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22 Tips to Help You Prepare for a Medical Emergency

Be ready for a crisis at home, at work or on vacation

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Healthy Travels

Here are some smart ways to keep your vacation on track.

  • Prepare a medical folder for every person traveling. Include a photocopy of both the itinerary and each person's health insurance card. If you use a copy of a Medicare card, black out the last four digits of the Social Security number, to protect against identity theft. Include a page that lists current medical conditions, prescription drugs, immunizations and blood type. Make an extra copy of the contents of each folder and leave it with a friend or relative at home.
  • Put together a separate contact sheet of people to notify in case of a medical emergency, along with their addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, to carry in a wallet or day bag.
  • Pack a prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses.
  • Keep all necessary medications in your carry-on luggage when you fly. Store duplicate prescriptions in your wallet in case your medications are lost or stolen during the trip.
  • When your destination is a non-English-speaking country, bring along a phrase book or dictionary to help you communicate with doctors, nurses and emergency personnel whose English may be limited.
  • Make up a small travel health kit for each traveler that includes a few days' supply of prescription medications, extra batteries for hearing aids and a nonprescription painkiller, bandages, antibiotic ointments and antiseptic wipes.
  • "If you have a stent, pacemaker or implantable defibrillator, take along a small card in your wallet with the manufacturer's name and the model number of the device," recommends Donna Arnett, president of the American Heart Association.
  • Check your health insurance plan to see whether it covers medical problems abroad. If not, consider buying travel health insurance for the time you'll be away. Medicare does not pay for hospital or medical costs outside the United States or its territories.
  • Sitting for prolonged periods, whether in a plane, train, bus or car, increases the risk for developing potentially dangerous blood clots in the leg or thigh, a condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). To avoid the problem, take a break every few hours to walk around and stretch. If you have risk factors for DVT, consider wearing below-the-knee graduated compression stockings. (We know they're not pretty, but who's looking?) "In addition to walking and stretching, I take one aspirin tablet (325 mg) the day before I leave and another on the day I travel," to reduce the chances of a blood clot, says Rosenau. If you're sensitive to aspirin or take blood-thinning medication, check with your doctor ahead of time.

Next: Avoiding medical emergencies at work. »

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