Travelling is an almost unavoidable part of modern life, whether it be for everyday life, work or leisure. It can pose a number of challenges post-cardiac arrest, but nothing that can’t be overcome so that life can go on.
The first thing is obviously you need the will to travel. A sudden cardiac arrest certainly knocks the stuffing out of most people, but it can also have less obvious side-effects, for instance, a newly instilled fear of travelling. Whether this is to do with lack of trust in one’s own body, being in confined spaces, being in crowded places, being with people who don’t understand your new hidden frailties, the fear of being shocked in a public place or just a random phobia that’s taken hold of you. Sometimes it’s just a case of taking small steps to gradually overcome these fears, but sometimes extra help will be needed to overcome them.
One of the most immediate travelling problems is the fact that most sudden cardiac arrest survivors have to surrender their driving licences, which means they are unable to drive for 6 months. So, unfortunately, you will have to get used to being a passenger. If you’ve had a device implanted be wary of the seat belt crossing over on it – using something to cushion it can help in the early weeks after the implant.
If you are unable to drive and wish to get around it’s worth investigating options such as a bus pass or if you need help in getting to your workplace you may find the Access To Work scheme of use, at least one of our members has had success using this.
For many, having had a sudden cardiac arrest will not prohibit them from going on holiday or to sunnier climes, but it is sensible to ensure that any trips pass off with minimum fuss and so there are certain things to be aware of.
- Looking at staying in accommodation that is easy to get to and close to all amenities
- If you are still recovering take it easy with a relaxing break and as you get fitter and more confident you can go on more active holidays
- Always ensure when you go away you take enough medication for the WHOLE trip and potentially more. Write down what you take and how much of it in case you need to get more.
- Make sure that when you are flying you keep as much medication in your hand luggage (in the original packaging) because if your case goes missing (which if it does – you might be without it for a couple of days) you will have enough on you.
- Because your medication will be in your hand luggage, you should always take your GP prescription and a doctor’s note.
- Also, make sure to take your ICD identification card as they will need to search you if they only have the old body scanners. However, don’t fret if you forget it as the security staff are usually well versed and understanding and just mentioning that you have a cardiac device is usually enough. Sometimes it is easier to say you have a pacemaker rather than an ICD as these are more well known, and are affected in the same way so they understand how to handle them.
- Travel insurance is so important wherever you go. Make sure you read up on every quote you get and make sure it covers ALL previous conditions. For added confidence that you the insurer understands your needs, you may prefer ringing and speak to them over the phone instead of buying online.
- Get a healthcare card that is free from the NHS. There 2 types, a new European card (UK EHIC) that replaces the old EHIC card and a Global equivalent (GHIC). Check the NHS website for more information on which care is best for you and what they cover.
- Note that the GHIC/ UK EHIC are not alternatives to travel insurance and will not cover any private medical healthcare or costs, such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, being flown back to the UK, or lost or stolen property. They will also not cover your medical expenses if you are going abroad specifically to have treatment.
- If it’s your first holiday after your SCA it’s wise to double-check with your GP or Cardiologist to see if it is ok for you to travel.
- If you get the go-ahead and need further assurance ring the airline you are flying with and speak with their special assistance team to see if you can get any help at the airport with any bags or wheelchair assistance if you struggle walking long distance. You can also see if you’re able to get oxygen onboard if needed.
- If you’re ever nervous about flying, just remember that the cabin crew’s main purpose onboard is passenger safety so they will all be specially trained to deal with all situations such as administering CPR, using a defibrillator, delivering a baby and much more.
- If you need to take medications that are liquids, creams or gels over 100ml in your hand luggage, then you’ll need a letter from your doctor and approval from the airline before you travel.
- If you are flying through times zones, it may be difficult to keep to your pattern of taking your medications. Your GP or Practice Nurse will be able to advise you on how best to deal with this.
If you have an ICD or pacemaker you should take your device identification/card with you and inform the airport staff that you have a device inserted. If you are asked to pass through the security system, walkthrough at a normal pace and don’t linger.
Most modern implanted devices are well shielded against outside interference and so any problems are very unlikely, although the metal casing may trigger the security alarm. If a hand-held metal detector is used, it should not be placed directly over your device.
Dealing with climates
If you do have a heart condition, it is advised to avoid going to countries where there are extreme temperatures, whether it’s very hot or very cold, as this can put an added strain on your heart. Angina is made worse by cold weather, but it can also be exacerbated in very hot weather.
If you do go to a hot destination, keep hydrated throughout the day and try to sit in the shade between 11am and 3pm, when the sun’s rays are at their most powerful.
The British Heart Foundation has more on how our heart health is affected by hot weather and cold weather
After your sudden cardiac arrest, all you want to do is try and get back to normal especially if you have a passion for sports. While many patients go back to their favourite activities after a full recovery, of course; there are activities that cause concern.
Most holiday activities will be fine to take part in and will not interfere with your ICD device if you have one, but do speak with your doctor beforehand if you plan on doing something extreme. This can be anything from skiing, water sports or intense exercise/hiking. You always need to be careful with any contact sports as you don’t want to knock your ICD.
Also, remember that if you do want to do any of these extreme activities to ensure it’s noted down on your travel insurance.