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Guest Post: Diabetes in Spain.

If there's one regret I have, it's that I didn't take advantage of the study abroad program in college.  My first trip to Europe wasn't until last year, when Chris and I visited Barcelona for the filming of Buried.  

But thankfully, some college students do manage to fly across the pond and literally broaden their horizons.  Melissa Moulton, a staffer at CBC and PWD of ten years, is spending a full year living in Spain.  She's offered to share some of her stories about managing diabetes while living abroad her on SUM, and I'm really pleased to be hosting her posts.  Take it away, Melissa!

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Melissa is awesome.Instead of getting on a train and going to Hogwarts on September 1st of this year, I went to JFK airport and got on a big scary plane and flew across the Atlantic to Madrid, Spain.  In place of doing the more common one semester study abroad program, I somehow decided it was a good idea to live in Madrid with a host family for the entire academic year.  This decision meant leaving my cozy liberal arts college for a bustling, unfamiliar city.  Add in type 1 diabetes and gluten intolerance and this incredible experience is bound to get a little more complicated.

Once my incredible summer working at CBC ended, it hit me that I would be leaving the country in merely two weeks.  I spent the days counting test strips, spending time with friends and family, and most of all trying to remember how to speak Spanish.

Then about a week before leaving I met with my endo and we talked about getting a Dexcom.  And because I just love to be stressed, I decided to peruse getting a Dexcom before leaving… in one week.  Somehow Dexcom and my insurance company pulled it off and I didn’t even have to verbally assault anyone in the process—win-win, in my opinion.  Getting a Dexcom has proved to be one of the best decisions I think I have ever made in regards to my diabetes.  It has really made living far away from friends and family, who know the nitty-gritty of diabetes, much easier.   
Fast forward to meeting my host family: I sat jet-lagged and overwhelmed at the kitchen table with my new “host mom” and attempted, in lovely broken Spanish, to tell her about diabetes and eating gluten free.  I managed to convey the basics, but for just about everything else we ended up reading Spanish Wikipedia articles (explaining autoimmune diseases in a foreign language for dummies?).  In retrospect, it probably would have been a good idea to figure out how to talk about diabetes in Spanish before leaving, but I guess I was too preoccupied deciding which dresses to bring, or something like that.  Oh, and it’s a good thing the word “gluten” is exactly the same in both languages.   
Though this has been an incredible experience so far, I think one of the things that has been most difficult for me has been that lack of diabetes (not to mention red hair and freckles) here in Spain.  It’s almost as if the disease doesn’t even exist over here!  We all have experiences running into a random stranger in the grocery store with a pump or seeing a stray test strip hanging out on the floor of a public restroom. However I haven’t seen any of this: not a pump, not a random person wearing a JDRF walk t-shirt, nothing. I went from having an entire network of people with diabetes only a text message away, to a world where diabetes is something nearly unmentionable.  I’m still hoping to come across some diabetes in public, but at least I’ve realized that with a little effort, overseas communication isn’t all that difficult (thanks technology!)  

Despite the occasional "diafail" and one very scary Spanish endocrinologist (think massive mahogany desk, fifteen foot ceilings, a large mustache, and no knowledge of diabetes—at least I only needed a prescription), I’ve definitely managed to live life in Europe to the fullest and learn a heck of a lot of Spanish.  Oh yeah, and I still have six months to go!   

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Thank you, Melissa!!!  I'm excited for your next update!


I was in the Peace Corps in Morocco and let me tell you it was strange trying to explain diabetes. My Arabic was non-existant when I first arrived and get better with time, but it was always hard to explain. All the best living over seas, it is fun and well worth it.

So good to read this, Melissa! I'll be living in Italy for 4-12 months next year, so I'm eager to hear about experiences with diabetes abroad! Good luck with the rest of your time there!

WOO. love it Melissa, thanks again for doing this!!!
(still laughing at "host her post")

Hi Kerri and Melissa,
I live in Greece and I've also noticed that PWD are invisible here, rather than don't exist.
For one thing, insulin pumps are not that widespread as in the US and also most people avoid giving themselves injections in public. Interesting differences!

How awesome that you're in Spain, and that you are studying abroad. I was too scared to try it (partly because of the diabetes and partly because of me). I have been to Spain, though, and found that the mealtimes wreaked havoc on my blood sugars. And saying "bomba de insulina" to security guards when I explain my pump always cracks me up. Best wishes!

I just came back from studying abroad in Argentina (and I was only a junior in highschool!). Diabetes was pretty invisible there too, and everyone was fascinated with my insulin pump. I had a little infusion set difficulty and that plus some miscommunication (very easy to happen while speaking in a different language) I somehow ended up in the hospital... all the nurses were completely enthralled by my pump. It was pretty funny as they examined it and tried working it without realizing they were holding it upside down. It was interesting experiencing the care in another country - I didn't need a prescription for insulin, just about 300 pesos a bottle!

Glad to hear you are having a great experience in your year abroad. I spent an academic year in England more than 30 years ago, and it remains one of the transforming experiences of my life. You are right to have chosen to spend an entire year. Think what you would be missing if you had to go home now! You will have so many more experiences by spending the year. I hope my t-1 son will pursue study abroad when he is in college. Stories like yours reinforce the idea that this is possible for him.

Hey Melissa!
I'm so glad you're doing well over there! I wish I had known you'd be in Spain when I was in France, I totally would have come to see you and we could bond over our new Dexcoms and diabetes abroad. Have fun and have a Merry Christmas!

I travelled around Europe when I was 19 and a pretty undisciplined diabetic. I remember learning to say "I am diabetic" in several languages. I was all ready to explain to any and every security guard why I was carrying a large stash of syringes (pre-pump days, the dark ages). But no one ever asked. So disappointed was I that when I finally came through security at Kennedy Int'l (my last chance), and no one questioned me, I actually asked, "Don't you want to know about my needles?!" (obviously before 9/11)

To Brendan, I once looked into Peace Corp (around the same time) and was told they didn't allow type 1 diabetics to go. Glad you were able to. It was one of only two things I was ever told I couldn't do because I was diabetic, the other one being: fly a plane.

Hey, Melissa,
I spent a year in Seville, Spain in 1988-89. Pre pump, of course. And pre cellphone and pre-email (!). I found the meals to be nutritious and healthy and managed nicely with multiple daily injections, after figuring out how to adjust my long-acting insulin (pre Lantus). There ARE people on pumps there now, and even when I was in Seville, there was an active Spanish equivalent of the ADA. Look them up on the internet and/or contact the Animas reps in Spain - they are located not very far outside of Madrid, and can connect you with other pumpers. Yay for you! I'm jealous! Have a great year.

Way to go Melissa! You are so brave!

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