Despite my anxieties, the trip to South Africa was amazing. Most of the things I was worried about did not come to pass, and the ones that did were not that big a deal.
We went on safari for the first part of the trip, and saw fabulous animals, including lions, leopards, a cheetah, elephants (including a three-month-old baby), and rhinos. Bisi loved it (particularly the elephants), but it was a lot of time driving around, and whether it was the inactivity or the jet lag or the time change (or the morning porridge they served us before the 6 am game drives), her blood sugar skyrocketed for the first several mornings, and was hard to control throughout the day. But once we were further into the trip, her blood sugar levels started to even out. I’m not sure if that’s because her body got used to the traveling, or if we got better at reacting, or maybe both.
Our family has many dietary needs, beyond Bisi’s, and the people in South Africa, particularly at the first place we stayed, were amazingly accommodating. At each meal, they would prepare special desserts—some gluten free, some gluten free and “diabetic” (we were never totally sure what that meant—but we think it meant made with artificial sugar), some dairy free. They would also make special sugar-free lemonade and hot chocolate for Bisi. A few restaurants where we made a reservation and let them know our various restrictions had fresh-baked and delicious gluten-free bread waiting for us at the table when we arrived.
There’s no doubt that it was hard being out of our routine for so long—having bread delivered to our table at each meal (we usually try to skip bread), being out of our own kitchen for almost three weeks and not having much control over what came our way. But the sights and sounds and experiences of the trip were more than worth it.
A couple of random things happened that were a bit surprising but ended up being fine. On the way there, Bisi’s Omnipod completely separated from the adhesive on her leg; maybe from lots of squirming around while she was trying to sleep on the plane. But we had all our supplies with us, and were able to put a new one on while on the plane.
The most dramatic and potentially disastrous event that happened was related to diabetes only in a peripheral way. Bisi has a stuffed elephant, Ellie, that has been with her since she was a couple of months old. It would be hard to overstate how important Ellie is to Bisi; she needs her to go to sleep every night, to cuddle with when she gets home from school. And it’s only this past year that she stopped wanting to bring her with us everywhere she goes. I have seriously considered putting a GPS chip in Ellie, since it would be such a disaster if we lost her. And at times keeping track of her has felt like keeping track of a third child (one who’s totally silent and can’t tell me when I’m desperately looking for her that she’s lying at the bottom of Bisi’s closet). Bisi always wants Ellie when she’s tired, and I’ve come to see her asking for Ellie during the day as a cue to test her blood sugar to see if it might be high. On the first day of our safari, with her blood sugar on the high side, and sleepy from jet lag, Bisi insisted on bringing Ellie with her in the open Land Rover. We’d been going for about two hours, driving fast through the bush on the trail of a cheetah. We’d found him, and were sitting quietly in the vehicle, about 7 feet away from the animal, watching him. (Apparently animals are so used to the vehicles that they ignore them—unless a person in them stands up or starts making loud noises.) Suddenly, Bisi realized that she no longer had Ellie and started crying. We shushed her, hoping the cheetah hadn’t been drawn to the noise, and quietly told the guide what had happened. We had probably driven 50 miles that day through the bush, and with a sinking feeling I started thinking about the possibility of a long trip without Ellie, and all the tears and drama that would mean. Suddenly, another Land Rover drove up, and a man sitting in front handed us Ellie. It turns out that Bisi had dropped her about 30 feet before we got to the cheetah; our driver radioed to the other drivers to look out for the little blue stuffed animal, and luckily this other driver found her within a couple of minutes. Bisi happily reclaimed her, and held on tight to Ellie for the rest of the trip.
When thinking about the trip, one of the things I’d been most worried about was Bisi getting sick and throwing up, since a tummy bug almost forced us to take her to the hospital this spring, when we had a hard time getting her ketone levels down. One of our hotels had a fabulous buffet—at least, Jamie and Bisi thought it was fabulous, since it offered about 100 choices of what to eat. For the parents of someone with diabetes, the buffet wasn’t so fabulous—all that tortellini! All those breads! The rice! The ice cream, cakes, crepes, and eclairs! Bisi probably would have wanted to eat there every night, except that at about 2 am she woke up with a horrible stomachache, and then threw up. We think it was the crème brulé. But once she got it out she was fine, and because her blood sugar was on the high side, we were able to give her insulin to combat any ketones from being ill.
In the end, all the worrying I did felt like it had been unnecessary, yet it also meant that we were well-prepared, and could relax because we had everything we needed. (When we lost Bisi’s lancing device before getting on a plane, we just had to dig out one of the two extras we’d brought in our carry-on luggage.)
With Bisi now, I always worry inordinately before something happens for the first time—the first stomach sickness, the first big trip to a place halfway around the world, and then into the wilderness. But in the case of a great trip, once you’ve been through it and come out fine on the other side, you heave a sigh of relief—and start looking forward to the next one.