Living with a heart defect is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job. You don’t get a vacation… even when you are on vacation.
My parents used to take a week’s vacation every summer when I was growing up. They (later we, but at first I was too young to worry about such things) were pretty conscientious about at least knowing where the nearest hospital was, just in case. No one expected anything to happen while on vacation – if someone wasn’t feeling well, we wouldn’t go – but it was good to know about the local medical options, especially for me.
Our favorite vacation spot was a bit worrisome: Judging by what we could observe, the hospital was exceedingly average. Injuries or illnesses you might have in a vacation spot they could handle, since they saw them every day. But they didn’t have a great Cardiac program. If something had happened, that local hospital probably could have stabilized me, but we’d be going somewhere else for major care. Even today when I travel I keep in mind where I would go if a problem developed: Heading to Atlanta to see the Braves play? No brainer, I’m heading to Emory University Hospital; that’s where I go for Congenital Cardiac Care anyway. Flying to Washington, DC for an ACHA Lobby Day? Children’s National Medical Center is the best option. A couple of Children’s National Cardiologists are ACHA members and would probably be around!
A recent article in USA Today highlights the fact that hospitals located near popular travel destinations aren’t always that good. Back when we were vacationing every summer, we pretty much had to check out hospitals the old fashioned way: word of mouth from our doctors and asking the locals. The local residents are great sources of information: You want a great place to eat that isn’t overrun by the tourist crowd, ask someone who lives in the area. They can also tell you a lot about the local medical scene – but take everything with a grain of salt. Ask someone about a local hospital’s heart unit, they’ll probably assume you want information about how they handle a heart attack. Good to know, but not what I need.
It’s easier with the Internet. If you need specilized care (like an adult Congenital Cardioligst) the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) has a directory of Adult Congenital Heart programs. Paper copies are available and there is also an online database of programs. The US Department of Health and Human Services department has a webpage dedicated to comparing hospitals. The Association of Health Care Journalists also has a page dedicated to tracking hospital quality organized by state. It’s just another thing to add to your list of Stuff to Do before you travel: stop the mail, ask a neighbor to keep an eye on the house, and check out the hospitals close to your destination.