Traveling With My Diabetes

The first time I worried about traveling with diabetes was after the 9/11 tragedy. I had been offered a trip to New York to attend a writer’s conference. I jumped at the chance, looking forward to the conference, sightseeing, shopping, and seeing the musical The Producers on Broadway.

Still, I was a little nervous about the flight from Chicago. When your life depends on insulin injections, it’s easy to become stressed at the thought of losing your lifeline. Where would I keep my syringes, my insulin, and my testing supplies? I certainly couldn’t pack them in my checked baggage. If they got lost, I’d be in big trouble in the “Big Apple.”

The airline regulations seemed to be getting stricter by the day, and I had no idea what rules I would encounter with my insulin and supplies. My doctor gave me a prescription noting that I was diabetic and needed to carry my insulin and syringes with me. I packed, headed to the airport, and informed security of my type 1 diabetes.

The young security gentleman looked at me holding my doctor’s note and bag full of supplies and said, “Oh, you’re pretty, so you’re fine,” as he waved me through without bothering to read the note. He probably meant it as a compliment, but I was not amused or flattered by the lack of security.

A family vacation to Florida also went smoothly, but the trip home wasn’t as easy. I “declared” my insulin too late and was abruptly sent back to another security station. I shouted to my sons and husband, but they didn’t notice and went on ahead to the airplane. I worried that I’d miss the flight, but thankfully I was able to catch up with my family as they waited to be boarded.

Many people with diabetes report getting full-body pat downs or being ordered to go through the X-ray machine even after informing security that the machine can damage their insulin pump. To clear up my confusion, I checked out the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) website and went to their “Hidden Disabilities” diabetes section. I found that once you’ve notified the officer and your items have been screened, you are allowed through the checkpoint.

If you use an insulin pump, tell the officer if you are concerned about walking through the X-ray machine. Instead, receive the full-body pat down and visual inspection. Be sure to tell the officer that you cannot remove the pump from your body because it is inserted with a catheter underneath the skin.

To alleviate my stress when I travel, I bring copies of my prescriptions just in case I somehow become separated from my supplies. Over the years, I’ve broken a couple of my glass vials of insulin by dropping them on the floor. I feel safer knowing that I have hard copies of my prescriptions in case something unexpected happens while I’m away from home.

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