With a Minute to Spare

Chapter 2

So at 8:05 pm I’m sitting on the plane to Miami muttering, “Come on, come on,” under my breath, and hoping they start the engines soon. By 9:00 I felt like I had aged several years and my cortisol was jumping up and down like a jack russell terrier. I had one of those little in-flight tracker screens right in front of me, and although I enjoy many traditional flight hobbies like writing in my journal, doing crossword puzzles, and reading SkyMag, this time all I could bring myself to do, literally, for two hours, was watch that little plane icon move slowly through my home state (Georgia), and onwards towards the tip of Florida.

At 9:05 the estimated arrival time had jumped back from the original 10:15 (which remember would leave me with a total of 5 minutes to make my connecting flight) to 9:44 pm. I would have, calculating time for deboarding, at least 20 minutes of straight running time before the gate to my second flight closed. At this time, I did decide to update my journal. In it I wrote:

24 minutes to destino. Quick update, I’m on the plane. BG (blood glucose) is 320 mg/dl. Was so low in Raleigh that I couldn’t think. Didn’t take insulin for a long time. We are set to arrive @ 9:44 and then depart at 10:20. As long as no gate change I’ll be at F25 (only 20 gates away from where we arriving). I’m going to write an update at 10:40 pm saying I made it, and my BG will be perfect. Then I will fall into a nice sleep until 4 am, then write for an hour. Someday I’ll learn Portuguese.

This was my last journal entry for four days.

Back on the plane, as we declined in elevation towards our destination, I looked at the screen, then back at the overhead compartment, then at my purse, then at all the people around me, in a nervous loop. There were so many people in front of me, and I knew I had to get off of that plane. A flight attendant walked by. I asked her if she could help me. I said, “Hello there…I know this might be a weird request, but my connecting flight leaves at 10:20, and that lady up there, hers leaves pretty soon too, and if there’s any way we can get off this plane, like, first, or sooner, that’d be great.”

She agreed to make an announcement over the loudspeaker. She was very kind.

5 minutes later, as people rustled around and the captain updated us of our status repeatedly, a quiet announcement urging passengers to allow those with close connecting flights to depart first, was made. The attendant warned me that most likely, people would take little heed, especially those in first class.

And yet a door opened. Behind me, a couple on their way to an island off the coast of Florida, anticipating their vacation, had heard my anxious request. “You’ve got a close connector too?” One of the women asked. I sighed. “Yeah, it’s pretty close…” “Yeah ours got crunched with the delay. What’s yours?” she asked. I told her. “OH, that is close. That makes me feel pretty good about ours.” Despite this, she was very sympathetic. ”Here’s what you need to do,” she said. Follow us off of here and we’ll get you pointed towards the Sky Train. You’ve got to get on the Sky Train because where we are, you’re never gonna make it on foot all the way to your next gate. This airport is a giant.”

Now remember, our flight was arriving considerably early. It was 9:40, and we were descending towards a gentle landing. At 9:44 we touched down.

At 9:55 we were still waiting behind several other planes on a slow, slow pathway towards deboarding. Our huge machine idled in the queue. I began to feel flushed and frantic (noticing a theme?).

My friends from a few seats back knew that everything wasn’t going to go as smoothly as they’d originally presented. They amended the plan. “Ok, here’s what you’ve gotta do. As soon as we get up there, and they turn off the seatbelt sign, we’re gonna stand up and make an opening for you so you can get your backpack and get off of here. And then, don’t look back. Don’t wait for us, we’ll just slow you down. You gotta get off this plane and run like hell. You gotta get to gate 11 (9 gates away) and get on the Sky Train. I think you’ll have to go up some stairs…”

At that moment we docked.

The seatbelt sign went off.

My friends stood up, and I began to act.

I heaved my Osprey backpack from the overhead compartment and hiccupped down the aisle, meeting the line as it slowly moved off of the plane. I stepped onto the connecting bridge and could see the light of the airport at the other end, but I was still blocked by a throng of passengers. I tried to wait patiently because I don’t like pushing through crowds or running around other people who I could potentially crash into. So I slowly trudged along, until suddenly, in the Miami airport, at what was now 10:08 pm, I saw an opening, and I made a break for it.

My backpack was flapping on my back because I hadn’t buckled the waist strap and my purse was bouncing repeatedly into my stomach. If I had ever pushed myself this hard in high school track, I might have placed in a race. I had never run like this before. I also had never run before wearing a 35 lb. backpack. There was no one in the airport, no one out in front of me. Which is sort of a figure of speech because there were a few others, walking on the moving sidewalks which had been disabled because of how late it was. After about two minutes of running, my hair flying into my face, cheeks red, eyes wide, heaving breaths from the exertion, I see a business man and I think, he must know how this airport works. As I pass him on my right, I turn my head like a frenzied bull and with panic in my eyes I scream, “Where’s the Sky Train?!” “What?” he queries back. “THE SKY TRAIN?!!!”

I still don’t know where the Sky Train was. He failed my question a second time and I waved my hand at him in dismissal before continuing to sprint through the deserted airport.

Up ahead, one of those little cars was sitting horizontal in my path. As I approached it, I yelled to the conductor, “Please, sir, I’ve got to get to gate F25,” and instead of dodging it, I jumped on (not recommended behavior).

I learned my friend’s name, and where he was from, and that he had no faith that I would make my flight because moments before he had taken the last passenger who they were calling for over the loudspeaker to the very same gate.

I disagreed with him, but I was grateful for his kind presence and effort, nevertheless. We sped (at 5 mph) through the airport. My hair flew behind me, finally out of my mouth and eyes. I began to try to breathe again, although my lungs burned and my chest was tight. I was invigorated, I was going to make it. I had 1 minute before they would close the gate at 10:10 pm as we neared F25.

…To be continued.

Spice of the Unknown

“Well thanks for coming on this adventure with me today,” I said to my friend, without really thinking about it. We had planned to take a walk after class in the forest together and we accomplished that, but only because she stuck with me as I rode the waves of my blood sugar.

First as my post-lunch bg got up to 170 or so I stood by her at the bus stop, drowsy and dull. The bus was 11 minutes away so I suggested we walk down to the next stop or so, hoping that might bring me down a little. She pushed her bike alongside her and I tried to explain why I felt dizzy and why walking would help. Fifteen minutes later we got onto the bus and 45 minutes after that made it back to my house and my car, to the forest entrance, waited behind men in trucks doing something, and then onto the access road.

I loaded up my Ecuadorian fanny pack with glucose tabs and as we headed off into the woods I felt the muscles of my face and neck finally relax. Sometimes I hold tension when my blood sugar is high and I can’t exercise to bring it down but I also can’t take insulin because I’ll be moving soon. Since we had plans to walk together, I couldn’t just abandon my desires to walk in the forest and respond to high blood sugar by walking around campus in uncomfortable shoes to bring it down. I followed through. Sometimes I feel like following through is a rare event for me because blood sugar sidelines me. Or because I’m not feeling great I’ll decline plans with friends because I don’t want to drag them onto the rollercoaster with me.

We walked 2.5 miles in the splendid mid-October falling leaves, a little less luminescent here than in the mountains but still beautiful. Back at the parking lot I checked before driving and I was 67 mg/dl, so I suggested we wait while my bg came up. As I ate glucose tabs we talked about our classes. When I said, “I’ll check again, I think we can go now,” my friend admitted she had no idea what we were waiting on. People just don’t know! When you live so intimately with a condition you start to assume that it’s evident on your face or in your words, that people understand it like you do, but that is so rarely the case. I explained why before when my bg was high movement helped me feel better, and that when I am low I need to eat something. I explained why I would treat a mild low before driving vigorously with several glucose tabs whereas if I was just going back home I might eat one tab and then have a snack.

After I thanked her, back at my house, she thanked me for the education. I thought about the name of my (somewhat dormant) blog. Diabetes has a way of making everything an adventure because it always throws in that spice of unknown. You have to adapt to it constantly, get creative, think about solutions. You have to be willing to change plans, be thrown off course, and clamber back to your path. It’s like inviting that oddball friend on the road trip, the wild one who is always suggesting weird detours. How wrong my thinking was ten years ago when I was diagnosed: that life with this condition would be boring.

And maybe most importantly, letting my friend come along on the adventure of blood glucose with me and being vulnerable in that way created a deeper trust between us and gave to us both.

surfing with friends
surfing with friends