Building a Diabetes Support System in College
Starting out in college is a huge transition; for many young people, it represent the first time as a completely independent individual. As students adjust to "life on their own," there are plenty of ups and downs, and there are lots of learning experiences associated with the first few months. However, for kids with diabetes, this transition to college is an even bigger event. In this case, it is particularly important to establish a full support system for school, including physical, emotional, clinical, and emergency support.
Most basically, it's important to be all stocked up on medical equipment. I consider my diabetes supplies, including meters, strips, lancets, ketone sticks, syringes, insulin, and alcohol swaps, to be my physical support system, because I know that I have everything I need to take care of myself. (I wear a pump, so I also keep a few boxes of infusion sets and reservoirs in my room.) In addition, I keep a copy of all prescriptions with me, in case of an emergency, to use at a local pharmacy. Since I don't spend a lot of time near my dorm, I also always carry a medical alert and a source of fast sugar, like an energy gel or a little tube of cake frosting, in my backpack or purse. Staying on top of this physical support system, which includes doing an inventory once in a while, prevents a lot of unnecessary yet dangerous situations and ensures that I always have the tools that I need to stay healthy.
However, even with all the supplies in the world, my blood sugar still swings too high and too low. For the times when diabetes has me frustrated, run down, or just not feeling well, I need an emotional support just as much as a physical one. In this case, reaching out to friends is most helpful, especially those who are willing to learn about the day to day challenges of diabetes. For those looking to connect with other diabetes in college, there are a number of online resources designed just for that purpose. College Diabetes Network, for example, is a website that offers resources for students, parents, and universities. CDN focuses on providing support networks in order to improve the health and well-being of students with Type 1 diabetes, offering online forums, tips, technology and research updates, information on healthy lifestyles, community outreach, and even the chance to participate in research-based initiatives.
It also important to keep an open connection with an endocrinologist, both for emergency and non-emergency questions. Although it is possible to build a relationship with a new endocrinologist in the local area, electronic communication makes it possible to maintain consistent contact with a physician in another state. Nearly all meters and insulin pumps are designed so that the data can be downloaded to a computed, thus it is still possible to check in and get advising from doctors across the country. Moreover, at-home HBa1c kits are available at regular drugstores, allowing patients to check their own levels and analyze their control. In high school, I met with my endocrinologist four times a year. Since I no longer live in the same state, I have decreased my visits to twice a year. However, I am able to email my endocrinologist when I have specific questions regarding my blood sugar management. Having this clinical support system available to me allows me to consult my doctor, who is familiar with my medical history, and make small changes in order to optimize my control.
Finally, it is important to establish an emergency support system for when things do not go according to the plan. I keep a copy of my prescriptions, an insurance card, and a list of important numbers in my room at all times. My closest friends are aware of signs to watch for that might indicate that my blood sugar is low, and they are trained for what to do if I become unconscious. In the event that my pump breaks, I have enough syringes and insulin to last for a few days while I waited for a repair model. Finally, I keep the 24-hour emergency number for my endocrinologist on me at all times, in case I ever need to speak with a doctor directly.
In reality, college changes nothing about having diabetes. I make sure to pay special attention to my blood sugar and insulin levels at the beginning of each semester as I re-adjust to school; being aware of the other lifestyle changes that are associated with college- more walking, less sleeping, different schedules, etc. - and how they affect my blood sugar - has also helped me to minimize any diabetes-related challenges. Whether I am at home or at school, I am careful to count carbs, regularly change my set, and test my blood sugar often. No matter what, I still have highs and lows. Yet, by establishing a full support system, including having all the supplies I need, keeping my friends close, maintaining a connection with my doctor, and having a plan for emergencies, I have found the transition to be completely manageable.