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Traveling with Diabetes: I Can't Tell Time.

I traveled by small, wooden plane.  The flight from Boston to London took just over six hours.  The time change was five hours ahead of Boston, so when we landed at 6 pm, I was only ready for lunch.  The trek from London to Dubai was almost seven hours, pushing the clock ahead a full nine hours from Boston, making my head hurt because how was it Wednesday morning when I was still on Tuesday’s timetable?

(I wrote about the impact of changing time zones for an Animas column last month, but I seriously had no idea what I was in for when I decided to take the trip to Dubai.)

That first day there, the Wednesday, everyone gave me the same advice:  “Don’t go to sleep.”  (It felt like A Nightmare on Elm Street.)  “Work through the exhaustion and just go to bed on Wednesday night on Dubai time, and you should be good the next day.”  

For the first few hours after landing, I couldn’t make my body recognize the time change, and once it did, I had to force myself to stay awake instead of curling up on the hotel bed at two in the afternoon.  (Which is why I ended up foraging for coffee and meeting up with a friend to drag my jet-lagged body around Dubai for some exploring.)  And even when I started to adjust (a little), I still had no idea what time it was because of the freaking 24 hour clock.

“Just subtract twelve.” 

(This from the same people who told me not to fall asleep.  I should have told them that exhaustion made math impossible for my brain, but instead I just smiled and tried to remember my own name.)

I couldn't tell time.  Mentally, I was turning the gear on the back of an old cuckoo clock and watching the hands spin around the face.  Subtracting by twelve?  Simple, but somehow became this big mess and the only way I knew the time was after changing my pump to 24 hour time display.  

Telling time was one (sad) challenge; keeping track of my diabetes in this new time frame was entirely another. But I'm very determined to make small subtractions at least in my A1C, so I didn't want to apply the mindset of "Eh, I'll just get back on the ball when I get home," or "After the holidays is a better time to refocus."

Unfortunately, I had some problems with my Dexcom on the way over to Dubai.  The sensor I put in on Monday morning completely crapped out on me during the flight to London (complete with "???" and "SENSOR FAILED" and "Kerri, you're an idiot for not bringing a back-up sensor, silly fool"), so I was flying blind. 

On average, I blew through about fifteen test strips a day while traveling.  Seeing the number on my meter was one thing, but not being able to "see where it's going," CGM-wise, made me very insecure.  My alarm went off in the middle of the night (or, as far as my body was concerned, mid-morning) so I could test and make sure I wasn't tanking.  (But of course, once I tested, I was awake for the next hour and a half, watching Disney TV shows on the hotel television, subtitled in Arabic.)

Basically, I spent five full days completely confused.  What end was up?  I had no idea.  What was my blood sugar doing?  I wasn't sure, but I kept stalking it and thankfully avoided any highs or lows.  (I think my lack of appetite due to exhaustion helped out in that regard - hard to get high when you don't want to eat.  Conversely, treating lower numbers was kind of tough when you're full after two stupid Swedish fish.)  What country was I in? 

Oh yeah, the United Arab Emirates, visiting the World Diabetes Congress and participating in a project for Novo Nordisk.  Halfway around the world with only a carry-on filled with Swedish fish.

The Swedish Fish website is awesome.  They have chatty fish over there!

[Disclosure:  Six Degrees Medical Consulting, asked me to participate in a patient advocacy discussion with advocates from around the globe, covered my travel and lodging, and provided a per diem.  They worked with Novo Nordisk for this project.]


After living in Russia for a year, I still can't tell the temperature in Celsius or tell you off the top of my head how many grams of cheese is an appropriate amount to ask for at the dairy counter in a grocery store, but I can tell time on the 24-hr clock. In fact, I prefer it and keep most of my clocks (the ones that have the option) on 24-hr. time.

Sorry you were flying blind in Dubai but glad you got through it without any major drama!

Hi Kerri, it is now 12:35 here in Quebec wich is the way we read time here! lol

Listen, I dont know how Dex works on planes but with Medtronic i was advice NOT to use CGM on planes that the radiofrequencies would make it go wild anyways!

We're going in Toronto next thursday hubby and I to do a conference at Medtronics Canada, We'll see what happens with Jacobs CGM on the plane!!

Amazing. You make me laugh even in your sleep deprived, math deficient writing. :P

Hey Kerrie! I was a complete disaster traveling to Rwanda last month with Team Type 1. On the way out my BGs were a mess, I was either low or high so on my flight back I decided to have a flat basal rate on my pump since as you know with travel time is irrelevant and airports are time warps (and sorry to hear about the Dexcom!!) Luckily in Rwanda they do not use the 24 hour clock but to be able to have skype sessions with my boyfriend back at home we had to coordinate times and you think with it being a 10 hour difference I would have been ok with the math but no - I messed up all.the.time. Hope you had a great time out there though!

It's amazing how much I rely on my Dexcom now. I wonder how I managed for 13 years without my CGM safety net. (It makes me think back to those mornings of wondering why there's empty Juicy Juice boxes in my bed and an open jar of peanut butter on the night stand.)
Murphy's law and Diabetes go hand in hand. If you don't prepare for it, it will probably happen. There's a reason why DON"T FORGET YOUR INSULIN!!!! is written in BIG letters on my travel diabetes kit.

Welcome Home ;)

We don't change times in AZ -- EVER. I never know what time other zones are in relation to me, because everyone else keeps changing.

I can manage my daughter's insulin pump, count her carbs, and keep up with the rollercoaster of diabetes...but don't ask me what time zone I'm in ;)

I'm looking forward to hearing your stories. What a great opportunity!

I have such admiration for you, Cherise, Manny and everyone else who made the long trip over to represent PWDs and the DOC. I know it wasn't easy (and probably a little scary to travel so far without your family). But thank you to you all - I can't wait to hear all of the stories about everyone's amazing experiences!!

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