I’ve lived with type 1 diabetes for the past 18 years and I travel by plane for business or pleasure (or both…) almost monthly. You probably think that by now I’d have traveling with diabetes down pat. But in true diabetes fashion, I’m constantly learning and re-learning D-management tweaks all the time — especially when on the go!
The Insulin Debacle
This past weekend, my husband and I traveled to Phoenix for a family wedding. It was the end of March and it was my second time packing a suitcase that month. Feeling confident and prepared to travel to the Southwest, we were off! While on the plane, my insulin pump alarmed that my reservoir (the drum that holds insulin) was low, and I’d need a refill soon. I checked and had enough basal to get by for a few more hours, so I decided to wait until lunch rather than dig through my carry-on suitcase.
When we arrived in Phoenix, we were starving, so we headed to a local Mexican restaurant with excellent reviews. Settled in with a full basket of chips just calling my name, now was the perfect time to fill up with insulin. But it was still in my suitcase.
“Hey honey, could you run to the car and grab my insulin and a reservoir?” I asked my husband as I took out my meter to test. Minutes later, he returned, handing me the reservoir with one hand while fishing out the bottle of Humalog with the other. Or at least, that’s what I thought he was doing.
Next thing I know, the bottle of insulin is rolling out of my husband’s hand and onto the table, and then rolling off the table and onto the tile floor of the restaurant, landing with a loud Crack!
Yikes! As I picked up the bottle, I could feel the cool liquid dripping down my hand. The bottle of insulin? Destroyed. Completely totaled. No chance of survival. A gash in the bottom of the bottle was now leaking dozens of units of precious insulin.
Lesson Learned: I was actually good in this instance. Even though I haven’t broken a bottle of insulin in over 10 years, as a rule, I always bring two bottles of insulin (or more) when traveling. My husband retrieved the other bottle from the car (handled with care!) and I was all set for my crab enchiladas.
The Insulin Pump Debacle
The next day was the wedding. A bright, hot March afternoon, a lovely ceremony and a beautiful bride. We entered the ballroom and sat down for dinner. I tested my blood sugar while chatting with family, and my meter (an UltraLink) transmitted my reading (a respectable 184 mg/dl post-appetizers) to my Medtronic insulin pump. I wasn’t quite ready to bolus yet, so I just left things as is. Until I noticed a faint squeal coming from under my dress. You know, where I had my insulin pump clipped. Stuck between my Spanx and my skin sat my insulin pump, and it was not happy.
“Button Error,” it yelled. Oh no. Not here. I tried clearing the alarm, but to no avail, so I turned off the pump by taking out the battery. I did this twice. It didn’t work.
“My insulin pump is broken,” I told my husband. Judging by the look on his face, I’m not sure he realized that was possible. “I have to call Medtronic.” I hurried outside. After a brief call with the Medtronic rep, an insulin pump was on its way. It would ship overnight, but it wouldn’t arrive until Monday morning (because obviously when pumps break, it will be on a Saturday night).
Since we were leaving the next day and I had a spare insulin pump at home, all I needed was a day’s worth of basal. I frantically called Mike Lawson, one of our cartoonists here at the ‘Mine, who lives in Phoenix and uses Lantus. I left him a voicemail and then sent out a half-dozen SOS messages on Facebook and Twitter. When my husband came outside to check on me, he gently reminded me that three of his family members at the wedding are doctors. I sure married into the right family! After a quick phone call to a pharmacy less than a mile away, I was set with a bottle of insulin and more syringes than I could possibly use.
Lessons Learned: A few. Namely: for crying out loud, bring a prescription for Lantus with you when you travel! Keeping your emergency prescription(s) in the medical folder of your filing cabinet is not helpful when your pump dies while on vacation. Or maybe that’s just me. Although I have not dealt with a pump failure in almost 7 years, they can happen without warning and are completely unpredictable. It’s always better to be prepared than scrambling during an important occasion to get what you need to survive.
The TSA Debacle
Our trip to Phoenix was short, and we were at the airport before noon the next day. Free of an insulin pump, I was thinking that for once in my life, security was going to be a piece of cake. The TSA officer motioned me through the regular metal detector, which I was actually disappointed about because this would have been the perfect time to go through the backscatter machine hassle-free! *Sigh* Thinking I was free and clear, I gathered my belongings. Then suddenly another TSA officer holds up my purse and says, “I need to examine this bag.” Assuming it was related to the pack of syringes, I paid no mind to this small delay.
She held up my Juicy Juice juice box. “This is 6.75 oz.”
Yes, yes it is.
“I need to test it,” the TSA officer says.
“But I’ve gone through security plenty of times with this,” I reply. And I have. Dozens of times. Never had an issue so far.
This doesn’t seem to faze the officer. “I need to open it to test it.” It’s a juice box. You can’t re-seal a juice box.
Blood boiling, I wave my hand. “Just keep it.” I stalk off, holding back tears from the injustice of it all and the aggravation diabetes has caused me this weekend. My husband attempts to console me, but I just need to cool down.
Lesson Learned: You mean other than confirming that the TSA sucks? *Sigh again* As Jeff Hitchcock pointed out when I vented on Facebook, juice boxes are totally legit in passing TSA security. But my protestations weren’t going very far with this woman. I could have argued with her more. I could have requested to see her supervisor. Or I could have brought that document from TSA explaining what diabetes supplies are approved to go through security without issue. Guess which one would have been easier? Yep — the darn piece of paper.
Moral of the Story
There is a never-ending list of ways diabetes complicates life, and issues in traveling are nothing new. I’ve been lucky to have made it this far without having many issues. I know many, many more people who have had much more painful encounters with TSA over insulin pumps and bottles of insulin, but the combination of all three within 48 hours was just too much.
With the summer travel season kicking into high gear soon, do you have any D-travel lessons that the rest of us could learn from?
My main lesson from this experience? While my vacation was still lovely, what I could really use now is a vacation from diabetes!