I didn’t know her, but I noticed her. Perhaps
in her mid-fifties, she looked healthy. She sat in a window seat across from my
aisle seat, a few feet away. Like me, she flew solo, surrounded by perfect
strangers. The flight was full.
But then it happened. Three hours into our
quiet evening flight from the east coast to California, her head dipped down
quickly and unnaturally; she didn’t jerk it back up. She was silent and
motionless. Most of the other passengers were sleeping. But the passenger
sitting right next to her noticed, and he gently shook her shoulder. No
He quietly retrieved a flight attendant who
brought someone over to check her. The entire process unfolded with very little
noise or commotion. Most nearby passengers remained asleep. She had no vital
signs and was covered up with a blanket, dead. The flight continued like
nothing happened. No one knew why she died. “Heart attack” was
mumbled by a few.
Clots Can Be Lethal
There’s plenty of recent research that suggests that people who travel for
long distances are at a higher risk of having a blood clot form in their legs,
which, if released into the bloodstream, can lead to death. (Note that varicose
veins are not a factor and not involved.)
Harvard Medical School released a report a few years ago that concluded
that travelers are at triple the risk of getting dangerous blood clots compared
to non-travellers. It also found that the longer the trip, the higher the risk:
about 25% higher for every two hours of travel on a plane.
Another study, released this year by the American College of Chest
Physicians, concluded that the average annual risk among the general public for
developing a leg vein blood clot is about 1 in 1,000. However, the number falls
to 1 in 500 among people who travel long distances (typically defined as four
hours or more, non-stop). The study found that passengers are at the highest
risk on trips lasting eight hours or longer, whether plane, bus, train or car.
Our leg muscles help push our blood through our legs and back up through
the heart. If we sit in a cramped seat, immobile for too long with leg muscles unused,
our blood can pool within our veins and form a clot. It’s called deep vein
thrombosis (DVT) or venous thromboembolism (VTE). If the clot breaks off, it
can travel through the heart and lodge in an artery in our lung. This is called
pulmonary embolism and it can kill. It’s responsible for about 15% of sudden
deaths each year.
Measures to Stay Healthy
Whether young or old, in perfect health or not, if you’re going to be
sitting for long periods of time, you can reduce the likelihood of blood clots
forming in your leg veins through one very simple solution: Movement! It pushes
your blood along, preventing it from pooling. Here’s what to do:
seated, periodically flex and move your feet and leg muscles.
little set-and-rep exercises; count silently or use music to set the pace.
Contract your calf muscles (point your toes downward). People
in healthcare call our calves a “second heart,” due to its ability to set blood
extend your ankles.
toes of your feet on the floor: it moves our shins, thighs and hips. This can
prevent clots that are known to form high up in leg veins.
what other passengers may think. Get up and walk around; stretch in the tiny
restroom or elsewhere.
others to take care of your needs. Research
shows that people in window seats are far more likely to stay put.
I noticed that the woman I saw die seemed bashful and polite. I believe
she never got out of her seat, a window
seat. It’s also possible that she began to feel ill but decided to say nothing;
after all, she probably didn’t want to disturb anyone.
Freelancer Ted Uhler writes for the iNLP Center and other websites that cover
health, fitness, wellness, personal development and related topics. The iNLP
Center offers NLP training and personal development coaching. Ted, a one-time
competitive triathlete, believes strongly in the value of balanced living.