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Diabetes, Jet Lag, And Adjusting To The 24-Hour Clock

I traveled by small, wooden plane.  The flight from Boston to London took just over six hours.  The time change was five hours ahead of Boston, so when we landed at 6 pm, I was only ready for lunch.  The trek from London to Dubai was almost seven hours, pushing the clock ahead a full nine hours from Boston, making my head hurt because how was it Wednesday morning when I was still on Tuesday’s timetable?

(I wrote about the impact of changing time zones for an Animas column last month, but I seriously had no idea what I was in for when I decided to take the trip to Dubai.)

That first day there, the Wednesday, everyone gave me the same advice:  “Don’t go to sleep.”  (It felt like A Nightmare on Elm Street.)  “Work through the exhaustion and just go to bed on Wednesday night on Dubai time, and you should be good the next day.”

For the first few hours after landing, I couldn’t make my body recognize the time change, and once it did, I had to force myself to stay awake instead of curling up on the hotel bed at two in the afternoon.  (Which is why I ended up foraging for coffee and meeting up with a friend to drag my jet-lagged body around Dubai for some exploring.)  And even when I started to adjust (a little), I still had no idea what time it was because of the freaking 24 hour clock.

“Just subtract twelve.”

(This from the same people who told me not to fall asleep.  I should have told them that exhaustion made math impossible for my brain, but instead I just smiled and tried to remember my own name.)

I couldn’t tell time.  Mentally, I was turning the gear on the back of an old cuckoo clock and watching the hands spin around the face.  Subtracting by twelve?  Simple, but somehow became this big mess and the only way I knew the time was after changing my pump to 24 hour time display.

Telling time was one (sad) challenge; keeping track of my diabetes in this new time frame was entirely another. But I’m very determined to make small subtractions at least in my A1C, so I didn’t want to apply the mindset of “Eh, I’ll just get back on the ball when I get home,” or “After the holidays is a better time to refocus.”

Unfortunately, I had some problems with my Dexcom on the way over to Dubai.  The sensor I put in on Monday morning completely crapped out on me during the flight to London (complete with “???” and “SENSOR FAILED” and “Kerri, you’re an idiot for not bringing a back-up sensor, silly fool”), so I was flying blind.

On average, I blew through about fifteen test strips a day while traveling.  Seeing the number on my meter was one thing, but not being able to “see where it’s going,” CGM-wise, made me very insecure.  My alarm went off in the middle of the night (or, as far as my body was concerned, mid-morning) so I could test and make sure I wasn’t tanking.  (But of course, once I tested, I was awake for the next hour and a half, watching Disney TV shows on the hotel television, subtitled in Arabic.)

Basically, I spent five full days completely confused.  What end was up?  I had no idea.  What was my blood sugar doing?  I wasn’t sure, but I kept stalking it and thankfully avoided any highs or lows.  (I think my lack of appetite due to exhaustion helped out in that regard – hard to get high when you don’t want to eat.  Conversely, treating lower numbers was kind of tough when you’re full after two stupid Swedish fish.)  What country was I in?

The Swedish Fish website is awesome.  They have chatty fish over there!

Oh yeah, the United Arab Emirates, visiting the World Diabetes Congress and participating in a project for Novo Nordisk.  Halfway around the world with only a carry-on filled with Swedish fish.

[Disclosure: Six Degrees Medical Consulting, asked me to participate in a patient advocacy discussion with advocates from around the globe, covered my travel and lodging, and provided a per diem.  They worked with Novo Nordisk for this project.]

*This blog post was originally published at Six Until Me.*

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