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Guest Post: From Pumping to Pens and Back Again.

Today I'm happy to host a guest post from fellow Clara Barton Camp alum Abby.  Abby helped orchestrate my visit to CBC this past summer, and I'm thrilled that she didn't mind telling some of her overseas travel stories here on SUM.  This post touches on that delicate dance between insulin pumping and pens ... and back again.  (And what the hell is in blood pudding, anyway??)

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Abby and an adorable puppy.This past August, I traveled to Scotland with my family, and no matter how hard I tried to leave it behind, my diabetes tagged along. I’ve traveled overseas before, but not since I was 15 and then I was more concerned about which lip gloss to bring than how to best manage my blood sugars.  I had a lot of thinking to do this time. Working at CBC the six weeks before my trip really helped me figure things out.

I finally decided to take a pump break and use Lantus and Humalog pens for a few reasons:

  1. Call me crazy, but it makes me really uncomfortable to be wanded down by random strangers in blue suits because I have a pump in my pocket. 
  2. We decided to only bring carry-ons since we didn’t want to hassle with luggage at the airport (or pay the ridiculous fee to check a bag) and pump supplies take up a lot more space than a few extra pens and some needles. 
  3. I was concerned about re-arranging my basal rates to fit my new wake/sleep cycle and figured Lantus would give me a steady basal, and slightly less tight control; a sacrifice. 
  4. I was getting ready for a pump break anyway (I tend to take one every year or so, it’s nice to have your pants fit the way they should without a plastic lump in your pocket!)

Hurdle #2: For some reason, ever since I was a tiny human, I’ve always taken Lantus in my left leg (big fan of alliteration, I suppose).  This meant revealing my thigh on an airplane full of strangers while flying over a very large ocean. Awesome. Final decisions before boarding the plane: wear yoga pants for easy thigh access, give three other people in my family a bag with insulin pens and glucose tabs, and have the note from my doctor clipped in my passport at all times.  Oh and don’t talk to strangers.  Land of tea and scones here I come!

My blood sugars were high on the plane (sitting around for six hours made me stuck in the 300s for a while (awesome) and then the sleep deprivation caught up to me and decided I should be in the 60s until we ate dinner … or lunch … except it was 9am in Scotland.  (Oh silly time differences.)  Everything was going just swimmingly, until we went out to eat the first time … time to put those years of carb guessing - I mean counting - to work.

The food in Europe is, well, lets just say different than food here in the States. I ordered a ham and cheese toasted sandwich (nope, not a grilled ham and cheese) and hot chocolate, figuring I could fairly accurately carb count the bread and typically hot chocolate is either with or without milk.  Oh boy, was I wrong. The bread had butter on both sides, I’d never tasted cheese like that before, and I’m still not quite sure what was in that mug of steaming brown liquid. Forty-five minutes later, in the 300s again.  Sweet. (At least this gave me a good reason to pass up a sample of blood pudding, especially after the waitress couldn’t tell me what was in it because it was “just a mix of everything” … no thanks).

My family is very into trying the food at different places when we travel, and I’m totally down with that idea, but about three days after these uncountable meals and bouncing from 50-350 every few hours left me feeling like a slug and packing my own PB&J sandwiches whenever we went out to eat (I do have to give some credit to their equivalent of the FDA, because the carbs were counted on packaged food down the the 0.1g … If only my Humalog pen could accommodate!)

After a few days of diabetes interrupting my trip we came to an understanding and my blood sugars leveled out enough for me to enjoy my time in Scotland.  My family was awesome and understood that we couldn’t eat out as much (which saved us a bunch of money too) and we had a fairly routine schedule the whole trip which really helped.  I only forgot my Lantus once, and remembered about three hours later, which worked out alright.  Will I take a pump break when traveling overseas again?  Most likely not.  I rely far too heavily on my active-insulin feature and my CGM sensor. But I don’t regret trying it this way, and things worked out just swell.

So after some minor ups and downs and a big fat fail at carb-counting, the trip was still a success. And even though I rarely use diabetes as an excuse, I sure didn’t mind saying no to the mysterious substance known as blood pudding.

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Thanks, Abby!!  If you've taken a pump vacation, how did it fare for you?


My wife and I travel several times a year. It was a TSA agent that told us that if we remove the clip from her animas pump, she could pass the screening without being searched. (It works like a charm)
2) Medical supplies, carried in an exclusive bag, does not count toward the carry on limit.
3)We always acarry back up supplies to our back supplies, including, when out of the country, a back up loaner pump from Animas.

Blood pudding (aka black pudding) = sausage made with blood as well as meat. Carbs - about the same as a normal sausage (they usually have some breadcrumbs in them).
Taste = vile. Don't bother. :-)

Travelling with Diabetes is a pain just because of the uncertainty of what is available if you need it. You end up packing an entire pharmacy to make sure you are good to go. Annoying but worth it in the long run.

And now my joke.

Do you know what they use to sweeten Blood Pudding?

Blood Sugar. :)

Just a question on Steve's comment: Are you talking about medical supplies to be used during the flight when you say that medical supplies do not count toward the one bag carry on limit? Or do you mean any medical supplies like the 10 infusion sets & 10 reservoirs and assorted other diabetes stuff we haul with us on board. If you mean extra supplies, is this a federal policy? Twice we have been instructed by a gate agent(and rather rudely the first time) to stuff a purse into an already pretty full carry on. When I explained that both carry-ons contained medical supplies and little else and offered to show him the letter from our son's endo, I was told that people traveling with C-PAP machines have to pay to carry them on board. Of course this was all while we watched people hauling gigantic wheeled "carry-ons" and huge backpacks that would barely fit in the overhead compartment.

This post was totally helpful, as my husband and I are planning a trip to the UK next May. I am already apprehensive about being so, so far away from my Walgreens Pharmacy for 3 weeks.

This is for Steve, who just posted this:
2) Medical supplies, carried in an exclusive bag, does not count toward the carry on limit.
Is this for REAL? I hope so! I feel as though we PWDs should be entitled to some extra carryon, if it's filled with supplies!

Concerning the supplies, it is possibly airline specific, but we have never had a problem on any airline( mostly delta).Check the websites. By supplies, I mean what we need for the entire trip. I do not want to plug any company, but the animas bag carries enough supplies for a 2 week trip for us. That means 3 weeks of supplies, dexcom stuff, ketone strips, glucagon, spare meter and strips, syringes, spare parts etc. We carry the insulin in a cooler about the size of small camcorder. One other thought.... no hotel has ever charged us for a fridge because it is for medical reasons. The bellagio tried to, but once I mentioned that no other hotel ever did, they relented

This is a great post that touches on a delicate dance between accommodating our diabetes needs and sacrificing some control when necessary.

I have traveled overseas many times, and every time I have traveled with my trusty pump. I always carried a backup pump, extra supplies, and NPH (in the 90s) and lantus now. Changing time zones is super easy with a pump. You simply change your basals to the new time zone when you land, and your body adjusts. (I always give a temp basal of +20% when flying though.)
I spent a summer studying abroad in Germany 6 years ago, and brought all of my supplies from the US. It was a lot of space in the carry on, but worth the hassle to be worry free. I am a big fan of the Frio for keeping my insulin at a safe temp.
Another fun traveling lesson I learned when I was traveling with a group in high school was that tabs are difficult to come by in Europe (this may have changed since 2000). My one 50 count jar ran out somewhere between Niece and Paris, France.
Generally, I have found Europe fairly accommodating to diabetics, and Mexico was okay as well. The pump is not as big there, so less awareness is sometimes a problem, but in general people are friendly and helpful.
Learning the words for "I am diabetic." "I need sugar" and "Where is the bathroom?" will help you a lot in any country.

I agree. I HATE, absolutely HATE "to be wanded down by random strangers in blue suits." After two years with a pump, I've decided this definitely has to be the worst side effect of pumping. I can't tell you why, but my eyes tear up (on their own, I swear) every time.

BUT...I am completely addicted to my pump and CGM so I don't think I could handle a vacation (always the most difficult time to manage BG) without them.

I traveled within the US with my pump this past week and was pulled to the side each way so they could swab my "machine". I have never had that happen before, usually they just look twice at it. It was kind of annoying how they called it my machine.

Best part of traveling with diabetes? Your luggage lightens up as you go!

When I'm at the airport, I just accept the wanding as part of the routine and try to remember that the suits are just trying to do their job -- to protect us. I will try the clip trick in the future, though.

Also, I hate (that's HATE) the taste of glucose tabs and carry juice boxes instead. Oh, how the suits like that and I always have a grand time flashing my Medicalert and explaining the situation. . . .

The medical supplies rule is definitely true. I pack an insulated lunch pack with me for supplies for any longer trip, and all I ever say to anyone who asks is simply "I'm a diabetic. These are my supplies."

My Ping sets off security every time, but no one's ever questioned the bag.

I went on vacation back in May and had something very interesting, actually unnerving happen at the security checkpoint. I explained that I was carrying insulin but left it at that. My Omnipod didn't ever set off the metal detector and I never declared that I was wearing a pump - HOWEVER, the TSA screeners (2 of them) took a good look at my bag on the screen as it passed through the scanner and went "hmmm, there are batteries in those things, what in the heck?? How strange - a lot of little batteries, I have never seen anything like that before". They didn't even look twice at me and let me proceed. The Dexcom/Omnipod equipment that was so confusing to them wasn't even in the same bag as my insulin. I couldn't believe they didn't question me. Makes me feel "safe".

I've travelled overseas with and without a pump and find it is kinda easier to pack less supplies...I took what I thought would be a short break from the pump but ended up getting my A1c from 6.3 to a 4.6 so I haven't gone back to the pump since. It has been a few years now and I love not being on the pump. Plus I save money :)

It's TSA policy, and the first time I traveled with a separate bag for my supplies, I printed that page and put it right in the top of said bag, and I had no problems!

Who is that SuperG guy, you should block him for a joke like that. Ha ha. I agree blood (or black) pudding is disgusting. White pudding on the other hand is yummy. I've traveled with a Cozmo pump many times and only been wanded once, and I'm sure that was my belt buckle. Now I just strip to my underwear and get through super-fast --- Kidding. Though at the rate we're going (remove shoes, belts, jewellery), it's only a matter of time.

I've thought about a pump vacation as a way to discourage me from bolusing to cover extra food I eat that I shouldn't, maybe I'll try it for a while.

My biggest complaint about TSA is the disrespect they had for searching our bag of supplies. One guy decided to take the bag to a back table, remove and inspect every item. I told him they were important medical supplies and nicely requested that he put on clean gloves so that he does not contaminate the stuff. Who knows what else he was touching. I also asked that he treat everything with respect. When he began to open every test strip vial, I lost it and demanded a supervisor. My wife thought I was about to be arrested, but I was pissed. The supervisor agreed to simply swab the bag for explosives. I fully support security and trying to keep us safe, but these guys should have some sort of in-service on this stuff.

I just got a Dexcom CGM and haven't flown (read: gone through security) with it yet.

Anyone have any pointers/suggestions? Can I send the receiver through on the belt, or should I carry it through with my pump?I looked at the users guide, but it only said "the receiver and transmitter are designed and tested to withstand common electromagnetic interference, including airport security systems."

Black (or blood) pudding really is one of those things where you are better off not asking what is in it but it tastes great. Like haggis its a case of don't ask, just taste - a test we used to give customers when I worked in a cafe! Can you spot the Scot posting here?! Never seems to impact my blood sugars at all either :-) Definitely worth a taste next time....!

Glad to see all went well with MDI. I have done the same thing - taking a pump holiday since April - just to go back to my grassroots of D again (have been D most of my life - so pumping was relatively new to me when I went back to MDI). I found I had good success with both - but this past holiday - of sailing in rough seas - difficult to inject when boat is bouncing on 8 foot waves - I went back on the pump. Main thing - we know how to do both methods - that's what I have found going on this pump holiday has taught me. Animas will now be glad to have me calling them up for supplies again as I've been a quiet mouse for past 5 months :)
I agree with Sysy Morale about not having to pack as much "crap" when going MDI. You have to pack more when pumping - and I'm a gal who likes to travel with as little as possible!

FYI - removing clip does not prevent machines from detecting you have your pump (I wear an Animas 2020). Been there/tried that . It depends on the frequency they have their machines set at (hubby knows what they are called - but he's in zzz land right now). Best service I've had is in Miami, with fancy "see you nakid" machine - bing, bang, boom - under 2-3 minutes with swipe of pump - you are thru' all the TSA stuff - otherwise - it takes no more then extra 15 minutes of pat down, etc. If it makes flying safer for all of us - it's no problemo for me :) as I'm sure other PWD's feel the same way.

First off, Hi Abby!!! I miss you!
Okay, now that that's over with. I am currently transitioning to European time. I flew to London today, my first ever international trip with not only my newly acquired Dexcom (thanks to this blog) and my Deltec pump. Not only was I patted down but my carry on was raided and tested for bomb-like materials: needless to say it was WONDERFUL.
I then proceeded to lose my bottle of test strips in my bag during the flight while my sugar was sky high for 8 hours. They fed us twice on my flight here, guessing carbs was a wonderful time. I'm still adjusting to the time difference so we'll see how it goes, I'm over here for the nest two months.

I also went on a pump break 2 years ago. My blood sugars had been extremely high for a month or two, partly due to stress, partly due to my sites. I was off the pump for a month when I realized what hell it was to have to worry about taking pen shots in the middle of class when I went high or ate something. Not easy or fun when you're in a chef uniform and half the class has a needle or blood phobia. I adore having Lantus and Humalog pens available for emergencies, I even packed them for this trip, but I'd rather have my pump any day.

LOL. I don't have diabetes, but I enjoy your blog. I have a pacemaker so can't go through the metal detector (I'm 30). I have to have a hand pat down. Can be a pain sometimes. I also travel with a nebulizer as I have asthma. It's nice to hear that people get through all right with medical supplies.


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