(Note: Rachel Hemond, an 18-year-old from Acton, MA with Type 1 diabetes, spent five months in the Vermont wilderness, managing her blood sugar using the Omnipod System and with the support from a network of doctors, family, and friends. This is the fourth of a 10-part series of blogs Rachel wrote about her experiences.)
I counted and calculated, collected a mountain of Omnipod insulin pumps, test strips, batteries, and back-up Personal Diabetes Managers (PDMs). I packed extras of everything, anticipating that I would tear off Pods by accident or lose them.
I knew that the insulin in my Pods wouldn’t freeze due to its proximity to my body, but how could I be sure about the vials that I carried inside my many layers? If insulin freezes then thaws, it looks the same but all of the proteins have been denatured. I didn’t want to find out too late that the insulin I was pumping into my body wasn’t working.
My parents and I bought stickers that would indicate whether or not the vials’ temperatures had dipped below 32 degrees F. If they had, a bubble on the stickers would turn opaque and I would know I couldn’t trust the insulin. The labels on the Pods said they could be stored below freezing, so I didn’t worry much about them. To keep my PDM and batteries safe, I kept them in my pockets, right up against my body. Finally, I assembled everything into smaller boxes to last me the length of a leg of our journey and labeled them. My diabetes packing was complete, allowing me to start thinking more seriously about what semester really would be; a step into a far more independent life, one that centered around my own personal journey.
With that in mind, I realized that I couldn’t let my parents pay for the Kroka semester program. It is intensely transformative and personal, completed only through hard work and focus. A journey like that has to come wholly from my own efforts. Letting my parents cover my tuition would have been easy, comfortable and dull – all of the things I was trying to escape. I needed to find another way.
As soon as I started thinking about how I could possibly raise enough money in two months to fund a $20,000 expedition, I had an idea. After spending a summer educating kids about my diabetes through the lens of my own experience, I knew the effect that sharing personal stories about diabetes could have.
The more I thought about it, the clearer it became. Using the Omnipod Systems had made being diabetic at Kroka possible so much easier. I would ask them to sponsor me; it seemed like the obvious choice. That’s how I ended up here, writing this blog.
And so I found myself standing beneath those same crab apple trees from years ago, back when I had first returned to Kroka after my diagnosis with diabetes. Now, it is winter; the trees are dusted in powdered sugar snow and ice coats the very tips of the branches. Footprints leading from the farmhouse to the camp point me in the right direction, though a biting wind blows snow across the boardwalk, threatening to obscure them.
That pit of anxiety I felt the last time I was under these trees had taken up what felt like a permanent residence in my stomach. I thought about turning around, going home to the warm and sweet comfort of my life. But something deep in my core resisted and I took that first crucial step towards the place and the people that would become my home over the next five months.
(Next: First taste of life in the open during a Vermont winter and adjusting to the elements.)