I travel a fair bit, whether it is within the U.K., Europe or world wide I enjoy a get away. Packing for my trips, even when I only go to the next city over night, involves quite the ritual and almost a whole extra bag for my diabetes supplies. I have a fear of not having enough, a fear of my pump breaking and me (having had a wine) having to pay for a return taxi journey home so that I can solve the problem. Therefore I always carry spares: cartridges, insulin vials, cannulas, spare blood glucose machine, power cables, spare finger pricked, spare batteries (two incase one doesn’t work), two tubes of test strips in case one is faulty, ketone strips, lancets (really this is a null piece of equipment – obviously I won’t be changing a lancet), spare freestyle libre sensors, spare battery cap for the pump and my pièce de résistance, which I know I am very lucky to have gained funding for, my spare insulin pump. Going away for longer means I take more and more of the essentials. A cannula for every day just in case I sweat them off, or maybe if that’s a possibility then two cannulas for every day and a box of skin tac wipes. A cartridge for every other day in case I get ill and my insulin requirements increase. I know a vial of insulin fills four cartridges, but what if I drop two?! I should take double the insulin because what if I don’t get home on time! Pretty soon I’ve filled a 10kg suitcase with essentials.
I have travelled through airports with a pump for nearly sixteen years. When I first had my diestronic pumps the advice given to me was to disconnect and put it through the scanner. This is no longer the advice and I would urge people to speak to their pump team before travel to check how to manage airport security. In my sixteen years of pump use I have never had a pump fail me while away from home, until this year. I did finish off a few insulin pumps when lifeguarding before pumps were really waterproof…
When I was at probably the furthest point from the UK – I was in Melbourne. I took part in a triathlon and during the swim my pump cracked (it was a waterproof pump). Filling with water, the screen was no longer visible, the buttons didn’t work and it beeped constantly. Furthermore I had made a rookie error. None of my basal levels were written down anywhere, my insulin to carb ratios where gone and I was left flailing. Luckily, after sticking the pump in rice for a bit the screen was visible for short enough periods of time to write down my basal rates while using a wooden spoon and a washing up glove to hold the battery in place. Safety first.
So what did I do?
1. Move over to my spare pump and program in the correct data.
Sixteen years ago the idea of insulin pumps I was introduced to was that you always had two pumps one which was used and one which was kept. As a result you then cycled the replacements in so that they become your spare and when your ‘day to day’ pump expires you move to the spare and request a new spare. This means that I still have two insulin pumps as I’ve always ‘cycled’ them! Back then the improvements in insulin pumps were few, so ‘cycling’ was much simpler! Then when I began triathlon and didn’t have a waterproof pump I needed to have a pump to wear until the start of a race and a pump to leave in transition. As a result this aided me in gaining funding for two insulin pumps with my CCG.
2. Ring the insulin pump helpline.
Animas have a worldwide free phone number which operates 24 hours a day. I cannot praise Animas enough. They were fantastic. Within 12 hours of breaking my pump a replacement was being shipped from the UK to Melbourne for me! It took four days in total to arrive. Fantastic! Even better I didn’t have to return the faulty pump until I was back in the UK.
3. Email my consultant to ask for my basal rates and to check that the ones I had retrieved from the severely water damaged pump were correct. Thankfully, he replied straight away with my basal rates.
4. Find a suitable address to have the insulin pump shipped to as I was travel around the country and hope that it didn’t get held up in customs!
Yes for a few hours it was stressful when I had no basal rates, but thanks to amazing customer service my holiday wasn’t ruined and I didn’t have to fly 10,000 miles home for an insulin pump replacement.
If you are going away, then it might be worth contacting your insulin pump provider to see if they offer ‘loaner’ pumps which can be taken away with you and returned to the manufacturer after.