I remember that when my daughter Quinn was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a young child, swim lessons were always difficult to manage. While I thought that her blood sugar might go low from the activity, in reality, often, her blood sugar did the opposite because she was using large muscle groups. But when we went to the pool for fun, her blood sugar often did go low because she was running around and having fun.
Given that blood sugar can be challenging to manage even with parents keeping watch from the pool deck, I had to put my faith in my daughter to manage her own diabetes when she decided to get her first job as a swim lesson instructor.
Quinn was on the young side for getting her first job. She was fourteen the summer between freshman and sophomore year. But she applied, did the interview, and landed the job all on her own. The swim staff knew her from years of seeing her at the pool. During the interview, Quinn recalls that her diabetes was mentioned, but that it wasn’t a major discussion point. She remembers the supervisors saying that if she needed a break to let them know.
As a swim instructor, she had to go through first aid and CPR training, which is a great life skill to have. Of course, she could have taught the section on diabetes herself!
Before her first day on the job, I helped pack up a supply bag that we designated as her work bag with all the supplies that she might need. We used a small red cooler and stocked it with the essentials:
- Treatment for severe low blood sugar
- Extra blood glucose meter
- Test strips and lancing device
- Pump change supplies
- Batteries for devices
- Extra adhesive for her pump and CGM (continuous glucose monitor)
- Insulin (stored in an insulated pouch with an ice pack)
- Snacks (granola bars and apple sauce pouches)
- Juice boxes and candies to treat lows
One challenge she ran into once she started was keeping her insulin pump site and CGM sensor from falling off, since they were wet for hours on end. We definitely went through a lot of extra adhesives.
I also suggest teenagers with T1D wear a silicone or waterproof identification bracelet so that medical personnel and coworkers know that they have diabetes in case of an emergency. Having a list of emergency contacts is also helpful. As with school activities and time with friends, it’s always important that someone knows that your child has diabetes and the signs and symptoms of severe low blood sugar and how to treat it.
Quinn’s swim lessons were 50 minutes in length with a10-minute break between lessons. Another challenge we have always had is that her CGM consistently loses its signal when she’s swimming. My motherly advice was for her to check her blood sugar between each lesson. Did she do this? Of course not! She checked her blood sugar if she felt low between lessons.
Only once during the summer did she feel so low while teaching a lesson that she called for the supervisor to take over her class. She got out of the pool, tested her blood sugar, and saw that it was very low. She alerted the staff and drank a juice box. They were concerned and ran to the concession stand and came back with a candy bar and a full-sugar soda, which she later said was a great little bonus of having diabetes. I was less excited about it all after she texted me a photo showing her blood sugar…and it was very low!
My advice for parents of teens looking to get their first job is to have a plan. But that’s the same advice I give for any situation involving type 1 diabetes. By the teen years, it’s age-appropriate for them to be able to manage their own diabetes, including checking their blood sugar, treating lows, counting carbs, and bolusing for them. I think it’s essential for them to have your trust and confidence that yes, they can do this. Getting that first summer job is a rite of passage and one of the first truly independent things your teen will do. And teens with type 1 diabetes need to feel empowered to earn some spending money just like their peers.
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.