Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘traveling with diabetes’

“Don’t you all know each other?”

A few weeks ago, we were in Venice and I almost walked right into the canal because I saw a lady with an insulin pump on her waist and a CGM sensor on her arm, speaking Italian to the shopkeeper and casually wearing her pancreas on her hip.

The flurried rush of emotions – excitement, understanding, the urge to shout “one of us!” – flooded me.  I grabbed my husband’s arm and said, “Hey DID YOU SEE HER PUMP?!” and he was all, “No, where?” and I pointed my finger while trying to make it look like I was itching my nose.

And my daughter said, “Yeah mom, I saw her!  And her pump! Do you know her? Don’t you all know each other?”

(You know, I wish we did.)

And even though we don’t all know one another yet, we can contribute to the growth and collective power of our diabetes community by participating in Diabetes Blog Week.  Sign-up details are on Karen’s blog – this is the 8th year! – and topics will be provided throughout the week.  And if you’re not into running a blog, you’re welcome to guest post here on some of the topics, if you’d like.  (Email me!  kerri (at) sixuntilme  (dot) com. )  Also, you can shape-shift the topics to fit into 140 characters on Twitter, or through Instagram, or other social sharing platforms.  Don’t let the “blog” in blog week keep you from sharing your story.  All voices are welcomed!

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?”

Stress!!!! and Diabetes.

Do your blood sugars respond to food?  Of course.  How about to insulin?  And exercise?  A big “hell yes” to those, too.  Food, insulin, and exercise have tangible influence on my blood sugar levels.  But one influencer that I don’t often take into account is stress … which is a ridiculous variable for me to ignore because stress can make my blood sugars leap over tall basal rates in a single bound.

Oh look – a video!

How does stress change the mapping of your blood sugars?

Not Guten for My Gut.

Skipping gluten was once classified as a preference, but the last few weeks have shown me – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that gluten is not “guten” for my gut.  It feels good, figuring out what was causing so much chaos, and I feel more human, and much healthier.

So all that “oooh, so healthy!!” stuff aside, going gluten-free while traveling is a pain in the ass.

Choosing gluten-free options isn’t unfamiliar territory for me, as we did skipped gluten entirely for Birdy for the first 15 months of her life.  I’m accustomed to carefully reading food labels while shopping, and I’m no stranger to reshaping recipes to fit nutritional needs.  But on the road, it’s hard to tell what foods contain what.

Last week, my family and I were in Vienna, Austria and it was my first experience with “needing” to be gluten-free and being away from home at the same time.  At home, I can read labels.  In Vienna, I couldn’t even read the menu unless it had English subtitles.  The language barrier, plus the dessert constants, made this trip a challenge.

“Let’s stop at that cafe and get strudel!”

“How about some chocolate cake?”

“The schnitzel looks delicious!!”

Everything in Vienna looked delicious, and covered in a layer of gluten.

Being gluten-free is a double-edged sword, but one “for good,” as my daughter would say, because rethinking carb consumption is (sigh) good for my blood sugars.  Avoiding the cream-filled desserts and opting for coffee instead gave me some really steady post-prandial blood sugars.  Not piling on the carbs made for awesome Dexcom graphs, but it was frustrating to have yet another food rule in place.

“I’m pissed off because it’s not a matter of choice.  I like choosing healthier foods, but I really don’t like being forced to because of all this gluten crap,” I said to Chris over yet another boiled-chicken-over-greens lunch.

“I know,” he said, diving compassionately headfirst into a plate of schnitzel.

And sometimes things just got all screwy.  Like on the plane ride home to Boston, where I avoided the roll of bread and opted for the chicken-and-rice meal choice, only to find out from the flight attendant that the sauce on the chicken contained flour (the presence of which was confirmed by my belly about 45 minutes later).  Or when I ate a bag of plane pretzels, forgetting that I needed to care about gluten.  My brain isn’t rewired yet and I need to constantly remind myself (see also:  grabbing a bite of Birdy’s breakfast cereal, only to remember that it contains gluten, and then spitting it into the garbage).

Because it’s not all in my head.  Removing the fog and bloating from my body’s repertoire is such a relief, and I have no desire to go back to the way I’ve been feeling over the last year.  The few times I made the mistake of eating something with gluten in it, I regretted it.  The return of bloating, headaches, abdominal discomfort, and exhaustion were a reminder that my body does not respond well to gluten.  Even if the tests for celiac and gluten sensitivity came back negative, there are clear and present markers that I feel better going gluten-free.

This is an adjustment, but in time, I’ll have a plan.  I’ll have this figured out.  My health is worth the investment.  Besides, Riesling is gluten-free, so I’ll be just fine.

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers