Vacation time is usually a time of preparation, packing, planning, and “what-iffing”. You have to be sure that you have everything packed that you may need to wear or use. You have to be certain that your travel route is planned and coordinated. You make sure that your schedule is set, so that you know what you’re doing on what days. You also, plan ahead for any contingencies, such as a flat tire, someone getting sick, a mechanical break-down, getting lost, losing your phone charger, etc. You need a vacation, after getting ready for vacation.
Travelling with a medical equipment, while certainly not a vacation, is very similar in that you always need to cover your bases and plan ahead for any “what-ifs”.
What follows are a few tips for making sure your travels are as surprise-free and problem-free as possible. This is an all encompassing list primarily for trach/vent patients, however; most rules apply for everyone.
- Prepare prepare prepare. Your go-bag (trach patients) should always be checked and, if necessary, re-supplied with the essential elements that you’ll need. It takes time and some diligence to stay on top of things to be assured that your bag has everything you could ever possibly need. Even if you are missing that one little item that you never seem to need, there may come a time when you will need it and you’ll regret skipping over that little necessity.
- Check the batteries…again. Your ventilator should have an internal as well as an external battery. Be sure that they are fully charged and in proper working order. If you have a car charger, use it. Always. This will preserve the batteries for when you’ll need them outside the vehicle and outside the home/hotel. If your vehicle has an inverter installed, make sure that it’s in proper working order. Nothing brings on stress like a dead battery when you expecting a fully charged one. Regardless of where you are going or how long you expect to be there, always take your AC power cord. If you experience some sort of delay or change in plans, you’ll surely need it to plug into an outlet to save or charge the vent battery. If you have extra batteries, make sure they’re charged and that they’ll hold the charge long enough to be used if the need arises. Also, if your external battery has a lot of wear/usage on it, make sure that it will be reliable for the duration of your trip/outing. Some external batteries have a limited number of cycles. When you reach that number, they’re done. Kaput. If you know that your battery is near the end of its usefulness, contact your DME provider to arrange for a replacement. If you have a battery charger, make sure that A) you know where it is B) you know how to use it, and C) it works correctly.
- Check your suction machine to assure that it works properly. Again, this may seem mundane, but when you need to clear the airway, there is no time for surprises or malfunctions. Check the machine’s function as well as the suction tubing, filter, canister, and even the carrying case. Your go-bag should be stocked with spares of anything you could anticipate needing. Ensure that you have adequate amounts of suction catheters that you’ll need for the duration of your travels. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you can’t have too many. And, while it may seem rather obvious, make sure that you suction machine is sitting in a stable, secure place, both inside and outside the vehicle. This will help eliminate any accidental tip-overs or drops. Make sure that you have the car charger, if yours has one, and that the battery is sufficiently charged. If your battery’s charge is growing weaker and shorter, contact your provider to arrange to get it taken are of well in advance of your trip. Also, don’t forget you deelee suction catheters. Hopefully you’ll never have to use them, but if you ever do, you’ll need one quickly.
- If you use a nebulizer or an inhaler, make sure that you’re well stocked with any medications that you might need. Plan for the unexpected as well, such as an unexpected need for a treatment, an unexpected delay in reaching your destination or returning from your trip, or a broken or faulty nebulizer. A spare nebulizer cup or MDI (inhaler) adaptor should be a standard item in your go-bag. If you have a travel nebulizer, make sure it works properly. If you are travelling far away from home, it would be a good idea to have a spare written prescription for a new inhaler or medication for your nebulizer, in the event that you might need to obtain replacements. Some pharmacies offer replacement services of meds if you are far from home. Investigate this well in advance of any travel that may take you far away from home.
- Check your oxygen supplies. Ensure that you have enough tubing, adaptors, connectors, etc. If you use tanks, make sure that you have enough to make the trip smoothly. Check your oxygen regulator to be sure that it works correctly. If you use a concentrator, pack it securely so that it will be in proper running order when you arrive. If you have a portable concentrator, check its function, including flow, batteries, and any adaptors required. Do this early enough so that if there is a problem, you can address it properly. If you are travelling a far distance, consider contacting your DME provider to see if they offer any coordination with other DME providers in or around the area of your destination. These other providers may be able to assist in the event of a malfunction or other unexpected event that may prevent you from using your oxygen tanks or equipment.
- Check your monitors. If you use an oximeter or an apnea monitor, be sure that they are in proper working order. Check the battery to make sure its properly charged. Be sure that you have enough probes, electrodes, lead wires, etc. to get you through your trip. Also, if you have a travel case, ensure that it is in good shape. And, while this may seem obvious, use the monitor during your travel. If you are driving and can’t see or monitor the patient, the monitor can help you detect and correct any potential problems.
- Check your ventilator’s carry bag to make sure that there are no hidden rips, tears, or breaks that may cause problems along the way. If your vent is adapted to a wheel chair, inspect the adaptors & brackets for any excessive wear that may lead to a breakdown or failure.
- Let your DME provider know that you are planning a trip, if it’s going to be a long one. Some providers may have additional resources or tools to offer, to make your travels less stressful. If you have any questions, requests, or special needs, give them plenty of time to accommodate your request, if possible. Not all DME companies are alike, so take the time to get to know what services your provider may or may not offer.
- Don’t assume anything. Plan for the unexpected and try to stay a step ahead of any potential issues. Just like any travel, there can, and probably will be a bump in the road. The key is to be ready so that the bumps are small and manageable. We all want our travels to be memorable. But we don’t want them to be memorable for the wrong reasons.
- PREPARE, PREPARE, AND THEN PREPARE ONE MORE TIME, JUST TO BE SURE.