I love to hear inspiring stories about how people living with diabetes persevere and don’t let anything, including their diabetes hold them back. That’s why when I heard about Michael Carroll travelling to Antarctica, I couldn’t wait to have him share his story with us.
Antarctica is called the “Harsh Continent” with good reason. Its frigid temperatures kill batteries, its blustery winds tear away at machinery, and its hostile environment wreaks havoc with delicate equipment. As I faced going there, I wondered: how would my insulin pump manage?
I was headed to the world’s southernmost active volcano. Mt Erebus towers 12,445 feet into Antarctic skies. It’s a difficult place to get to. As one of the most remote places in the world, a trip to Erebus – and to Antarctica in general – seemed a bit risky for an insulin-dependent person with diabetes. But with sponsorship from the National Science Foundation, I traveled with NASA scientist, Rosaly Lopes, to the southern wastes to document the volcano in photos and paintings. We were there to study the volcano and its interactions with ice, because some of its strange formations may be similar to some features we may find on several ice moons in the outer solar system. As a space artist, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! It was beautiful, inspiring, and physically challenging. Antarctica taught me a few things about nature, about myself, and about diabetes management. For anyone journeying into an environment alien to them, I’ve learned a few tips that I’d like to share.
1) Keep your friends close, and your insulin pump closer. Your own body heat is your best ally in cold weather. Insulin pumps can take a lot of stress, but keeping them dry and warm is the best strategy for keeping them happy.
2) Watch your glucose readings! Being in a physically challenging setting may cause you to use more energy than you’d expect. Watch your glucose readings, listen for CGM/pump alarms, and try to anticipate lows. Even while I was staying quiet in a tent at a camp on Fang Glacier, waiting to acclimate to the 9000 foot altitude, my glucose levels went lower than when I hiked in the high country back at home in Colorado, so be diligent. Pay attention to your body and your circumstances.
3) Protect your CGM. In physically demanding situations, remember that your CGM can bang into things or get torn off. When training with ropes for navigating crevasses, I covered my CGM with an extra bandage for good measure. Its low profile assures that in most cases it will be fine, and mine was secure for the entire three weeks in Antarctica’s wilderness.
4) Carry a backup battery. Cold temperatures are notorious for shortening a battery’s life, and we need batteries for our pumps. Always keep an extra battery in an inside pocket or a sheltered, warm location at camp. Usually, batteries kept against the body do just fine.
5) When traveling, always have a plan B. Carry extra insulin and pump supplies for any unplanned change-outs. This is especially important when flying, as luggage can be delayed.
Only 32 people spent more than a day on Mt Erebus this season. I was privileged to be one of them, and it was my pump and CGM that enabled me to stay there with confidence. In fact, with the right preparation and care, any of us living with diabetes can venture to the highest heights and the greatest depths of this awesome world around us.
About the Author: Michael Carroll is an author and artist who has had diabetes since he was 13, over 49 years. He remembers being told by a well-meaning friend, upon hearing of his diagnosis, that he would need to “scale back on your vision of life.” He has done the opposite. See some of Mike’s paintings and books at http://stock-space-images.com.
, cold weather
, type 1 diabetes