Journeying through Central and South America with type 1 diabetes
*** This is a guest post from the lovely Valeria about her diagnosis story and how she has since then travelled Central and South America. She is a true inspiration and should be a source of motivation for anyone doubting themselves that travelling with type 1 diabetes can't be done. Enjoy her post!***
January 5, 2016, my life took an unexpected turn. Eleven months into my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Costa Rica, I couldn't be happier. I was living and working my dream job.
It was December 2015, I was so excited to have my family visiting for Christmas. Before they arrived I was feeling strange. I was constantly thirsty, to the point that any liquid I saw made my mouth water. I was tired and napping all day. I was also constantly asked by community members if I was eating enough, I was losing weight unexplainably and quickly. I kept making excuses as to why I was feeling this way...is it the heat? Am I just dehydrated? Am I tired?
My family arrived, and symptoms got worse. I tried running on the Beach with my younger sister one morning and couldn't feel my legs. I knew what ever was going on was serious.
After my family left for the states. I decided to go to the Peace Corps medical office, in hopes of finding an explanation for my symptoms. Three days later I walked into an endocrinologist appointment feeling better and stronger than I had been feeling the last week or so. I remember feeling horrible for having my boy friend travel half way across the country to join me for the appointment. I was fine, at least I kept telling myself I was. Ten minutes into the appointment and I was rushed to the emergency room. With tears in my eyes and fear in my body, the doctors looked at me and diagnosed me as a type one diabetic. In seconds my entire world was changed.
I was medically evacuated from Costa Rica and sent back to California. I was soon medically separated from my job as a volunteer. I would then start my journey into the life of living with diabetes.
My world was flipped upside down, instantly & unexpectedly. On the day I was diagnosed I made a promise to myself, that in one year I would continue to soul search abroad. I would NOT let diabetes stop me from living a passionate life of travel. Unfortunately, I was not able to return to Costa Rica as a Peace Corps volunteer but I knew I would go back on my own terms.
Today I am sitting in Chile, sharing a part of my story & living the promise I made myself.
On May 3rd, 2017 I started my travels through Central & South America. I started in Panama and have travelled up through Costa Rica. I was recently in Perú and am currently in Chile.
Through any kind of travel, challenges arise, that is the exciting part. It is the place where we find growth within ourselves and new wisdom for future travels.
Thus far into my travels, I have faced a few challenges, although not too different than challenges I would find in my own back yard.
One of the major challenges has been keeping my blood sugars balanced throughout all the travelling. From taxis to buses to planes... my eating has been scattered. I usually snack versus eat full meals. Which means always making sure I have food in my back pack. The easiest snacks to carry have been nuts, seeds, fruits and protein bars. This also means scattered timing of insulin injections, which hasn't been too much of an issue. Overall, preparation has been key to overcoming this challenge.
Another challenge has been all the walking and tours. Most walking tours are around 3 hours long with no breaks for food, which means eating on the go and checking blood sugars as we tour. I have had a couple lows that were scary during a tour but nothing too serious. I have been travelling alone so always making sure my guide knows I'm a type one diabetic is a must.
Finding test strips for my meter has been a more frustrating challenge. I am travelling with a 40 litre back pack and packed as many supplies as I could, although six weeks into the trip I started running low on test strips. I went to almost every pharmacy in Panama and Costa Rica and every pharmacy had different brands of meters and test strips. Of course, not the kind I needed. I ended up having to buy a new meter and strips in Costa Rica, it was pretty expensive but I had no choice. I use insulin pens and those have been easy to find and cheap, no problems there.
Lastly, keeping insulin fresh and alive. This has been tricky because I am constantly on the move. Usually moving to a new place every 3-4 days. Luckily, I have a special pocket in my backpack that is meant to keep surf wax from melting. On long bus rides and planes I keep my insulin in the wax pocket with an ice pack, this has worked pretty well so far. Once I am at my hostel I put all my insulin in the refrigerator in a plastic bag labelled with my name.
There have been small challenges as well like ordering low carb meals at restaurants, eating random meals to keep blood sugars stable, losing track of time and last injection and biting the bullet and eating whatever locals offer me and dealing with the aftermath later.
My advice to the next traveller would be... do not be afraid of travelling because you have diabetes, have confidence in yourself. You are strong. As long as you are always prepared with supplies and snacks, diabetics can travel.