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Posts tagged ‘traveling’

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.

Airport Connections.

The plane from Cincinnati to Washington, DC was a petite one, leaving little room for carry-on luggage and even less for calm.  After ferreting out my medication bag from my suitcase, I checked it at the gate and ended up second-to-last to board the plane.

“Smells like … something, doesn’t it?”  The gentleman behind me asked casually.  I wasn’t sure if he was addressing me, but I answered anyway.

“It does.  Like a ham sandwich.  Or Bad Thanksgiving,” I replied, noticing that the plane had a “stale cold cuts” smell to it.

We boarded the small plane and took our seats at the back of it.  Turns out the scent-sitive man who boarded behind me was also my seatmate.

We chatted briefly for a few moments about what we did for work – he worked for a surgical medical device company, I told him I was a writer – and then the discussion turned specifically to medical devices.

“I’m familiar, to a certain extent, with some medical devices.  I wear a few for diabetes management,” I said.  “Going through TSA is always interesting.”

He looked at me for a minute.  “Diabetes?  Type 1?”

“Yes.  Since I was seven years old.”

“My daughter is nine.  She also has type 1.”

And over the course of our flight to Washington, DC on the plane that smelled like spoiled lunch, this kind man and I compared notes on life with type 1 diabetes from our different perspectives.  It wasn’t a life-changing moment or a pivotal interaction, but served to confirm once again, how diabetes becomes a common thread that brings strangers together.

Even on a stinky plane.

 

Best Intentions Need to Stick.

Yesterday, my bag was packed with all kinds of good intentions.  My CGM sensor was only three day old, on a bright and shiny Toughpad to prevent adhesive rash!  The Dexcom receiver was fully charged!  My CGM in the Cloud rig was all charged up and ready to send my data into the cloud so that I would have a safety net while traveling to Washington, DC for the night.  Extra test strips and a fully charged Verio Sync meter?  I’M ON IT.  My wallet even had a few slips of Opsite Flexifix tape cut into band-aid sized strips and wedged into the change purse, ready to help hold down a wilting sensor.

Much best!  So intentioned!

… which did me zero good when I arrived in DC and my receiver threw a SENSOR FAILED error message after I went to the gym, forcing me to reboot before dinner.  Which meant I went to dinner without a CGM graph, which made me feel like I was sort of flying blind, but then I realized I left my glucose meter in my hotel room so I was actually flying blind without any way to check my blood sugar or calibrate my CGM during the meal.

… and then, sometime during the night, the sensor came loose and fell off my thigh.

All these good intentions? They need to STICK.

Guest Post: It’s All Happening.

Most of the time, I make sure I know two phrases whenever I’m traveling abroad – “I have type 1 diabetes,” and “Where is the bathroom?” – because … because.  Diabetes might require more planning ahead when it comes to travel, but it can be done, and Sarah from Coffee & Insulin is proving that with every stamp in her passport.  Thanks for guest posting about diabetes and international travel today, Sarah!

*   *   *

Leaving for my 10-month study abroad trip in Europe, I lugged my carry-on through the airport, stuffed to the gills with test strips, insulin, pen needles, syringes, glucose tablets, batteries, glucagon, and an extra glucose meter. I handed the flight attendant my one-way ticket to Marseille, France and boarded the plane, cradling a year’s worth of diabetes supplies in my arms.

The day before, I’d put 3 small slips of paper in my wallet. They read J’ai le diabète, Tengo diabetes, and Ich habe Diabetes. “I have diabetes” in French, Spanish, and German. (I actually have diabetes in every language, but my wallet is only so big, you know?) I had copies of every prescription folded in my bag. I had travel notes from my endocrinologist. At 21 years old, this would be my third time traveling to Europe. I was beginning to get the hang of the whole “international travel with diabetes” thing, which is certainly an adventure of its own.

I made it to France without a hitch, but my travels abroad didn’t stop there. Over the course of the next 10 months, I visited 11 countries. I went by train, plane, bus, bike, and foot. With each trip, I became a stronger traveler. I became more knowledgeable and more confident. My packing list was an art form. I kept a smaller, pre-packed bag of all the diabetes supplies I would need for a trip, so I could just grab it and stuff it into my backpack. I learned how my blood sugars reacted to hiking hills and winding through narrow cobblestone streets for hours. I learned how much I needed to bolus for a French pain au chocolat… but more importantly, I learned how incredibly delicious a freshly baked French pain au chocolat tastes. I learned and learned and learned about the workings of the world and the workings of myself simultaneously.

While in the Netherlands for a few days, I met a fellow type 1. We were staying at the same hostel, and after spotting her insulin pump, I introduced myself.

Her name was Anna, and she was an American backpacking through Europe for a few weeks with three friends. We became instant friends because of that great, invisible diabetic bond, and we swapped stories on the role diabetes plays in our travels.

Smiling, we acknowledged that any concern, fear, and doubt didn’t manage to stop either of us. Now being on the other side of the pond, being the travelers, knowing the risks and rewards, we thought, how could it?

Just as we made room for diabetes in our daily lives, we made room for diabetes in our travels and more literally, in our suitcases. Once, I wore the same pair of pants for a week so I could fit another jar of glucose tablets and my extra glucose meter into my backpack. And you know what? It was great. Who needs two pairs of pants when you’re busy paddle boating in Prague with an eased mind, knowing you have all the supplies you need?

We laughed (as that is all we can really do) at the awkward moments: when the language barrier was too strong to explain why I had a syringe in my pocket, or trying to find the translation for the word carbohydrates on foreign food packaging. (FYI: In Greek, it is υδατάνθρακες. You can remember that, right?)

We agreed that we’d both hit some bumps in the road. Traveling can be rough. It can be unpredictable. Even if we show up at the airport 3 hours early, the plane might be delayed. Even if we write clearly and legibly and have all the necessary tags on our luggage, it might get lost. And as we know, diabetes can also be unpredictable. Even if we count every carb, bolus precisely, go to the endocrinologist every three months, check our blood sugar 18 times a day- high blood sugar will happen. Low blood sugar will happen. And beautiful, rainbow skied 100mg/dl will happen. It’s all happening.


It’s super cheesy and super true to say that bumps in the road are part of the best adventures, and as long as we are aware and prepared for our needs as diabetics, everything will be okay. I’m not saying everything will be seamless. Our luggage might still get lost (which is why I never put diabetes supplies/medicine in a checked bag!) and our blood sugar might go high because of French baguettes and Italian pizza, but when it boils down to it, we’re stronger than the ups and downs and highs and lows. We’re brave and cool and we’re not going to let diabetes-related fear limit our adventures.

We’ve totally got this.

“If anyone can handle a bump in the road,” Anna laughed when I showed her my backpack full of glucose tablets, “it’s definitely us.”

*    *   *

Sarah is a recent college graduate, writer and literature nerd, expert coffee drinker, and type 1 diabetic of 9 years. She currently lives in Virginia, but is moving to Europe in the fall! New to the diabetes online community (and amazed by its support and kindness), she hopes to become further involved and continue to connect with other inspiring individuals living with diabetes.  You can read more of her adventures with type one diabetes and world travel on her blog, Coffee & Insulin.

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