Traveling With Diabetes: Worth the Effort

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Traveling With Diabetes

I came across a story the other day about a young woman from the UK who was on vacation with her boyfriend and became very sick with hyper- (not hypo-) glycemia. She had recently switched her pump cannula and discovered, hours later, that it malfunctioned. They were at the train station and she got so sick that her boyfriend had to call an ambulance. Their experience at the train station was frustrating, and motivated her to share her story with others on the JDRF site in hopes of raising awareness.

I’ve lived with diabetes for 31 years and have been fortunate enough to travel to some exceptional places. Every single trip was worth it, but over the years I’ve amassed a collection of “diabetes travel don’ts,” that have turned me into a cautious planner when it comes to leaving home. I’d like to think that after so many years with diabetes that my missteps are less frequent, but the reality is that diabetes is unpredictable, and no matter how hard you try to keep all the balls in the air, one or two will occasionally drop. The chances of the balls dropping are more frequent when schedules change, and travel equals change.

This story of the young woman in the UK reminded me of a trip my family took to the Bahamas. The trip went beyond our expectations. It was a sensory overload with turquoise waters, white sand beaches, sea stars the size of a volleyball, swimming pigs, and sunsets that took our breaths away. The only downside occurred during our three-hour layover in Atlanta when I had to speed walk up and down the various concourses in an attempt to lower my blood sugar because I’d accidently discarded my last syringe.

It was one of those absentminded mistakes that wouldn’t have been a problem if I were at home, but because I was traveling it was a big problem. It was dinnertime when we arrived at the Atlanta airport with three hours to kill before our final flight home to Charleston. My husband and I took the kids to the food court to get dinner, and when I opened my small cosmetic bag (my “shot bag”) to give myself an injection, I couldn’t find a syringe. (I typically only keep one syringe in the bag at a time and the rest of the syringes were in my checked baggage.)

“I don’t have a syringe,” I said to my husband in a panic. This had never happened before.

“How come?” he asked. The boys looked up from their food.

“I don’t know. I think I must have thrown it out this morning after breakfast when we were packing and didn’t put a new syringe in my bag,” I said.

“What can you do?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I can’t eat,” I said pushing my turkey burger away even though I was hungry.

“Maybe the airport has an ER?” my husband said.

I nodded but didn’t feel hopeful.

“I’ll go for a walk,” I said, falling back on the old-school solution to reduce high blood sugar. My blood sugar was 150 mg/dl, but I knew that without insulin it would slowly rise. As I walked the airport I searched for a medical station, but didn’t see anything. (When we got home I did some research, and the Atlanta airport has a medical facility, but it closes at 6 PM. Many U.S. airports are not equipped with medical centers.)

Finally, after many laps, we boarded the plane. When we landed at the Charleston airport and collected our bags, I was able to access my syringes. My blood sugar had climbed to about 300, but it didn’t take long to come down. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well that night because I was worried that my blood sugar would drop in the middle of the night, but other than being tired, there was no damage.

The trip to the Bahamas was untainted by my airport experience and of course, I would do it again given the opportunity. It’s challenging to travel when you have diabetes, but the reward of swimming in turquoise waters, snorkeling with family, and watching the sun drop into the expansive ocean is worth the struggle.

How does the class of diabetes drugs known as SGLT2 inhibitors work, and should you consider taking one? Bookmark and tune in tomorrow to learn more.

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