We were picked up early from our B&B in Costa Rica to be taken to the border crossing into Panama. We had a few other pick ups to make, with an Australian, a British couple and a solo British traveller joining us. The bus had wifi and air con – the dream. About 30mins into our drive and whilst we were filling in our immigration forms the solo traveller asked the rest of us, ‘I don’t need my passport do I? I mean, I remember my passport number off by heart, I left it at the hostel for when I get back…’
MASSIVE FACEPALM. I kept quiet, but internally I was screaming, WE’RE GOING TO ANOTHER COUNTRY! The driver was not impressed in the slightest, and basically made passive aggressive comments to her in Spanish, called a taxi and then dropped her off at the side of the road telling her she’d need to get a later shuttle. Brutal. I wonder if she ever made it to Panama in the end.
Aaaanyway, it took an hour or so to get to ‘immigration’. Basically a shop front where you pay to leave Costa Rica. From there we walked up a hill, to wait in another line to show passports etc. After that we walked across a big bridge – one side being Costa Rica, the other side being Panama. Pretty cool really. When arriving in Panama you pay some more money to another shop front ‘office’ for arriving then walk to a more official looking booth where they finger print you and taunt you with their air conned areas. Seriously, I wanted to crawl through the window and just lie on the floor. The heat is just intense and inescapable. After they’d finished stamping our passports (again on a page with lots of other stamps!) and taking our fingerprints we were shown to another shuttle to make the journey to a port where a boat would take us to the islands of Bocas Del Toro.
At some point during this process, Alex either lost, or had his blood kit stolen. It could’ve easily fallen out of our bag, but there were lots of people around and I would have hoped someone would have pointed to it.. Which makes me think that someone might’ve mistaken it for a wallet and lifted it out of the top. It’s frustrating more than anything. We have my kit, a spare kit and test strips that are compatible with our scanners for our sensors, but all of Alex’s data was on that kit, and it also communicated with his pump. Things just got that little bit more annoying for him. Luckily, his sensor is actually accurate (unlike mine) so at the minute we’re not having to mess around with two kits.
We arrived in Bocas Del Toro after a short boat trip that was super enjoyable compared to the terrifying boat trips in Fiji and got a gloriously air conditioned taxi for $2 to our B&B. Lulas is a cute B&B run by two American ex-pats who used to be firemen. They were absolutely amazing hosts and their story about how they came to run a successful business in Panama was inspiring. They listened to us moan about the state of the NHS and fully encouraged us to pursue other avenues if that’s what we wanted to do. Using themselves as proof that sometimes throwing yourself in at the deep end can pay off.
One of the best things about Lulas (apart from the air con and hammocks) was breakfast. Every morning we were offered the most amazing pancakes, sweet bread, fresh fruit and eggs if we wanted them. It meant starting the day with a hell of a lot of insulin but it was so worth it. One morning, as we were tucking into our pancake stack (with maple syrup obvs), an older lady joined us and started making conversation. She asked us what ‘those things on your arms’ were. We explained that we were diabetic and that they were glucose sensors. We began to explain how they worked before she interrupted with, ‘ah if you change your diet then your diabetes will go’. At this point I stopped talking. Some days I reach my peak of tolerance early. Other days I engage and try to educate. But the way this woman went about it (she didn’t know that I’m a nurse and Alex is a doctor) really got my back up. She continued, ‘ah I’m a respiratory practitioner, I work in hospitals so I know….’ I still didn’t bite. Alex took the time, trying to explain to her the difference between type1 and type2 diabetes but her response was ‘but you’re so slim – so you should be okay!’ *facepalm*
Now I don’t expect everyone to know the difference. Type 2 Diabetes gets much more media attention that Type 1 due to the links to poor lifestyle/obesity (although not all people with T2 are obese!) but someone who claims to be a healthcare professional to show such ignorance absolutely baffles me. If you don’t know, then please don’t make assumptions and definitely don’t try to offer us advice on how to cure our diabetes. We’ve heard it all before (Okra, cinnamon, whole milk, Magic Beans) and after we stopped being insulted we just became frustrated. At work, I make it my mission to try and educate as many people as possible about the differences, because it’s important! But when we’re confronted at the breakfast table and told that this condition is our own fault and why didn’t we do something about it really isn’t how I want to spend my holiday. I continued to eat my pancakes and may well have poured more maple syrup on to them just to make a point. She didn’t bring it up again.
We decided to book a day tour to explore the surrounding areas whilst we were in the islands and it was great. We went to various different places, saw lots of different fish/starfish/coral/birds/dolphins and sloths. Our guide spoke in Spanish for most of the day, which meant we didn’t really get to be involved in the jokes, but it’s okay, it’s our own fault for not being better at learning Spanish before coming here.
Another day Alex had a surf lesson whilst I lounged on a literal double bed overlooking the ocean whilst drinking cocktails.. I think we all know who the winner was in that situation.
We headed to the airport for our flight to Panama City to be told casually that the flight was delayed by 4hrs. Fabulous. We wandered in the ridiculous heat to try and find something to eat, to find that most places were closed (its low season so most shut down for a few hours each day at least). We found a little bakery that was cool and had wifi so we sat and muddled our way through ordering trying to waste as much time before having to head back out into the heat and to the airport. When we got back to the airport and it was finally time to start the ball rolling towards actually getting our flight we explained in limited Spanish (Somos Diabéticos) about our pumps not being able to go through the scanners because of the magnetic fields and the security guard just unplugged the whole scanner so we could walk through! Talk about being relaxed. No vigorous pat downs in Panama.
We arrived in Panama City and went out searching for food. We decided in an Indian restaurant and sensibly decided to share a meal too! We’ve had so many discussions whilst travelling about what the best strategy is for managing our diabetes. Everyone is different but I think we’ve come to accept that smaller portions and more exercise undoubtedly make things easier. As frustrating as it might be to accept sometimes. We had an early night in prep for a busy couple of days to follow.
Over the following days we visited Panama Canal and Casco Viejo, aswell as buying some trainers and hitting the gym. The canal was pretty fascinating, although we didn’t actually get to see any boats pass which was a shame. We spent the afternoon lounging by the rooftop pool, trying not to be sick/stare at a couple who were literally eating each other’s faces constantly. Casco Viejo was beautiful but unfortunately our visit was cut short due to a pretty tropical thunderstorm. We’d managed to get some gelato in before the rain hit though, so I was able to leave happy.
The hotel we stayed at had a gym and we decided to use it as much as possible. We’ve both missed our gym classes so have been trying to stay active with a Fitbit app called FitStar but it’s limited and you can only use it when you have data/wifi (huge design flaw!) so the chance to actually use a gym was sadly exciting. It’s nice to have achey muscles again and not feel so guilty about eating out so regularly. Plus we’ve seen huge benefits to blood sugar control when we exercise regularly.
One thing I’ve been thinking about recently is how to become the master of your own condition. Everyone who has diabetes has different experiences and every day is different but when is it okay to draw up your own set of personal guidelines and deviate from the guidelines that are drummed into you from diagnosis. For example, when I was diagnosed 15 years ago, we were advised that the best hypo treatment would be a glass of milk and a couple of hobnobs. To this day I avoid hobnobs because they remind me of my childhood, when I’d be desperately hypo and trying to fight the urge to eat everything. Now though, a glass of milk and some biscuits wouldn’t be my first choice (or second/third) for hypos for a number of reasons; the sugar isn’t fast enough, the fat in the biscuits/milk slows down the glucose absorption, prolonging the hypo, it’s a faff carrying milk/finding milk etc etc. Now, both of our first choice hypo treatment is Jelly Babies (or equivalent). Five jelly babies to be precise. They have a low fat and high sugar content meaning they give you the sugar rush you need when you’ve got hypoglycaemia. They’re also tasty and easy to eat for those hypos that make you a little less functional. Before starting our travels I pretty much depleted the shop of all jelly babies/haribo. The woman at the checkout asked if I was having a party or if I just like sugar. If only she knew that these were genuinely medicinal. Long gone are the days where I could eat a pic’n’mix without having to worry about how it was going to affect my blood sugars. Our bags were stuffed with haribo but we had so many hypos whilst in New Zealand that we were pretty much out of sweets by the time we moved on, meaning that in every country, at every stop, we’ve had to replenish our hypo stores. Luckily Coca Cola is pretty universal, but not ideal when we’re flying so regularly, and I can tell you, jelly sweets abroad are really expensive! We managed to find some good jelly worms in Panama and you only need 8 to bring you out of a hypo, so we’ve stocked up on them. Hopefully they’ll last us a while.
My point is, you have to figure out what works for you and sometimes edit the guidelines presented to you. I hate being hypo. It makes me feel vulnerable, I’m hyper aware of my surroundings, I become anxious and panicky and it just isn’t nice. Therefore, if I know that my blood sugars are dropping, because sometimes you just know, then I will treat a hypo before I’m officially in the hypo zone. Some might tell me that’s wrong, or over cautious, but I don’t care. If I can avoid being sweaty, shaky and non functional then I will. That is one of the really great things about the Libre sensors. It shows you the trend of your blood sugar, whether it’s stable or rising or dropping. Hugely beneficial to preventing hypos, when accurate of course.
Finding what works for you is part of every day life, finding what works for you and your diabetes is just another hurdle to jump – but when you’re over it feels so much better.
We’re about to begin our South American adventure now! I’ll keep you posted.