Yes, discovering your insulin went bad due to the heat, your entire bag got stolen, you got food poisoning so bad that you cannot keep any food down and a fever is making your glucose level go haywire is not that fun. But every single one of these has happened to me (unfortunately, some of them multiple times) - and I’m still here writing this article ;)
There’s a Hebrew saying that I love: “Nightmare is the past tense of the word experience.” You will get over this, and whatever happened will become a memory and an interesting story to tell.
Let’s go over a few common emergencies that can happen.
How to deal with falling ill on vacation as a person with diabetes?
There are a few specific things you should pay attention to. One is – what happens to the food that you’re eating? If it goes back up or gets down too fast (I’m talking about vomiting and diarrhea, in case it isn’t clear), it can mean that it’s not getting digested properly, and counting your carbs loses some of its meaning. Be careful with how much insulin you put in so you don’t cover food that your body cannot retain. If you didn’t pack any, get anti-diarrheal medicine from the nearest pharmacy.
With these kinds of conditions, you might find yourself unable to digest food to treat low blood sugar. Honey, sugar, glucose tablets, and some other substances are at least partially absorbed in your mouth, and you can use them to get your sugar up when you can’t swallow and digest other foods.
As dehydration is a common side effect in these situations, having juice on hand can be helpful both for sugar levels and your general condition.
Travelers’ diarrhea and food poisoning are very common when traveling overseas, especially to developing countries; If symptoms persist, see a doctor.
Running a fever is another thing that can make your glucose levels go haywire. What happens can be different from person to person, but a common condition is persistently high blood sugar levels. Remember that while high sugar levels are detrimental to your health, they don’t pose the immediate risk that having low blood sugar while sick in an unfamiliar place can. When in doubt, go for a lower amount of insulin, avoid overcorrections, and wait a few hours between corrections, as insulin takes a while to affect your glucose levels.
What to do if your insulin gets lost or stolen?
If you packed your spares in a separate bag, this is very unlikely to happen; but if all of your supplies are lost, the answer is clear – you need to get new ones. Where? A pharmacy, of course. In many countries, you can buy insulin over the counter with no prescription; in others, the pharmacy might have an in-house doctor or be able to refer you to one. In developing countries, try to head to a larger city, as they’re more likely to have what you need – specifically modern insulin types. If you can, contact your travel insurance to ask for details on how and where you can get your insulin and other supplies.
What to do if your insulin goes bad?
You’re putting in insulin, and it just doesn’t seem to do its job – this might be a sign that your insulin has overheated and spoiled. Unfortunately, insulin doesn’t undergo any visual changes that can help you know if it’s ok, and gradually loses its potency as it goes bad, making it sometimes hard to detect. The best thing to do, of course, is to avoid these situations altogether by using an insulin cooling case (Such as our very own BreezyPacks). Still, if you didn’t, and you suspect that your insulin has gone bad, you can start by trying to verify it: If you kept a part of your insulin in a different place, in different conditions (either in a fridge or just in another bag that stayed in the room) – try switching to that one and see if that makes a difference.
If your insulin has spoiled, there is not much to do but get yourself new insulin – follow the steps from the last paragraph, and use your semi-functional insulin until you get a fresh supply. It won’t work as well, but it will not cause damage by itself, and it’s still better than nothing.
This kind of situation happened to me too many times, both at home (when I was living in the Negev desert) and while traveling – including while vacationing on the beaches of Mexico (where I found my type of insulin in Walmart, of all places); In the summer I spent volunteering as a park ranger in Chilean Patagonia; (Ended up getting help from the Israeli consulate that came to visit the place); In Kazakhstan, where I had to hitchhike to the regional capital of Almaty to get new insulin; And to my surprise – even in the Canadian summer. These events inspired me to develop BreezyPacks, so others wouldn’t have to deal with this issue.
Once you get home, it’s better to dispose of the insulin you carried outside during the trip as it might start degrading.
No matter what happens - don’t panic & don’t despair. Diabetes brings many challenges, and so does travel, but we can come out of these stronger and more experienced. Feel free to comment here if you have any questions, and if you’re looking for some friendly advice - you can always message us even in non-BreezyPacks related manners.