Antarctica is called the “harsh continent” for a reason. Its extreme temperatures completely disable batteries, powerful winds break all sorts of mechanisms, and aggressive environmental conditions do not leave fragile equipment the slightest chance for stable operation. When I was preparing for the trip, the question haunted me: how will my insulin pump survive this trip?
I was going to visit the southernmost active volcano on the planet – Mount Erebus with a height of 3793.236 meters. This is not an easy journey, because a trip to one of the most remote places in the world (and a trip to the Antarctic in general) is a risk for a person with insulin-dependent diabetes. Thanks to the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation, I was able to go on an expedition to the southern edge of the earth with NASA scientist Rosalie Lopez. The purpose of our trip was to take photographs and paintings of the volcano, as well as to study the volcano and its interaction with the earth, since some volcano formations may be similar to icy moons in the outer solar system. I am an artist and I am interested in everything related to space, so I could not refuse the opportunity to make this exciting journey! It was an interesting and inspiring trip, although physically it was very difficult. Antarctica allowed me to see a different face of nature, and also gave me a better understanding of myself and life with diabetes. If you are going on a trip to a region unfamiliar to you, I have prepared some tips for you.
1) Always be close to friends and insulin wash. Your body heat is your best ally in cold weather. Insulin pumps can withstand all sorts of tests, but for the pump to serve you for a long time, it is best to keep it in a dry and warm place.
2) Monitor your blood sugar levels! Being in physically demanding conditions can increase energy expenditure. Monitor your blood sugar readings, view LMWH/pump alerts, and try to predict low blood sugar well in advance. Even while I was camping in our campground on Fang Glacier, my blood sugar dropped lower than when I was camping in Colorado at home with the anticipation of the 2743.2 meter climb. Therefore, be careful. Listen to your body and take into account the circumstances.
3) Provide adequate protection for the LMWH system. Remember that in situations that require significant physical effort, the LMWH system can catch on something and break. In glacier crevice rope training, I put an extra bandage on the LMWH system. Due to the low profile, the system stays in place almost always – mine was securely fastened during the entire 3-week trip through the harsh Antarctic.
4) Take backup batteries with you. Cold temperatures shorten battery life. Batteries are essential to running your pump, so always carry extra batteries with you in an inside pocket or store them in a warm place at the campground. As a rule, body heat is enough to keep the batteries working.
5) Develop a plan “B”. Take extra insulin and pump supplies with you in case something goes wrong. This is especially important if you are traveling by plane and your luggage may get lost.
This season, only 32 people spent more than 1 day on Mount Erebus. I was one of them. Thanks to my pump and CGM system, my trip went without a shadow of a doubt. In fact, with the right level of preparation and care, everyone who lives with diabetes can safely conquer all sorts of highs and lows of our planet.
About the Author: Michael Carroll is an author and artist who has been living with diabetes for over 49 years (he was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 13). When Michael was diagnosed, one of his friends gave a well-intentioned piece of advice: cut down on the amount of “pranks” in life. Michael listened and did the opposite.