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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!

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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.”

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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.

This is how we do it.

Wednesday morning, leaving Logan Airport in Boston, en route to Montreal:

TSA agent:  “Excuse me.  What is that?”

Me:  “An insulin pump.”

Their mouth:  “Okay.”

Wipe it down, test my hands, pass the screening, no issues, carry on with my carry-on.

My mouth:  “Thanks!”

Their mouth:  “Safe travels!”

Thursday morning, leaving Montreal and headed back to Boston:

Security agent:  “Bonjour.  What is that?”

Me:  “An insulin pump.”

Their mouth:  “Okay.”

Wipe it down, test my hands, pass the screening, no issues, carry on with my carry-on.

My mouth:  “Thank you!”

Their mouth:  “Bon voyage!”

Flying with diabetes: This is how we do it.

 

Guest Post: Preparing for the Unimaginable.

Today’s guest post from Laura Billetdeaux, who landed at LAX last week during the time frame of the incident at the airport.  As the parent of a son with type 1 diabetes, the day’s events had her playing through many “what ifs.”  This is her account of her experiences:

Last Friday, my flight from Detroit to LAX began its final descent to the runway shortly before 10 a.m. It was a big plane; we each had a tv on the seat back in front of us. Mine was tuned to CNN, and I watched, horrified, as the words “Shots fired at LAX” appeared on the screen.

We continued the descent. Surely we wouldn’t be landing there?

Not a word from the pilot. We landed and continued down the runway. Emergency vehicles were everywhere. “Welcome to LAX, where the local time is 9:55.” Really? The pilot suddenly stopped the plane on the active runway and spoke to us. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, it appears that you received information before I did. There were shots fired at LAX, and we need to wait here for a bit until we receive further instructions.”

We stayed on the runway for perhaps an hour, then taxied slowly to an empty gate, where we sat for another hour. Eventually, we were instructed to deplane and head down to baggage where we would ‘be secure and receive further instructions.’

They didn’t advise:

1.    There’s no food down there, not even a snack machine.
2.    You may be there for many hours.
3.    You may or may not have access to your luggage.

They didn’t advise that it was ok (in retrospect, perhaps recommended) to stop at one of the many food venues in the gate area – or even to stay there if you didn’t want to go to baggage. Or to find the SkyClub and buy a pass for the day, and watch CNN from a real chair, with real internet access and a power source, with a beverage and snack in hand.

We didn’t know.

I followed the crowd down the escalator and retrieved my bag. I went to the exit and discovered that LAX was in lockdown. No vehicles in our out; no people in or out. Everyone tried to find a spot to sit: parents with young children; elderly couples; international visitors who didn’t speak English; people with physical disabilities. It was crowded.

I wondered: Who has type 1? Do they have supplies?

There was no one to provide information. I found a tiny spot to claim, a 2’x2’ space behind a row of chairs and a big pole, with the wall to my back and the window onto the street to my right. I could watch what was happening. Better yet, there was a plug on the floor – I was connected. Score.

As the hours passed and the afternoon wore on, I began to get more concerned as no one arrived to give us updates. Or tell us what to do. Or help those who needed assistance.  It also seemed that people were at this point walking away from thLAX shooting, photo credit Laura Billetdeauxe airport. I wondered, “Where are they going?”

A police officer friend, who had been providing me insider updates via text the entire time, sent me a message: All roads will continue to be closed until further notice; if you can, walk out.

Pulling my suitcase and carrying two other heavy travel bags, I joined the travelers trekking off to the right toward Terminal 8. No one stopped us. The police and K-9 units continued to sweep the huge parking garage on our left. Helicopters hovered overhead. What is beyond Terminal 8? What am I walking into? I asked the man walking next to me, “Are you familiar with this airport? Where are we all going?”

He advised to follow the crowd toward Sepulveda Blvd, which is a street not a highway. He, on the other hand, knew a shortcut and was going to walk for a bit on the highway. I thought briefly about following him, but decided to stick with the hordes. We all walked. We passed the airport signs. “Welcome. Bienvenidos, Benvenuti.”

There were plenty of officers answering questions and directing us at the next intersection, and there was a Radisson across the street – surrounded by a mob. While ‘Radisson’ sounds safe, it looked like it might take 3 days to clear people out. I kept walking. A helpful officer advised that if I kept walking about a mile or so, there would be some stores and restaurants, and a place to try to connect with my ride.

I kept walking and passed the roadblock.  Starbucks! What a vision. I phoned my ride and had a conversation about where we might connect amidst this gridlock – and we ultimately did connect 90 minutes later.

I ordered a huge iced tea, and sat down to think about what had just happened. I was perfectly fine, but all sorts of scenarios were running through my mind. What if I’d had children with me? What if I had type 1 and didn’t have enough supplies with me? Or food? Or water? (I always travel with snacks for everyone in my row, but I know my kids don’t.) For anyone who wasn’t prepared to be self-sufficient for 12 hours – or perhaps overnight – this was a challenging situation. For anyone with a medical condition or physical challenge, this had the potential to become an emergency.

The lack of information while we were detained was appalling. Thank goodness for my friends who texted updates. I am certain that, had there been a medical emergency, help would have been there right away. Along with helicopter crews filming from above. There was just so much going on that regular folks were ignored.

I have a few takeaways from this experience: Just-in-case supplies should be part of the preparation for any trip. More than one set change. More than ‘just enough’ insulin to get you to your hotel. Snacks and water – enough for a day if needed. Make sure you have a way to connect and a power source. Take a look at the floor plan of the airport you’re heading to, as well as the area around it. Understand where you are.

I’ve been watching the news reports about the LAX shootings. Apparently, some passengers had to stay overnight in the airport, and still others were never reunited with t heir luggage (PSA: never pack your diabetes supplies in your luggage). I’m thankful I was able to walk away, and I’m thankful I was prepared. I will view travel a bit differently from now on.

Laura Billetdeaux is better known as Sam’s mom. Now 23 years old, her son Sam has been living with type 1 for 15 years. Together, they have been on more airplane flights than they can count. Laura is VP of Education and Programs at Children with Diabetes.

Reduced to Rubble.

Walking down the hill towards the restaurant, I felt the low start to kick in.  The symptoms started their awkward osmosis, triggered once I felt the buzzing of the Dexcom but eventually flooding my body with that tingling confusion, knees that buckled just a little with every step, and eyes that wouldn’t focus but darted around in my head like over-caffeinated birds.

“I’m low and I’m an idiot.”

“Why?” said my husband, Birdy in his arms as we walked down the unfamiliar city street in Montreal.  “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, but we might need to go to a closer restaurant, instead of the one that’s way down that road.  I left all my glucose tabs in the hotel room by accident, and I don’t have anything on me.”

Picking up the pace, despite my increasingly clumsy feet, we reached the a nearby restaurant and were quickly seated.

“Here are your menus, and your waiter will be with you in a moment.”

“Thanks, and could I please have a small orange juice, without ice, as quickly as you can?  Thanks so much,” I said to the host in one breath, hypoglycemia filling up all the space around my head like the Radiohead video for No Surprises.  A minute or two later, a glass of orange juice was on the table.  I drained it in a few gulps.

“Do you want to order, or do you need a few minutes?” Chris asked, reading through the menu while keeping an eye on me.

I picked up my menu and opened it, but the words didn’t make any sense.  Staring hard at the entree section, I tried to make heads or tails of how the letters were arranged, but they didn’t look like English.  The Dexcom wailed again and I checked my blood sugar on my meter – 48 mg/dL.  “Am I so low that I can’t freaking read right now?” I thought.  (And then realized I was holding the menu that was written in French.  After switching menus with Chris and reading through the English menu, things made much more sense.)

“I can’t think right.  I see all the thoughts in my head spinning around and I want to grab one, but they go by like socks in the dryer.  Everything is a blur of laundry right now,”  I admitted.  “I need a minute to figure out what I want to eat because right now, I want to eat everything and then cry.”

Stupid low.  Haven’t had many stupid lows lately (thanks largely in part to better planning and keeping a close eye on the Dexcom graph), so the ones that do creep in seem to hit harder than before since symptoms are felt more strongly.  I don’t mind carrying a bigger bag than normal, or going running with a Spibelt crammed tight with glucose tabs, and I don’t even mind the exceptionally awkward moments of having my pump tubing stuck accidentally through else’s seatbelt on a plane, but I do loathe the way that lows reduce me to rubble, and how the simple matter of forgetting to plan caught me off guard.  Usually quick on my feet and able to think rationally, lows make sentences hard to slap together, and reason nearly impossible to catch.  The friction between ‘thought’ and ‘action’ is grinding and hot, leaving my brain a few seconds behind until the glucose stores refill.

As quickly as it came on, it was over.  The Dexcom showed a gently upward-sloped arrow, and the hypo-fog lifted.  Birdy asked if she could have “just a small sip of your orange juice, Mawm?” and I handed her the glass, happy to not need it.

in rainbows.  man, I love Radiohead.

Weird Together.

“I travel a bit and go to conferences and events where there are people who have diabetes, too.  It can be kind of isolating, diabetes, so knowing other people who have it makes it easier to manage on all levels.  Does that make sense?”

“Yeah.  It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re weird together.’  And when you’re weird together, you get closer.”

That Guy George From the Plane (TGGFtP) and I spent the flight from San Francisco to Chicago sitting next to one another, talking first about how hung over he was (he was in San Francisco for a bachelor party and had a collection of air sickness bags in his seat pocket, jokingly at the ready) and then touching into trickier topics, like religion, politics, healthcare, and other topics that Miss Manners suggests keeping to yourself.

But honestly, after all the time I’ve spent in planes this past week (BOS -> LHR -> BCN -> SFO -> MDW -> PVD = WTF), I was happy to talk to someone, instead of picking through emails.

I laughed, harder than I’d meant to.  “Yes, that’s it.  That’s it, exactly, and a very eloquent description, at that.”

It’s true, though.  Even though I don’t have friendly feelings towards every person with diabetes I’ve ever encountered due to personalities, preferences, and proximity, there still is a strange draw to them.  It’s intrinsic.  At the MedX conference this past weekend, I was in a conference room with three PWD I knew (Sara, Chris, and myself), but when I heard a Medtronic pump go off somewhere a few rows behind me, I was intrigued and started doing the math.

“Sara and I are on Animas, so we don’t make the boop beep boop sound, and Chris is on MDI, so that’s not him going off.  Who is it?”

The boop beep boop’er didn’t make their presence known, and I didn’t pry, but if that person came up to me and needed to bum a fresh lancet or a test strip or a fistful of glucose tabs, I would have emptied my pockets for them, no questions asked.  There’s a level of understanding in play that’s automatic, and feels downright autonomic.

George was right:  I like having people to be weird together with.  And I like the fact that being weird together makes us closer.

“Popovahs!”

For the past five years or so, Chris and I have been going up to Bar Harbor, Maine to spend a few days walking around in the woods.  (Let me clarify.  “Walking around in the woods” means going on hikes, spending hours on end outside, and then retiring to the comfort of a bed & breakfast because I do not pee or sleep happily in the woods.)  Spending time offline and with the family was long overdue.

This year was particularly special, because we introduced our littlest Bird to some of our favorite spots in Maine.  Anti-stroller and anti-nap since she was about two years old, Birdy was ready to take on the three mile hike around Jordan Pond, chattering the whole way about the popovers she’d be able to eat when we returned to the tea house.

Allowed to use a butter knife (for the first time – big moment!) to slather butter and strawberry jam onto the fresh-from-the-oven treat, Birdy was excited to take a bite.

“Mawm!  Popovahs!!”

We introduced her to my favorite breakfast place of all time:  2 Cats.

And when she wanted a different view of the world, we lifted her up and let her see things from way up high (allowing her a new vantage point and also the opportunity to mess with her dad’s hair).


“Have I been here before?  In mom’s belly?”

“Yes, you were here once.  And now you’re here, on the outside.”

“Yeah.  Because I got so big that I had to come out of your belly and have popovahs.”

“Exactly.”

Looking Back: PWD in the Wild.

As the ladies of Team Sparling prepare for our trip to Orlando for the Friends for Life conference, I’m looking back at a moment from last November, when my friend Renza and I were spotted as “PWD in the wild.” 

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We were sitting at the coffee shop having a really nice Melbourne cappuccino (they make the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had in my whole life, with the steamed milk almost like a marshmallow topping on each coffee – amazing), talking about the Australian diabetes social media summit. The weather was sunny and crisp, with plenty of other patrons enjoying their caffeine jolt at the outside cafe tables.

“I guess when I was diagnosed, it didn’t matter much to me that I didn’t know anyone else who had diabetes.  I didn’t really know what diabetes was.  But as I grew older, I wanted to find that community, and that’s where the Internet has helped tremendously,” I said to Renza, talking about the impact of the diabetes community on my emotional well-being.

“And here we are now,” said Renza, laughing as she stirred her coffee.

No joke - Melbourne has the best coffee I've ever tasted.

We chatted on about the Summit the day prior, and what we thought of it. And then our conversation tumbled into our personal experiences with diabetes and pregnancy.  Thinking back on this conversation, we probably said the word “diabetes” at least a dozen times in a ten minute conversation.

Which is probably why the young woman was staring at us from her table, just a few feet away. She was holding her coffee cup near her mouth, but hadn’t had a sip yet.  She was fixated on us.  Her young daughter was drinking a frothy mug of hot chocolate, swinging her feet as the wind caught and tousled her bangs.

“Excuse me,” she said, almost to herself.

My seat was facing her table, so I leaned in and said, “Hello!”

“I couldn’t help but overhear – you both have diabetes?”

Renza shifted in her seat.  “Yes, yes we do.  I’m sorry – were we being too loud?”

The woman laughed nervously, her cup still close to her mouth but merely an accessory at this point.  “No, not at all.  I was happy to hear … I mean, my daughter was just diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few weeks ago.  We’ve never met anyone else who has diabetes.”  She made a sweeping gesture with her hand.  “And here you both are!”

“Real life people with diabetes, in the wild,” I smiled.

Renza leaned back and extended her hand, introducing herself and explaining to the woman that she had type 1 diabetes and also worked down the street at Diabetes Australia Vic.  “You can come visit us any time you’d like – and I’m at this coffee shop all the time.”  She handed the woman her card.

Thank goodness for the poise and professionalism possessed by Renza.  I couldn’t help myself – I waved animatedly at the girl and her mother and this stream of information passed my lips:  “I’m Kerri and I live in the United States and I’ve had type 1 diabetes for twenty-six years and I have a husband and he and I have a daughter who is two and a half.”

I wanted them to know I was okay, and that even though my life has included type 1 diabetes for several decades, I was still okay; it was a consolidated diabetes life story in one messy sentence, delivered with a caffeinated edge.

“How are you doing?  How are you both doing?”  I asked.

The woman looked at her daughter, who was staring at us.  “We’re good. We’re doing good.  We come to this coffee shop often because they are the only ones who really listen to how I want her hot chocolate prepared.  Her daycare is right around the corner, so it’s a nice place to stop.  They do listen …” her voice trailed off.

“We do know.”

We talked for a few minutes, and the woman gathered up her belongings.  “It was so nice meeting both of you.  Really.  Thank you.”  Her daughter stared at us with her big, brown eyes, the same as her mother’s.

“Our pleasure.  I hope to hear from you.  Please do reach out,” said Renza warmly.

The woman took her daughter’s hand and crossed the street toward the daycare center, her delicious Melbourne coffee still untouched on the table but every single sip of her daughter’s special-made hot chocolate all but devoured.

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