How do you say diabetes in Italian?

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After a hectic few weeks in Paris, my husband and I have arrived in Turin, Italy, home of the supposed shroud of Jesus, a 19th century anatomical museum and, most relevantly for me, the 2010 Euroscience Open Forum, which  I have a fellowship to attend. It’s a week full of scientific talks on everything from personalized nutrition to the Big Bang, and I’ve been trying to go to as many talks as I can.

It would be impossible to do everything — there are four sessions a day with six simultaneous talks, not to mention the lunchtime lectures, the late afternoon lectures, the site visits, the science parties and the scientific events going on around the city — so I’ve had to pick and choose. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of my interest centers around human health — I went to a really interesting discussion yesterday on how people respond differently to the same exercise regimens (it appears that there’s a genetic component to whether or not exercise will actually improve your health — who knew?). I’ve  also been interested to see that while there are plenty of talks about climate change and a ridiculous number about the Big Bang (CERN is involved in the conference, and seems a little defensive), there is nothing exclusively devoted to diabetes. Obviously I’m biased, but given its worldwide explosion, I would have expected there to be more. Oh well. I’ve already got one pancreas to deal with — perhaps I don’t really need more.

So I’ll leave the conference updates to Karmel (keep them coming!), and instead write an update on our trip so far, since our itinerary has been so hectic that I’ve hardly had a chance to reflect on the whole diabetic aspect of traveling the world.

My first thought? It’s hard. In fact, I’ve been surprised by how difficult it’s been. I know what you’re thinking — you’re away from your normal diet and exercise patterns — of course it’s going to be hard! But hear me out: I’ve done numerous trips since being diagnosed, most notably six weeks in Europe after college, and two months in China a few years later, land of dumplings and rice. I don’t remember either of those trips as being particularly diabetically disastrous. I also spent the summer after I was diagnosed biking across the United States. Sure, I can remember weeping hysterically in a church basement somewhere in Pennsylvania, but I also remember getting to eat DQ shakes without problems (biking 70 miles a day gives you a bit of flexibility).

Right now I’m in Italy, and I’ve had a relatively good couple of days, probably due to the fact that I have been hoarding hardboiled eggs from the hotel breakfast buffet (there’s one in my bag right now, and I’m really hoping it doesn’t break). But in France, some combination of a lack of exercise, a bad cold, and, let’s face it, baguettes, meant that I was a diabetic disaster. I went high after nearly every meal — and then, if I tried to preempt the highs by taking extra insulin, I’d drop too low. I woke up one night drenched in sweat because of a miscalculation at dinner; I even had a scary low in the middle of the Louvre (I’ll attach a photo when I get home). If there’s one thing that can make that museum even more stressful, it’s having your blood sugar drop to 47 somewhere between the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo.

I was assuming this was mostly my fault — I don’t normally eat so many sandwiches — but then several days ago, things seemed to regulate back to a relatively normal state, despite my increased bread consumption. It’s yet another trick of diabetes — even when you’re certain you know the cause, there are other variables working behind the scenes. Luckily at  the moment, they seem to be in my favor — but it was a rough few weeks.

On a separate note, before we were in Paris, my husband and I spent two weeks volunteering at a French dairy farm, a location I chose primarily because they produce cheese and yogurt — both delicious and low-carb. The first night at dinner (which included  bread, pasta and rice) I was sitting at the table with the family and pulled out my Symlin needle. I saw the father — a hardy French farmer named Laurent, whose daily activities include tasks like delivering baby cows — blanch.  “Are you okay?” I asked him, jabbing my needle into my stomach as he literally turned away and covered his face with his hands.

“In a minute,” he said. His wife and daughter rolled their eyes and laughed.

He turned out to be the first person I’ve met — in the almost 10 years I’ve had diabetes — who had genuinely been known to faint at the sight of  needles. It became a running joke between us that became especially relevant when, several days later, he had to give a goat a shot of antibiotics in the neck.

Also,  a note on my preceding kitten video post. That was the cat of the family on the farm. In addition to playing with my pump, she also enjoyed being put in plastic bags. (Not kidding.)

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Bridget McNulty
Bridget McNulty

I had a similar experience with having awful week-long highs, and I found that it was sometimes (often) linked to my insulin having been heat-compromised. Even if it’s just slightly less than 100% effective, combined with all the other factors it often threw me off.
And as for the fear of needles – my brother and two of my friends have to turn away any time I inject!
You’re doing great – keep up the good work!!

Karmel Allison

Maybe you can direct the CERN sessions towards diabetes? “Sir,  do you have any comments on what is being called a worldwide diabetes epidemic, considering CERN’s first-hand experience with lethal baguettes?”

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