Adventures in Overseas Travel: Lesson Four

Having spent a recent night on Concourse C at O'Hare airport in Chicago, I am reminded of the trials of my last international trip. That's not to say the trip wasn't amazing, but the logistics of it all left much to be desired, especially as it wouldn't have been nearly as bad if I had been healthy. And since 'tis the season for overseas travel, here is a series that will hopefully inspire you not to do what I did. Read Lesson One here and Lessons Two and Three here

Lesson Four: Don’t sweat the big stuff

Part One: Don't panic

Sometimes I feel like I am a disaster waiting to happen. And when disaster comes, it is never an easy fix. This year, I found out what happens when it comes overseas.

Three years ago, I visited the Caribbean for the first time. The moment I got off the plane, I realized that I may have failed to account for the effects of humidity on the adhesive tape that anchored my medical equipment. After a minor panic, during which I realized that the medical equipment company had no mechanism to easily deliver additional supplies to where I was, I worked it out and had a thoroughly good time. In fact, I liked it so much, I decided to go back for a milestone birthday trip.

For the second trip, I was very careful to pack enough supplies for a month (I was going for a week). Everything was going very well, including my first ever snorkeling trip. I had been careful for that, as well: only spending a few minutes at a time on the surface of the water so nothing would happen to my medical equipment – an insulin pump that I was heavily dependent on. It was amazing to watch the stingrays that looked like giant butterflies and sea turtles that surfaced for a breath of air right in front of you then dove back down to the (fairly shallow) bottom.

All was well until I woke up the next morning, when my blood sugar was very high and I couldn’t figure out why. I took a quick shot of insulin, and started testing my pump. That’ s when I discovered that the battery casing was cracked. Do you know what happens to electronics when they’re exposed to salt water?

So, I cleaned out the corrosion and replaced the battery. Everything would be fine.

Guess again. The buttons wouldn’t go down. The way it was explained to me later, grains of salt settled between the components in the buttons and prevented them from working.

No need to panic yet. I had a backup plan, imperfect as it was. I would just deliver manual injections – a minimum of eight a day at least every three and a half hours. Not ideal, but doable, at least for a few days. It's hard to estimate the peaks and valleys of insulin's effective period, especially when you are eating out for every meal, but increased glucose testing and overlapping doses would cut the sharp ends off the effective period. My blood sugars wouldn't be great, but they wouldn't make me sick. I was still in partial control and I was determined not to let this affect my enjoyment of my vacation. But I needed that pump as soon as I could get my hands on it.

Stay tuned to hear how I finally reached my tipping point . . .