April 10, 2003
Make Preparation—and Good Judgment—Your First
In Safeguarding Your Health
Marlene R. Fedin, The Wellness Concierge®
Our work is important, no
matter where we do it. But taking care of our bodies and our health is
the first priority if we want to be able to continue to work—and live
well—on and off the road.
The untimely—and perhaps
avoidable—death of NBC’s David Bloom last Sunday is a poignant reminder
that work and travel can take their toll on even a healthy
thirtysomething. It's also a cautionary tale about the need to get
prompt medical attention when you may be at risk of a serious injury or
If published reports are
true, Bloom, who is said to have experienced pain and cramps behind
his knee days before his death from a blood clot that traveled to
his lung, ignored medical advice and kept reporting from Iraq.
Bloom’s may be an extreme example of wanting to stay on the job (war
reporting is a highly unique and demanding situation), but other
travelers (and plenty of folks back at the office) often exhibit
the same behavior, putting work, not their health, first. I respect
Bloom’s and others’ commitment, but as a health advocate, I have to
question why we often bypass common sense and our own best interests
when it comes to our health and well being.
I’ve written about
my own risky
behavior when traveling with what could have been a serious
health risk. And I’ve heard physicians and families share the stories of
other travelers who didn’t fare so well when they also encountered
medical emergencies on the go and either couldn’t find—or didn’t
seek—proper medical care. Sometimes, sadly, we need such harsh reminders
of our mortality and vulnerability to get us to rethink our behavior
Here are a few thoughts on
how to take responsibility for your health on the go and to help
ensure a better outcome should you encounter a personal medical
►Be Especially Vigilant If You Travel Alone
The suggestions that follow apply
to everyone, but are especially important if you travel alone and are
traveling in areas where communications are limited or unavailable (it’s
possible, even with global cell phones).
A recent New York Magazine
story told the sad tale of a young woman’s death, alone, in a Chinese
hospital, of viral
myocarditis, a serious infection that is not
necessarily life-threatening when promptly and properly diagnosed and
treated. The independent, seemingly healthy, 33-year-old shoe designer,
Laura Southwick, had been admitted to a hospital in Dongguan the day
before with flu-like symptoms. Because she did not have an international
cell phone (there's a bit of controversy over why she didn't, but that's
another story), no one at her company or in her family was notified and
there are questions about the quality
of care she received
At the end of the story, her employer notes that they did provide
worldwide medical assistance for travelers. However, Southwick's
"travel-policy handbook from the time, makes no mention of such a
program..." and did not include contact information other than a
"company vice president's...cell phone."
The lesson for all us: Be prepared, stay
connected—and don't delegate
responsibility for your healthcare.
yourself about potential travel-health risks—and how to avoid them.
Does any traveler not
yet know about the risks of "economy class syndrome," also known
(deep vein thrombosis), while flying or driving for extended periods?
And if you know, why aren’t you taking
precautions to avoid it?
And while we’re on the
subject of blood clots, don’t think you’re not at risk just
because you’re back in the office. Sitting for hours at the computer
or desk can also put you at risk. It’s about movement. Get up
every 20 minutes and walk around. Do leg stretches. Take a good, brisk
walk (at least 10 minutes) at least once, or maybe twice, a day,
depending on how long you’re sitting and working.
Wear a pedometer and aim for
a minimum of 10,000 steps a day.
►Monitor Current and
Relevant Travel-Health News and Alerts
It’s important to keep up
with travel-health news because you could find yourself at risk even
if you’re not in or traveling to a "hot zone." Right now, for
example, Hong Kong and the Far East are being avoided by international
travelers for fear of
SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
But the truth is,
given that it's an airborne virus spread by close
a lot more people are at risk of exposure even if they’ve never been
near the Far East. Given the nature of travel, where we're in
contact with other flyers and flight attendants who may have been
unknowingly exposed, you never know where you could be at risk of
Should you live in fear and
trepidation? No. Just be aware and be extra vigilant and careful. If
I were flying now, I’d wear a
protective face mask with a filter (not just a plain surgical
mask) and I’d be extra careful about keeping my hands clean. Heck, I
personally might bring along several pairs of disposable plastic gloves.
With the Net, you can easily
surf to local publications (JoeSentMe.com has a terrific
Newsstand with links to domestic and international newspapers
and magazines.) to get an idea of what's happening locally. For an
overview of travel-health and safety headlines, check the
The Wellness Concierge®
page, which includes headline links and summaries.
aware that some medical controversy exists over whether you can contract
SARS from close contact. I'd prefer to err on the side of safety. At the
very least, I can avoid unnecessary exposure to sick fellow travelers
and other respiratory viruses.
►Research Your Destinations Before You Leave
You may not have to concern
yourself about SARS, but you may find yourself traveling to a state
where West Nile Virus is a local concern or to an international
destination that is experiencing a disease outbreak. If you are an
international traveler, you should get current disease and related
health concerns information on your destination—before
you leave home. This is especially important if
you are traveling to remote locations or those where medical resources
are limited because you may need vaccinations or other preventive
WHO (The World Health
Organization) maintains an updated
Disease Outbreak page
that lists current news on diseases around the globe. You can
also search by
destination. Two other essential resources: The CDC's
Travelers' Health section and Shoreland's excellent
Health Online site. (Check the
Travel-Health Links on the left of this page for other relevant
If you've got the time and
the desire, you can also search
Google's News section to get timely (within hours and minutes of
posting) links to local and global news.
►Arrange for On-Site Medical Care—Before You Go
You know how difficult it can
be to get fast emergency care even when you’re at home, and you’ve got a
doctor and a nearby hospital, right? Now imagine yourself in some little
town or village (or even a major city) in the Far East or Africa—or even
France or Italy.
Do you know how you’d get
fast, competent, and English-speaking help when you need it? If you
don’t, find out before you leave.
If you work for a large
company, chances are the HR or travel department have contracted for
local medical and emergency-evacuation care. Ask them for contact and
other necessary information, and be sure you understand what is—and
isn't—included. If your firm doesn't
provide medical evacuation services, spring for it yourself from firms
such as MedJet. It's money
If you’re self-employed or
work for a company that does not provide any sort of travel-health care
on the road, consider coverage offered by companies such as
Highway to Health that
offer a variety of services including travel medical assistance and
insurance, a network
of English-speaking local physicians, and emergency medical evacuation
And don't use the excuse that
you can't find local care where you're going. Even the most remote
locations now offer English-speaking doctors and medical care via
on-site clinics, often created to meet the needs of American firms
with a facility or a large number of American workers.
MedAire, for example, just
announced that it is opening a
new 24-hour medical clinic
in Chongqing, China, which will be located in the
Hilton Hotel Chongqing. It's a partnership with Ford Motor Company to provide medical care to
Ford's expatriate employees and their families but services are also
available to travelers and others in the area seeking assistance.
number of companies have expanded their coverage to address concerns
about safety and terrorism. It's best to
examine the fine print to ensure that you are getting the coverage
you want. And be warned: Some insurance covers cancellations if you
are ill before your trip or during your trip, but do not cover you if
you want to cancel a trip because you fear that you might contract a
►Take Better Care of Yourself
Some of the most intelligent
and educated people are among the most careless when it comes to taking
care of themselves. People who are passionately committed to their work
often spend little time taking basic care of their body: eating
properly, getting enough rest and exercise, getting regular checkups,
following treatment regimens where needed. They are often so personally
or professionally focused that truly ignore their physical state of
being. As my nine-year-old nephew might say, that's a "bad choice."
As anyone with a chronic
health condition that limits their life or survivors of medical
can tell you,
your health is everything. Without it, you won’t have the
physical strength and endurance, mental acuity, and energy you’ll need
to undertake and complete what’s important in your life. Invest in
your own health. The dividends are substantial and long-term.
►Heed Your Body’s Warning Signs
OK. You’re aware of health
risks, you’ve got travel-health insurance, and you’ve secured local
medical resources. Now, all you have to do is pay attention to your
body. Almost everyone who survives a health crisis or other medical
emergency will tell you, upon honest reflection, that there were
signs that all was not right. If they’re very honest, they admit
that they totally ignored them thinking, perhaps, "Nah. Nothing’s
gonna happen to me." or thoughts along those lines.
Accept it: We’re mortals and
stuff happens. To the previously healthy. To the young. To the very fit
and athletic. Be smart. Don’t be a statistic.
►Make Maintaining Your Health a Priority
At the risk of repeating
myself, in case you missed the earlier reference: Invest in your health.
Get regular medical care as needed. Don’t
skip checkups and monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and
other relevant health statistics for any personal physical or medical
condition. The best protection against exposure to just about
anything is good health and a strong immune system.
►Don't Travel If You Really Aren't Healthy
Given the enormous amount of
stress and uncertainty that surrounds today's travel environment, it's
not surprising that even healthy folks are having more medical and
If you have a chronic disease
or condition that could be exacerbated by fluctuating schedules and
stress, make sure you're really OK to fly. You may have to adjust
medications, timing, or make other healthcare treatment changes. If you
can't reasonably expect to do them, and thus bypass them, you could be
putting yourself at unnecessary risk. Get your physician's approval
before leaving home.
►Do What You Gotta Do to Protect Yourself
Let me ask you. Which is
more ridiculous and unprofessional? Wearing a face mask, using
antibacterial wipes, and avoiding some types of physical contact or getting seriously ill?
Don't worry about your image. Focus on your health.
►When in Doubt, Get Expert Care—and Don’t Get on the Plane!
You’ve got shortness of
breath and pain in your shoulder or jaw; you’ve got a raging, high fever
and flu-like symptoms; you’re having terrific stomach pains; you’re
retching your guts out and you are not hung over but you have
heavily sampled the local cuisine; you’ve got sore, throbbing,
hot, pain in your legs. All of these symptoms may prove to be easily
treatable and not indications of a more serious medical
condition. Or they may indeed signal a serious, possibly
life-threatening condition. The thing is, you’re not qualified to
judge. Get to a doctor and avoid flying or driving until you've
been properly diagnosed and treated.