By Bridgette Dobinson
Six weeks before my 18th birthday last year, three weeks before my sixth form prom, two weeks until I was heading to volunteer in South Africa and days before my final A-level exam – I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Being wheeled through the paediatric ward of the hospital, I thought none of my future plans would ever be possible.
My father took the news quite badly but told me not to worry because ‘diabetes was not life threatening but life challenging’. After a lot of tears, I decided I was ready to embrace the challenge. I explained my future travel plans to my medical team who responded mostly with blank faces.
I didn’t understand how diabetes could hold me back from anything I wanted to do. After lots of thought and various discussions, I left Newcastle airport for a two-day journey to Manzini, Swaziland.
The time change, the paperwork for all of my medication and the preparation of fridge bags to cool my insulin was all a lot to think about for someone newly diagnosed. My mother prepared sandwiches and snacks so I could avoid the high-sugar, high-carb airplane meals and eat when it suited me.
My first hypo travelling was very memorable. I was on a jeep doing a safari trip when I think the excitement of seeing giraffes had maybe got to me! I carried with me a full diabetes kit so I dealt with it by having three glucose tablets. My A-level teacher was on hand too, who kept a matching medical supply to double up on all of the important equipment just in case.
I’ve tested my glucose levels everywhere – from Creamfields festival, to a holiday in Ibiza, to dancing shows and netball matches. I decided that if I could do all of this then then the dream of a full gap year was a go ahead!
I calculated how much diabetes equipment I would need to take for a whole year and bought a one way ticket to Thailand. I had thousands of needles, hundreds of tubes of insulin, test strips, glucose tablets and lots more split between two backpacks. With more medication than clothes, my boyfriend and I were ready to go!
Since diagnosis I’ve taught English in Malaysia, rode elephants in Thailand, cycled through Angkor Wat in Cambodia, trekked in Vietnam, explored a cave in Laos, learnt to surf, climbed a volcano in Indonesia, and visited Singapore. Most of this I did over land via night buses. Not knowing when the bus would stop or (with Asian time!) not knowing when we would ever arrive, I always prepared snacks in advance of each journey. I find that preparation is crucial – along with always wearing a watch!
It’s most important to control your diabetes and not let it control you. With that in mind, my adventure is still not over!