Sorting out a big journey with an insulin pump requires superhuman levels of organisation. You have to remember all the basics – the passports, the money, the tickets – along with your medication – insulin, spare insulin, extra insulin, backup insulin, secret insulin – and any documentation you might need for your pump.
If you are travelling with an insulin pump, there are a few key things to remember.
1. Get a letter from your doctor
People don’t really know about insulin pumps. And airport security staff, whose job it is to be suspicious of suspicious-looking things, are likely to raise an eyebrow at the strange piece of equipment attached to your body.
Let your doctor explain things. Get them to write you a note that explains the purpose of the pump and the many extenuating conditions that come with it.
If you’re going to another country: if possible, get the letter translated into the national language. Just makes everything that bit smoother.
2. Keep your pump out of X-rays
This is key. Do not let your pump go through an X-ray machine. They damage the pump’s technology. There are more reports of the dreaded “button error” the day after running a pump through an X-ray machine than we care to count.
Make sure your doctor’s note mentions that your pump can’t be X-rayed. Your safety could depend on it.
3. Stay attached
The adhesive that combines pump to person can be a bit vulnerable: sweat, heat and water can all loosen it. So if you’re having a splash in the pool or just struggling in the sun, bear in mind the effect it could be having on your pump.
If you’re travelling somewhere warm, or if you plan to be pool-based for much of your holiday, take some precautions: Skin Tac wipes are generally considered a good way to keep your pump in place.
4. Adjust for time zones
Insulin pumps need to be adjusted when you change time zones, or the delivery schedule will go completely wrong.
Here’s some general advice: continue with your normal routine, and change the time settings on your pump once you get where you’re going. If it makes your life easier, let your blood glucose run a little big higher than you usually would. This way, it’s easier to avoid hypoglycemia.
That’s just a general tip. Speak to your healthcare professional for more tailored advice.
5. Disconnect your pump during take-off and landing
Think what take off and landing does to your ears. That kind of pressure isn’t good for your pump. Disconnect it.
Because of things to do with physics – that’s the technical explanation – the pressure build-up when taking off and landing can tamper with your insulin dosage. By keeping everything connected up, you run the risk of mid-flight hypo.
6. Get some travel insurance
Double and triple and maybe even quadruple check that your travel insurance covers your pump. Many travel insurance providers don’t include it. If there’s any doubt, give them a call or drop them an email.
There are travel insurers out there specifically designed for people with diabetes. It’s worth going with one of those; they tend to have a better understanding of the difficulties posed by travelling with diabetes.
7. Get some ID
Let people know your situation. We can’t expect everyone to understand diabetes and insulin pumps; if people see you having a hypo, they’ll often assume you’re drunk.
Make life easier for everyone by carrying a Medical Alert ID. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on and who they can call to sort things out.
As for the thing attached to your stomach, there’s ID for that, too. Let the world know you’re an insulin pumper, and everything that comes with it.