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, Lessons Two and Three here, and Lesson Four Part One here

Lesson Four: Don’t sweat the big stuff

Part Two: Feel free to panic

So, what now? The one thing I absolutely couldn't live without -- my insulin pump -- was dead. Without its steady stream of insulin, my blood sugars could not be controlled. I had emergency measures, injections for several days, but it would be impossible to avoid the peaks and valleys of the insulin's natural course, and if I didn't monitor my blood sugars every couple of hours around the clock, I could end up quite ill.

I already knew I wouldn’t be getting a replacement right away. I'd found out years ago that the manufacturer couldn't deliver directly to this island, and if they couldn’t deliver supplies, they couldn’t deliver a pump. The next best thing would be to have it waiting for me as soon as I walked in the door at home. Time to call and order a new one.

Easier said than done. An American phone can’t call a toll-free number from overseas, at least according to Verizon. There was no other means of contact on the website. Anywhere.

I am usually a very calm, laid-back person. I’ve dealt with so many medical issues that these sorts of situations rarely feel like crises. Even so, I began to feel an edge of anxiety in the back of my mind. (Deep breaths, deep breaths.)

I reached out to a couple of my providers, who answered within the hour (I love my providers.) One reached out to her personal contact at the medical supply company, who gave me a toll number. My first attempt didn’t work, so she reached out to the Help Desk by email. I waited a day for a reply that didn’t come. So I tried the toll number again.

Success! Once I reached them, they were happy to do as I requested, which was to deliver the replacement pump on Saturday, the day I would arrive home. The only thing was... it couldn’t go to the valet. The valet closed at 2:00 p.m. and I would not get home from the airport until at least 10:00 p.m. The customer service rep said that, though the package would be delivered by the most expensive service UPS had, there was no way to give the driver special instructions. She could waive the signature as long as I agreed to assume financial liability, but that was all. She suggested that I call UPS once they emailed me the tracking number.

OK. So UPS. But first I needed a tracking number. It took two calls and over 12 hours to find it, even though the manufacturer said they would email it. "Helpful" suggestions didn't pan out and no matter how many people I spoke to, even at the manufacturer, I couldn't seem to communicate the urgency of the order.

I gave up for the night, but my anxiety grew (Deep breaths, deep breaths.) since the delivery window was getting shorter. If I didn’t get it on Saturday, I would not get it until Tuesday because there was no Sunday delivery and Monday was a Federal holiday. Another two days at higher glucose levels was that much more time to end up really sick. Maybe hospital sick.

Unable to let it go for long, I called again when it was time to wake up for my 2:30 a.m. injection. The gentleman on the phone told me that special instructions for the driver were impossible on Saturdays, but I should call back at 7:00 a.m. and talk to a manager. I began to get angry. And frustrated. Anxiety edged toward panic. (Is there a wall I can bang my head against?)

But I made myself go back to sleep. I wanted to visit my favorite beach before I left.

I called again at the appointed time, and this representative told me that of course the driver would deliver the package to my door. I made it very clear that it wasn’t to go to the valet. She repeated it back to me twice. I began to relax. I would get the pump as soon as possible.

I packed. I went to the beach. I arrived at the airport with more than enough time to get my bags on board. We had lunch, one last taste of the island. Then I checked my email. There was a message saying a package had arrived at the valet.

Oh, there it was – panic. I did the only thing I could think of. I called the front desk of my building and begged them to get the package from the valet before it closed, in about half an hour. Thankfully, the woman on duty knew me. She cleared it with her manager and stowed it behind the front desk.

I could breathe again.

Just one more thing . . .

It was Murphy's Law and the straw that almost broke the camel's back all rolled into one. On the flight back, a delay almost caused us to miss the connection through security and customs. I felt panic sit down next to me again. I was so close. I confess, I had a minor meltdown. It was a good thing I was with friends who had known me for decades, so they could handle me cranky and upset.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I buckled my seatbelt on that last leg.

I took a deep breath.