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My husband, Simon, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in October 2004. It was managed via oral medication at first, but his blood sugar levels were hard to control, and his doctor prescribed insulin to stabilize his condition.
In 2007, we packed up our life in the United Kingdom and moved to Italy. This was in itself a huge undertaking, and, of course, managing diabetes made it a little more complicated. Although our experience with the Italian healthcare system been largely positive, it has not been without its misunderstandings and frustrations. In general, however, those have been due to our slow grasp of the language rather than the care provided. Some of the issues we experienced and the lessons we learned may be useful if you are travelling abroad for business or pleasure.
We first made contact with the British Embassy in Rome and were able to communicate with a doctor who had responsibility for the diabetes policy in Italy. The advice and support we received were invaluable during our move and when accessing healthcare once we arrived in Italy. Making contact with a medical professional also gave Simon a great deal of confidence and a reference point in case he encountered any difficulties. By the way, all embassies have a website and offer information on the countries in which they are represented.
From our communication with the embassy, we discovered that in Italy, blood glucose levels are measured differently. This wasn't something that we had even considered. We spent some time familiarizing ourselves with the different system before we went. Simon was provided with three months worth of medication, which gave us time to register with the Italian healthcare system and find our way around. Our physician gave us a letter confirming that Simon has diabetes and listing his prescribed medication and doses.
The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers offers lots of useful information, including access to English-speaking doctors in the area in which you are travelling and details about the vaccinations you may require.
Medication and equipment
We made sure that all the equipment we needed was in good working order before we left and obtained a second glucometer in case of loss. We travelled overland, so we needed to make sure the insulin was stored correctly. This is just as important, however, if travelling by air. Depending on the type of trip you are taking, you might need to arrange storage while you are travelling. Insulin should be kept cool and out of sunlight , but do not pack it in "checked" luggage because it may freeze. Buy a small cool bag or store it in your hand luggage until you reach your destination.
Simon found it useful to talk to other people with diabetes about their experiences via an online forum. The Internet is loaded with opportunities for people with diabetes to connect and share information. Diabetes Health readers connect on our Forums, via our Twitter and Facebook pages, and by exchanging comments at the end of our articles.
We found useful information via the Diabetes Association in the U.K., but it's important to ensure that you seek locale-appropriate medical advice for medication and dosage issues. (We checked out the British Diabetes Association, the Canadian Diabetes Association, and the American Diabetes Association.)
Taking time to research the local diet and common foods of the country you are visiting is time well spent. We checked out the caloric values of some of the delightful Italian cuisine, so Simon could still enjoy the experience but still adjust his diet and medication if necessary. Since Simon was diagnosed, he has learned that regular meals help him. These can be interrupted during travel for a number of reasons, so it's important to be prepared for all eventualities.
Because different climates can affect blood sugar levels, regular monitoring is important. Simon kept a record and varied the times to help him develop a picture of his highs and lows. We also kept a dietary record for a short time to compare with his results.
Regular monitoring is important on long journeys, so you will need to have easy access to your equipment and medication. Make sure you know where they are before you need them. You will also need to be able to dispose of lancets and needles safely.
Follow your usual regime for dealing with any "sick days" you experience while you are away, and seek medical help if appropriate. The following are key rules for managing your diabetes if you are unwell.
There is no doubt that having diabetes changes your life, but we have learned that it does not have to control it. With a little bit of organization, you can be prepared for most eventualities, and you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your travels!
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.