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.