long overseas flights. I’ll never truly get used to 18-hr flights, not until airlines have true sleeper cabins similar to a train — no midway Japanese capsule-style lodging either 😉

    • Haha… I might have to try hunting for more snacks and drinks… I’ve never tried that! On my last flight to Fiji (which is only 5 hours from Melbourne), I ended up standing for half the flight. I doubt I’ll ever be able to truly relax on a flight anymore, but it’s not going to stop me travelling 🙂

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