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Posts from the ‘Traveling’ Category

Traveling with Diabetes.

Over on the Tandem website, there’s a new bit about traveling with diabetes (that I helped craft up), and that went live this morning.  You can read more here:

But it made me think about my travel experiences this past weekend (I was in Seattle for the ConnecT1D retreat – more on that in a few days, as I’m waiting for some input from the group out there), where diabetes was not at the top of my concern list, and yet I still spent some quality time with the TSA agents.

Most of the time, the issues at TSA screening points are minimal.  There are moments when discussions get a little combative or feel intrusive, but I’m not the most comfortable flyer, so it’s kind of par for the whole travel course.  (As in, everything makes me twitch.)  This past weekend, I was pulled at the Seattle airport for extra screening because my bag tested positive for explosives.

This resulted in having everything screened with an extra level of scrutiny, including but not limited to the TSA agent unfolding all of my dirty laundry (actual dirty laundry, not metaphorical) and inspecting it.  Made me feel weird that I folded all of my dirty clothes before packing them and also grateful that I didn’t accidentally bring something dodgy on my trip (waves giant exploding sex toy).  My bag kept flagging as an issue, to the point where they spent 20 extra minutes examining everything in it, from my laptop to my phone to the hair brush at the bottom of my backpack.  They even took a good look at my baby, who was kicking wildly at the inconvenience and making his presence visibly known.

“It might be your curling iron,” the TSA lady said, putting it in a bin and sending it through the x-ray screening for the second time.

“Maybe,” I said, wishing they’d give me my shoes back so I wasn’t toes’ing all over the highly trafficked airport floor.

“Your baby seems amused, though,” she said, watching my stomach undulate underneath my shirt.

“Yeah, he would prefer I visit the bathroom soon,” I said, while my son bounced around on my bladder.  “But he’s definitely amused.”

40 minutes later, the agents concluded that I was not a threat and that my items all cleared.  The agents barely looked at my pump and my CGM was a blip on their radar.  I was sent on my merry way, realizing after a few waddling steps that diabetes played a role of ZERO in my TSA hold-up.  Which was a weirdly nice change of pace from the “Excuse me, miss – is that a pancreas in your pocket?”

Weak Away.

I accidentally took a week off from blogging, but there are reasons.  And they involve dinosaurs.  Bullet list, because that’s the only way to organize what’s swirling in my brain?  Yeah, let’s do that.

  • Last week started strong – a good visit to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on Tuesday to confirm a strong and healthy growing boy.  More on the third trimester of this pregnancy in a bit, but for now, I’m holding very steadily without any blood pressure issues, no swelling, no protein spilling in my urine, and a baby of a healthy and normal size.
  • I think my son has the same nose as my daughter, which is weird to notice in an ultrasound.  And he definitely has my husband’s dance moves, which contributes to his cuteness.
  • The next day, I took a flight out to Salt Lake City (after putting Birdzone on the bus) and then drove out to Vernal, Utah for a diabetes event with the Tri County Health department.
  • Per my daughter’s request, I wore a bracelet she made me while presenting. It is as important as my medical alert bracelet, to be honest.

  • The people in Vernal are nice.  Super nice.  And there was a lady whose due date was the day before mine, so we had the chance to bond over babies.  (Hi, lady!)
  • The drive from Salt Lake City to Vernal is also nice, but extremely rural.  Like there’s one rest stop on the three hour journey on Route 40.  I saw lots of red rock formations.  And Strawberry Reservoir.  The drive through the mountains was beautiful.  If I didn’t have to pee every 25 minutes, this would have been a truly relaxing drive.
  • My cell phone didn’t work perfectly throughout the duration of the drive, so it felt weird to be tooling around in a state I’m unfamiliar with, in a car that’s not mine, entirely by myself, save for the seven month along fetus that was dancing while I drove.  There was a vulnerability to being out and alone that I liked and feared, simultaneously.
  • I did meet Dinah the Dinosaur upon my arrival in Vernal, which was a highlight.  Sending this picture home to Birdy earned me some mom points.

  • I found a dinosaur. #travelbetes

    A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

  • After presenting in Vernal and having the chance to connect with folks at the dinner, I went to bed and then made the three hour trek back to Salt Lake City for my flight out the next day.
  • Note:  I wore compression socks while driving.  Yep, I’m that old lady with the paranoia.
  • Second note:  The socks at least had a decent pattern, so at least it wasn’t a total loss.
  • Last sock note:  I neglected to remove said socks before going into to grab a snack at a rest stop.  Was also wearing a skirt.  May have looked a little off.  Do not care.
  • Then it was off to San Antonio, Texas for the TCOYD conference, where I rolled around like a hamster in one of those plastic hamster balls.  Only I was the hamster ball.
  • We talked about the emotions of diabetes-related complications, with the conversation tipping in favor of emotions related to diabetes on the whole.  The group attending the session was diverse in age, diagnosis length, and emotional response, which made for a very engrossing discussion.  As always, I learned a lot from my peers.
  • And at the end of the session, I saw people exchanging contact information, helping extend the conference bond beyond the moment.  Damn, that is my favorite part of any diabetes conference: the connection with peers.
  • After the conference, I crashed hard (sure, I may have watched three episodes of OITNB back-to-back before bed – don’t judge).
  • Sunday – Father’s Day – I was back at the airport to make the flight home to Rhode Island.
  • “Did you take a direct flight home?”
  • “The flight home to Rhode Island” isn’t ever direct, unless I’m coming from Chicago, Baltimore, or DC.  Every other location takes a ridiculously long time to get back from.  It took six hours of flying time to get home from Texas.  America, you sizable.
  • And on the first leg of the flight home, a PWD (T1D) in the back of the plane struggled with a serious low blood sugar, causing a bit of controlled chaos on the plane.  Thankfully, there were some smart and capable folks on board who were able to step in and assist, but it was unnerving to recognize that the good samaritan running to the back of the plane had that familiar orange case of glucagon in her hand.
  • Then it was home.  Beautiful, quiet home for a few days before the next leg of travel kicks in.  (See you in Seattle?)

SOP for TSA and PWD.

This past week, when leaving Las Vegas and heading home to Rhode Island, I had another new experience.  The TSA pat-down agent, after making a horrified face when I told her I was wearing an insulin pump, told me she has to check the pump itself and then my skin where I was wearing it. Since it was in my bra, it was a new-to-me, highly intrusive variation on the different-in-every-city pat down procedure. When asked why she had to inspect my skin, she said it was standard.

I told her I had never experienced that before, and she said, “Well, then everyone else was not doing their job.”

First time in ten years I’ve ever had that particular experience.  So I guess everyone else wasn’t doing their job this last decade?  I have seen my fair share of airports, and most of the time, going through security is fine.  Except the pat-downs keep getting weirder and weirder.

I don’t enjoy the pat-down experience, but I do it about 90% of the time.  Why do I opt for a pat-down?  For my previous pumps, their company websites advised to avoid metal detectors, etc. (Animas, Medtronic) and my current pump suggests the same:

“Your pump should not be exposed to X-ray screening used for carry-on and checked luggage. Newer full body scanners used in airport security screening are also a form of X-ray and your pump should not be exposed to them. Notify the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Agent that your pump cannot be exposed to X-ray screening and request alternate means of screening other than X-ray. 

Your pump has been designed to withstand common electromagnetic interference including airport metal detectors.”  — from Important Safety Information on the Tandem Diabetes Care website

Since I don’t go through the metal detector unless I’m traveling with my daughter (details here), my only option appears to be a pat-down. assures me that if I opt for a pat-down at the airport, instead of going through the metal detector or the advanced imaging technology revolving door thing*, this is what I’ll experience:

“If you cannot or choose not to be screened by advanced imaging technology or a walk-through metal detector, you will undergo a pat-down procedure instead. You may also undergo a pat-down procedure if you alarm the screening equipment and/or at random. The pat-down will be conducted by a TSA officer of the same gender and you may ask that the TSA officer change their gloves before performing a pat-down. The TSA officer will ask whether you have an injury or tender area to treat such areas accordingly during a pat-down.

You may request to have a pat-down in private and be accompanied by a companion of your choice. You may bring your carry-on baggage to the private screening area and may request a chair to sit if needed. You will not be asked to remove or lift any article of clothing to reveal sensitive body areas. Please note a second TSA officer will always be present during a private pat-down screening. Learn more from these frequently asked questions.”  — from the website, under Pat-Down Screening

TSA has a number you can call for further explanation.  There’s even a card that I can present, making my case on paper that I’d like a minute to explain myself.  And our friends at the American Diabetes Association have provided some good, “what to expect” information on their website.

I’ve had dozens of pat-downs and these experiences are diverse but not remarkably so.  Sometimes the woman who is screening me asks me to touch the Dexcom transmitter and have my hands swabbed; other times, the transmitter is ignored entirely.  Sometimes they check the bottoms of my feet.  Sometimes they confess that they have a diabetes connection.  Sometimes they want me to hold the insulin pump in my hands during the screening while other times it’s okay to keep it where it is.  I’m always asked if I want a private screening.  I’m always asked if I can stand for five minutes.  And I’m always asked to face in the direction of my belongings.

Thankfully, most often the security experience is completely mellow and fine.

But there are some weird, unsettling moments.  Like the TSA agents who run their hand from my ankle to my groin, jamming their hand forcefully against areas of my body that I’d rather not have jammed.  Or the time I was asked to take my pants down for a (in my experiences) rare visual inspection of my sensor.  There was one time that a lady tickled me the entire time (Dave Rogers from Dexcom can attest to that awkwardness, as he watched, horrified, from the next aisle over), but that was more weird than wrong.  There was the time I was made to feel like my rights had been stripped.  And it’s not always the physical acts taking place that are varied, but the response from TSA.  Apologetic, apathetic, or stoic expressions from the TSA agent are easy to roll with; the moments where I feel judged or like I’m annoying them for opting out are not as fun.

There doesn’t appear to be a true standard operating procedure for interactions between TSA and people with diabetes, but there should be.  I should not have my genitals slammed by an agent.  I should know whether or not my sternum will be examined during a screening.  My medical situation should not keep anyone from doing their job, but I should know what to truly expect so that I can prepare, not be blindsided by the different ways that TSA executes this screening.  There are lots of resources I can point to that outline my rights, but I need to remember what they are in the moment of examination and stand up for myself.  Because no one wants to see my underpants.  And I sure as hell don’t want to show them.


 *  Revolving doors are terrifying.  I’ve gotten stuck in them more than once and it’s super awkward and always embarrassing.  I wish I had more of an Elf approach.  

Airplane Site Changes: A Grost.

Earlier this week, I flew to San Diego to visit with the team at Tandem and brainstorm some plans for 2016.  It was a quick trip (managed to land right when that weird storm was picking up speed – made for a very exciting landing and also reinforced my hatred of flying), but a productive one.

On Tuesday morning, before leaving for the airport, I needed to change my pump site.  In the winter, my skin has a tendency to become scalier and more irritated than in the warmer months, so skin real estate is a real issue, and site rotation is important, yet it’s challenging to find a place that wasn’t already somewhat rotten.

Against my better judgement (and mostly because I was in a hurry), I made the mistake of inserting my infusion set onto the back of my hip.  Normally, this placement is awesome and totally out of the way, but that morning, I managed to stick the site exactly where my waistband was situated.  It was also exactly where I would put my hands when pulling my pants on or off, making it a high traffic site.  But whatever – I was in a hurry, the skin was good there, and I’d just be really, really careful when sitting / visiting the ladies room / getting dressed.

I made it about six hours before I ripped the site off completely.

This moment happened at the end of my five hour flight home from San Diego, as the plane was starting to land.  Thanks to a paranoia about blot clots (hat tip to that pesky Factor V Leiden bastard), I drink a lot of water on long flights and get up from my seat very often.  (Apologies to anyone who has ever sat next to me on a plane.)  I wanted to duck into the bathroom very quickly before the plane landed, and in my haste, ripped the pump site out with swift precision.

Blood streamed down the side of my hip. Not optimal.  In a panic, I looked at the bathroom walls and door to make sure my grossness was contained, and thankfully it was, except now I had bloody paper towels and the plane was descending quickly and fuck I needed a new site in a hurry.  After cleaning myself off (stuffing the bloody paper towels into my pocket because I didn’t want to throw them in the garbage), I went back to my seat and said a silent thank you to my always-over packed carry-on.  A large Ziploc plastic bag that carried snacks and glucose tabs was emptied out and became the medical waste bag.  As the flight attendants were preparing the cabin for landing, I grabbed my extra infusion set and stuck it into my stomach without anyone noticing.  A quick fill of the cannula and I was back in business.  My horrible paper towels and infusion set garbage were contained and concealed without issue.

THIS IS WHY I OVERPACK.  Every time.  I get some flack for keeping an infusion set in my purse all the time and for carrying insulin pens, too, because rarely, rarely is there an issue.  I could not have foreseen the need to change out my site at my seat on the plane (fuck you, Miss Manners), but when I ripped out my site, it was less jarring to discreetly change my site than to spend the next two hours driving home to Rhode Island from Boston without insulin.

The moral of this story?  Insulin is necessary on the ground and at 37,000 feet.  Be prepared when you travel.  And for crying out loud, bring back ups because Insets are only available in first class.

If I Knew Then: Traveling with Diabetes.

I wish I had known, years ago, that blaming diabetes for my lack of travel experiences was a stupid excuse.  Sure, I didn’t backpack around Europe after college for a dozen different reasons, with the need to work a structured job immediately after school was done so that I could have medical insurance to cover all my diabetes shit, but I could have figured it out.  I let the fear win on that one, allowing fear of flying and fear of debt and fear of trying something new keep me grounded.

I wish I had known that fear is good.  It’s good to be scared.  It’s good to step outside of my teeny little bubble of Rhode Island and explore the world.  It’s good to be scared of flying and still do it in pursuit of adventure and experience.  It’s good to see something outside of my own zip code, which is why I find myself on the move as often as possible.

I wish I had known that I had options when it came to traveling with diabetes.  It’s perfectly acceptable for me to put my insulin pump in my purse when I go through security.  It’s okay for me to wear it as I pass through the metal detector.  I can opt out of conventional screening and ask for a pat down.  I can also decide to buck the whole system and go back to injections while I travel.  The choice is MINE.  And it took me along time to realize my rights as a traveling PWD.

Same with decisions made while traveling!  I wish I had known that diabetes doesn’t always have to dictate.  Traveling for a formal event and the diabetes hardware simply doesn’t fit the way you want?  Ditch it.  And I also need to recognize that wearing my devices while traveling might afford some excellent advocacy opportunities.  It’s not all bad.

I wish I had known the importance of packing smart.  I will bring enough socks and underwear to last me the duration of my travels, but I’ll pack enough diabetes supplies to cover any circumstance.  It seems like too much, but I bring pump supplies and insulin pens in case I want to go back to injections (or if my pump fails).  I always have glucose tabs and snacks.  My shoulder might ache from the weight of my carry-on, but I’m prepared for just about anything, diabetes-wise.

I wish I had known that my blood sugar would respond to my flight anxiety, and I needed to find ways to manage that anxiety in a healthy way.  I should have brought yarn on the plane with me years ago.  It does wonders for my mindset and now I have better blood sugars and a collection of wonky scarves to give away to flight attendants at the close of my flight.

I wish I had known to stick a slip or two of medical tape into my wallet when on the road.  You never know when you, or a loved PWD friend, might need a little sticky assistance.

I wish I had known how powerful sharing my CGM data would be when it came to traveling.  I am on the road quite a bit for work and flying solo, quite literally, with my support team at home.  Allowing Chris (and other loved ones) to see my data while I’m sleeping alone in hotel rooms can make all the difference in a night that’s good or tremendously bad.  (Sometimes you just have to have the sharing conversation to get that ball rolling.)

And I wish I had known that all the planning and careful thought can still result in bullshit moments, like the time my bag was accidentally run over while in Paris.  But again, going back to that fear thing, traveling is not about waiting for the bullshit moments to happen.  It’s about best planning practices to avoid them, but being able to roll on gracefully when aforementioned shit happens.

Because there’s a whole world to be seen.  And diabetes is not going to be what keeps me from seeing it.


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