Amy’s T1D Adventure: Starting School & Bugging Out in Guatemala

Street in San Cristobal

[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.]

High BGs, a Bruised Back, and a Stomach Bug

Even running wouldn't bring these BGs down...I arrived in San Cristobal excited for some time to myself to rewind, relax and get back into my self-care habits. I decided to do a bit of a cleanse which consisted of low-calorie fruit and vegetables to reset my body. The first few days I was feeling good, waking up early to run in the cool, frosty morning air, spending my days strolling the cobbled streets in the sun or sitting in a cafe and absorbing the positive vibes of this beautiful old town.

After a few days on my cleanse it looked like I was becoming more insulin resistant, which was unexpected based on past experience. Usually the opposite happens – with no fat in my diet and minimal carbs, my insulin sensitivity should be increasing. I was reaching deep into the back of my brain as to why this could be happening – I was still doing daily cardio activity and yoga and nothing seemed to bring my blood glucose (BG) down below 120 without a lot of insulin.

High BGs - One Drop Daily LogMaybe my insulin to carb ratio is wrong? Maybe something is wrong with my insulin? I was definitely puzzled. I persisted with the cleanse while I tried to work out the cause of my diabetes going a little haywire.

To add to my mishaps, on a sunny Sunday afternoon walking to a cafe along the smooth cobble stone I lost my footing, slipped and landed smack bang on my tail bone. My first thoughts as the pain shot up my spine was “please don’t be broken.” A local and total stranger helped me up and to the local hospital, which wasn’t very useful, specializing in pregnant women. With a small language barrier combined with a lot of pain, another women who spoke both English and Spanish took me to a doctor who checked my back and luckily it was just bruised.

This was good, but meant a few days of lying down. No walking, let alone exercise. I was scheduled to catch an 8-hour shuttle bus across the Mexican/Guatemalan border in 3 days, so rest was vital. Not quite the way I was planning to relax and reset and as I rested my bruised back, what felt like a stomach bug started to tumble and turn my stomach.

Crossing the Border

Tuesday arrived and my tailbone was still sore. I set myself up for the long ride to Guatemala with a donut hole cushion and some reading, and I tried not to eat anything that might upset my stomach – there was no easy access to bathrooms.

Crossing the border was a one-of-a-kind experience. Our shuttle dropped us off at the Mexican side of the border, then we got our passports stamped so we could leave Mexico, grabbed our luggage, and literally walked across the border into Guatemala. No baggage checks, no security questioning. They took our passports without even checking we were the same person in the document, stamped it and gave it back. Then we hopped onto the next shuttle to take us for the remaining 4-hour bumpy ride to Quetzaltenango. It’s a shame I was too scared to take a photo, it was quite a memorable scene.

Xela

Xela marketsQuetzaltenango, better known as Xela, is Guatemala’s 2nd largest city and is known for its Spanish language schools and influx of Westerners coming to study, work and volunteer. I was scheduled to start Spanish school the coming Monday and wanted to balance healing my back, getting rid of my stomach bug and exploring Xela a little.

Struggling to keep my BGs below 180, I explored the town’s center and found the fruit and vegetable markets and acquainted myself with the health food stores to try and naturally cure this damn stomach bug.

Generally when I have high BGs, even though frustrating, I can pinpoint the reason — bad carb counting, not enough insulin, time to change my infusion set on my pump — but this time I had absolutely no idea. I was perplexed, extremely frustrated and trying to contain my anger so I could work through the reasons as logically as possible to pinpoint a potential cause.

Friday arrived in no time, BGs still high, and I was heading to Fuentes Georginas, some hot springs on the top of a mountain. It was just what I needed for my broken body. The springs were hidden in the jungle along a steep dirt path, but so worth it.

A dip in the hot springs and my BGs finally respond!Better BGs - at last!

Miraculously after I visited the hot springs my BG was 86 and continued to stay in range from that point on….and I’m still blown away as to why! Honestly, nothing in my behavior, diet or routine changed dramatically enough to give a reason for this dramatic and positive shift in my BG control!

It was a great way to start the weekend. Even though my stomach wasn’t feeling any better, I managed to squeeze in some yoga classes. That was all I could handle, though. My energy level was at an all time low.

First day of school!

Monday came and I was off to my first day of Spanish language school. Five hours later, my brain was fried, in a good way. One-on-one lessons purely in Spanish are intense. Luckily, my teacher was my age so we had a lot to talk about, rather than totally focusing on the structured lessons.

By Wednesday I could hardly muster up the energy to walk the 30 mins to school, so my teacher took me to the doctor. A bacteria test later tells us I have a parasite in my intestines, most likely from eating fruits or vegetables washed in contaminated water. At least I know what has been slowly draining the life out of me! With a double dose of two strong antibiotics under my belt and lots and lots of rest, I felt ready to really reset and tackle next week with a more positive outlook and hopefully some more energy.

The ups and downs of traveling in Latin America!

Stay tuned to see how I spend my last week in Guatemala before flying to Quito, Ecuador. Can’t wait to start exploring South America!

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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.