Sunday, February 17, 2013

Perils and Possibilities

Travelling has always been something of a mixed bag for me. I hate the tasks of packing and catching planes, of booking hotels and scouting out local amenities. Once I'm at my destination I am able to relax more, but I am still always glad to get home, and if a trip drags on too long (which, for me, isn't long) I find myself longing to get back to familiar territory. I used to travel a fair bit as a kid, on camping trips, road trips, and cross-country flights to see relatives. But these were always organized by adults and I was always accompanied by them, meaning I simply got to relax while they got to do all the organizing and worrying.

It's hard for me to tell how much of my aversion to travel is related to my personality—maybe I just haven't been bitten by that travel bug yet—and how much is due to other factors, like my tendency to worry about the worst case scenario.

When I was 16, I heard about a camp for teens who were blind and visually impaired run by CNIB, and decided that I wanted to go. Up until then, I had never been to a summer camp before. My parents knew about the CNIB camp as well as the diabetes camp, but were reluctant to send me to either when I was younger, for fear that the CNIB camp would know nothing about a child with diabetes and that the diabetes camp would know nothing about a child with severely impaired vision. My brothers had never been to any summer camp, either, so it wasn't a big deal until I asked to go. And so, my parents made a deal with me that if I learned to use an insulin pen (fairly new at that time) and learned how to adjust my insulin (R and NPH at the time) independently, I could go to camp; and when I accomplished both of these, they signed me up.

The night before I left for camp, I had a nightmare that I forgot my insulin and had to go home and it ruined camp for everyone. But the next day my parents came with me to the camp to meet the staff and counsellors and brief them on diabetes. When they found that one of the staff members had Type 1 diabetes they immediately relaxed, and shortly after left me to experience the week of adventures. I had a mixed experience that first year at camp: I enjoyed the activities, but I didn't really make any friends (everyone else had been going for years, it seemed), and medical stuff—including my blood sugar running sky-high all week and experiencing two allergic reactions—prevented me from relaxing completely.

My second year at camp, at age 17, was a little better. That year, I truly connected with other campers and, by the end of the week, I didn't want to go home. But I still experienced an allergic reaction one night at dinner; I still had to stock extra food in my room so that I could eat snacks between meals and before bed; and, one night, I gave myself a shot and then could not remember whether I had just given myself Toronto (regular) or NPH insulin. I freaked out and used the one and only pay phone to call my mom, trying to muffle my tears. She talked to the counsellor in charge of first aid, but I didn't get much sleep that night because I was afraid of going low and my fear that the camp counsellors didn't truly know how serious that could be. My camp experience was probably not as relaxed as most!

Later that summer, I travelled with a friend and her family to a somewhat remote cabin several hours from home. Imagine my horror to find that, this time, my pre-travel nightmare almost came true. I had packed for the short trip independently, and when I went to take my pre-dinner shot the first night there, I discovered that I had remembered everything except needles. I had insulin, but no way to deliver it. Three hours of phone calls and driving finally led us to a pharmacy where we managed to pick up a box. I ran into a public bathroom stall to take my then-very-late NPH. While I was doing this, I heard my friend outside say to her mom, "I can't imagine having to do that, having to be so responsible!" and her mom—who I am grateful to for not freaking out over this entire incident—replying matter-of-factly, "Well, she has to do what she has to do."

The next year, at 18, I went to a three-week-long program for college-bound youth with visual impairments that was located across the country. Before leaving, my mom spent hours helping me pack, going through checklists of medical supplies. Insulin? Both types? Insulin pens? Needles? Glucose meter? Test strips? Alcohol swabs? Logbook? Food? Inhaler? Benadryl? Medic Alert bracelet? Extra of everything? Check, check, check, and double-check. In the end, I had a suitcase of clothing and another suitcase of medical supplies and food.

The night before I left, I had my usual nightmare about forgetting insulin and ruining the trip by having to come home. When I got to the airport—an accomplishment, I felt, being my first independent plane trip—I met the program staff, and when I got to the university dormitory where we were staying, I put all my supplies away. Then, the first night there, the staff discovered that they didn't have any cheese, which they had said they would have. I had no protein to eat for snack, which was a necessity on NPH insulin at the time. After scrounging around for an hour someone produced a nasty-tasting hunk of cheese, but I grimaced and ate it. At least it was something. I made a note to self to always make sure to bring everything I needed from then on, and not rely on anyone else.

The rest of the trip was a blast. For the first time, I felt like I could almost relax. Not completely—I did experience an allergic reaction after eating at a restaurant one night, and experienced a handful of lows. But my blood sugar did not run ridiculously high for the three-week program, although considering that there was an emphasis on physical activity in addition to learning career- and academic-related skills, that was not surprising.

Since those first few semi-independent trips as a teenager I have had many more travel experiences for both pleasure and business. Each trip, however, was still accompanied by the backdrop of worry. Travelling independently, the issue of getting around a strange city with a visual impairment, of making sure you make connecting flights and find the hotel, have become additional sources of worry. But in every case, trips have been successful. I have truly never had a horrible travel experience. I've just never been able to shake that nagging worry and what-ifs that run through my head each time I pick up a suitcase.

During this past year I have begun taking business trips on a regular basis, and with it, have begun feeling almost at ease with travel. At some point in recent years, the forgetting-insulin nightmare faded from my pre-travel repertoire. Going on the insulin pump went a long way toward allowing me to relax while travelling, as well as freed me from the need to bring an entire food suitcase. At some point, I found myself thinking of places I would like to go to—a train trip across North America, to New York, to London, on a cruise—and asking friends if they would like to plan something.

In talking to others who travel, those whom have been bitten by the famous travel bug, I hear recounts of amazing sights, new experiences, and changed perspectives. And it's something I'm beginning to feel as if I would like to partake. Seeing Nat Strand win The Amazing Race (the only season of the show I have ever watched) gave me even more inspiration.

Maybe I will become a traveller yet. Not quite now, but soon.

As I sit here packing for a business trip, I still feel as if half my luggage is medical supplies and adaptive equipment. Infusion sets, pump cartridges, batteries, insulin, insulin pen and needles, alcohol swabs, glucose meter and test strips, lancing device and lancets, glucose tablets, granola bars, inhaler, antihistamines, EpiPen, other miscellaneous medications, as well as doctor's notes, Medic Alert bracelet, white cane, video magnifier, sunglasses, and monocular telescope are among the items I check and double-check, and if need be pack extra. I still leave feeling as if I've forgotten something—and usually I have, a comb or floss or an AC adapter for some non-essential item. Not since that trip back in high school have I forgotten something truly vital.

I think that my mind will always want to be prepared for possible worst-case scenarios. I'm just like that with everything, and one of these days, it will pay off. Like everything, though, travel is a learning experience, and the only way you learn is by stepping outside your comfort zone. When I was younger, the perils of travel often seemed to overshadow the possibilities it offered. Now, slowly, the possibilities are beginning to outshine the perils.

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