April 23, 2015

Prepared for Anything, Diabetes Style!

Robin article2Finding the Balance

This was my chance to see a glacier, a real glacier– in all its frozen, spectacular, immensity. It was a few hours away, by boat.

But suddenly, my insulin pump blared the ‘no delivery’ alarm. I had a moment of panic. “Nooo!” I moaned. “Should I turn back?”

For people with type 1 diabetes like myself, going without insulin is a physically challenging experience. I knew that putting my health first was the proper thing to do.

But… what about the glacier?

Over the years, I’ve developed a game-plan for moments like this. I try to plan ahead as much as possible. I bring basic medical supplies, backup items, and backup strategies whenever I leave home. In a medical emergency, I do my best to stay calm and think resourcefully.


I’m pretty good about bringing my insulin pump, glucose meter, strips, and lancets wherever I go. These are the everyday basics.

For a swimming-type-of-adventure, the basics are even more basic: three test strips, one lancet, the glucose meter, and some cash. I stuff these all into a water-proof purse. I test my blood sugar and take an extra bolus. Then I leave my pump and everything else in a safe place, and I’m ready to go!

Backup Items

For low blood sugar, I like to keep glucose tablets, a rice crispy treat, and some one-dollar bills on hand. The money is reserved for vending machine juice, in case I run out of glucose tablets and snacks.

Digging through my purse, I also have…

  • a safety pin, in case I run out of lancets.
  • an empty insulin cartridge, in case I need a refill.
  • a syringe, in case my pump malfunctions.
  • an infusion set, in case the one I have rips out.
  • a bottle of test strips, in case my regular supply runs out.
  • a battery, in case my pump battery dies.
  • waterproof Band-Aids, in case my sensor or infusion site need reinforcements.

Backup Strategies

My backup items are almost always enough to keep everything running smoothly. But for times when something unexpected comes up, I always have my backup strategies:

Stay Calm

This came from a truly challenging family backpacking trip: After hiking for two days into the mountains, it started pouring rain. We set up our tents, swatted mosquitos, and tried to find things to laugh about. But in the morning, we discovered my glucose meter had been ruined.

“Should we turn back?” We looked at each other in dismay. But living without blood tests for a few days wouldn’t kill me. Se we kept going.

Despite everything, I was able to control my glucose levels reasonably well. I took breaks throughout the trip to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and consider, “What is my blood sugar doing right now?”

Be Resourceful

Forty minutes from home, I was on a train to a friend’s birthday party. ‘No delivery’ flashed on my pump, and I realized I was out of insulin.

“Damn! Should I turn back?” I wondered.

I looked down at the empty cartridge, and noticed that the tubing was still full of insulin. And then I got an idea. I sorted through my backup supplies, and pulled out the syringe. Disconnecting the pump from my body, I injected the empty syringe into the tubing and filled it with insulin. I managed to stay in control by testing my blood sugar and taking shots from that syringe throughout the evening.

Being Prepared

Getting to experience a real glacier, up close and personal, was perfectly exhilarating. I honestly don’t remember a minute of the recovery process.

Being prepared is a complicated process for people with type 1 diabetes. And sometimes, I do have to put my health first and cancel my plans.

But most of the time, I’m well prepared for what life and diabetes throw at me!