Guest Post: Rome If You Want To.
(Sorry about the title on this one, but it's the first that popped into my head and I couldn't shake it. A little B-52s action never hurt anyone this early in the morning ... not even Love Shack.)
Today's post comes from an American living in Rome, and the challenges of taking a US-based PWD and throwing them into the land of pastries and pastas. Jasmine, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 26, has been living in Rome for the last 18 months, and she's sharing what life, and diabetes, is like across the pond.
Living in a foreign country is not for the faint of heart. The language barrier, the cultural differences, and the logistics of planning an international move are just a few of the issues we faced when my husband, Nick, and I decided to take the plunge, uproot our American way of life, and move to Rome, Italy for two years. I received a fellowship to finish my dissertation, and since Nick is perhaps the most go-for-it person I know, off we went!
But what springs to mind when you think about Italy? The Colosseum? The canals of Venice? Or is it pizza, pasta, and gelato? Tiramisu? Cannolis? It’s the carbohydrate capital of the world.
As you can imagine, one of the first things that topped my list of worries when planning our move was diabetes. Could I stay on my insulin pump and CGM? How would I get test strips? Do people in Italy even have diabetes??
Of course they do, and looking back now, two years later, a lot of my concerns were really silly. But, I was still fairly new to this life with diabetes and I knew how tough things could be when I actually understand the language perfectly.
My life with diabetes in Italy looks very different than the American version. Back in the States, I had really great health insurance, a supportive medical team, and some of the best technology on hand. None of that is true now. In preparation for our move, I started hoarding supplies, wearing sensors and infusion sets longer than is recommended (don’t tell the FDA…), and even buying insulin pens and needle tips out of pocket. I knew that getting into the Italian health care system would be possible, but I had no idea how long it would take. My hoarding habits turned out to be the right move since I only *just* got all of that figured out.
I’ve now been without my insulin pump and CGM for almost a year. I miss them and the pseudo-normal life they gave me desperately. As much as I dislike MDI and flying blind with my blood glucose levels, I’m making it work. I eat pizza, pasta, and gelato, but it takes some planning, and that’s really no different than anyone else living with diabetes.
Some of the simplest things that an American PWD is used to don’t even exist here. For example, they don’t sell any form of pure glucose in Italy, at least that I’ve been able to find, and my diabetes doctor here didn’t recognize my American imports. Same goes for alcohol swabs. I finally found them at one pharmacy, but it really took some work and asking a lot of questions in my not-so-great Italian. And if there is a question about a prescription, the pharmacist doesn’t just call the doctor. You’re on your own to resolve it.
I recently realized, having just passed my third diaversary and having lived in Rome for 18 months now, I’ve spent half of my life with diabetes in Italy and half in the US. The changes haven’t been easy, but I also know it could be so much worse. And in the end, being back on MDI and dealing with the challenges of the Carbohydrate Capital has been worth the incredible experiences we’ve had living abroad. But it definitely helps to know that we’ll be back home soon.