Problem Solving Made Easy
Diabetes doesnt take vacations, but you still can.
By Ilene Raymond Rush
June 2008 — This column comes to you from East Lansing, Michigan, home of the Michigan State Spartans, where I'm watching my 16-year-old son compete with his team of fellow Pennsylvania State Champions in the Future Problem Solvers Program International.
While they work to solve the issues of Child Labor in the year 2038, I struggle my familiar problem of type 2 diabetes and keeping my sugars in check.
Traveling and good diabetes care need not be in conflict, but they often are. Taking a trip is often all about escaping ritual, while good care – particularly as we age -- is rooted in consistency.
On the road, every element of diabetes care is open to change, and even the most diligent of us may succumb to the lures of local delicacies. (Handcrafted cherry-apple crumb pie!) Or the chance to skip a daily constitutional in favor of nursing a cappuccino and watching a new world go by.
Take this trip.
On any workday, I try to wake before 7 a.m., eat before 8 a.m., exercise before noon, lunch by 1 p.m., snack around 3 p.m., and dine by 7. Exceptions occur, but as a freelance writer and consultant, I try to stick to a steady working, eating, and sleeping schedule.
With the stress and rush of travel all bets are off.
Take this trip.
On the day I left Philadelphia for Detroit, where I would pick up a car to drive to East Lansing, I woke at five and grabbed a milky coffee and a cold shower. While I navigated rush hour traffic to the airport, I stressed over whether I had packed everything I might need for three nights and four days – in particular, my diabetes medications, blood sugar machine, strips, and lancets. On the plane, I was a bit hungry, but skipped the mini-pretzels (too much of a sugar rush).
In Detroit, rather than eating lunch, I followed the other parents to the rental car center, then made the scenic drive to East Lansing without a stop, zoning out to Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett on the XM radio.
At that point, I hadn't eaten anything but a stick of gum since that 5 a.m. coffee.
As I checked into the hotel at 3:30 p.m., it was too late for lunch, too early for dinner. I settled for a handful of peanuts, a diet Coke, and a quick nap. By 7 p.m. I hurried to opening ceremonies, figuring we would all gather for dinner no later than 8:30.
Forty-some states and several foreign countries later (they don't call it "Introducing International Problem Solving" for nothing), I was famished, shaky, and irritable, sure signs that my sugar had dropped. Annoyed by my own bad choices all day, and a bit lightheaded, I was in no mood to go restaurant shopping in an unknown town.
Yet, not wanting to be a spoilsport, I waited until the last problem solver had planted her national flag on the field house stage, then – at last – gathered with all of the other problem solver parents at a local pub. By then, it was past ten o'clock at night and eating was no longer a choice – it was a necessity. While others nursed drinks and appetizers, I downed a hefty salad with cheese, a hamburger, and a side of coleslaw. Oh, and did I mention that pie?
Stunned by a carbohydrate infusion, I sat silent while the others ate and talked. Staring into the Midwestern darkness, my sugar climbing, I realized that a future problem solver, my score on this trip was zero.
At every turn, I had a choice on how to deal with my need to eat and I had made a series of overwhelmingly wrong turns. It was as though when I left my house, a part of me believed that I had left my diabetes behind.
A little future planning – remembering to pack healthy snacks to eat in the car and on the plane, taking the time on the drive to stop for a sensible lunch, speaking up to my traveling partners about my need to eat dinner at a reasonable hour, might have spared my body the sugar rollercoaster that ran that day from low 60's to mid 200's.
Face it: There are a million ways to get off track when you travel. You can sleep in and miss breakfast, leave medications behind, splurge (Did I mention that cherry-apple pie?), skip or overdo exercise.
With summer on the horizon, it's important to remember that diabetes doesn't take vacations. But with a little foresight – and some smart future problem solving of your own -- you can learn to travel so that it doesn't ruin yours.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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