Photo by Riku Lu on Unsplash

And Just What in the Heck is a “Baggage Claim Low”??

I prefer early flights. Because my home airport is Seattle-Tacoma International, I have to get to the airport SUUUUUPER early to avoid any kind of traffic.

It also helps with the TSA Pre-Check lines.

But getting up that early — around 2:30 or 3:00 AM for a 5:00 to 6:00 AM flight — really screws my blood sugar over.

I’m a type 1 diabetic.

During the day, I have a specific amount of insulin being delivered in a steady stream by my insulin pump, called a basal rate.

The act of waking up for the day triggers something called “Dawn Phenomenon,” which means the blood sugar rises in the morning for no apparent reason.

It’s fun.

In any case, experiencing Dawn Phenomenon at 3 AM suddenly makes my 3 AM basal rate too low.

If I forget to change it, I’ll be high before I even get in the car to drive to the airport.

This gets compensated for by “bolusing” a lot, which is basically injecting insulin through my pump.

Travel weeks for me result in sometimes a 25% increase in insulin usage, which frankly, sucks.

Okay.

I’ve gotten to the airport, parked, and taken the shuttle to the terminal.

I don’t check bags anymore, so I breeze right through the TSA-PreCheck line with a backpack and carry-on, and ask for a pat down.

I’ll bet you’re thinking…didn’t she just say “TSA PreCheck??”

Yep. I did.

But the Pre-Check lines have either the metal detector or the big fancy “plant-your-feet-here-so-we-can-scan-you” machines.

And my insulin pump, not to mention the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) slapped on my arm with really strong adhesive, can’t go through either machine.

I’ve had so many pat-downs by now that it doesn’t even phase me anymore.

The TSA folks are all pretty chill about my pump and I like talking to them just to brighten their day.

There’s even this one TSA guy at SeaTac with Type 2 Diabetes and we got into a discussion about the best uses for Moon Cheese while I got pat down.

Getting on the plane, though, is when all the diabetic fun starts.

Insulin pumps have a “reservoir” or “cartridge” with insulin in them. When the plane takes off, the air pressure and altitude changes create bubbles in the cartridge, and this results in less insulin than usual being delivered.

Hello, high blood sugars.

Then, the cortisol from flying (basically whenever I fly, I’m stressed — it’s great) keeps the numbers high for hours.

On my flight from Denver to Seattle a few months ago, I must have used 100% more insulin than what would be considered normal.

Landing is the reverse of taking off, obviously, but I mean with the insulin pump.

Air pressure and altitude changes dissolve the bubbles and force more insulin through the tubing.

And because it takes about fifteen minutes for the insulin to start working, this becomes what’s known in the diabetic community as “baggage claim low.”

I carry honey sticks, fruit snacks, and smarties with me for a reason, as should all diabetics when they travel.

I love traveling, and I love flying.

My blood sugar doesn’t.


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