A case for pencils

Well, now that we’ve accepted that uncertainty is foundational, I feel relieved. It’s kind of a burden to pretend like you could possibly know anything for sure, from what is going to happen, to who you will be tomorrow. This pandemic period has been a time of forced and uncomfortable introspection for me; seeing parts of myself that I could ignore or hide when things were in a more predictable system, like fear and selfishness and loneliness, all the emotions (or are these emotional concepts?) I find myself seeking to control, if not stamp out completely.

In this battle with self to control, I have relied on planners. I would even call myself a planner. I have three virtual calendars, one personal, one for each of two jobs. And then, on top of that, I keep a paper planner. I love my paper planner. It’s a little notebook with calendar pages and blocks for each day where you can write details. I don’t actually write in it nearly as much as I used to, but I use it to visualize the map of my month.

This year’s calendar was full of plans written in pen. Things that were solidified because the tickets were booked, the arrangements were made. I’ve crossed through them all, but I still see them and am reminded of the shadow year running parallel to this actual reality that I find myself in. It’s like my expectations, which had become almost a script, are there, hovering in some liminal space.

This morning, as I was doing some planning, I stopped myself (in the nick of time) as I reached for a pen. Have I learned nothing?! I opened the nightstand drawer and grabbed a pencil, reassuring in its impermanence. Something strangely comforting in embracing, instead of the script, the fact that in truth I had no idea what would happen.

This past week, carrying the weight of a backpack once again, I started thinking about maps. The broad outline that illustrates what trail you are to follow, but tells you little about what you might encounter along the way. For us, that was sunshine and a little fog, a few joyful people passing by, wild ponies, and the layers of Blue Ridge Mountains that provided us refuge. It was a fuel canister that I thought wouldn’t light, a campsite that we hoped would appear before it finally did, an evening windstorm to fall asleep to. It was a reminder that as I spin around in little circles, the mountains go on being mountains.

And I think to myself, isn’t it strange that we draw the map of our lives as we go? We draw it to fit and then act like we were following some predetermined path, imagining that we are in control of our direction. I think this is beautiful, really, that we are able to pivot and then convince ourselves that we knew where we were going all along. I think about this in light of diabetes and where it continues to lead me – on to new stages and challenges. My newest challenge with diabetes is that I forget about it. It’s not that I forget to take care of it, rather, whereas once I resisted it and later I embraced it, now I just sort of do it. It’s always there, keeping me on my toes, but running in the background. Chronic conditions become just another weight in the backpack that we carry (have I mentioned that I love trail and river metaphors). And yesterday, as I wondered why I felt so mentally tired after what was otherwise not a very difficult day, in the middle of a global pandemic in which I am aware to a greater extent than ever of just how privileged and lucky I am, I remembered – oh, I have a chronic condition. And if I’m being honest, I have multiple, because diabetes is never just diabetes. And that was comforting too. To know, to have an explanation. To feel justified in my exhaustion at the end of the day, yet no less certain that I would pick up the pack tomorrow.

When I started writing this I got stuck here. Because I like to have at least a small glimmer of a point, you know, when I write. And I wasn’t sure what it was. Partly, I think I’m just really into planning in pencil right now, as if it were a creative act. I’m into the idea that I won’t be done in this process of knowing myself with diabetes, of knowing myself at all. I’m into the idea that I can set down some of the need to control, because my pack already feels a little heavy some days. And then I started thinking about some of the media that I’ve been consuming during the past few months, particularly after listening to Brené Brown’s recent ‘Unlocking Us,’ podcast, On My Mind: RBG, Surge Capacity and the Play as an Energy Source. For me the most salient point was the first that she made, being that if something was on her mind, she had found that likely it was on our collective mind as well; it’s just we don’t always share the things we feel troubled or embarrassed by. That and the part about Surge Capacity, in which she referenced the work of Tara Haelle, Your ‘Surge Capacity’ is Depleted – It’s Why You Feel Awful. I admit, I haven’t yet read the article yet, but in listening to Brown describe her takeaway, I was reminded of a conversation that I had recently with a friend about this process of creating a ‘new normal,’ around Coronavirus and whether or not that struck me, as someone who has created a ‘new normal’ around a chronic condition, as an apt way to describe what we were doing. I really appreciated the insightful question, because it’s easy to forget even as a person with diabetes all of the work that goes into the creation of normalcy every day, so for someone else to draw the connection was validating. And thinking about it, yes, I do think that Coronavirus has presented us as a society with both the fear of an acute crisis and, basically, management tasks that are very like living with a chronic condition. It’s also introduced the sort of uncertainty that I’ve tried to conquer related to diabetes for years – the kind that makes you feel like if you could just plan everything out enough, you could know what was going to happen with your blood sugar and you would know that you would be safe and able to do what you feel like you should be able to do in this body. Hmm.

So, the world has a chronic condition with clear and not so clear management tasks, and like any chronic condition, people are managing it in a host of different ways. And, like I’m experiencing with diabetes, the process of finding normalcy tricks us into thinking things are normal, and we forget about all of the work that we’re doing to get there. Two other things come to mind here – one being a part of Celeste Ng’s book, Little Fires Everywhere, right after Lexie has an abortion and Mia tells her (something like) that she’ll get through it, but it will be something that she always carries with her, informing who she is/her future. I’m also watching Call the Midwife right now, Season 9. In Episode 2, Sister Julienne says something along the lines of (paraphrasing), “So, I have to accept the world the way it is, rather than the way I wish it to be.” Take from these connections what you will. For me, it reminds me that I have accepted diabetes as one of those things that I can’t put down. A good reminder, because it’s easy to forget what we and others are carrying into any new situation – the layers that begin to stack up when we’re all under collective stress. And in this situation, I think, also hearkening to diabetes management, that it’s just about making the next best decision with the information that I have in this moment. Maybe this tiring time is a good reminder, since there are certain things I can’t let go of, to shed some of the burdens that I’ve wrapped diabetes up in, like a need for absolute control or a need to function at a higher capacity, as if it wasn’t any work at all, or shame about the negative emotions that sometimes come along with it. And to remember that while it may be a little heavy at times, carrying it along with me is necessary to get to wherever (and who knows where that is, really) I’m headed next.

Chapter 1: Hace doce años (12 years ago)

Hace doce años. Twelve years ago. That’s what I kept saying when people asked how long it had been since I studied abroad in San Joaquin de Flores, a small town outside of San Jose, Costa Rica. Twelve years ago I had flown on an airplane only a handful of times and never spent a night out of the country. On the flight down, I remember journaling, fizzing with anticipation, and suddenly realizing that maybe I didn’t know how to speak Spanish. I could sort of write and read in Spanish, but I started thinking of what I’d want to say and found that the words just weren’t there. I hadn’t yet learned to speak flexibly, describing things instead of using one staunch word, while shaping with my hands and body. I love speaking in this way really – like teaching a yoga class without stating the names of postures, but instead painting a picture of the body’s movements. At the time though, the thought was intimidating.

More intimidating than Spanish was my lack of familiarity with diabetes management. It might seem like I should be over writing about diabetes, but diabetes is just never over. It keeps evolving and I with it. When I first went down to CR, I had been living with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) for almost exactly two years. I’d managed diabetes while living in the dorms at UNCA, working at a summer camp, a folk school, and at that point through half of junior year.

When I landed in Costa Rica twelve years ago, the first thing I noticed were the trees. I couldn’t stop gaping at the trees, squealing about the trees, asking our teacher Esteban about the trees. On this recent trip, after I asked a third person to identify the current árbol of my affection, a British pal exclaimed, “Americans love trees!” I think that’s a bit of a broad stroke, because I can tell you that I definitely led the tree fandom among our group of 14 or so American students.

The second thing I noticed was that suddenly I was having to state my needs a lot. Also, suddenly I had a lot of needs, or at least that’s how I felt. This was difficult for me on many levels. I am an independent person. I have always been grateful that I was diagnosed with diabetes after I had left home, effectively as an adult, because I would have fought against the notion of anyone else sharing in my management. That’s the story I’ve told myself anyway. Told myself that I could manage it on my own and probably just as well as my pancreas could have. For the first couple of years after I was diagnosed, I maintained a white-knuckle grip on normalcy. I worked so hard behind the scenes; not just on achieving what I thought had to be perfect blood sugar, but also on stifling the emotional and physical burden of managing a condition as demanding as T1D. I told myself that I could outsmart it. I told myself that if I gave in to its demands, I was weak. I tried to hide the anxiety and worry that was filling me slowly to the brim.

I know that sounds dramatic, but it wasn’t at the time. It was slow and subtle and by the time I got to Costa Rica, I didn’t even realize it was happening. I was prepared to have the time of my life. Yet here was this chronic condition in tow (one that I would not be able to recognize or name as such until years later. I wasn’t just supposed to be tramping through the jungle, I was supposed to be partying with my new friends, trying new food, open to all experiences. And of course, I was supposed to be completely carefree. Isn’t that the study abroad, or even the American college, myth?

But I felt like I had a new shadow. The specter of diabetes was following me on every excursion, in my classes, walking down the streets. And I had to explain it as part of me. But it wasn’t a part of me that I knew. I was strong and healthy and physically capable of keeping up with anyone. I had built all of that into my identity since childhood, playing softball, camping with my family, kayaking and snowboarding throughout high school, and just generally loving physical adventures. I also loved trying new foods, connecting with new people, experiencing life differently than I knew it in my standard routine. That was who I was.

It was the first time I’d introduced myself to people who were meeting me as a person with diabetes. In the US, my friends and family all knew me as Katie who suddenly got diagnosed with diabetes. They knew me first. Now I was worried that people would think of diabetes first.

The truth is that I wasn’t just embarrassed, I was afraid. And it was really the first time in my life I had experienced that kind of fear…fear for my life. I was a pretty unafraid kid. I wasn’t reckless, but I had a sense of my limits and they didn’t really encroach on what I wanted to do. Now suddenly fear had crept in. What if I go low? What if I’m alone? What if I’m tired and forget my bag in the trunk of a taxi and the driver leaves with all my medical supplies and I die? It was like the cork had blown loose on the possibilities of what could happen and how it might lead ultimately to my demise. Then there was just your standard, everyday long-term complications of diabetes to worry about. I was afraid that if I let my blood sugar spike out of “normal” range, I would definitively develop kidney disease, neuropathy, etc.

I had started practicing yoga in high school and had a sense of how to calm myself down, so I tried, often. But diabetes would always creep back in. Sometimes I’d try to meditate and breathe long slow inhales and exhales, but then I’d realize I was low and I’d have to stop and double-check with a finger prick, wipe off the blood with an alcohol swab, find a snack, eat, and suddenly there I was, thinking about the power that diabetes had over me again.

I worried that people thought I was making it up. Not diabetes, but everything I had to do for it. If you don’t live with a person with diabetes, you can’t know how many tasks go into it every day. If you live with someone with diabetes but don’t have it yourself, it’s impossible to conceptualize the amount of decisions and thought that that it takes every day. Even if you’re highly empathetic, you just can’t know. And after 14 years of living with it, I believe that if you are a person with diabetes, eventually even you stop realizing how much you’re doing – both externally in action and internally in planning and calculations.

Studying abroad in Costa Rica was one of the best four months of my life. Yet I felt isolated by and even ashamed of diabetes at that time. I was afraid that going back would mean relieving those emotions, that I’d be pulled back into shame. I felt guilty that it had been so hard to just enjoy my life. A few really scary things had happened while I was there too. I had at least two intense lows while I was alone, one in the jungle (I hear you, why did I wander off into the jungle alone?) and one in a hotel room. I also ran out of insulin after leaving some of my back-up at a lodge on a weekend excursion. I had to obtain more without the guidance of my endocrinologist, and it was my first experience feeling the full nature of my dependency on an external source for my survival. How it could stop everything else. How fear and anxiety suddenly flooded my body when I thought about not having the insulin I needed. On top of that, I couldn’t get in touch with my endocrinologist at home (we did not have cell phones then! And the call your doctor, wait for them to call you back long-distance model was just not working). Eventually, a protracted game of phone tag ended with my mom as the middle woman translating my endocrinologist’s advice, which was to take only half the dose of the type of insulin I was given. Had I taken my dose as normal, I could have had a severe low blood sugar overnight.

Diabetes was part of why I stayed away from Costa Rica for so long, so I was surprised to realize that it was also a big part of what brought me back. Three days after I landed, the diabetes camp began. We awoke at 5 AM and departed San José as the sun was just beginning to enliven the colors of the city. Although we drove off into the mountains, we arrived at the camp in no time – the start of three very full days ahead of us. Three days of diabetes multiplied by about 80. So much diabetes. Everyone, from counselors to campers, living and playing and eating and sleeping with diabetes.

Diagnosed at 18, I never went to diabetes camp. I had also never worked at a diabetes camp before. As I was learning the system, I began to transition from paying primary attention to my own body, to guiding my attention towards any signs of low blood sugar I could spot in the kids. This was an interesting shift. Suddenly my own diabetes felt lighter. My brain had been unleashed to do what it is always doing but on a larger scale: strategizing, monitoring, and attempting to balance blood sugar. But here it was, finally, outside of myself.

At the end of day one, I laid down in my bunk bed, exhausted. My cabin co-lead told me that the doctor and nutritionists would come in at 12 AM and 3 AM to check every campers’ blood sugar. She said that they might even check mine. At first, I reacted to this with something like horror. No one else, save maybe for nursing staff at the endocrinologist or hospital, has ever checked my blood sugar. It’s my blood sugar. But then I was like, “Hmm…so I wouldn’t have to worry about my blood sugar overnight…” I could go to bed without that subtle background fear of having a low. That thought was nice, comforting. And that’s how I went to sleep. They didn’t check me after all, but I slept hard through the night knowing that someone else was monitoring the campers. I awoke the next morning feeling grounded, ready to start the day.

For more about the camp and the rest of the experience, stay tuned for Chapter 2!

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View of the soccer/games field at Campa Dia Vida.

 

Am I pancreas or a woman?

I’ve taken shots on planes, shots on trains, shots on buses, shots on shuttles, shots in a car, shots in a bar, shots in meetings, shots at crowded dinner table seatings, and after my recent four days of traveling, for whatever reason, I have ended up more tired of shots than anything else.

Obviously, this is a diabetes blog, so I don’t mean liquor, not even in the bar. I mean insulin shots and the role they play in my life as pancreas.

I would say in a typical day, I take a minimum of 8 shots. On the trip, I took maybe 12 – 14 a day. I take shots as if I were a pump.

Some of you know a lot about diabetes and others less. Some of you know what an insulin pump is and how it works, but if you don’t, quick summary: people wear insulin pumps on their body using a site that can be either be connected to the pump by a tube or connected to a pod that is stuck directly on the body (no tube) with adhesive. Now, both of these are changed somewhat regularly, usually 3 to 4 days, and in the in between time, you don’t take the site off. You might disconnect your pump to shower or for a few other reasons, unless you have the Omnipod, in which case you just shower with it. The pump delivers a continuous infusion of insulin to the body.

The potential benefits of insulin pumps are numerous (there are also downsides that I won’t cover here). Some of the reasons why people wear them is so they can eat a more flexible diet, giving themselves insulin in a way that lines up more perfectly with their eating habits, think: many smaller injections a day to compensate for unexpected snacks or eating more at a meal than you planned. Also, you can reduce the stable background amount of insulin you’re getting to lessen the risk of lows during exercise. I can’t do that on my current insulin regimen, which, as aforementioned, is a bunch of shots.

I like to both maintain as tight a control of my blood glucose (bg) as I can, while also having the maximum freedom to eat and be spontaneous in my life, which for me has turned into a bunch of little micro-doses a day. Traveling amplifies this, because I’m not in control at even a base scheduling level. Flights might be delayed; I might not have time for a meal. When I do have time for it, I might be on a 5-hour flight, and then not be able to move around afterwards and help my bg come down with physical activity.

If you’re like: “I don’t get what she means by help my bg come down with physical activity,” please let me know in the comments and I will write on these topics in more detail or point you to some resources.

I have a busy year of travel and this trip made me wonder if my attempts to free myself of the burden of wearing an insulin pump has saddled me with an extra burden. If I’m going to mimic what an insulin pump could do with shots, should I just go ahead and get with the times?

When I travel, I like to let go of the ideal of a regimented lifestyle and be free to follow what comes. On this particular trip, the first thing that didn’t come was my Lyft. I was waiting by the door at 5 AM, but twenty minutes later I made a quick pivot, driving to the airport and parking in the econo lot. No bolus insulin in my system meant that missing one shuttle bus to the airport after a dead sprint across the lot sent my blood sugar straight up (potential moral: stress is bad for you).

Eventually I made it to my gate, just as boarding was set to begin. Still on the ground an hour and a half later (potential revised moral: could have skipped the sprint) it was clear that making my connection with only an hour layover in between would be tricky. But, by some miracle (apparently pilots can floor-it if necessary), I made my next flight after only a light jog. There was no screen on that plane (I had already watched ‘Elf’ on the last leg) and I had no internet, so I spent some time (2 hours) staring idly at the seat-back. I recommend this sort of in-flight meditation. Upon landing, I felt refreshed and ready for a three hour longer day. Of course, my blood sugar had been taking off and coming down all day, after around 8 shots over the course of the two flights.

I don’t want to give the impression that my trip was anything but pure joy – because one thing I’ve become good over 14+ years with diabetes is carrying the annoyance and frustration of diabetes alongside all my other emotions. This is one of my happiest evolutions in life with diabetes. I used to be so much more critical of myself and my ability to be a pancreas. But I’ve come to accept my imperfection in this way, because it allows me to do and enjoy so much more simultaneously. Some of the non-work-related highlights of this trip were:

  • Remembering my general love affair with San Francisco and its angles, colors, and vibe.
  • Reuniting with one of my best friends from high school. We explored the small mountain city he lives in outside of San Fran, looked at new houses for him and his partner to move into (which was an unexpected delight), and recounted all of our best inside jokes multiple times.
  • Racing from Palo Alto just in time to make it to a dear friend’s yoga class (why is my life full of so much racing? Do I need to leave earlier or just accept being late? Timeless questions). Afterwards, he took me to Mission Chinese, which was some of the best food I’ve ever had. The whole place is cast in a magical red glow. We ordered Kung Pao Pastrami, Spring Rolls, and Taiwanese Eggplant, and remembered all of the potlucks, adventures, and characters of college.

In summary, by the end of the trip I was left with the vague impression that all I had done for four was balance my blood sugar – but in truth, that was just exhaustion speaking. In the moment, I’m doing it all. Upon returning however, I did look over my bg records and identify a few times when I could have done less tweaking and perhaps gotten better results. So maybe in times of reduced control, loosening my grip on the idea of it could bring be a little bit more bg, and general, peace. It’s a thought experiment I may report back on.

Thanks for reading and happy new year!

Katie

 

 

Waffle Fries and Celery Root

February can be rough. The days are short, the weather is temperamental, winter closes us inside of its blue shutters…

But luckily, we have created several traditions to get us through, one of my favorite being, in atypical fashion, SUPERBOWL SUNDAY!

I, like many of you, went to a Superbowl party a couple weeks back and found myself so INSPIRED. Let me preface this by saying that in between the 2017 and 2018 Superbowls, I watched 0 minutes of football. So, it’s always a fresh experience for me. I couldn’t believe how physically strong the players were. I was also very captivated by how delicious the various party foods involving potatoes were. There were waffle fries (not from Chick-fil-A!), homemade potato chips (in three varieties!), and baked potatoes with gruyere. So, based on these two observations, I added two resolutions to my list for this year: 1) workout more; 2) eat more potatoes.

When I got home from the party, my blood sugar, despite a lot of extra insulin and monitoring, was above 200 mg/dl. I don’t like this – I don’t feel good when my bg is high and taking extra insulin before bed is a little frightening because of aforementioned nighttime lows. So I put the potatoes on the back burner, so to speak.

I did start moving more though. Yoga and walking have been good, along with a class or two at the student rec center. So with goal #1 underway, I got back to the potatoes.

Recently, I ordered a dish with shaved celery root when out at a restaurant. Between ordering and receiving my food, I forgot about this, and when it came I thought I was eating hashbrowns. Fancy hashbrowns, but still. So this weekend at the grocery store, remembering my positive celery root experience, I decided to branch out of my cooking rut.

If you’ve ever bought a celery root (also known as Celeriac), you know just how unappetizing it looks in its natural form. Celery root is, in fact, so ugly that I can’t believe we discovered it was edible. I can’t imagine being that first person to look at it and think, “I’m gonna eat that.”

But someone did and I’m glad.

It’s really a vegetable that you have to tackle – which goes well with the general metaphor of this post. I used this recipe from Bon Appetit for Celery Root Steaks with Tomatillo Salsa Verde as a basis.

Except I didn’t make the salsa because I planned to just pile my other food on top of the steaks.

Here’s a detailed play-by-play:

  1. Scrub that thing! – I took my veggie brush and I scrubbed the root thoroughly, rinsing under cool water.
  2. Peel it! – I took a carrot peeler and shaved off the rough skin (yes, even though I’d just scrubbed it), until it had a mostly smooth texture. Then I used the scooped end of the peeler to get out the fuzzy, radish like whiskers (ugh) near the end and smoothed once again over the top and bottom.
  3. Preheat it! – I was already baking brussels sprouts, so my oven was on 450 degrees.
  4. Slice it! – I sliced it into rounds, about a 1/2 inch in thickness, until I’d cut up about half of it. Then I cut it in half so I could lay it flat and cut half-moons of the same thickness.
  5. Sauté it! – I added quite a bit of olive oil to a big cast iron skillet, set this to heating on the stove, and laid the slices down into it, turning it down to about 6. I let them sizzle on each side for about 5 minutes total, flipping impatiently. I think the recipe is correct – 4 minutes each side with only one flip would have given a better, golden brown to each.
  6. Bake it! – About 10 minutes on high heat for a nice, tender texture (recipe says until it can be easily pierced with a fork or butter knife).

Pro tip: if the steaks are tender but you want more of a golden brown look, flip them over to serve; most likely they are browned on the pan side.

So, how do celery steaks stack up to potatoes, ounce for ounce?

1 cup celery root weighs in at 66 calories, 14 grams of carbs, and packs a powerful punch of 2.8 grams fiber, according to google.

Potato comes in at nearly double all of the above (except fiber): 116 calories, 26 grams carbs, 3.4 grams fiber, per cup.

So to me, diabetically speaking, Celeriac is the clear winner!

Oh and finally, Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

Bienvenidos a la familia

The first thing I noticed after we pulled into town was the smell of smog. In Bolivia, on the weather report it is common to see ‘smoke’ listed as if it were a naturally occurring phenomenon like wind or rain. But smoke has been introduced into the nation, a byproduct of mining and concrete factories and the wood people burn in their homes to combat the dusty, dry, creeping cold of the Altiplano winter, which runs June through August.

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Looking up at the denuded mountains from a Bolivian tin mining village.

After we’d checked into our hotel in the city center, we rode to the clinic in an ambulance that I’m still not sure the status of. It may currently be in operation, or it may just be the finest van in town. Upon entering the building we were greeted by immediate embraces and kisses from all who had come for the focus group. The first to hug me was a woman wearing a traditional pollera skirt and whose thick, jet-black braid ran far down her strong back. She kissed me solidly on either cheek and rubbed my shoulders vigorously, her eyes glistening with emotion.

That woman was the mother of Angela (name changed), a 19 year old girl who has had Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) since she was around 14. The next day we visited the whole family in their pueblito at the base of a giant tin mine where many of the residents, including Angela’s mother, work to collect minerals from inside the mountain or from the river bed that catches the heavy-metal runoff.IMG_2095

Earlier in the day we had boarded a dusty microbus on the side of the road next to women selling fried breads of all varieties and hot drinks in plastic bags with red straws sticking out of the tied ends. Maria bought one of each for the road. I poured hot water into my orange backpacking mug balanced on one knee and made a cup of instant coffee to sustain me through the morning van ride. We had three home visits ahead of us, separated by miles of pockmarked and potholed roads, and coffee was non-negotiable.IMG_2064

Each day from my time in Bolivia could stand alone as a life-changing experience based on the stories I heard and people I connected with, but this day in particular shines bright in my memory. Maybe it was the sun rising over the arid quinoa fields at the base of the Bolivian Andes, or talking with the teenage sisters who live with Type 1 Diabetes in temporary housing with no electricity or running water. But I suspect above all it was the immense kindness and generosity we encountered from the families we visited. Not only did they share their experiences living with Type 1 Diabetes and managing it in a country where finding supplies is hard and affording them is nearly impossible, but they also filled our stomachs with homemade breads, hot drinks, and even fresh sheep milk ice cream, frozen overnight in the rafters (that was breakfast).

All this social eating was a little tricky for a gal living with Type 1 Diabetes herself, but I came to realize just how immensely blessed I am to be able to manage my blood sugar with an insulin pump and to check my blood sugar anytime I want to. I already had some idea of this, which is part of why I wanted to go on the trip in the first place. I connected with the organization ‘Life For A Child’ (LFAC) because they provide test strips and insulin to children living with Type 1 Diabetes in low-resource nations who lack access to adequate medical supplies. I was hoping my practicum could translate to a learning experience for me and an immediate benefit for others living with Type 1 Diabetes who don’t enjoy the luxuries of management that we have here.OruroOvejasMy purpose on the ground in Bolivia became to interview, chat with, observe and learn from as many people living with Type 1 Diabetes or supporting those who do. Over the course of three weeks and five cities I got to do over 40 interviews and focus groups with nearly 100 participants made up of youth with T1D, their families, and the clinical staff and volunteers who support them. Everywhere I turned, a new element of life with diabetes in Bolivia jumped out at me. It became apparent that Bolivian cultural values were critical to consider when thinking about successful health outcomes for youth with T1D, especially the role of the family. One participant who volunteers as a leader for the group in Potosí and who has had T1D for 23 years himself, said that in all the situations he has observed, “La familia ha sido fundamental para poderlo apoyar..cree una necesidad, de, en todo diabético, de que la educación no sea sólo en el paciente diabético, pero sea también en su entorno. Ese apoyo a la familia, o esa educación a la familia, creo que también es muy importante, porque es un daño que afecta la familia” (“The family has been instrumental in that it can support…it creates a need, that, for all diabetics, the education not reach just the diabetic patient, but also their environment. This support for the family, or education for the family, I think it’s also really important, because it [diabetes} is an injury that affects the whole family”).

walkingOruro
Sisters walking home

Glucolift, checklists, and a lot of luck

My Glucolift is packed, I’m ready to go…

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I love Glucolift. It’s the only glucose tab that I don’t dread eating. I buy it on Amazon. Vegan, gluten free, no artificial flavors or colors.

I’ve been marking through checklist after checklist for the last two weeks. The nice man who works at CVS doesn’t need to ask for my card number anymore, he just remembers it.

Today I went to the pharmacy twice, yesterday once, and the day before, yep, at least once.

The last time I traveled out of the country was in 2011. At that time I was preparing for a three month long trip. I quit my job, packed up a huge suitcase and my backpacking pack and filled a lunch box sized cooler full of insulin. This time it’s just a three week trip, and yet I feel like my wheels are spinning as I try to get organized with all these medical supplies.

It’s my first trip out of the country since getting the Omnipod insulin pump. I wore it when I flew to San Antonio for a business trip and to San Francisco to visit two great friends, but never on an overseas adventure and never to a place where I’m not sure what obtaining supplies will be like.

diabetesmeds

These are some of the diabetes-related supplies I have to carry, and yes, before you say anything, chocolate is a necessity. In the past, I’ve felt so burdened by all of this ‘stuff,’ but in this moment, embarking on this project, I feel so exceptionally lucky.

I am so lucky to be able to afford and obtain these supplies. I am so lucky that this technology is available in the U.S. and that my insurance covers at least a portion of it. And I’m lucky to have so many amazing friends and family supporting me.

When I was diagnosed with T1D 10.5 years ago, a doctor looked at me in my hospital bed and said, “You know, it could always be worse.” At the time, that was not the wisdom I was hoping to hear (actually I was hoping for, “most cases of diabetes clear up in two to three weeks…”). Yet, nearly a decade later I realize how right those words were, although maybe not in the way that doctor intended. I am so very lucky to have been born in this time, with these resources, and this support network, and have such a good starting point for managing diabetes. Not everyone is.

One more thing this time: if you enjoy my blog please go ahead and become an official follower (see the little button bottom right of the screen). It’d be a big help to me and I’d really appreciate it! You can always unfollow or change your email settings if you feel like you’re getting too many notifications from me, but I rarely write more than once a week.