Over the past few years, I have received a bunch of comments and e-mails wanting to know more about what it is like to travel internationally – especially to lower economic areas of the world – with diabetes. A few people have expressed their concern about being able to keep up with the group they would travel with or fears of being a burden. I thought the best way to work through those issues may be to interview one of the people who I have traveled with on both trips to Haiti.
Julia and I met as part of the team that traveled together in 2010 and have been friends ever since. Not all of her stories relate to our trip together, but you will be able to tell that pretty quickly. Julia can’t spell AT ALL (words like texture and cabinet are mind benders) so I did correct some of her spelling. She said she didn’t mind. My additional comments are in brackets.
Before we met, what did you know about diabetes?
I knew that people had to have sugar, that you had to have it or you would pass out. I knew that there were different types. I had a friend with diabetes in high school that would say that her blood sugar was low and would eat starbursts.
So what was your experience working in Haiti with me?
It really was not different at all. No one could look at you and tell if there was anything going on, but I remember two moments when you told us something was going on [once when my level was really high and once when it was really low]. That’s why we were concerned because you couldn’t tell. You were a trouper. If no one would have told me I would have thought that it was because it was 112 degrees and we were moving medical supplies for 18 hours [only a slight exaggeration].
Traveling on a team with me, did you have any additional responsibilities?
On the first trip no, but on the second trip I carried your sugar in case you couldn’t get to yours.
Speaking of sugar, a Twitter friend wants to know how you know when someone’s blood sugar is low and how do you treat it [I think it’s a quiz]?
You get an empty stare and are more sluggish. you treat it with glucose tablets!!!!!! [exclamation points are hers] And any other sugary foods available (and prayer) [kinda a joke on faith healers].
We know diabetes isn’t always serious, do you have any funny stories about life with me? [I had to cut her off on this one. Once she started the stories didn’t end]
We were on a road trip to Orlando and there was a delicious bag of peanut butter M&Ms within eyesight and we couldn’t eat them because your blood sugar was too high, so we were asking every five minutes for you to check. I love those things so much.
One night we were sharing a room at a friend’s house [one of our fellow Haiti 2010 teammates] and your blood sugar wouldn’t stay up before bed. So we just layed there for a few hours sharing stories and glucose tablets [she thinks they taste good – like SweeTARTS]. Had your blood sugar gone up, we probably would have just gone to bed but instead we made memories. [I like this story!]
There was no diet soda anywhere in Haiti [we think it is because the artificial sugar doesn’t keep very well] so you didn’t have any soda except for one day. Someone came up to you at dinner when you finally had a regular coke and asked if they could have some. Your face was hilarious when you told them no. It wasn’t casual or anything. Your excitement to drink your coke was so evident you didn’t even try to explain. [What can I say? I was desperate for caffeine and had already dosed for the soda!]
What about eating international food? Did you notice any difference there?
At any restaurant, you ate anything we did – even the yummy ice cream and the Little Debbie snacks [we ate sack lunches at the work sites]. Because your bunk was next to mine, I know you packed extra snacks but so did I. Every good traveler knows that you pack food that you’ll like because you don’t know what is available.
What would you say to someone who is worried about traveling internationally with diabetes?
After traveling with you, I would definitely tell them to do it. I would tell them to make sure they have people in the group to keep them accountable, but not everyone because that’s just obnoxious.
As long as you are prepared [for example] if someone is doing the right things and reading your blogs [she means our diabetes blogs] they should do it. I mean I consider myself healthy and I could get sick on a trip. You never know.
What is the biggest thing you have learned about diabetes from spending time with me?
The biggest thing I learned is that people with diabetes aren’t that different. You dont need people to baby you and hold your hand. You didn’t give people your numbers not because you didn’t want people to know but because they didn’t need to know. It’s like if I pooped and people asked me what color it was [HA!]. Just because you’re checking doesn’t mean something is wrong. Now when you check I don’t freak out, it’s just part of your life.