Feel like you must be forgetting something as you prepare your teen with type 1 diabetes to leave the nest? Even the most well-prepared students can be in for some eye-opening experiences their first year away from home. So we asked freshmen College Diabetes Network members to share the biggest curveball that college threw at their diabetes management that first semester. Here’s what they said — and how they handled it.
All That Walking!
“Before college, I had no idea how much walking I would be doing! Walking from my dorm to the dining hall to my first class way across campus, back to my dorm, back to the dining hall for lunch, then back out again to my afternoon classes. At the start of the semester, when I was trying to adjust to this new schedule, I would have lows two or three times a day! I ended up having to adjust my basal rate and calling my endocrinologist back home a few times a week just to check in and fine-tune. I also kept a giant bag of candy on me at all times. It was a frustrating way to start college, but I was able to make adjustments quickly with the help of my diabetes team.”
—Eva, Middlebury College
So Much Pizza
“Before I left for school, I had connected with my college’s food services for their menus and nutritional info so I would be all set for carb counting. But then I got to college and realized that a big part of dorm life is eating delivery and take-out food. At first I was completely overwhelmed figuring out the carb count for a slice of pizza or a carton of kung pao chicken. I didn’t do such a great job and had some out-of-range numbers. My solution was to contact different restaurants that delivered to my dorm and ask for their menu’s nutritional info, which I saved to my phone. I also memorized a few items that I know are easy to cover.”
—Matt, Jacksonville University
“Always carry something for your lows; the worst thing is having to leave class and scurry around the building looking for a vending machine.”
—Elisabeth, Penn State
“Make sure roommates or suite mates know the difference between your low blood sugar supplies and community food. I came home one day to my roommate eating her way through my low supplies. Umm… that was more than a little awkward! Label stuff and keep your low supplies somewhere within easy reach, but not mixed in with other food. Also let your roommates know what those supplies are for!”
—Olivia, Kennesaw State University
“Parents: Hide an ‘oh no, I ran out of supplies!’ kit somewhere in your child’s dorm room. Fill it with two extra complete site changes, an extra meter, extra batteries, extra glucose tabs, syringes, etc. When your son or daughter calls one night in November and is out of supplies, reveal where the emergency kit is. (It must be in a good hiding spot, like inside an extra zipper of a bag you know they’ll never use.) Trust me, it will be appreciated.”
—Hannah, The College of New Jersey
Worried Parents (Ahem)
“Freshmen: Accept that your parents will probably text you a lot and be really worried at first. Don’t just put them on ‘ignore’ or they might start calling your dorm RA or stop by your dorm room unannounced. (Yes, both these things happened to me when I didn’t text my mom back for a few days.) It’s important to set boundaries, so try to come up with a reasonable plan that still respects your independence. My parents and I agreed that I would send a text every night with my last blood sugar check before bed, no matter how late. This has worked.”
—Tyler, Western Colorado University
“That ‘it will be there in 30 minutes’ guarantee from the pizza place might turn into three hours. Here’s what I learned the hard way: Don’t bolus for delivery food before the food has arrived.”
—Ainsley, Oberlin College
“My numbers were all over the place early in the semester, and I needed to leave a class to treat a low and just generally get myself together. Later I stopped by the professor’s open hours to ask about what I missed. I explained why I left, but I felt like he didn’t believe me. I remembered that I had a copy of my doctor’s medical note on me and gave it to him on my way out. He emailed me later with his class outline and apologized for not understanding. The moral of the story is: Your professors probably don’t know that you have type 1 diabetes, and may not even know what it is! Be prepared to educate.”
—Dante, Kean University
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.