Mind Your Own Business

This last full week of February I’ll be leaving arctic Michigan to attend a conference in Miami Beach. It will be the first time I’ve taken my diabetes along on an airline flight, and while I don’t expect any hassles with my insulin pump or the bottles of insulin or the syringes I carry, you just never know.


Any number of tips and insights into airline travel while encumbered by insulin are available. Do know that I’ve read through the American Diabetes Association’s information, as well as looked on a few other sites.

Really, though, it shouldn’t be a big deal, and there’s absolutely no anxiety on my part about the pending travel. In fact, I’ll probably be a little sad when, after choosing to not disconnect my pump when I go through the metal detector, airport security will more than likely wave me right on through.

Here’s some disclosure: I’ve yet to be in any situations where I could claim diabetes and be all self-righteous toward the person who’s chastised me. I had expected by now that surely some situation would have come up. Sure, I’ve been ill a few times and stayed home from work as a precaution, and in the first month after my diagnosis a waitress at a sports bar brought me a regular Coke instead of the Diet Coke I’d ordered—she’d “forgotten” what I ordered and assumed regular Coke was fine. It wasn’t fine, and this was one of those hard-to-tell fountain drinks where after sipping and asking others’ advice it was still too difficult to determine if it was regular or diet. When we found out the frosty beverage was sugar-sweetened, my wife went into her protect-her-husband mode and made sure the waitress knew that her assumption could have been dangerous.

(Actually, this was the first and last time my wife has done this. It was incredibly sweet of her to protect me in that way. I was in the bathroom when the waitress confrontation took place, so I only have Kathryn’s and friends’ accounts of how the brief exchange went down. Kathryn’s a black belt in Tang Soo Do, and so there’s a running joke—at least, I run with it, as do a few of our friends—that I’m going to feel more free to lip off to people in public, and she’ll have my back. But this waitress encounter’s been the only incident, and a rather anticlimactic one at that.)

Anyway, what I’d like to have happen is for someone to mistake my insulin pump for something more mundane, such as a cell phone or an iPod, and tell me to put it away or tell me how rude it is for me to be “doing that here.” So many people out there deem it their business to police our actions, and I’ve imagined any number of scenarios in which I’d be scolded erroneously for a diabetes-related action in a public place, to which I could then politely put the person in his place and explain to him that I have a chronic illness and that he should mind his own damned business.

Alas, though, this has yet to happen. And because I’m an adult in my mid-thirties (my first birthday as someone with diabetes is next week, actually), because I’m a tall male, because I’m rarely in large, quiet rooms filled with a lot of people, and because in all actuality I’m pretty covert about checking my blood glucose or bolusing when in public, the chances are pretty slim that I’m going to be wrongly corrected for diabetes maintenance in public.

I’m sure that some of you who grew up with diabetes have memories of times when adults reprimanded you for what they thought was your inattention, your “screwing around,” or else they got on your case in some other way for something you were doing for your self-management. Because they didn’t know you had diabetes. Were you able to tell them what was what? Or, maybe you wish you would have told them off but at the time, because of your age or who you were, you weren’t able to?

Do share these stories. I’d love to hear them. Maybe I can live a little vicariously. I mean, it seems like this would be at least one positive thing about having diabetes as a rebellious adolescent and teen: using it to get back at those certain power-hungry adults—a few teachers out there, etc.—who find that the only way they can control children is absolutely.

I’ll sit back and wait to see what you have to say. And, I’ll write next week’s blog entry from a hotel on the beach, so I’ll be sure to let you know what I encounter. I’m leaving Monday, February 25, so if you have any advice for airline travel with diabetes, be sure to pass it along as soon as you can!

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  • Serena

    I travel a lot and I was told by my CDE to never disconnect my pump and send it through the x-ray machine. I always wear it through the metal detector and 99% of the time I set off the alarm. Every single TSA agent has known what my pump was and they have all been extremely respectful during the “pat down” except one. I had an agent who, while she was wanding me, proceeded to ask me incredibly personal questions about my diabetes like do you have the bad kind (she meant type I) or the not so bad kind (type II. she told me she had type II). Then she started ACCUSING me of cheating on my diet as if it was any of her business what I eat! She said to me “You eat sugar don’t you!? I know you must cheat!”. I was LIVID. Unfortunatley for me, I was at the airport about to board a flight and I felt like if I told her off she would blow it out of proportion and I would be taken into some back office to be screened as a possible terrorist. I just wanted the whole experience to end.

  • CalgaryDiabetic

    I wonder if Home Land Security will treat me like a terorist if i try to enter the US with all the meters and all the insulin paraphenalia any thoughts ?

  • Shar

    I have been wearing a pump for near 3 years and travel on airlines frequently. Only once did I get challenged about the pump- it was at Shannon Airport in Ireland and the man politely asked what “it was” as he pointed to my pump. When I explained, his only comment was “tis lovely lass” and gave me a big smile passing me through.

    I have had a number of folks in general public areas ask “what kind of phone” in reference to the pump. Never have I had a rude or ‘policing’ type comment.

    Best wishes at the airport next week and ‘happy trails’

  • suzanne

    I’ve been generally impressed by the TSA’s knowledge of insulin pumps & the ease of domestic travel with diabetes supplies. If they ask, I start to say, “It’s an ins..” and they nod & wave me through. Traveling to Europe this summer will be interesting… my first international travel since diagnosis 3 years ago. I hope it’s as smooth as domestic. Oh – put your insulin vial(s) in the quart-sized ziploc bag with your other liquids. I got seriously reprimanded for that in Colorado Springs shortly after it went into effect (they were not busy, and pulling everyone over for some minor infraction — almost made me cry they were so mean!!).

    I’ve had a couple of yoga teachers (ones I didn’t know) ask me why I couldn’t remove my phone for practice. Ha! I did get a little satisfaction out of explaining that, No, I cannot remove my insulin pump… this device keeps me alive (dramatic, but sorta true!).

    You should be fine. Just follow all those ADA & TSA guidelines.

  • JAWN

    The worst experience I have had with my pump was on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to Portland, OR. The flight attendant saw me bolusing for a snack I had eaten and started telling me that ALL electronics needed to be turned off. I was on my way back from a diabetes camp (see one of Jan Chait’s blogs for more info) and happened to have a another pumper sitting beside me. He listened to me try to explain it was a medical device and could not be turned off. When the flight attendant would not back off, my friend Sam politely asked her to remove her pancreas for the duration of the flight. About that time the head flight attendant came by to see what the problem was and she immediately apologized to Sam and I and told the subordinate that insulin pumps were ok to leave on……just like it is ok to leave a pacemaker on. ūüėČ

  • moogle

    I just got back from Hawaii….
    While not on an insulin pump, I amd taking Byetta. I wondered if I would run into problems with my pen, needle tips, and my glucose monitor. All items were in my purse at all times.

    I was pleasantly surprised, as I was not even asked about these items.

    Have a great trip!

  • marybly

    We went from Lubbock,Tex. to Baltimore and it
    seems Sw airlines in Baltimore did not have the security deal so it reacted when me and my insulin pump went through.But it did when we first left Lubbock so a lady passed her wand all over me.Since insulin for my pump must be kept cold for the duration of our plane & car travel I use a wide mouth thermos
    for it.I wear a cgm and they did not look I had a letter from my doctor handy.