Me, Myself, and My Diabetes- Traveling as a Type 1

“You can’t eat that!”  “Aren’t you allergic to sugar?” “Why do you wear a pace maker?” “What songs do you listen to on that?” “How many steps does your pedometer read?” “Please turn off your pager!”

I am Julie Hooper and I have type 1 (juvenile) diabetes.  These are all misguided questions I get on a regular basis concerning my diabetes.  Yes, I usually can eat that I just have to give myself insulin for it, because no I am not allergic to sugar, a compound by the way which is in pretty much every edible substance besides perhaps egg whites.  No, I don’t wear a pacemaker.  I wish my pump could play music and counted my steps but it can’t (Minimed here’s an idea).  Yes I can take it off I just have to unzip my pants first, and didn’t pagers become obsolete in the past five years particularly with the invention of smart phones?

More and more people have friends or family members with the disease, and less and less do I have to explain why I wear a blue thing that looks slightly like a pager on my hip.  Type 1 diabetes is less common outside of the United States.  In countries like Italy where I lived for a year, type 1 diabetes is extremely prevalent, but in Latin America and the Pacific type 2 diabetes is rampant while type 1 is relatively nonexistent.  Explaining why I have to be rude and refuse that extremely tasty looking fried carby morsel becomes an ordeal that usually ends in the misguided understanding that I can’t eat sugar.

As a diabetic international travel can be a taxing experience.  Not only do you have to worry about maintaining a stable blood sugar sitting for hours on long flights with unhealthy carb-loaded food, but then there are time changes and wacky hormones when you land, not to mention the complete change of schedule.  If there is one thing that can prove more difficult than a change of schedule to a diabetic, that is getting through security without a pat-down or a questioning.  My insulin pump has yet to set off a metal detector, but for some reason I get a slight tingle of nerves as I approach the conveyor and green-lit detector or worse body scanner.  What will it be this time? As I discovered one faithful day at Heathrow, insulin contains a chemical sometimes used in explosives, so it may be better to keep my insulin pump under wraps when making my way through foreign airport security.

Worth the inconvenience!

I was a sixteen-year-old Californian checking out colleges in the UK.  I had finally adjusted to the pat-downs and the questionings regarding my insulin pump and prescription requests.  I thought I was fully prepared for any possible thing that could come my way at airport security.  After all nothing could be more tedious than that time at Charles de Gaulle when the flight attendant had to alert the pilot that I was carrying syringes onboard.  Anything in the name of safety.    I was on a last-minute flight from London to Edinburgh.  I arrived at the airport the standard hour and a half before my flight, printed my boarding pass, and headed to the medium length line for security.  I methodically removed my computer and the canister that housed my insulin with 3 ice cubes and placed it open on the conveyor belt.  I calmly possibly with a hint of boredom headed through the metal detector without so much as a beep, not realizing that my pump was on display not even slightly covered by my t-shirt.  Airport security asked what it was and swabbed it to send through their machine.  They returned a few moments later and calmly asked me to follow them in a small questioning room.  I left my mom and friend waiting at security with shocked expressions on their faces as I followed the woman into a small room where she patted me down and gave me a form to fill out.  When I had finished she asked me questions about the function of my insulin pump asking to see where it connected and the prescriptions that I carried for insulin.  She tensed in fear when I disconnected my pump so she could examine it if she liked, and inquiring as to why I was being questioned.  Her response shocked me more than the entire situation.  She responded, “Our test came up for explosive material.”  How could I respond?  My pump delivers insulin.  It is in no way an explosive.  I told them that they could x-ray my pump if that would prove that it is just a medical device.  They were shocked at that and immediately sent it through the machine.  The x-ray results proved my truthfulness and I was free to head to my gate finally.  The whole process took about twenty minutes, and I was flying along the North Sea.

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