Just Call Me A Peripatetic Diabetic

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Seeing the aurora borealis is at the top of my bucket list, and I have an idea of where I would like to go to see it: Chena Hot Springs Resort near Fairbanks, Alaska. Sometimes I daydream about soaking in a 105° rock lake that’s surrounded by ice and snow while I watch lights dance across the sky.

Maybe in a couple of years. I’ve researched prices and I think I could get by for the cost of 10 vials of insulin, 10 insulin pump infusion sets, and a couple of boxes of pramlintide (brand name Symlin) for emergencies. Like food. I’ve seen the price of food in Alaska in the summer and shudder to think what it is in the winter.

Of all the things to dislike about having diabetes, I think cost is at the top of my list. Medicines. Supplies. Doctor’s visits. It all adds up and it definitely cuts into my travel fun.

Why do I like to travel? I just like to see and experience new things. Heck, I’m old enough that I’m trying to get rid of things; not accumulate more. When I am in my dotage, I want to sit and remember the places I’ve been, the foods I’ve eaten, and the things I’ve seen. I want to recall the blue hues of a glacier, narrow cobblestone streets lined with centuries-old buildings, hiking up a steep hill to a castle floating in the sky, going into a traditional Korean restaurant chilled to the bone on a frigid day…

On that last — back in the day, fires were lit under the floors of buildings to heat the buildings in Korea. I don’t know if the restaurant had a fire under the floor, but it was wonderfully warm. We sat on the floor around a common table and the heat radiated up my body. The chicken soup helped, too. It had a whole chicken in it. Really!

When I got diabetes, I wasn’t about to let it stop my fun. In fact, the first question I asked my first endocrinologist was “Can you get me to Korea and back OK?” I understand there was a committee figuring out how to have me adjust my insulin, this being in the days of two injections of NPH and Regular a day.

I’ve learned a lot over the years about traveling with diabetes. First of all, take more food than you think you’ll need. I ran out of snacks on that trip to South Korea, then my friends went to the wrong terminal at Kimpo airport in Seoul and I waited for them for two hours, as my blood glucose plummeted. I’ve had a one-hour nonstop flight last for nine hours, going to states I never planned to go to, with no time to get anything to eat at the terminals and no meal service on the plane (short, nonstop flight, remember).

If you’re going to a place where the currency is different, it won’t hurt you to exchange some money before you leave. It can buy you a snack, train ticket, phone card, be available for tips, etc., until you can find a place where the exchange rates are more favorable than at the airport.

Before you go, check out some recipes for popular foods of the region. What you get while there won’t be exactly the same as the recipes you’ve read, but it will be close enough to enable you to control your glucose better than if you were flying… er, eating… blind.

Pack your diabetes supplies and medicines first, when you’re not madly throwing things in a suitcase before you dash off to the airport. You can buy clothes, shoes, toiletries, and such any place. You can’t always get the things you need to take care of your diabetes.

Don’t put any of your medical supplies and medicine in checked baggage. Have you ever gotten to your destination sans luggage? I have (on two continents, so far), and it’s taken as long as one week for it to be located and delivered to me. Also, take about twice as much as you’ll need while you’re gone. It’s better to schlep some back home than to run out mid-trip. Items needed for medical reasons are not subject to the one-quart-sized plastic bag containing items that hold 3 ounces or less each. I put my stuff in a gallon-sized plastic bag (or two) and have never had a problem.

Have fun on your trips. I wish I were going with you, wherever you’re traveling. Because of my injury, it’s weekenders within driving distance for me this year. But I always have my memories.

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