Extreme Places You’ve Been….and how it affected your Diabetes.

Thought I would write this blog to hear about other peoples experiences with their Diabetes when going to extreme, different or just plain out there places. How did it affect your Diabetes and what steps did you take to keep it under control?
So to start off, I’ll tell you one of mine…..
“So there I was in my back garden, when suddenly this bright light appeared in the sky….” Hahahaha not THAT out there 

About 5 years ago I was working for a company that had a maintenance contract for an oil rig. Basically the work involved replacing old equipment and making improvements around the rig. Naturally this involved site visits to take measurements etc. This rig is located about 130km offshore of Karratha (located right at the top of Western Australia) which is basically the furthest point in Australia from my home town of Melbourne.

The first step was obtaining my HUET certification – as the trip to the rig involves a helicopter ride over open water it is a requirement that you complete an aviation & sea survival course. Work sent me off to get a medical, to ensure my fitness, from the work approved GP….it turned out that all this involved was checking to make sure that my arms and legs were connected in the correct order. When I told him I was a type 1 diabetic, I got the same blank, “oh sh#t” / “what do I do now” look on his face that I see on a lot of supposed medical professionals. After asking whether my a1C was in the normal range, the doc signed off on the medical.
A week later, I found myself strapped to a seat in the chassis of a helicopter being dropped in a big pool….upside down….in the dark! Ok, ok, remember the training…one hand on the seat belt and one in the direction of the closest window….wait until the helicopter sinks and is full of water….undo the belt and find your way to the window….pull the window seal out….push out the window and swim to safety. The rest of the training involved jumping into said pool from a great height (simulating the deck of an oil rig) and escaping from a smoke filled burning building without the use of sight. I actually found this fun AND I was getting paid to do it….what does this say about me??!! None of this really affected my diabetes except for the fact I had to adjust my insulin dose/carb intake to cope with the exercise and adrenalin. Course passed, time to head to the rig….

Those who have travelled will know how it can stuff with your levels etc, so first up was the trip to the rig itself. Depart Melbourne at approx 6pm for a four hour flight to Perth….arrive 8pm thanks to a 2 hour time difference. Check into hotel. Wake up at about 3:30am to catch 5am flight to Karratha….arrive Karratha at 7am. Walk 2mins to heliport….pee in a cup (drug/alcohol testing)….wait a little depending on which helicopter you are booked onto….spend approx 1 hr praying the helicopter doesn’t ditch into the ocean before finally arriving at the rig at approx 9:30-10am. How is that for a dint in your evening/morning diabetic routine ;-)

The rig is a place where everything is pretty tightly controlled for obvious reasons. One of these is medication. It doesn’t matter if all you are carrying is aspirin for a headache, any medication, prescription or not, has to be handed over to the on board nurse – if you need it you go to them. Of course, the first thing I did after arriving is to go have a chat with the nurse. This was to let her know there was a type 1 diabetic on board and to discuss options for my meds. Turns out the company had already let her know a day or so ahead so she was aware and had done some research. After explaining my routine, she allowed me to keep my tester with me (sharps roaming about are also a no-no) and perhaps it was my trustful looking face (hahaha) or something but she agreed to give me a key to the infirmary! Let me put this into perspective, this is a room full of expensive medical equipment, as well as some pretty serious meds etc, and I was given an all access pass! Needless to say I was impressed – rather than try and find the nurse every time I shot up for a meal or needed a correction, I could just do it.

Now to keeping control over my D while there….extremely important as there is only a nurse on board, the nearest hospital is over 130km away and the only way to get there is by ship or helicopter. The fastest being the helicopter would take about 2.5 hours (hour each way and ½ an hour to prep) at my guess. After settling down my sugars after the trek to get there, it wasn’t too bad. While the rig is extremely isolated and in some ways confined, it is actually quite large. It also boasts a gym and ‘walking track’. On top of the work being pretty physical (it was like being on a jungle gym for 12 hours straight ) I made sure that I got some exercise every night – not only was this good for the body but good for the soul too. Counteracting all this good work for my levels was the amount of food on offer – seriously you have to see it to appreciate it. They basically feed you 5 square meals a day….my typical food day goes as follows: Breakfast-cereal and milk, toast and a coffee / Morning snack-meat pie / Lunch-beef stew with rice and veggies / Afternoon snack-giant cookie / Dinner-seafood platter with mash and veggie plus ice cream for dessert. It is amazing you actually get any work done in between all of that! I would also usually have some toast before bed to get me through the night. That sounds like an awful lot of food, and in particular carbs, but in all honesty with the physical stuff I was doing my metabolism was just chewing through it – the whole time I was there I hardly upped my insulin at all. As a whole my sugars were stable but there were a few times it dipped – not enough for hypo symptoms but all it took was a quick bite to eat and all was good.

The only time my sugar spiked the other way was during an emergency shutdown – I was on deck working away when something in the process went wrong, and the plant went into an emergency shutdown. All the shutdown valves slammed shut (sounds like gunshots…nearby…perhaps from a 50cal!), the plant shutdown and the next thing I know there is a 150foot fireball coming out of the flare boom. Naturally the bodies fight or flight response takes over and dumps a load of sugar into my body. After things returned to normal I corrected (slightly) and all was good but it did raise some interesting questions….in a proper emergency evac, you hop into the lifeboats which are only designed to take you away from the rig – not 130km to shore. In other words it could be a little while (2-3 hours at least) before you make it to shore - should I carry an emergency supply of insulin (I carried a stock of sugar at all times)? After a bit of thought, I decided not too for a couple of reasons – one, carrying sharps around a work environment like that is a no-no and two even if I was high by the time I made it to shore, I might feel like death warmed up but the chances of going into a hyper induced coma is unlikely.

As an aside – those of you reading this because they are thinking of going somewhere ‘different’ but thinking twice because of the diabetes …..DO IT!!! As long as you keep a watch over your levels, plan ahead, think of emergency situations and what to do in regard to your diabetes, there is no reason why you shouldn’t. Life is there to be lived and there is no point in living with regrets because you decided not to do something.

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Comment by Marie B on April 6, 2011 at 7:07am
wow, Ant, kudos to you for taking on such a job, diabetes or no diabetes! May I suggest you get yourself a Accu-chek Multiclix device- it uses drums and there are never any sharps to handle. Plus, in my opinion, it's the lease painful lancing device on the market. keep enjoying the adventures, nice blog.
Comment by Ant97gtr on April 6, 2011 at 3:01pm
Thanks Marie, I appreciate the kind words. I will look up that tester but in all honesty after so many years of diabetes pain is rarely an issue - the lack of sharps might be a better selling point, not only for work trips like the above but also my two kids running around. They know not to touch daddy's insulin etc but kids being kids (esp if they take after me lol!) curiosity will get the better of them :-)

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