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Living with Diabetes Is Like Juggling

I’m fascinated with the jugglers at street festivals and carnivals. They throw 3 or more brightly colored balls into the air at different intervals, catching and throwing them again and again in a rhythmic pattern that delights children and adults alike.

They make juggling look effortless but I know it takes many hours of practice to master this skill—and even then a ball drops occasionally.

You Are All Jugglers

I often think that those 3 balls are like the 3 main factors that affect blood glucose levels: food, activity, and insulin (or diabetes medications). I admire any person with diabetes who is able to juggle these 3 factors every day and still end up with healthy blood glucose levels most of the time. Just like a juggler, the person with diabetes must practice to achieve balance.

My clients tell me that some days everything runs smoothly—fasting blood glucose is in the normal range, food choices are healthy, there’s time for a walk after dinner. Other times, it’s like someone throws in a 4th ball: work is stressful, no time to eat, and the blood glucoses are all over the place!

You All Deserve Support

Living with a chronic illness like diabetes is not easy. I hope that every person with diabetes receives education about this condition and has a team of health professionals to recommend appropriate treatments and support them.

At the Johns Hopkins Diabetes Center, one can make an appointment with an endocrinologist, a nurse practitioner, or a nutritionist. Many of us are Certified Diabetes Educators, meaning we have specific experience in diabetes education and training. We see our clients at regular intervals and offer classes once a month.

You Accomplish Amazing Things Every Day

But it’s you, the person with diabetes, who monitors your blood glucose, injects or takes your insulin or other diabetes medications, plans your food, and counts your carbohydrates 2 or more times every day. You balance all these factors every day and, yes, occasionally, just like a juggler, a ball drops. However, I hope you frequently pat yourself on the back and say “good job.”

Living with diabetes is hard work and anyone who works to control his/her blood glucose levels should be impressed with their efforts and perseverance. I know that I’m continually amazed by my clients, and that every week the people I meet impress me with their determination to learn about and manage their diabetes.

Commuting to Work with Diabetes

Managing diabetes requires planning—when and what to eat, when to take medications, when to exercise, and how to maintain a stable blood glucose level.

On the road for an hour or more?

People with diabetes who commute to work 1 hour or more need to plan even more carefully because they are away from home longer than most. If you are away from home 10 to 12 hours a day and you happen to forget 1 of your medicines, you can’t just turn around, go home, and retrieve that forgotten medication.

Other challenges for commuters

  • more time sitting, and therefore less time for physical activity
  • less time for planning healthy meals and less time for cooking them
  • the danger of hypoglycemia while driving

A bag by the door

Keep a bag of medications and supplies by the door and refill it every evening. In case you are stranded at work due to bad weather, keep enough medications and supplies in this bag so that you can test your blood glucose for at least 1 day, and possibly even 2 or 3 days. If possible, keep some supplies in a safe place at work, as well. Don’t keep test strips and insulin in the car, though, because they can be degraded by high or low temperatures.

Safety on the road

Decide with your doctor what a safe blood glucose level should be when driving, and consider testing even before you get behind the wheel. Whenever you feel that you may be low, immediately pull over off the road, stop, and turn off your car—then check your blood glucose level.

Know the symptoms of hypoglycemia and keep quick-acting carbohydrates in the pocket of the driver’s side door or in your car’s glove compartment. This will allow you to treat a low blood sugar quickly without having to look for someplace to buy food.

Since hypoglycemia can seriously impair your judgment, it is critical that you do everything you can to prevent an accident in which you or another person can be injured.

Food intake

A lot of commuters eat meals on-the-go. Certainly, foods and snacks are easily available, but the choices aren’t always healthy and this can also get expensive. Once again, plan ahead if possible. Have 1 or 2 easy breakfasts that you can eat while driving, like a breakfast sandwich or a meal bar. Keep snacks in the car, too, like whole grain crackers, granola bars,fruits for diabetes like berries, healthful apricots, peaches … and pears, or cut-up vegetables.

Some people will cook a casserole or extra helpings of meat, starch, and vegetables for dinner, so that they will then have leftovers they can pack and take for lunch the next day. Keep a small cooler in the car and pack your lunch the night before. If you do eat out, check the Web or use a phone app to obtain the nutrition information about the meals you’d be interested in.

Physical activity

Commuters often leave home early and get home late. When to exercise?

  • Try taking a walk at lunch (outside or inside your building).
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator… at least part way!
  • Find someone at work who is also trying to keep fit so you and your walking buddy can encourage each other.
  • Some people join a gym near their work so they can exercise before the ride home.
  • Others scout out a park or place to walk on their route to the office.
  • In your car, keep comfortable sneakers with firm support so you can stop off for a walk.

Our jobs are important and sometimes we must commute to them. But if we have to commute, we still must manage our diabetes and our family life. Planning our diabetes routine is essential and will help keep us productive at work!