Amy’s T1D Adventure: A Terrifying Tortilla Carbtastrophe

Family photo

[Here’s a guest post series from Amy McKinnon, a One Drop user and 27-year-old ex-advertising executive who recently swapped her NYC apartment for an oversized backpack to explore the streets of Latin America for six months. Amy has lived with type 1 diabetes for 15 years and tries her best to balance blood glucose levels, marathon training and a high-carb raw vegan diet. Now she has thrown travel into the mix. EDITOR’S NOTE: Amy is a performance athlete and consumes a high-carb diet. At One Drop, we believe that a low-carb approach to food reduces the risk of high and low blood glucose incidents and can effectively reduce blood glucose levels overall. However, we want to share a variety of personal experiences so we can all learn how other people live their lives with diabetes. Always consult your doctor before making changes to a prescribed regimen.]

Aldo’s 21st Birthday!

11Tuesday is my friend Aldo’s 21st birthday! And, although not quite like American 21st celebrations, it was an important day. I had managed to sneak out on Monday and buy him a dreamcatcher and t-shirt. I woke him up in the morning jumping on him like he was my little brother and gave him his gift, which he was extremely grateful for.

Now I could head out for my morning run!

While Aldo was at university, I worked with his mom on planning a surprise dinner with his friends at the house. Google translate was a big help. 😉 By 9pm, I had managed to squeeze 8 people in the house, turned the lights off and ordered “silencio” to all the guests as Aldo and his mom returned from the grocery store. “Sorpresa!!!” we yelled to a shocked and slightly red face.

The evening involved lots of tacos, meat, cheese, and of course a big cake! I humored everyone with my raw spinach and veggie salad which I quickly made — didn’t want the blood glucose spike I knew tacos would cause. Sometimes you have to be the odd one out to be in control, and it’s definitely worth it.

Arrival of the Argentinians

10No rest for the wicked — we were awoken at 6am the next morning by the arrival of the Argentinians, Agos & Emi, who would be staying for a couple of days in Tuxtla. Awake, I jump up to go for a run and the mom, excited by the arrival of our new guests, asks me not to run. “It’s not good Amy, you run too much…” All this did was give me more motivation to run…so I headed out with a little frustration from that comment under my skin. I return from my run—feeling fresher and more at ease—to see breakfast being served with Coca-Cola, and the anger was right back in my veins. When a type 2 diabetic tells you not to run and then has Coke for breakfast… I was in disbelief at the sight in front of me. I took some deep breaths and had some fruit and veggies for breakfast.

Stable mg/dLThe day before I had incorporated some body resistance training with my running routine, something I hadn’t done in a while. Introducing a change in my routine resulted in low blood sugars ALL day the next day. I felt like I was constantly shoveling food in my mouth to keep them at an acceptable level — not an enjoyable way to eat food. But the power of exercise on lowering blood glucose is real.

Today was a good day for me – my blood glucose didn’t go over 170 mg/dL and they were pretty stable. I liked what I was seeing, good results from consistent exercise and healthy eating.

A Final Day of Festivities

Parachicos ParadeToday was the day for the final celebrations and party to end the month-long fiesta in Chiapa De Corzo for the Festival of the Parachicos. Up early for a long day ahead we arrive in Chiapa De Corzo surrounded by bright colored costumes, men and women dressed up and lots of loud music. If you thought it wasn’t a full house already with 5 people in one room, Aldo’s grandmother had also joined the group and would be staying for 2 nights to come with us to the final celebrations.

Before the festivities begin we head to a restaurant for a seafood extravaganza and for the first time on the menu is a vegetable salad – no oil or salt! I think I’m in heaven.

Time to dance!

We head to a room where the Chuntás (men who dress as women) are preparing their makeup and costumes, and we get involved in the pre-parade festivals with live music and dancing! What an incredible experience, I have this huge smile on my face as I know it is one of a kind. As we head to our reserved seats after that rush of festive feelings, the Argentinian girl is feeling unwell. The mother asks if she wants some coca-cola as that will make her feel better. The shock inside of me can’t keep it in and I blurt out something along the lines of “She is sick and you want to give her poison?!?” Probably not the most appropriate thing to say but I felt like it was an automatic reaction. Silence followed and Agos was smart enough to avoid the Coke.

It was now 6pm and official parade was beginning. The streets were filled with locals and foreigners ready to see and hear the unique festivities of dancing Parachicos and Chuntás. Feeling the vibe, Agos, Emi, and I join in the party and dance on the streets in the middle of the Chuntás! Again I had the warmest feeling rush through my body as I was right in the center of a cultural celebration like no other.

Exhausted, we finally ended the night around 9pm and the only thing on my mind was bed!

6

Blood Glucose = 540 mg/dL !??!?!?!?

It’s Sunday and my 2nd to last day in Tuxtla. I’m ready for some alone time to regroup, detox and get a good night’s sleep. But before that happens, it’s time for a trip back to Cintalapa to say goodbye to the extended family. Blood glucose levels are on the higher side post-fruity breakfast, but I give a correction dose and take a walk around the town to even things out.

We arrive to open arms and lots of hugs, kisses and big smiles. They definitely know how to make people feel like part of the family. Lunch preparations take most of the morning and I’m excited to help out and get my hands dirty! It’s time for some tortilla making. It definitely looks easier than it is. My tortillas are labeled the special ones, not looking like the perfect circle they should!
Tortilla making tortilla making

There is lots of music, laughter and smiles as we sit down to eat lunch. For me, lunch is vegetables and rice cooked in oil and fresh tortillas. And yes, this was the beginning of a not so pleasant evening. An hour after lunch I check my blood glucose and I’m at 540 mg/dL!!!!! What?!?! I can’t remember the last time I have been that high! I give myself a massive 12 units of insulin and try not to get angry at myself for my poor lunch decisions. And of course with a blood glucose that high I was feeling horrible. I made a couple of attempts to explain to the mom I was feeling unwell and wanted to head back to Tuxtla as soon as possible, which meant let’s head back in 4 hours.

Family Photo

I tried to put on a brave face and continuously check my blood glucose as they ever so slowly started to come back down. I wasn’t feeling any better by 8pm and ended up crying to get some attention to how I felt – which was still horrible! Agos spoke some English and Spanish so was very grateful to have her there in this situation to be the translator and try to explain to the mom that I needed to get my medication back in Tuxtla (I had my medication on me but it was the easiest way to explain that I needed to get back and get to bed!).

I wasn’t in a good mood and the mom still didn’t understand the urgency, so I tried to deal with the situation. My blood glucose was coming back down, now in the low 300s, so I waited out the bus back to Tuxtla at 9pm.

It was such a wonderful day, and I was sad to have to say my goodbyes to the family while feeling so unwell. Unfortunately these are some of the things that you can’t predict with type 1 diabetes. And I’m now even more motivated to stay away from refined carbohydrates at all costs. I don’t want a blood glucose that high ever again.

Back in Tuxtla, after taking 20 units of Novorapid, my blood glucose was down at 120 mg/dL. Knowing I’d continue to crash, I ate an apple and a banana, and I said goodnight. The next morning I rose very happy to see a blood glucose of 95 mg/dL on my meter.

Last day in Tuxtla!

A bittersweet feeling ran through my body. Lots of emotions – excited for the solo adventures ahead and sad to say goodbye to my Mexican mother and brother. I had to start off my morning with a long run — I smashed 10 miles and felt good.

When I returned for breakfast, the mom already starts with the goodbye hugs and tears even though I don’t officially leave until tomorrow morning. I squeeze in some time alone at my frequent cafe to call my Dad and speak about my plans ahead in Guatemala and beyond. It’s an easy, relaxing day with relatively good blood glucose levels and a nice chill way to say good bye to my home for the last month. I’ve learnt so much about Mexican culture, their way of living and the hardships they face everyday. I am more grateful than ever for my privileged upbringing and the way my parents raised me to be free, independent and make my own life choices… and the fact that I was able to do all of that.

Mexico gave me insight into a world like no other: beautiful people, proud of their culture and heritage, and always willing to open their hearts and homes, even when they don’t have much to offer apart from their kindness and generosity.

Thank you Aldo and Paloma for welcoming me into your home, I am forever grateful for the experiences and memories. Now it’s time to continue my adventures.

Next stop: Guatemala via San Cristobal De Las Casas.

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Amy McKinnon
Amy McKinnon

Amy McKinnon is a One Drop user, marathoner, ex-advertising executive, and has lived with type 1 diabetes for 15 years. Amy is currently exploring the streets of Latin America for six months.