Category: Adventure/Travel

Blood Sugars and Broadcasting: A CNN Reporter Deals with Diabetes

Blood Sugars and Broadcasting: A CNN Reporter Deals with Diabetes

Blood Sugars and Broadcasting: A CNN Reporter Deals with Diabetes

By: Oren Liebermann

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I had about two minutes until I was on air, and I knew my blood sugar was low. I could feel it in my hands and in my concentration. I was a little bit dizzy, and my hands were shaking. These have always been the first two signs that my blood sugar was low.

Normally, it’s not a problem. I always keep a stash of emergency sugar around. Most often, it’s a bag of Gummi Lifesavers. First, they’re delicious. Second, I love the appropriateness of having Gummy Lifesavers as my emergency sugar. And third, it’s predictable. Five Gummi Lifesavers is 15 grams of carbs.

But normally I’m not about to go live in two minutes. I knew the sugar wouldn’t have time to hit my system, which meant I would be going live on CNN with low blood sugar. The viewers wouldn’t notice. Unless I started stumbling. Or screwed up a word. Or my brain locked. Then they would most certainly notice, and I would have no choice but to plow forward or admit that I had low blood sugar and tell the anchor to go to someone else.

I told my producer – sitting in our little control room about 15 feet away from me – to get me the Lifesavers from my bag. A moment later, he walked into the studio. He couldn’t find the Lifesavers, so he just grabbed the whole bag and brought it in. I rummaged through and pulled out the Ziploc with my emergency sugar. As quickly as I could, I downed a few Lifesavers. Then I started thinking about what I was going to say.

WORK AND DIABETES

I never told my bosses about my type 1 diabetes when I interviewed. They had no right to know and I had no obligation to tell. Besides, as long as I didn’t have a bad low or pass out mid-interview from DKA, I would be absolutely fine. Knowing I would have a long day of interviews, I intentionally took one less unit of insulin than I needed to make sure my blood sugar was adequately high throughout the day. It worked, though I did start feeling the symptoms of low blood sugar toward the end of the interviews.

When I started at CNN as the Jerusalem Correspondent, it was a different story. I told everyone immediately that I had type 1 diabetes. I explained to them the symptoms, showed them how to work my insulin pens, and, most importantly, taught them how to use a Glucagon shot. Everyone was cool with it, which was a relief. Occasionally, my coworkers have asked for “refresher courses,” and I have showed them the insulin pens again or explained to them how diabetes affects my system.

Dealing with my coworkers was the easy part. The hard part was figuring out how to manage diabetes on a 24/7 basis. On days when I’m in the CNN bureau in Jerusalem, it is relatively easy. No matter how big the story and how many times I am broadcasting live, I can always check my blood sugar and adjust as needed.

The harder days are the days I am out in the field all day, nowhere near a convenience store or restaurant. Then I have to plan my insulin, my meals, and my blood sugar well from the very beginning of the day. Add to that the challenge of Middle East weather – if the day is extremely hot or extremely cold, I burn through blood sugar even faster, making healthy management of diabetes even harder.

I have always had a simple plan. On days I am out of the office all day, run my numbers high. Instead of aiming for 80-120, I shoot for 120-160. It gives me a buffer in case something goes wrong or in case my day gets so busy that I forget to eat. And this has happened a few times.

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS

I have always tried to find creative solutions for diabetes, and I don’t mean eating cinnamon to help control my blood sugar. I mean ways of dealing with blood sugar when days are entirely different and dynamic. A daily routine makes diabetes easier to manage; a changing week adds even more complexity to the daily challenge of the disease.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on Valentine’s Day 2014 in Nepal. My wife and I were backpacking around the world, and my diagnosis came 5 months into our trip. I was the first person in my entire family with diabetes. After a month at home recovering and learning about the disease, my wife and I decided to get back on the road.

We picked up our trip where we had left off, backpacking through Southeast Asia. We made our way through the countryside on trains and buses. Each day was different, and I had to figure out how to manage my blood sugars under different conditions.

It wasn’t easy, but it became good practice for my current job. It requires rigorous monitoring ob blood sugars. I don’t have a CGM (which I may change very soon), but I routinely jab my finger to check blood sugars. I have no qualms about checking 8 times a day. Whatever it takes to know where my numbers are.

It’s not fun. I don’t think anyone would ever describe diabetes as fun. But it’s never been a question of fun for me. I know that if I manage my blood sugars, diabetes won’t stop me from doing anything else. It didn’t stop me from traveling, and it won’t stop me from reporting.

HIGHS AND LOWS

I’ve had a few lows before live shots. It happens. It’s never fun, it’s always a bit worrying, but it’s a part of the deal as I see it. Part of the problem is the sensitivity around Jerusalem. Every word needs to be chosen carefully, because the story is so sensitive in every direction. If my blood sugar is low and I screw up a word, it could have disastrous consequences on my reporting.

My bosses at CNN – when I finally told them I have diabetes – have always been incredibly supportive. Not a single one of them questioned my decision to write a book, and they have always encouraged me to do as much outreach as possible. It may not be their disease, but they understand the importance diabetes has to me and to so many others.

Diabetes may not make the news all the time, but it is always becoming more relevant and more important to the world at large. And that is something I am always ready to talk about on air!


Oren Liebermann is a CNN Jerusalem Correspondent. He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 31 while backpacking through Nepal. He has written a book called the “The Insulin Express: One Backpack, Five Continents, and the Diabetes Diagnosis That Changed Everything” that shares his diagnosis and journey of resilience and self-discovery.


Studying Abroad With Diabetes

Studying Abroad With Diabetes

By: Maria Sweezy

(Sugarfree & Sexy Blog)

This past January, I packed my bags full of my most essential articles of clothing (not enough socks as I later realized), a travel journal, and over three months worth of diabetes supplies and boarded a plane for Florence, Italy.

I was surrounded by exclamations that I was about to experience “the opportunity of a lifetime” and that my “life will be forever changed.” Studying abroad is a big deal. It is an even bigger deal for someone with diabetes. I spent months leading up to my trip on the phone with insurance people, both my current and past doctors, my mom, and my pharmacy. I felt like I left America in a bold attempt at looking like I had my shit together, deep down being fully aware that I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I have fallen in love with Florence, Italy…as one does. I have never felt so at home in a place in my entire life. My heart sings with joy every time I can sit down in Caffe Notte with a cappuccino and write for this blog, or skip across Ponte Vecchio on my way to class. I sometimes feel as if I could stay here forever. As wonderful as this time has been, diabetes has also been her usual self. Following me around everywhere I go.

Being abroad, diabetes has left me feeling impossibly alone in ways that I honestly wasn’t prepared for.

Although in my day to day life back home in America I am usually the only person I encounter that has diabetes, I have carefully and meticulously built up a safety net around me. I have a support system. I would spend evenings with a boyfriend who knew a great deal about diabetes from witnessing it first hand and also independent research (bless his heart).

I would be at work with coworkers who I disclosed small bits of my disease with, the important details as they would experience moments where I had to step away to treat a low. I would talk about diabetes amongst my close friends in hopes to make it more present in their reality as it is so perpetual in my own life.

I also keep in touch with dear camp friends who I have grown up with, my “diabesties.” Although we are spread out across the country and world right now, we have been able to find a save haven in a group chat where we can disclose details of our personal lives (sex, drugs, gossip, and school life) and countless diabetes struggles. Our secrets, heartaches, and stresses bounce around freely among unbelievably strong, diverse women that truly get it.

Yet still, 7,025 miles away from anything familiar, I do not have that refined support system physically available to me.

As they tell you, this is a major part of studying abroad.

I was prepared for myself to be thrown into a new environment, surrounded by beautiful new things, a different culture, and foreign language. I was not prepared for the harsh and sudden reality that struck me once I realized that glucose tablets can not be bought at the pharmacy or supermarket.

Or the fact that I could pass out on one of these little cobblestone streets due to low blood sugar and I’m not even sure how long it would take the ambulance to get to me, let alone if they understand English. Of course I am not the only person in Florence, Italy with diabetes. It just has felt like that at times.

I have a constant internal dialogue here that is ferocious and frustrating at times. All of my friends I am surrounded by are deep in the sense that we have all thrown ourselves into the unknown together, but also fresh in the sense that it has only been a few months. The type of understanding of diabetes that allows someone without diabetes to have a meaningful conversation comes after months of exposure.

It has been difficult to not have many people to candidly vent to because as much as they are supportive of me because they are my friends, they do not understand my words in a wholesome way. They hear me proclaiming “I am low” or “my blood sugar is high” but they certainly do not know what these words mean on a technical level. They are understanding of the occasional need to stop for gelato due to low blood sugar and embrace these moments with reassuring smiles as their indulgence is also benefitting my health.

I am grateful for moments like this. With time, I have also befriended a local barista who has diabetes and even though our interactions are brief across our language barrier, it is heartwarming to know she exists in moments when I feel isolated within this disease. She also makes the best cappuccinos.

This journey here across my travels, from Italy, to Hungary, to the Netherlands, to Greece, has made me realize more than ever that as a person with diabetes you must be steadfast and tenacious in ways that many people will never understand. You can’t afford forgetful days. You must always be on top of your game, prepared for the worst case scenario.

Diabetes, and the anxiety that can accompany it, will be in your mind because it is inside of you. I have been working on befriending it as best as I can. Learning about it, everyday is different after all, and learning about myself as I go along. I am recognizing at what point my patience breaks, the moments where I feel fearful, and the moments where I feel confident.

I do not think you can love diabetes, it is a monster at times that robs you of time and energy and has taken the life of a friend of mine. I do believe however that you can certainly love your ability to try to control it. A knight may not love the battle, but perhaps he loves knowing his armor will protect him and the feelings of victory that come from championing through the fight.

All my Love,

Maria


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