4 Things That Make Traveling with Diabetes Easier

Throughout June and July, I’m going to be a travel fiend. I’ve got plans to travel by plane at least twice, and by car countless times. My trips will vary in length from just a couple hours to eight or nine hours. My head’s spinning just thinking about it, but I’ve got to get it together enough to think about how I can make traveling with diabetes a little bit easier. Given my past travel experience, I can think of four things that are absolute musts for me to take on any trip…

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Some of my favorite things to have with me when I travel.

4. Packing cubes
I always thought packing cubes were a total gimmick…until I actually started using them. I got a set of four for Christmas and they’ve really turned me into a much more efficient packer. They help me visualize the space that will be taken up in my suitcases, and what’s even better is that one of the cube’s is the perfect size for my diabetes supplies. I can fit 15-20 pods, a handful of CGM sensors, various device chargers, alcohol swabs, IV prep wipes, and more into the compact little cube. It’s so much better and more organized than the lame-o gallon-size Ziploc bag that used to store all my diabetes supplies for a trip.

3. My Myabetic backpack
I don’t know how I ever traveled with a purse as opposed to my Myabetic backpack. I can fit way more things into my backpack than I ever could put into my purse, and I love that there are specific compartments in the backpack for certain diabetes supplies. I know exactly where things I might need during a flight are stored, eliminating that panicky feeling I used to get when I would dig frantically through my purse in order to find my tube of glucose or my PDM.

2. Snacks and water
This is an obvious one. In my opinion, traveling with diabetes shouldn’t even be attempted without a refillable water bottle or at least two emergency-low-blood-sugar snacks. Even though it’s basically diabetes 101, I’m guilty of going places without water or snacks…and I’ve always regretted it. There’s not much worse than being in an unfamiliar place and unsure of where the closest food and water is located, especially when dealing with a blood sugar crisis.

1. My CGM
The most important tool in my travel kit is, without a doubt, my CGM. More specifically, my receiver is key, particularly when I’m traveling by air. I am religious about turning my phone off for the duration of a flight (just a weird paranoia thing, don’t judge me), so my receiver becomes my go-to whenever I want a status update on my blood sugar without taking out my meter and kit. It helps me handle any weird blood sugar spikes and drops that occasionally happen when I travel, and it provides me with a peace of mind that makes traveling with diabetes much more bearable.

 

Testing for Accuracy, in Addition to Blood Glucose

This post originally appeared on Hugging the Cactus on March 21, 2018. I’m republishing it now because of a recent experience I had with my meter reporting inaccurate and inconsistent blood sugar levels. Has this ever happened to you? Drop a comment and let me know.

Blood glucose meters serve the sole purpose of checking current levels of glucose in the blood. Pretty self-explanatory, right? And it’s equally obvious that it’s crucial for all meters to generate accurate results so PWD can make the right treatment decisions based on those numbers.

Unfortunately, though, accuracy isn’t always what I get.

The other day, I was running low before bedtime. I corrected with an organic rice crispy treat (honestly, it was a million times better than the brand name kind). I waited nearly an hour for my blood sugar to come up. When my CGM wasn’t showing any progress, I tested: I was 47. It’s rare for me to be that low, so I tested again. 52. I believed it, especially since I was experiencing several hypoglycemic symptoms.

B. J. Palmer

I chugged a glass of orange juice and plopped down on the couch to wait for signs of improvement. Before long, I was freezing cold – a sure sign I was coming up, because I had been sweating 20 minutes prior. But I didn’t feel comfortable going to bed yet. I wanted to see if my CGM would show an up arrow. When it finally did, I made my way upstairs to brush my teeth and wash my face. In the middle of my routine, though, I decided to glance at my CGM again – and saw the dreaded ??? screen.

I decided then that the Dexcom should be out of commission, a.k.a. not trusted at all, for the remainder of the evening.

I ripped it out and inserted a fresh one, not really caring that it would wake me up in two hours to be calibrated. I would need to set at least two alarms for the middle of the night, anyways, if I decided to go to bed disconnected from my Dex. So it just made sense.

Once that was done, I tested again. I was pretty tired at this point and really didn’t want to have to eat something else, so I did it as quickly as I could. In my haste, I jostled my meter just so – enough that I saw the test strip, already marked with my blood, move slightly as it brushed against my PDM and was placed next to it.

113 mg/dL flashed upon the screen. Normally, I’d be thrilled! But I furrowed my brow. Something just felt…off about that reading. So I tested again.

206.

What?!

I tested a third time – 203. Okay, something was definitely wrong. Either that 113 was wrong (likely) or my meter had just produced two wildly inaccurate blood sugars in a row (less likely).

This is one of the many times that it’s convenient to live with another PWD. I asked my mom if I could borrow her test kit and see what result it generated. Seconds later…a twin 203 popped up on the screen, reassuring me that the 113 was a fluke on my meter.

Relief with the reality and irritation with the technology washed over me simultaneously as I went to correct the high with a bolus. I was glad I wasn’t heading down again, but irked that my meter had failed me. True, it was a bit of human error there, but aren’t we at a point in technological advancements where this sort of thing just shouldn’t happen? I put my life into the “hands” of my meter, Dexcom, and OmniPod. They should produce results that are undoubtedly accurate.

I guess we aren’t quite there yet.

The Amazing Flying CGM!

I reached into the front pocket of my sweatshirt. My tube of glucose was there, but nothing else…oh, shit.

My CGM receiver was gone.

“C’mon, pup, we’ve gotta find it,” I said to my canine companion, Clarence. He was all too happy to oblige as we sprinted back up the street to find my receiver.

It couldn’t have gone far…

My anxious eyes scanned all around our surroundings. Surely, my CGM’s bright pink case would pop against the dull browns, grays, and greens that painted the wet landscape.

Where WAS it?

Did I actually leave my house with it in the first place? Or was it still sitting atop my nightstand with my glucometer?

All I knew was that I’d better find it soon…or the chances of it getting run over by a car going at least 40 mph were very good.

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Have you ever had your CGM (or any other diabetes device) take off in flight?

Not here, not there…

Really, Clarence, it’d be great if you could help me look for it rather than pick up sticks…

Dammit, what am I going to do if it’s gone for good…

“AHA!” I triumphantly said out loud as I spotted the neon pink rectangle, nestled on a patch of damp earth. I tugged Clarence, who was just focused on sniffin’ and walkin’ as a young puppy would be, over to where my CGM was lying face-down. It was almost like it was too exhausted to continue on our walk.

Or perhaps it had just wanted to leap free from the confines of my pocket and fly high…just as my blood sugar had that morning. Who knows. I was just glad to have found it. Reunited, I tucked it safely into a different pocket – a zippered one, this time – and continued my walk with my happy puppy.

 

Restarting the Dexcom G6: Attempt #2

“If there’s a will, there’s a way.” This statement totally describes the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) and its collective determination to find workarounds when it comes to extending the life of certain diabetes devices.

In November, I briefly wrote about my first stab at restarting my Dexcom G6, which was completely unsuccessful. So why bother going through with a second attempt at it? Two reasons: 1) I know that other T1Ds have been able to triumphantly restart the G6, and 2) I know that there are multiple methods out there that people have used in order to do so.

I wasn’t necessarily on the hunt for a method I hadn’t tried yet, but I stumbled across one when I was scrolling through my Instagram feed a few weeks ago. Shout-out to Leah (Instagram handle: @the.insulin.type) for sharing her technique, which you can view for yourself by clicking this link.

You’re probably wondering whether it worked for me, so let me cut to the chase and give you a super annoying answer: yes and no. I restarted the G6 according to Leah’s process, but received the “Sensor Error: Temporary issue. Wait up to 3 hours.” message, which resulted in graphs with sporadic gaps created by a lack of readings. That message popped up at least three or four times over the next 48 hours, before the “sensor failed” message notified me that I had to put a brand new sensor on and finally get rid of the restarted one.

This means that attempt #2 went better than my first try at restarting a sensor, but it was far from the flawless restarts that I know other people have experienced.

I haven’t given up hope, though. I do think that I’ll achieve success, eventually, after some more trial-and-error. I do have my theories that might explain why this didn’t go as well as I wanted it to, and it has to do with the following factors:

  • I restarted my sensor on day eight of wear
  • The sensor error message was on my receiver when I began the restart process

Next time I try this method, I want to see if it makes any difference to let the sensor expire naturally on the tenth day of wear. And if that doesn’t work, I want to at least give it another shot when the sensor and receiver are communicating properly and there are no error messages causing interference.

All in all, the experiment wasn’t a total failure. I did manage to extend the sensor’s life by about six hours – it was due to expire at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on the tenth day of wear, but the sensor didn’t fail completely until about eight o’clock that night. So TECHNICALLY speaking, I got a bit more usage out of it…but then again, those six hours (and probably slightly more than that) got wiped out by those stretches of time that I was dealing with sensor errors.

As I work through more restart attempts, rest assured that I’ll post about them so hopefully someone else will learn a method that works for them, too. But remember…restart your Dexcom G6 at your own risk. It’s not guaranteed to restart or, even if it does, to be accurate.

 

Feeling Pretty with Diabetes

Diabetes can be an ugly disease.

It’s defined by finger pricks, drops of blood, infusion site bruises. Diabetes rarely leaves beautiful markings behind on the body; rather, it can make me feel unsightly.

Needless to say, diabetes occasionally makes me feel worse about my body. I try to project body confidence when around others, but on the inside, I’m terribly self-conscious about the way I look.

So that’s why it was wonderful to feel pretty with diabetes this past weekend.

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Unicorns on my patch and in the background. Because you can’t be surrounded by too many unicorns. If only someone would tell that to my blood sugar…

I got all dressed up to go to a “punk prom” that my friend helped organize. The night was all about singing along to the angst-filled tunes of our youth, listening to local bands jam out onstage, and getting glamorous so we could pose for an endless number of photos with fellow attendees.

In the hours leading up to the event, I was a bit anxious about wearing my insulin pump and CGM in visible spots. They didn’t exactly match the dress I’d dug out from the bowels of my closet (and that I’d last worn in the 9th grade). But as I applied hairspray to my carefully coiffed curls, it hit me that I should just own the look. Sure, nothing about boring medical adhesive or the words “Dexcom G6” screams formal wear, but I had a couple tricks up my sleeve that could doll up my gear nicely.

Namely, I had Patch Peelz. Created by the folks over at Pump Peelz, this patterned tape could make my CGM look fancy. Between the unicorn print and the dark purple and blue color scheme, the patch would look like it was styled to match my dress. I couldn’t help but beam once I was 100% ready for the evening. Coordinated aesthetics aside, I felt like one of the unicorns on my patch: magical, vivacious, and yes, pretty.

What to do When Diabetes Technology Fails (at the Worst Possible Time)

This past Saturday afternoon, my Dexcom G6 sensor stopped working. It wasn’t sending data to my smartphone app or my transmitter, so I was forced to fly blind…at a party with tons of people I’d never met before, an impressive food spread, and few beverage options other than beer from a keg or spiked punch.

Definitely not a good time for my Dexcom sensor to go kaput, especially considering I was getting on a plane the next day and didn’t have a backup. And I wouldn’t get my hands on a fresh sensor for a couple more days, when I would return home from my adventures in Washington, D.C. and Nashville, Tennessee.

So yeah, it was pretty much the worst timing ever for my heavily-relied-upon diabetes technology to fail.

How did I handle it? It might sound incredibly obvious, but…I just reverted back to life before a CGM, meaning that I tested my blood sugar much more often than I do when the ol’ Dexcom is up and running. At the aforementioned party, I sucked it up and pulled myself away from conversations to check my numbers every so often with my meter. I still participated in barbecue and beer consumption, but I dialed it back because I couldn’t be sure of what direction it would send my blood sugar in, or how quickly it would happen.

As for the rest of my trip, and my travel days, I remained diligent. I’d test and correct as needed approximately every two hours. I set alarms for the middle of the night so I could be certain that I wasn’t too high or too low. I went back to relying on sensation – was I feeling thirsty because my blood sugar was high? Was my shakiness a sign of an oncoming low? It surprised me how easily I slid back into those routines, but I guess that after so many years of practicing them, it makes sense that I was still in tune with my body.

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No data…no problem.

And, perhaps most shocking of all, I remained pretty calm about the whole situation. Normally, it’d send me into a panic and I’d chide myself over and over for not having a backup sensor. But, really, I carry around enough diabetes junk – adding a clunky sensor insertion device into the mix sounds excessive. After all, the sensors are supposed to WORK for the full ten days that they guarantee. It gets exhausting, having to anticipate technology failures when they should never happen, so I shouldn’t be upset with myself for not carrying more than the essentials.

The lesson in this experience, I think, is to be unafraid to depend on my intuition. I literally grew up managing my diabetes with hardly any technological aid, and I can do it again now in a heartbeat as long as I trust myself and the process.

Diabetes Connections: Gym Edition

“Are you a diabetic?” Despite the fact that I was wearing earbuds, I heard the question that was undoubtedly being directed toward me.

I glanced to my right and met the gaze of the teenage girl on the treadmill next to me. I smiled, tugging an earbud out, and said, “Yes, I am. My OmniPod gave it away, didn’t it?”

She nodded eagerly. “I have a Medtronic pump, but I know what an OmniPod looks like. When I saw it, I had to say something to you.”

This marked the beginning of what wound up being a thirty minute interaction with Shae, a high school senior with bucketloads of energy and questions for me about life with diabetes. We specifically chatted about college, and I couldn’t resist telling her all about the College Diabetes Network and what a useful tool it was for me during my three and a half years at UMass. The more we spoke, the more it felt like I was looking at a mirror image of myself from seven years ago. She had just finished taking her AP Psych exam and was relieved it was done. Her senior prom was in a few days, and she described how she’d wear her pump while donning her fancy gown. She was excited about college, but a little nervous about the dreaded “Freshman 15” and whether her diabetes would adjust well to college dining halls.

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It’s so funny to think how something as crappy as diabetes can introduce so many amazing people into your life.

I did my best to answer Shae’s rapid-fire questions frankly but reassuringly. As I told her about how much my CGM helped me in college (especially since I was still on multiple daily injection therapy at that time), she exclaimed that I was inspiring her to want to give her CGM another shot (pun unintended – I love spontaneous diabetes humor).

As we parted ways, we both grinned broadly and wished one another well. This is why moments like this – diabetes in the wild – are so great. Diabetes instantly bonds you to a stranger who you might not otherwise ever interact with, and the beauty in that immediate connection is priceless.