Never Stop Exploring
It has been almost twenty years since I joined my brother in this carb-counting, finger-pricking, responsibility-building life. It took a few years of experimenting and a couple dozen countries of wandering to do it, but I have finally found my groove managing diabetes as a nomad.
My world has always been full of exploration, but these last few years I have tried my hardest to spend more time outside of my comfort zone than in.
I don’t know if it was guiding kayakers along Alaska’s Inside Passage, being a chef in a Panamanian jungle kitchen, trading family portraits for fuel in Vietnam, or free diving into sinkholes off Egypt’s stunning coast, but that “comfort zone” has disappeared. Now, the world sits waiting and my job is to figure out how to best give it my time.
There is a sense of comfort in regards to my relationship with this disease. It may only come with time, but even new people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) must know it’s achievable. With so many years under my belt since diagnosis, I have steered into a world where diabetes is not usually my first thought. While some of you may be aghast by that, I have worked very hard to achieve it. As I meander to different places, my first thoughts are concerning new project opportunities and closing language gaps, not whether an alarm is set for midnight testing or where pump supplies will next be restocked.
That being said, a strong, impenetrable foundation must be in place for such a mindset. The work must go in beforehand for you to be able to prioritize other excitements. I love hearing from other people with diabetes about some of their unique situations because it puts a note in my head as how to handle them when they come my way. So, here are some of my experiences that seem to stick out.
March 2015 // Negombo, Sri Lanka
I’m sitting on a stool among dozens of others, prepping to eat some of the town’s best street food. The late night chatter is like music. My taste buds hold high levels of excitement. I know my blood sugar and what my activity will be for the rest of the night. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you in a million years what exact foods sit in my bowl, much less their nutritional values. My Sinhala vocabulary is too weak to get reliable information, so, in this situation, I have to rely on my backup plan. I mentally compare what I see in front of me to foods I’m more familiar with, then dose down 10 percent. Two hours later, I figure out I was a bit off, but at least am not searching for fast acting carbs. We don’t need to sit out on mysterious foods while traveling. Just be smart and test regularly!
December 2014 // Taos, USA
We’re six hours into a summit attempt on Mt. Wheeler. It’s mid-December, 12 degrees, the sun is radiant and even with snowshoes, we’re chest deep in powder. Needless to say, everything is perfect. By the time our group is above the tree line, we pick up the pace. It doesn’t take long for me to realize my numbness is not only from the cold and my light head is not from our quick altitude ascent. I’m 13,000 feet up, my blood sugar has quickly dropped and my friends are charging forward. I have all the sugary essentials, but that is not my necessity. Stopping long enough to raise my number and continue climbing is not an option. It is dangerous to stay unmoving at such temperatures. Even with our prize in sight, I have to ask a climbing partner to turn away from the summit and start slowly heading down. These things I find harder than any painful site change or unexplained reading. We must respect this disease and its needs, as well as have the confidence to ask for help. Stay positive, have the essentials and adventure on!
I could talk all day about how you should leave the syringes at home when you’re heading to Indonesia; that Spaniards eat dinner at 23:00, so your at-home routine has no chance; or that you can walk into Panamanian grocery stores and a buy insulin without a prescription for $20. There will be an unfathomable number of times where diabetes will take the spotlight in my life’s journeys. It’s exciting to be prepared to handle those and take the opportunity to educate the people who surround me along the way. If you have any sort of questions or suggestions, especially in regards to traveling outside of your comfort zone, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, never stop exploring!
Editor’s note: Council Member Dr. Nat Strand weighs in on when to change your pump during travel: “To keep things simple, it’s best to do it when you are most likely to remember. If you are most likely to remember during take off, do that. This way the landing, baggage claim, hailing a cab or excitement over new location won’t detract you from making the appropriate changes. The most important part is to test often the first day or two when you are in a new time zone. It’s not only the change in time, but the change in activity that occurs when you travel that can really send your blood glucose levels fluctuating. A rule of thumb is that it takes about a day per time zone traveled for your body to adjust.” Also, be sure to check our Carter’s Instagram account for more adventure and inspiration. Her photos are magnificent!
Read more from Carter HERE.