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Posts from the ‘Traveling’ Category

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.

These Boots Were Made For Talking.

At the airport two weeks ago, I was coming home from Washington and my flight to Rhode Island was delayed.  The wait in the cramped US Airways terminal was long and oddly warm for October, giving people a certain irritated twitch.  I was still dressed from my meeting, with a dress and tights and boots and not enough real estate in the dress itself to hide my insulin pump so eff the bullshit, I clipped my pump to the top of my boots.  (Like this.)  It felt comfortable and somewhat discreet.  A nice change of pace.

The other people on my flight and I kept close to the gate, watching the delay extend and hearing sighs from fellow travelers.  There was a thick tension to the air, one that even the smell from the Dunkin Donuts kiosk couldn’t cut through.

And then suddenly a fight broke out between these two random ladies, one of whom was heavily pregnant.  There was excitement and a scuffle and lots of “Oh no you did NOT” and the response of “But I DID.”  Security showed up around the same time as our plane, which added to the chaos.

“This was unexpected,” the man next to me said, shaking his head.

“Almost makes the plane delay tolerable,” I agreed.

He looked at me and then his eyes traveled to the top of my boot.

“Is that an insulin pump?” he asked, with a look on his face that indicated he knew exactly what it was.

And as I said, “Yes,” I realized that I meet people touched by diabetes everywhere.  In coffee shops, at Disney World, on planes, going through TSA, and now, watching a pregnant lady and another lady try to punch one another in the face while waiting for my delayed plane.  People with diabetes are everywhere, and I am lucky to find a lot of them.

… that, and it probably helps catalyze conversation, keeping my medical device clipped to my shoe.

“My daughter has type 1 diabetes,” he said.  “She was diagnosed when she was nine.  She’s 18 now and at college.  Volleyball player,” he added proudly.

“No kidding?  I’ve had it for 29 years, diagnosed when I was seven.”

“Yeah?  Wow, 29 years.”  He looked impressed, as if I had mentioned an ability to build functional spaceships out of pasta noodles instead of an inability to produce my own insulin.  “And you’re okay?”

I shrugged, thinking about the difficult last few months.  But I was okay.  I’d be okay.

“I’m not picking fights with pregnant people at the airport, so I’d say I’m pretty okay.”

He looked at me with those hourglass eyes that parents of children with diabetes often have, visibly fast-forwarding his own daughter’s life another two decades, wondering what her life would be like when she had lived with diabetes for almost thirty years.

“That’s a plus,” he said.

And all at once, I wanted to give him a run-down of my life, telling him everything that I had still done and would still do, despite or because of diabetes.  I wanted to show him pictures of my daughter.  I wanted tell him about how Chris takes care of me without smothering me.  I wanted to tell him how my mom and I are immeasurably close through diabetes.  I wanted to tell him it would be okay and his kid would be okay.

And then I wanted him to tell me I would be okay, and that the people I love who have diabetes would also be okay.

The gate attendants called for people to start boarding our flight.  We shook hands and did the “Nice to meet you; good luck with everything” send off.

But there was a moment that hung between us, one of understanding and connection that only people who really understand this life can share.  He knew my life and I knew his, to a certain extent, yet we’d walk away from the conversation without sharing our names.  Which, strangeness aside, was really comforting.

Reaching the Summit.

Last week, I was in Sweden for work, for the fourth annual blogger summit that Animas hosts during the EASD conference.  (Here’s a look at the first summit, and the second one, and last year. And here’s a look at my disclosures, as my work with Animas is what brings me to these different places.)  I’m in the process of downloading my brain on conversations that took place over the last week, in search of a few thousand words to express what I’ve learned, but in the meantime, isn’t there a thing about pictures saying a thousand words? 

If so, I’m cashing that concept in for this blog post.

EU Blogger Summit

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

More Sweden.

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

Stockholm. #nofilter #latergram

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

Old City. #latergram

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

Me and my Bird, checking out Stockholm Old City.

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

And, in unrelated news, I have discovered a new favorite writer. That person is whoever the genius is behind the Iceland Air in-flight menu copy.

@icelandair, you are fun.

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

Traffic Jam.

Last week, I was up in Boston visiting with Ed Damiano to hear some updates on the bionic pancreas (now known as the iLet – more on that later meeting this week), and our meeting ended late in the afternoon.

Which means I climbed into my car to make the drive home on Route 93 south towards Rhode Island at 6 pm.

For anyone who lives in New England, you know this is a recipe for sitting in the car in maddening traffic for hours.  The drive in and out of Boston is abysmal and unforgiving.  Sitting in traffic for hours on end trying to get to one stupid exit only to have to sit in traffic again for another long while is a waste of time and makes me endlessly grateful for my short commute.

But dude … I was on an iLet high, excited after hearing about how this new technology might help keep me healthy while freeing up brain space previously assigned to diabetes management.  Unfortunately, after peeking at my Dexcom, I was also on a bit of a blood sugar high.

212 mg/dL with an arrow pointing straight up, to be more precise.

“Gosh darn it,” is what I would have said if Birdy was in the car with me.  I was already in traffic.  It was going to be a long, needing-to-pee-because-hyperglycemia.  Time to bolus.

Several boops and beeps later, the correction bolus was en route.


“Oh for pete’s sake,” is another thing I would have said if Birdy was in the car.

I looked at the pump.  I haven’t had an occlusion alarm in ages, so I wasn’t sure what would happen next.  After confirming that none of the insulin had been delivered, I tried it again.


Well okay then.  Time for Plan B.

Plan B is always an option because I am painfully prepared for all kinds of crap things to happen at the most crap of times.  (Except that one time.)  My family mocks me for my giant purse, but when someone needs a bandaid or an insulin set or a t-shirt or a 3 lb bag of coffee or a brick or a small (small) weasel, I am their go-to girl.

Which explains why the contents of my purse often paint me as some kind of drug lord, because I thankfully had a syringe in my meter bag and a back-up insulin pen in my purse, just for moments like these when I’m in Boston traffic and need to shoot up quickly.  I disconnected my pump, uncapped my pen, and took my correction bolus old school style.  Nineteen and a half hours (read: two) later, I was back in my diabetes supply closet safety zone, where I could swap for a new pump set up.

This is exactly why I carry an insulin pen with me at all times. Even when it seems like overkill.

Which also reminds me – I need to update my stash of small (small) weasels.

Bring Pants.

Last night, I unpacked the suitcase I had used a few days earlier for a trip to Toronto for a conference. And then I promptly refilled the suitcase with clean clothes to prepare for my trip to Washington, DC today. It’s kind of exciting but also a wee bit of a bummer to be away from home so much.

I travel quite a bit, mostly for work-related events that bring me somewhere for a night or two, and then shuttle me back to Rhode Island. It’s a big departure from when I was in my 20′s, when I didn’t travel much at all. My 30′s appear to be the decade of departures (and arrivals), and over the course of the last few years, I’ve made a point to streamline how I travel. I used to bring the biggest suitcase in my arsenal and cram it, but now I make a game out of how far I can get with one, small carry-on.

Travel bird.

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

A reader emailed me a few weeks ago (I read every, single email but I am a sorry creature when it comes to timely responses) about travel and diabetes, asking what kinds of tips I would have for would-be travelers. I ran through a quick list in my head, and it was strange to see how what was once a hyper-prepared, diabetes-obsessed list has (de-)evolved into a quest to not bring more than I need. But there are still diabetes nuances shoved in there.

  • You need to have your government issues identification. You aren’t able to rent the car or board the plane or stay on the train if you don’t have your ID. Smart to start there.
  • You also need to be wherever you are well in time to get onto the plane, train, or spaceship. My friends make fun of me for arriving at the airport two hours before my flight – “Do you really need to get there so early? Don’t you know how to do this?” – but being on time alleviates a lot of anxiety for me. So I get there early, damn it.
  • You need your medications. Whatever stuff you need (insulin? blood pressure medication? test strips?) make sure you take, and bring a little more than you need. Most often, I travel for two or three days at a time so I bring a week’s worth of medical supplies. (It goes up from there.) When I travel domestically, I don’t worry about original pharmacy packaging for my insulin, etc. but when I travel internationally, I make sure I have the box the insulin came in.
  • People talk about a note from their doctor explaining what the different diabetes devices are and do, and I carried one of these notes for a year or two. But I haven’t had much trouble at all with explaining things, and the few times that TSA wanted to go full-grope on me, it was minimally offensive (except that one time and I hated that one time).
  • You also need pants. Or some kind of nether region undergarment that covers up your parts. Not wearing pants or similar will have you ushered out from many different situations that escalate pretty quickly.
  • And in my travels, I need to have a jar of glucose tabs or other fast-acting low blood sugar treatments within reach at all times. You never know when you’ll need to treat a low (or when you might need a burrito) and it sucks to have what you need most tucked, and out of reach, in the overhead compartment.
  • And lastly, you need a destination. Our trip a few weeks ago brought my family and I to Birmingham, then Huntsville, then back to Birmingham, AL. It was a very mellow trip (lots of very nice people, some rocket ships, a fistful of rage-filled mosquitos) and we saw some of the northern Alabama sights. (Like this rocket and this space suit and this beautiful bride.)

When I was younger, the biggest travel hurdle for me was actually booking the trip. Anxiety about traveling and being away from my comfort zone kept me from experiencing a lot of things I now regret missing. Over the last few years, I’ve broken away from my trepidation and am trying to be braver. (And judging my the miles I’ve logged over the last few years, I think I’m making up for lost time.)

Flick of the Wrist.

In the interests of getting through TSA in Orlando as quickly as possible and making my way over to my gate so I could find some iced coffee and a banana, I disconnected my insulin pump and put it through the x-ray machine, caring very little if it melted in the transaction because I was melting in the transaction.

The tram to the gates was arriving just as I was finished at security, so I grabbed my pump off the tray and held it in my hand. dragging my bag to the shuttle. Just after “stand CLEAR of the closing doors,” I reached around to the top of my hip and reconnected my infusion set, sticking the pump into my pocket.

A woman boarded the tram, her infant daughter strapped to her chest. I noticed her noticing me while I reconnected my pump.

“Insulin pump?”

“Excuse me?”

“Is that an insulin pump? Sorry – my son has diabetes and I recognized the pump.”

“Oh, yes.” I searched her wrist for an orange or green CWD bracelet but didn’t see one. “Were you here for the conference?”

“What conference?”

“The diabetes conference. It’s called Friends for Life and it’s put on by an organization called Children with Diabetes. It takes place here in Orlando, over at Disney.”

She smiled. “I’ve never heard of it, and I live right here in Orlando. What’s it called?”

“Friends for Life. It’s a diabetes conference for families with diabetes. Lots of kids with type 1 attend with their parents, and lots of adults like me who go to connect with other adults who have diabetes. It’s really nice, like diabetes camp. Community helps, you know?”

She nodded, and the baby on her chest flapped her arms happily. “My son goes to camp. He loves it. But I’ve never heard of the conference before.”

I reached into my bag and fished around for a pen. Nothing. Checked my pockets for a business card. Nothing. The tram was about to stop and ditch us at the gates, leaving me just a few seconds to try and explain how a few days in Florida can change your life for the better.

“What’s the conference called again?”

I grabbed the edge of my green bracelet and pulled it off my wrist.

It's on. #ffl15

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

“I know this seems weird to hand you a slightly-used conference bracelet, but the URL for the conference website is on it. Everyone who has diabetes wears one of these green bracelets. You see one of these and that person understands, you know?” I handed her the bracelet, pointing at the website address. “I hope this doesn’t seem creepy. It’s just an amazing experience, being around all of those other families, and it would be great to have you and your family check it out, if that’s your thing.”

She took the bracelet and put it in her pocket. “This is very nice of you. Thank you. I’ll check it out for sure.”

The tram doors opened and we stepped out.

“Where are you headed home to?”

“Rhode Island.”

“And you come here just for that conference?”

I thought about the week that had just passed, when I was surrounded by people who redefined family.

“All the way here. Green bracelets are pretty awesome.”

She waved, and her baby waved, too. “Thank you for passing this along. Safe travels back home. Maybe we’ll see you next year.”

Usually when I board the plane home from Friends for Life, I like to look down at my green bracelet because it reminds me of my PWD tribe.  This year, with a flick of the wrist, I was grateful it had found a new home.

The Need for Naps … I mean, Self-Care.

Ten years ago, if you told me I’d have to bail out of a conference in the middle of the day to take a nap, I’d have laughed in your face because I thrived entirely on insulin, caffeine, and chaos and what do you mean, NAP?  I don’t need to nap.

Funny how being in my 30′s and hosting almost three decades of type 1 diabetes in my body has changed my whole stance on naps, and self-care in general.

This past week, at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions meeting, there was a lot going on.  Informative sessions, meetings with colleagues, social things with friends in the DOC, and a big exhibit hall full of diabetes companies, both established and up-and-comers.  Lots of stuff going on, and the pace of the conference is enough to wipe you out entirely.  (To catch some of what happened, take a peek through the #2015ADA Twitter hashtag.  There’s quite a bit there.)

Self-care is important for people with diabetes, but it’s not something I used to focus on.  I don’t mean self-care as it pertains to the specifics of diabetes, like checking blood sugars and taking insulin, but more the overall need to listen to my body and take it easy as necessary.  Things like “eating lunch” and “sleeping more than five hours” are included in self-care, but I had a bad habit of not doing either of those things.  I used to power through, soldier on, keeping going, [insert more phrases about not taking a moment to rest here] even when my body was throwing up its hands and hollering, “HOLY SHIT WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP?!”

But the effects of pushing too hard oftentimes wore through my good intentions and left me exhausted, with crummy blood sugar control to boot.  This past week, I embraced PTMO (permission to miss out) in efforts to stay healthy and feel “present” when I was at an activity, and it was a nice change of pace.  I went to sessions and wrote up my notes, and then took an hour to decompress in my hotel room.  I took naps in the middle of the day, grateful for the recharge that 15 minutes with my eyes closed provided.  I did not over-schedule myself but instead tried to keep the flow of the day less frenetic.

Permission to miss out, to take care of my own needs, makes me feel a little meh, as though I’m not able to keep up and that makes me weak somehow.  It also forces me to acknowledge that some parts of diabetes are taking a bit more of a toll on me than they have in decades past (ex. I had a low blood sugar during the conference that wiped me out for two hours.  The hangover is real.)  To Me 10 Years ago, the concept of taking it slower sounds ridiculous and the stuff that weak-sauce is comprised of, but to Current Me, it sounds necessary.  Because I’m older.  And possibly slightly smarter.  I felt present and able during the course of this conference, and I blame taking advantage of PTMO.

Because ultimately, PTMO leads to TGC (taking good care).  And it’s NWF (not without fun).

With Marissa Town at the TCOYD / diaTribe forum where we learned, laughed, and Facetime'd her kid. :)

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

Mike Bloom from Dexcom has awesome shirts. #2015ADA

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on

Collector card.

A photo posted by renzas (@renzas) on

Diabetes Hands hosts some of our diabetes faces. #2015ADA #honored

A photo posted by Kerri Sparling (@sixuntilme) on


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