Our vacations are NEVER dull. They usually entail at least one sick child/trip to the ER and one major catastrophe. It’s gotten to the point where we simply expect these things. As our pediatrician says, “I wish you people would just stay home.”
But how could we? Some of our most indelible family memories involve travel…disasters. We’ve traveled for almost a decade—to 19 different countries—since my now teenage son’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis at age 9. And despite my best efforts to take every precaution possible and my penchant for packing enough diabetes supplies to care for a small developing nation, things do happen. Sometimes before we even leave the state. But we’ve figured out how to keep them from endangering our trip or our son’s diabetes care. To start with…
My Carry-On Is Mary Poppins’ Carpet Bag
Once, as we gathered our things to board our plane to Grand Cayman for 10 days, I said to my son, “Why don’t you quickly check your blood sugar before we board?” He rummaged through his backpack for a moment and then looked at me wide-eyed. “Uhhh…I left my tester on the kitchen counter.”
That’s why I always bring at least one spare blood glucose meter with us whenever we travel. I grabbed it out of the carry-on, he checked, and we boarded our plane. By 2 o’clock that afternoon we were hanging out on the beach in the Caribbean, not a care in the world. Until, 30 minutes in, I heard, “Uh…mom? I, uhh, may have gone in the water with my meter in my pocket.”
Within 12 hours we were now down two meters. Luckily, we still had one remaining spare. (And there are pharmacies in the Caribbean.)
Our Doctor Is On Call
On a different trip to Grand Cayman, my husband took our boys fishing. My son got seasick a few hours into the outing. Once back on land, he continued to vomit. Having never dealt with ketones (a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis) in the first three years since he was diagnosed, I chalked up the continued nausea to the lasting effects of motion sickness. An alternative explanation didn’t even occur to us until about seven hours into the episode when he registered a really high blood sugar. I finally called our endocrinologist’s office to get advice on lowering his blood sugar and they asked about ketones, so I checked. Whoops.
We were scheduled to fly home the next morning, so thankfully our endo’s office was able, over the phone, to walk us through clearing the ketones and reducing his blood sugar.
We Roll With the Punches
After spending a full day in Florence, Italy, we dragged ourselves back to our car, which was parked on an overlook above the city. The view of Florence from the parking lot at night was spectacular, so we threw our things in the car and walked to the railing to take a few last photos. This is what we were doing when thieves broke the window of our car not 100 yards away from us and stole one of our backpacks in less than five minutes. Of course, it was the backpack containing many of the backup diabetes supplies for the trip. It not only had insulin but extra blood sugar meters and test strips, sites for his pump, and worst of all, his backup insulin pump—a $6,000 device!
Once we filed a report with the police, they helpfully came out with some newspaper and tape to cover the window, and we began the 90-minute drive back to our villa. In the pouring rain.
Fortunately, I never keep all of our supplies together, for this very reason. Back at our villa sat a carry-on bag with another set of supplies to get us through the rest of the trip, assuming we had no further disasters (hey, it could happen!).
We Certainly Don’t Faint at the Sight of Blood
Then there was that time in Alaska… At a local flea market, my son had tried to convince me to let him buy a hunting knife, which I immediately shot down. Fast-forward a few days, when I arranged for our family to take a scenic plane ride from Denali National Park to Anchorage. We flew for about an hour around Denali peak and then made a planned stop atop a remote glacier, not another soul in sight. After exploring the glacier for a time, we reconvened at the plane and got ready to board. I looked down and noticed a trail of bright red drops on the glaring white snow.
“Who is bleeding?!” I demanded. No one answered me. I saw that the trail ended under my son.
“Are you bleeding??”
I grabbed his arm and saw the blood dripping off his hand. Turns out, he had bought the flea market knife anyway, unbeknownst to me. He sheepishly explained, “I was drawing a picture in the snow with my knife, and I dropped it. When I bent to pick it up, I fell on it.” I won’t even tell you what shape he was drawing. But he’s a teenage boy—enough said. In fact, there were so many things wrong in his admission that I couldn’t even address all of them, the least of which was his questionable artistic sensibility.
Instead, our pilot found a rag which we tied around his hand, and he held his hand over his head for the entire hour-long ride back to Anchorage. In a single-engine plane. With turbulence. During which time every one of my kids (including the bleeding one) got airsick and puked, leading to concerns about ketones (which we were, of course, now familiar with).
But on the upside, testing his blood sugar was a breeze.
Back at the ER, they stitched him up and then wrapped his finger in a giant blue bandage, forcing that finger to stick straight up at all times for the next seven days. One guess which finger it was.
Despite these colorful incidents, our travels always bring us to amazing new places and provide incredible memories, which balance out whatever disasters may befall us. There is nothing more rewarding than showing your children the world, introducing them to new cultures, and meeting people whose lives are not like your own. Sure, things can go wrong, but even without type 1 diabetes things can go wrong. With the proper planning and resources you can handle whatever life throws at you.
So even though they tend to be more Griswold family vacation than Roman Holiday, I still can’t wait to take our next trip. What could possibly go wrong?
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.