The Low I Didn’t Feel

Do you ever feel so engrossed in a task that something (like the time) sneaks up on you, and totally disarms you and puts you in panic mode?

That’s sort of what happens when you don’t feel the symptoms of a low blood sugar. Usually, I’m lucky enough to say that I feel my low blood sugar symptoms – shakiness, sweating, dizziness – but unexpectedly, I didn’t feel them during a recent low blood sugar episode. And it nearly knocked me off my feet.

I’d been traveling all day long. I’d taken an Uber from my apartment to the airport, where I waited a couple hours to catch my flight, which was so turbulent that I nearly yakked on the tarmac. When I finally arrived to the airport and lugged my bags up to the hotel room that I was staying at, I was struck by how queasy my stomach still felt and chalked it up to after effects of the turbulence.

I figured my body was just mad at me for skipping dinner. It was already 9 at night and I didn’t really want to go back down to the crowded terminal just to get a mediocre fast-food dinner. That’s when I decided to check my blood sugar: That would determine how necessary food was for me at that point in time.

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The low I didn’t feel.

Just as I was taking my kit out of my bag, my CGM alarmed. According to it, I was low – low enough that I’d be below 55 within the next 20 minutes. “Impossible”, I thought. I feel my low symptoms coming on when I’m 80 mg/dL sometimes, so I was convinced there was something wrong with my CGM. I proceeded with the fingerstick check. The result popped up on my screen: 65. What? How? I could’ve chalked it up to a long travel day, but at that moment in time, I didn’t care about the cause. I only cared about the fact that I didn’t feel it whatsoever.

It was scary and an unpleasant surprise. As I sat down on the hotel bed and crammed M&Ms in my mouth, I felt a little confused about how I got so low (especially since I’d been eyeing my slightly-elevated blood sugar all day). But mostly I felt gratitude for my CGM. Times like these make me feel incredibly privileged to have one. I find its alarms annoying and I don’t love wearing an extra thing on my body, but its functionality makes it totally worth it.

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3 Things I Learned About T1D From my 10-Hour Road Trip

What do you do when a road trip that’s only supposed to last 7 hours turns into a 10 hour trek?

The answer isn’t cry, or whine, or freak the eff out. The answer is to roll with the punches…because you have no other choice.

At least that’s the way I saw it when my journey from Virginia to Massachusetts dragged out from 9 A.M. to 7 P.M. a couple of Fridays ago.

As someone who loathes driving, I was dreading this trip. But I knew it was important for me to conquer a fear of long-distance driving, as well as bring my car back to Massachusetts for a cutting-it-close car inspection. Plus, driving is much cheaper than flying, and you can’t beat the convenience of loading up your car with as much crap as you need to pack.

So I made myself do it, and besides teaching myself that I can handle a longer road trip, I also learned three interesting things about my diabetes from the many hours I spent in my car:hugging the cactus - a t1d blog.png

1. My diabetes doesn’t like for me to stay idle for so long.

This trip was an excellent reminder of how much my body and my diabetes rely on me to get up and move throughout the day. Throughout the workweek, I tend to get up from my desk chair at least once every hour, if only to stretch my legs. But that frequency of movement must make a difference, because I only visited a rest stop once during the full 10 hour trip. It felt awesome to move around for a few minutes, but I was eager to get back on the road and didn’t walk much while I was at the rest stop. Now, I’m wondering if I should factor that into my next long drive, but the idea of taking too many rest stops and prolonging my travel time is not exactly favorable to me…unless it means that my diabetes is guaranteed to be better behaved.

2. My diabetes is better behaved when I eat regular meals.

I eat a lot throughout the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and at least two snacks are part of my daily meal plan. I typically eat all three meals and two snacks around the same times each day, to boot, so my diabetes depends on that consistency. It’s no wonder that I was dealing with rebelliously high blood sugars for most of my drive home, because I was fueling myself with absolute garbage: chicken nuggets (and only chicken nuggets for lunch), Fritos for a snack, and a granola bar for ANOTHER snack. In hindsight, it would’ve been much easier for me to pack a healthy lunch and maybe an additional, in-case-of-emergency snack, because I could’ve had a low-carb option available to me whenever I was ready for it. Plus, chicken nuggets and Fritos are things that I rarely consume, so of course my blood sugar wasn’t loving them.

3. My diabetes HATES stress.

And my goodness, was I stressed. I hate driving, period, so I doubly hate it when it’s a long distance. And my stress was exacerbated by the fact that I had to transport 60 cupcakes, on ice, back to Massachusetts with me for a bridal shower that I was planning for my cousin. That’s quite a bit to contend with, so it makes sense that my blood sugar shot up within minutes of me hitting the road. Even though I ran temp basals and bolused somewhat aggressively, it didn’t make much of a difference in my levels. And I suppose that I was hesitant to give myself too much insulin while I was behind the wheel, because going low seemed more dangerous and difficult to contend with than going high. Truthfully, though, there’s nothing fun about high or low blood sugar. It doesn’t matter if I’m driving, sleeping, exercising, whatever – anything other than “in-range” is just a pest to me.

So now that I’m aware of these three things, what am I going to do about it? For starters, I’m definitely going to get better about planning my meals for long car trips. I’m also going to try to take it easy a little bit…I put so much pressure on myself (I’m very good at working myself up into hysterics, really). So I might try some mindfulness exercises (e.g., meditating) before the next long drive…because anything I can do to take back control of my diabetes before going on my next one will be worth it.

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.

 

The Hellacious, Headstrong High

There’s lots of different “kinds” of high blood sugar. There is the type that is self-inflicted due to inaccurate carb counting or insulin dosing. There’s the sort that can be blamed on technological error – an insulin pump failure or a cannula kink, for instance. And another kind is linked to illness, when a cold or other sickness prevents insulin from working efficiently, thereby stopping blood sugars from coming down to normal levels.

And then there’s the type of high blood sugar that simply can’t be explained. It’s high for seemingly no goddamn reason, and it’s the most frustrating high of them all.

That kind of high is also the kind that takes what feels like forever to come down.

I experienced this after a Saturday of travel earlier this month. I’m fairly accustomed to traveling, especially if it’s a quick trip on a plane or just a few short hours in the car. I say this because I’m almost positive that my hours-long high blood sugar had nothing to do with my travel day…although when it comes to diabetes, nothing can truly be ruled out.

Anyways, I digress. That day involved me heading out of the house at 10 A.M. I drove to the shuttle that would take me to the airport. I got to the airport about an hour before my flight was due to take off. I went through TSA Pre-Check – my first time using the service, which I totally recommend – without any issues. I had enough time to pick up some food for a small lunch, but when I checked my CGM and noticed that my blood sugars were hovering in the 200s, I decided to deliberately pick lower-carb snacks to munch on in lieu of a real lunch. Turkey jerkey and cheddar popcorn weren’t the most filling snacks, but it was something.

I figured that by the time I got on the plane, my blood sugars would be stabilizing. No such luck. I was still in the low 200s. I took one or two more boluses during my quick hour-and-a-half long flight, thinking that I must be heading for a blood sugar crash by the time I deplaned. Nope. I was still running high, even by the time I met my partner by the baggage claim. I raised my temp basal and kept my fingers crossed that by the time we reached the restaurant we were bound for, I’d be coasting down. As we got settled at our table, I checked my blood sugar and felt slightly relieved to see that I was 183. At least I was finally below 200.

Teacher's Month 2020

I pushed blood sugar worries out of my mind for the next hour or so. I just wanted to enjoy my meal and my time with my significant other. But as we finished eating and made our back to the car, I couldn’t help but notice the repeated buzzing coming from my CGM. I was rising gradually, well on my way to 300. I tried to not panic and gave myself more insulin. We arrived home and the vicious cycle truly began. For the next three or four hours, I tested and corrected every hour, on the hour. Midway through that interval of time, I changed my pod – perhaps it stopped working properly – and prayed that the new pod would finally bring me back down.

And, spoiler alert: It eventually did. But in the agonizingly long hours I had to wait before my blood sugar was down…I experienced a bevy of emotions. I was mad. I was upset. At one point, I was very technical and rational, going through my next steps both in my head and out loud to my worried partner. He asked me what we should do in the event that my blood sugar was still elevated after a certain length of time, and that’s when I started crying tears of fear and frustration. It all felt so unfair. I was doing all the right things and it wasn’t make a difference. That was a hard reality to swallow. And I couldn’t help but cry harder when he asked me to show him how to use glucagon again (it’s been at least 3 years since he had formal training with my diabetes educator). Part of me felt better, knowing that he was prepared for adverse affects of taking so much insulin to combat a high, but I think I was more focused on and distraught by the fact that he might need to intervene, which was an especially upsetting scenario because I never want to put that responsibility on anyone.

Once I calmed down, I filled a water glass, sat down on the couch, and texted my mother, who is always my T1D sounding board. She reassured me that I was doing the right things, and that I should continue to wait and see what happened. She also advised me that I should be prepared for a crash, because sometimes, it seems like all the insulin kicks in at once when blood sugar drops too quickly/low from a high.

So I waited. I drank water. I showed my boyfriend the app on my phone that simulates glucagon injections – just in case. I played video games. I tried to keep my cool. Before long, it was nearing midnight, and I desperately wanted to curl up in bed. I went through my pre-bed routine, washing my face and brushing my teeth, knowing I’d check my blood sugar for the umpteenth time that night once I was done.

And…it was 153. Better yet, it didn’t go as low as it could have overnight: I dropped to about 75 by 8:30 A.M. All things considered, it was a decent outcome.

The hellacious, headstrong high had finally subsided. I was so, incredibly relieved. And I’m so, incredibly hopeful that I don’t experience a day like that again any time soon.

T1D Plus the TSA Equals Trauma

I had a bit of a traumatizing experience at the airport a few weeks ago.

I travel fairly frequently – I’d estimate that I hop aboard a flight a dozen times or so per year. As a result, I’m well-versed in the TSA routine that goes down at every airport: Remove shoes/belts/items from pockets. Take laptops and electronic devices of similar size out of bags. Place 3-1-1 liquids in a visible spot. Let TSA agents know before stepping into the full-body scanner that I have T1D and wear a couple of devices. Step out of scanner and allow them to do a hand swab. Wait patiently for the results to come back clean, gather belongings, and move on to my gate.

It’s a very precise routine that I’ve come to anticipate and accept, so really, it’s no wonder that it was bad experience when it deviated sharply from the standard format on my last trip.

I was returning home from a long weekend in Washington, D.C. I queued myself up in the TSA line and when I got close enough to an agent, I let her know that I didn’t want to go through the full-body scanner, because I was wearing a medical device that couldn’t handle it. (The manual for my Dexcom G6 advises users to avoid full-body scanners and opt for pat-downs, metal detectors, or wands, as available. I’m a stickler for following the rules, so that’s why I stuck with the manual’s advice). I’ve had the pat-down before, and while I don’t love it, I knew it wouldn’t be intolerable.

As soon as another female agent was free to conduct the pat-down, I was waved over and subjected to the semi-embarrassing “free massage”. Once it was done, my hands were swabbed. If you aren’t familiar with the hand-swab process, it’s a protocol in which the TSA checks passengers’ hands for any traces of explosives. In other words? My swab always comes back clean.

Except this time, it didn’t. The machine dinged. This prompted a couple of TSA agents to consult one another before coming over to me and informing me that I’d have to wait an undisclosed period of time for another, higher-up female agent to come over, conduct a “more-thorough” pat-down, and forfeit my luggage for a closer inspection.

Deep down, I wasn’t worried because I knew that the more meticulous inspections would clear me for travel. But I couldn’t fight back against the anxiety that flooded throughout my body as I wondered how long I’d have to wait and how much more invasive this next pat-down would be. I struggled to conceal the tears that rolled down my cheeks as TSA agents seized my bags and rifled through them, ruining my careful packing techniques. I was humiliated, and practically had to beg them when I asked to see my cell phone and OmniPod PDM. (I could practically feel my blood sugar going up due to the stressful nature of the situation, so I wanted to check and correct it A.S.A.P.) It only got worse as I was pulled into a separate room and given a pat-down in which the agent actually pulled my pants away from my body to look down inside them, which is just as awful as it sounds. I know that they’re merely performing their job – I don’t fault them for that and appreciate that it’s far from glamorous – but it was horribly demeaning.

When I was finally told I could go, I wordlessly collected my belongings, fighting to shove them back into my suitcase. I made a beeline to the restroom to splash water on my face and calm down. As I waited to board my flight, curiosity took hold of me and I posted a poll on Twitter. I wanted to know if anyone else has ever had an experience like mine. Nearly 241 people answered my poll.

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And I was fascinated by the results. There was no overwhelming majority; in fact, it was rather solidly split down the middle, with only a few more people reporting a negative experience with the TSA. Many of those people responded directly to my poll with tweets of their own that described their experiences:

They nearly ripped my son’s inset out of his thigh for his pump one time. Another time they took his bottle of insulin & tested it & I understand explosives come in liquid form but he was 8 years old. Another time they performed a very thorough and humiliating body pat down on me in order for him to bring his insulin on board.

I’ve never had a difficult experience w/TSA on any flights- international or domestic. They’ve all been very professional & understanding when I said I have an insulin pump/all supplies. I’m sorry you had a tough time.

My husband has to take my daughter through because I completely lose my shit on them. Every single time a hand swipe test. Unbelievable and stigmatizing.

Almost every single time and it infuriates me. They treat your supplies like you’re part of the drug cartel. One held up my bag and with so much attitude “excuse me? What is this?” And I said my medicine and another passenger screamed at the agent saying “you can’t do that!”

Same thing happened to me! They tore apart and destroyed so many of my supplies and I just watched helplessly while crying. If 29 million Americans have diabetes why is TSA so oblivious to what it looks like?!!

While these replies validated to me that I wasn’t overreacting, they also made me sad. Angry. Frustrated. Why is this a thing in some airports? Why isn’t there a better protocol in place for people with diabetes?

Perhaps the most irritating part of it all is that I don’t know for sure why this whole thing happened in the first place. I assumed that it was a fluke on the machine’s end, but after corroborating stories with so many other T1Ds, it’s got me wondering…was my diabetes a red flag of sorts to the agents? Did they think that my supplies were disguised and could be something harmful?

Again, I don’t want to discount the work that the TSA does to help keep travelers safe. I truly do appreciate it and I know that experiences vary at airports all across the world. But…we can do better. Traveling should be fun and exciting, not traumatizing.

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.

A Bad Case of T1D FOMO

You might be staring at the latter half of this post’s title and asking yourself, “What kind of acronym is THAT?”

Let me help you out: The title is meant to indicate that I’m suffering from a bad case of type 1 diabetes-specific fear of missing out. (T1D FOMO…if it wasn’t a thing before, it is now.)

I decided that this was the best way to describe how I’m feeling about missing out on tons of excellent diabetes conferences, events, and meet-ups this summer. I think it’s striking me particularly hard this week because I know that the Friends for Life conference is about to kick off in Orlando. That one is special to me because it’s the first conference I ever attended, and it’s hard to believe that it was already five years ago.

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#SquadGoals from my first conference, which was already five years ago.

Why am I unable to go to most of these gatherings? And what’s so great about them, anyways? Well, to answer that first question, there’s several reasons why I have to skip many of them. The biggest reason is financial: The cost of conference attendance can be astronomical. Between airfare, hotel, registration, and various other conference fees, you’re easily looking at spending a minimum of $800 – and that’s if you can find cheap and direct flights to the destination. The other side of the coin is that I’d have to reserve my limited vacation time for these events, and potentially sacrifice time off that I could’ve spent with family and friends. I understand that logistically speaking, it makes the most sense to have the majority of these events in the summer months – kids are done with school, generally good weather makes it easier to travel, etc. But having to choose between a diabetes conference that’s bound to be a wonderful time and a highly-anticipated vacation with loved ones is a choice I’d rather not make.

So you think that those factors would make my decision easy, but it isn’t. I hate not going to these events because I know firsthand how magical they are. It’s really neat to meet up with so many people from the T1D community all at once, and it’s even more incredible when you get to shake hands or embrace someone you’ve connected with online, but hadn’t met IRL (in real life) yet. Whether the conference is just a weekend or several days long, it’s awesome to feel “normal” throughout the whole thing. You’re among people who don’t look at you funny when you test your blood sugar before a meal, and the chorus of beeps and buzzes from medical devices never get mistaken for cell phones going off. Sure, I can virtually attend a conference by scrolling through my social media feeds and reading updates from T1D attendees, but it just isn’t the same. While it makes me happy to see them having a fabulous time together, reunited at last, I can’t help but feel slight pangs of jealousy – this is where the FOMO comes into play – as I imagine everything I’m missing out on.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling – there are many others in the diabetes community who can’t go to conferences for several different reasons, even though they want to go. And I can take comfort in the fact that even though I couldn’t go to a bunch this time around, there will always be more in the future, and some will be more affordable than others.

My bad case of FOMO will go away before long, and in the meantime, I know that there are probably tons of other T1Ds who are attending their inaugural conferences this summer, and who will experience what I did five years ago for the very first time. And that thought puts a smile on my face.