How to Take a Leave From Nursing: even if you are not a single, traveling nurse

In 2017, I was burned out. From cancer nursing, from busy fast-paced hospitals with constant change, from caring for my children, from graduate school… from everything. I wanted a break. But I still had responsibilities and I couldn’t just leave them all to run away to Europe. I wasn’t a travel nurse and I wasn’t young and just out of college taking a gap year. So I devised a plan to take a leave of absence from nursing.

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This video was pretty specific to my unique situation and opportunities, but let me know if you did anything similar or have any advice for other situations!

Travel and Blood Clots: Should You Be Worried?

Staying healthy while traveling is important, especially in today’s world. Travel has become more accessible than ever due to a strong U.S. economy and airfare deals. The more we travel, the more we have to consider the health risks of travel. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) website lists common health travel concerns. These include things like medications, jet lag, mental health, bug bites, etc. One of the concerns on the list is Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE). When I travel, I know this is a risk, but I always wonder, how much of a risk is it?

What is a DVT?

A DVT is a blood clot that is formed in a large vein. This blood clot can block blood flow through the vein. The symptoms of a DVT is swelling, heat, redness, and/or pain in the arm or leg. A PE can occur when the clot breaks off and travels to the lung blocking blood flow in an artery. Symptoms could include chest pain, coughing up blood, a fast heartbeat, and/or difficulty breathing.

Are you at risk for a DVT?

The risk for a DVT depends on certain factors. Blood will clot with lack of circulation and with certain existing problems. The CDC advises about a general risk for DVT while traveling and with certain conditions. If you are traveling by plane, bus or train, your risk is increased by the length of your travel, how dehydrated you are, and by how little you move (which helps circulate your blood).

Your risk also increased with the following conditions:

  • A previous blood clot
  • A family history of blood clots
  • a known clotting disorder
  • Recent surgery, hospitalization, or injury
  • Using estrogen-containing birth control or hormone replacement therapy
  • Current or recent pregnancy (talk to your doctor about travel)
  • Older age (risk increases after 40)
  • Obesity
  • Active cancer (or undergoing chemotherapy)
  • Other serious illnesses (talk to your doctor about travel risks)
  • Any limitations in movement (casts, disabilities)

How do you prevent a DVT?

There are a few things you can do for DVT prevention:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol to stay hydrated
  • Get up and move around every 2-3 hours if possible. If driving, make frequent stops (you will have to if you stay hydrated!)
  • Do lower leg exercises in your seat. Raise and lower your heels while keeping your toes on the floor or raise and lower your toes while keeping your heels on the floor.
  • Compression socks: In a Cochrane review (expert database for organizing scientific evidence) on DVT with air travel that lasts 5 hours or more showed a decrease in symptomless DVTs after flying. They help circulation in general, so if you get swelling in your feet while traveling, these could help. I find that my feet don’t get cold on flights when I wear them (I am always cold on the plane).
  • Medication for prevention of blood clots for certain problems (not common)

Where can I get compression socks?

They can be easily found online or at health or uniform stores (nurses wear them for work). They usually cost around $20 but they are a good investment and you won’t be wearing them every day. But when you are shopping for compression socks, you want ones that are going to work for you. They are usually a bit of work to put on and should be long enough to go up until just below your knee. They shouldn’t fall down when you walk. They should fit snug for the whole flight and shouldn’t loosen later in the flight.

How to Stay Hydrated While Traveling

Water is Essential

Water is one of life’s most basic needs. You can’t live without it. Remember when we were in school and we learned that we were 70% water. It’s closer to 60%, but that’s still a lot of water.

So where is it and what does it do?

Water is in all of our body’s cells. Just think of how many things feel bad without moisture, our eyes, our skin, and our mouth and nose. Those things are more external, but we need that moisture internally too. It lubricates and cushions joints, regulates temperature, protects sensitive tissue like our brains. Our saliva, blood, and waste is made up of water. Some vitamins we take in need water to be absorbed. If we don’t get enough water, we may feel tired, dizzy and we may have some trouble with short-term memory and other cognitive skills. If we get too dehydrated, we can have a drop in our blood pressure and

So how much water should we drink in a day? According to the Institute of Medicine, around 80% of our water comes from fluid intake with the rest coming from food. In general, adult men should drink13 8-ounce cups and adult women should drink 9 8-ounce cups of beverages. If it is hot, dry, or you are working hard, you need to drink more.

However, when we travel, we sometimes forget about how important it is.

Stay Hydrated While Traveling

Here are 5 ways to stay hydrated while traveling:

  • Bring your own water bottle and keep water with you everywhere you go
    • We know airport water is seriously overpriced and it just adds more plastic into the environment. Instead, bring your own flask or water bottle to fill up once you are past security. If you are worried about space, get one with a carabiner that you can attach to your bag, so it isn’t taking up space inside your bag.
  • Choose water as your beverage when eating out
    • It’s fun to try the local aperitif, but make sure to drink a glass or two of H20 with meals.
  • Avoid drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
    • What’s a vacation without an espresso in Italy or coffee in Vietnam? I love coffee. But don’t overdo it. Caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics. They make you produce more urine to get rid of instead of keeping that fluid in the body.
  • Be careful about eating foods that can cause traveler’s diarrhea
    • Some street food, meat that is raw or at room temperature can be contaminated. Avoid buffets. Wash your hands. Some people pack antibiotics or drugs like Immodium for their trip, you can ask your doctor if they think its necessary.
    • While I have never been sick in another country, I have gotten sick right here in the USA. Sometimes we can’t control how people prepare food.
  • Use this map to see if the tap water is safe where you are traveling
    • Some places surprised me in eastern Europe (I already had tap water there without knowing about this and thankfully I did not get sick)