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Traveling Across the World with Type 1 Diabetes - Michael DiFiore

By Karrie Hawbaker

Public Relations Manager

Posted:  12/17/2013 4:00 PM

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After Michael DiFiore enjoyed a career at Medtronic for 10 years, he recently started a new life chapter determined to travel the world. Michael shares his journey managing his type 1 diabetes while traveling across the world to India. Thanks Michael for sharing your story and tips for others managing diabetes while traveling.

Just over 3 months ago, I left my job with Medtronic Diabetes to travel the world and find my passion. Last year, I had the fortunate experience of traveling to Japan for work. It should go without saying that India is not Japan. My experiences couldn’t have been more night and day.

The Preparation: Other than waiting until literally the last minute to send for my Visa, I got my vaccinations, and made sure I had more than enough insulin, test strips, infusion sets, reservoirs, sensors, and a backup meter. Finally, I made sure that all of this was in my carry-on bag. It is better to have them with me than potentially lose them with my luggage.

The Transit: Flying out of Los Angeles, I flew to Minneapolis, Amsterdam, Delhi, and finally Kochi in the southwestern coastal state of Kerala. I spent roughly 26 hours in the air, plus another 11 hours in layovers, and crossed 13 time zones. I did a temporary basal rate of 110%, since I would be so inactive on the plane and made sure to bolus appropriately.

Airport security is very different in India, and soldiers with machine guns are common. I would highly recommend having a doctor’s note for your pump if not at least the airport card that came with your pump to print. Insulin pumps aren’t something that is seen very often in India, but luckily, there was a senior officer that actually knew what it was.

The Adventure: I was along for the ride on this journey, since I was invited by a friend to join him and his wife’s Indian side of the family. They gave me a very unique experience of India. I am originally from the South (Georgia to be exact), and I thought I knew what hospitality was, but India taught me otherwise. We were welcomed with a homemade feast and they made sure we were full. It took me two meals to figure out how to graciously say “no”, but if I hadn’t, I could still be sitting at that table eating. I also learned very quickly that my gluttony required a dual-wave bolus, which sometimes would be up to four hours.

At one gathering, there were 50 family members, and apparently, that was excluding a large number that were working internationally. Amazingly, one of the family members was one of the few doctors in India that prescribes pumps. So it was neat to be able to discuss diabetes with him.

Most of the time I stayed in a house, but we did stay in some hotels. The last hotel I stayed in was in Delhi, by myself, and it was a cheap one. I got what I paid for. There wasn’t a fridge in the room. Luckily, I had brought emergency carbs from the States, but having a fridge in your hotel room is something to consider. With regards to my insulin, being at room temperature while I was there was fine.

The Food: It took me 18 years to learn how to eat with a fork, but only half a second to remember how to eat with my hands, as it is culturally acceptable in India. Most of the food wasn’t fried and was gluten free (I have celiac disease), but whether vegetarian or omnivorous, some form of carb is typically used to soak up the gravy of the dish. Carb counting was definitely replaced by ‘Guess the Carbs’ on this trip, given the size of the meals and often no way of looking up the carb information. I would often find myself asking “how many pieces of idli have I had?”

India is rich in culture and history with an amazing cuisine, but just as it is an adventure for the traveler, it will be an equal adventure for your diabetes. The End…or is it just the beginning?

Comments

Martha Stogner

Posted on Wed Dec 18 03:47:04 GMT 2013

Just returned from a 17 day cruise. Flew to Barcelona Spain, cruised 6 days in the Mediterranean Sea, then cruised across across Atlantic Ocean to New Orleans, Louisiana. The The planning ahead is so important. Making a list of all supplies needed. Insulin. Along with meds. A letter from Endo.with card was so important. I did get use to smiling and done the pat pat down gracefully. I was blessed to have a diatectian to plan all my meals on ship. My insulin pump nurse told me to call her if I had any problems. A dream came true as I love to travel. Don't let anyone else tell you that you can't, because knowing your pump and your team, and planning ahead we as diabetes can follow our dreams. I CONTROL MY DIABETES, IT DOESN'T CONTROL MY LIFE !! Enjoy Your Travels !!

Joel

Posted on Wed Dec 18 22:40:32 GMT 2013

Thank you for sharing your travel experience with us, Martha. We are happy to hear you had a great trip, and it is inspiring to hear that you do not let your diabetes stop you from doing what you love!

Susan Stocker

Posted on Mon Jan 13 19:37:57 GMT 2014

I admire Karrie's sense of adventure and would like to know how long she was gone in total days. I go to Europe for 3 months and take 1 1/2 times the amount of supplies and insulin.When I get to my destination I have a fridge.
On last year's trip I did have one bottle of insulin seemingly go bad, and I had to buy new insulin at an Austrian pharmacy, but no problem in that. What I really wonder is, how to keep these 5 extra bottles of insulin cold enough in transit so that they do not start to degrade. I have Frio wallets but they only cool to about 75 degrees. I did not want to buy one of the new Climapak coolers, since they are so expensive. What do you suggest???

Joel

Posted on Mon Jan 13 21:11:39 GMT 2014

Susan, spending 3 months in Europe sounds very exciting! As for keeping your insulin cool during transit, I recommend contacting your healthcare team because they can give you the best advice to meet your individual needs. If you have any questions related to a Medtronic device, let me know and I can connect you with someone.

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