Traveling around the world with type 1 diabetes – and all that means

I left the States November 11th, a week after my father died. It’s December 13th and I’m in Sydney, Australia. I’m realizing a few things during this past month of travel: 1) This is a great distraction from now only having one parent. 2) I’ve done some remarkable work, realizing again the impact of what I share with health professionals no matter where in the world it be. 3) My diabetes management has almost become a joke. No matter how hard I watch it and adjust, while wearing my Dexcom G5, it is determined to undermine me.

I’m going to share highlights of this trip and some pictures, and how it’s going diabetes-wise.  This may be an entertaining travelogue, and at best offer some diabetes enlightenment.

My trip started in the Netherlands, the country of my husband’s birth, visiting his relatives and friends. Hanging out with my sister-in-law is always heart-rewarding, as are strolls along the beautiful canal-lined, cobble-stoned, house-leaning streets.

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Three days after arriving in Holland I flew off to Copenhagen, Denmark, where I was giving two workshops at the national Region/Steno Diabetes Conference and the following day giving a keynote presentation and facilitating a workshop for the researchers at the Steno Diabetes Education institute. This was the major work part of my trip, sharing the Flourishing Treatment Approach and some of its tools with providers, and also questioning the conference’s theme – getting patients more involved in their care.  Actually, I think the opposite would produce better results, having providers learn more about their patients’ lives.

My first article tells the story on Thrive: The most important thing we’ve forgotten in healthcare: That people are humans not machines.

After a return to Holland the husband and I traveled together to London for a long weekend with friends. Regent Street, one of the main boulevards, was beautiful, lit with overheard angels running throughout the city, and, we only had one terrorist scare. All of a sudden police cars and fire trucks zoomed past us and police stopped pedestrians from walking. For a moment, I thought, maybe this is it for me. Luckily, it was a false alarm.

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Back in Holland for another 10 days, then the husband and I flew to Abu Dhabi for the International Diabetes Federation World Congress which is held every two years. Six years ago it was in Dubai so this was not my first trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But Abu Dhabi is a very sleepy, sandy version of Dubai. Everything exists in a fairly desolate desert setting. We did see, in addition to the five football field large conference hall, their version of Target. The UAE’s one airline had destroyed the husband’s Hartman suitcase and claimed no responsibility. We’re hoping the rather inexpensive replacement just lasts til we get home.

My other piece of work on this trip was Chairing and speaking at a session to introduce IDF’s one year old PWD group, the Blue Circle Voices. And, even in the desert, I got to catch up with other diabetes patient advocates. Always a joy. I applaud the IDF for including people with diabetes more than most diabetes conferences do, and the word from the new President, Dr. Nam Cho, is there will be even more of a patient presence at the next World Congress in South Korea.

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From Abu Dhabi we flew to Singapore. Leaving the sand and being transported into lush greenery everywhere, as well as overcrowded streets and shopping malls with nothing but young people, was culture shocking. On my personal mission, I wandered through two fountain pen stores loving the opportunity to see, touch and feel these gorgeous pieces of art and craftsmanship. That said, Singapore, once a bargain ground for goods, has now become one of the most expensive cities. Alas, no purchases were made.

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I did indulge however in a hot stone massage where a very unexpected thing happened. I pointed out ‘Pinkie’ (my Dexcom transmitter) on my arm to the masseuse and told her to just work around it. She didn’t like that, but not for the reason I thought. When she heard the device was for diabetes, she told me I couldn’t have the massage. “Why?” I asked. She said it would raise my blood sugar!

Now I was perplexed. I told her not to worry, I’ve had massages before, so she left to call in the owner who explained to me that the lavender oil they use would raise my blood sugar. I told them to go ahead and I’d take full responsibility. They did, and I did. And, guess what, they were right. My blood sugar went up 20 points. As all things that go up must come down, it came down shortly thereafter, so I was a very happy, relaxed recipient.

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And I had a second unexpected event. While at the Bird Park that has thousands of species of birds, a young mother and son were singing “Happy Birthday” to a parrot, hoping he would sing, or at least, talk back. I began to tear up. Not at the tenderness of the act, but while my father was ‘actively dying’ my mother, brother, husband and I sang him “Happy Birthday.” The nurse had suggested it since he would not reach his next birthday two weeks ahead. In that moment, in Singapore, in front of this parrot, I felt a sadness and deep loss of a parent. And this is how I know it will come, in odd moments.

After 2.5 days in Singapore another midnight flight brought us to Sydney where we’ll be for a month staying with friends. It’s 90 F, sunny, sunny, sunny and we’re trying once, twice, thrice again to get our bodies where we are, and some sleep! Our friends have arranged time at their country house in the Blue Mountains and next week a very special trip inland to a wild nature reserve and vineyards, perhaps time there will be equally wild for wine lovers.

So, it’s been a month on the road and my blood sugar has been untamable. Always one to say, “You can’t control diabetes or blood sugar,” I’m ready to take my words now and blast them on a billboard. Lack of sleep, temperature changes, jet lag, time zones, unidentifiable foods, who the hell knows carb counts, I’m frankly all over the place.

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I’m swinging like a monkey, and frustrated. Sometimes being near tears I feel so defeated. So I’ve taken an oath to be kinder to myself, realize there’s only so much I can do and that while I’m on this trip my numbers get to be temporarily wherever they are and that’s the best I can do.

I’m curious – Do you change the in-range number you shoot for, or the one number to try to use as a docking station, when you take an extended trip? Do you still maintain your normal diet or say the hell with it? What else do you experience, do or realize when up against these type of challenging events and times?

 

One thought on “Traveling around the world with type 1 diabetes – and all that means

  1. When I came to mum’s Nov 2016, I was almost living in a hospital with her. When I finally visited a dr in her town and got my A1C taken, it was AWFUL. My whole last year has been a mess and if I ever get back to ‘normal’ life, I hope I can get things more under control.
    I have learned I need to be even more careful with what I ingest and how I test and my responses with or without insulin to those tests.

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