Monday, March 17, 2008

The Luck of the Irish

The Irish saved civilization, among other things. St. Patrick's Day always makes me think of a time during my first trip to Dublin when they might well have saved me. Had it not been for a simple act of kindness, my own personal Rome might have fallen.

Going to Ireland for a month in July, 2005, I thought I'd taken care of everything. My bags were packed with extra insulin, double the syringes, emergency information everywhere and stashes of snacks and treatments for lows. Solo travel wasn't new to me but I'd never been abroad; when my graduate school offered summer classes overseas, I jumped at the chance to return to the land of my ancestors. The day of my arrival, I hopped a ferry and took a bus to Scotland to attend the Make Poverty History rally in Edinburgh. Things had gone smoothly on the long flight from the States, and though I was tired my blood sugars were only slightly higher than normal. I stood out in the bright sunshine all day with new friends, soaking up the event's energy and sipping water. Slowly the jet lag finally began to hit me, so I wandered off to get some food and rest. I found a spot, pulled out my kit, and did a test.

The meter counted down and I looked at the screen. "HI". Oh boy. I washed my hands and retested. 442--not much better. I didn't panic; the stress of traveling and unfamiliar food always affects my readings. Although this high was Officially Scary, I figured a 6u Humalog bolus shot, rest and fluids would bring the number down to the 200s at least. I drank a liter of water and walked around a bit over the next two hours, killing time until my bus began the long journey back to Ireland. Since I'd eaten little "real" food all day, I got tea and a sandwich in a shop and did another 6u bolus to cover my meal. An hour later, seated on the bus, I tested again: 553. I did an 8u shot, then drank water, fought nausea and waited another half hour. Next test: 525. I tested on both hands and different fingers, but all the results were in the same range. Now I was scared. I felt hot and puffy. After another hour the numbers finally began to go down: 401, 323, 283, 204. I felt better, but tired. I noticed my test strip supply was getting low, but I thought little of it.

When I got back to my room in Dublin I sank, relieved, into my bed. A few hours later I was up again and getting ready to attend an evening event at school. I grabbed my kit to test before heading out, and noticed only a few strips were left. That's right, I used up all those extra strips in Scotland, I thought. I opened my suitcase. Amid all the spare syringes I figured I would find the extra bottle I thought I'd packed. But soon the suitcase was empty, along with my purse and my backpack, and that was when it hit me: Oh no, I think I forgot them back home! Ugh. I cursed my stupidity. Now I would have to find a pharmacy and hope they sold my brand of strips. Who knew how expensive they would be, what with the high value of the Euro and my lack of insurance in Ireland? I gave myself another hard mental kick and asked a few colleagues where the nearest drug store was. Someone pointed me to a place down the street, and I walked over the next morning.

The pharmacist carefully studied my empty test strip bottle. "Sorry miss," he told me. "We don't carry this brand over here." I stood at the counter, shellshocked. Now what do I do? I figured I had no choice now but to ask my family to FedEx more strips to me. While I was mentally calculating how much the shipping would cost, the pharmacist tapped me on the arm. "You must check your blood sugars, miss. Here's a meter no one bought, why don't you take this with you?" And here's a bottle of strips to go with it." He gave me an Ascensia Breeze still shrink-wrapped in its packaging. I stammered, unbelieving. Didn't this cost something? Didn't I have to pay? "No, the meter's really no cost to us, and anyway you must have it." I thanked him profusely and left the shop, still stunned. Back home the Breeze was $80.00 at least, and the strips another $100.00.

I used the Breeze for the rest of my trip and avoided further highs and headed off most of my lows. I still have it, an odd souvenir of sorts. It might not have seemed like the grandest gesture to the pharmacist, but he really saved me a lot of stress and expense with one simple act. So that's what I think of on St. Patrick's Day: a pharmacy on Drumcondra Road, a kind-hearted Dubliner, and the bit of wee Irish luck that touched me there. So to one and all in the diabetes OC, Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

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