Travelling with My Pharmacy

DBB Huchay Cusco Blog

There will a few posts/Blogs about my travels to and within Peru.

BUT..

I feel this post in particular is a huge one and is pressing upon me to prioritize even though it’s not in order.

We spent Christmas Eve in Agues Calientes. We planned to climb Machu Picchu Christmas Day.

I became very ill with a very high fever and ultimately sinus congestion, sore throat, fatigue among other things.

I am proud of the way the situation turned out as I recovered very quickly compared to most times I experience this. My husband questioned if I should take part in the venture to Machu Picchu but I insisted despite feeling down and out I would not miss such an amazing opportunity. This is a chance in a lifetime!!! And so we did.

With that being said, after we returned to Cusco a few days later we made plans to take part in a two day trek up the Andes mountains, through the Peruvian Tundra. We would then be hosted by a family overnight before descending back down the next day to another town a few hours away from our starting point.

We reach an elevation of 15,100 feet. Understanding that breathing would be a challenge at the best of times, I am overly concerned that with my congestion and swollen throat it would present greater issues.

On our way to the drop off point 1 1/2 hours away by jeep, I ask our guide to stop at a pharmacy to buy cold medication to help keep the symptoms from being too overwhelming throughout the climb.

As I walk into the pharmacy I take note this is the very first lesson I learn.  Never assume I can go away for 2 weeks and be healthy the whole time. I usually pack cold medications, gravol etc for those ‘just in case’ moments.

This is the first time I didn’t take my personal pharmacy with me. Sigh.

Our guide Henry takes me into the pharmacy in Cusco. I tell Henry in English that I need an anti-histamine/anti-inflammatory. I expect something along the lines of Advil Sinus & Cold or Buckley’s.

After the Pharmacist asks Henry a few more questions in Spanish….”Is it altitude sickness?”…”No, I had a very high fever, sore throat and sinus congestion.”…He recommends a product.

I take a ticket to the cash booth/dispensary at the front of the store. She gives me the box of medication. I am so relieved I will have the meds to help with the congestion, I don’t consider that I didn’t tell the pharmacist I have T1 diabetes OR that I took time to read the ingredients.   At this point I don’t make the connection that Dexametasona (in English “Dexamethasone”) is a steroid!!! I mean, come on, I am a Nurse. I should know the 5 R’s!!

AND I can’t buy a steroid over the counter in Canada! For good reason!

I am told to take one pill now (it is 7:30am) and again at supper. I can take it twice a day for a few days.

Within an hour I can feel the relief. I am overjoyed….until…

Fast forward to that evening and into the overnight…AND the next day…my blood sugars begin to climb…and climb…and climb.

I take insulin corrections like drinking water with no change. Not even a flicker in my Continuous Glucose monitor display. My finger pokes confirm all is not right within my diabetes world.

I reflect back on when we arrived in Cusco. Within a day I was setting temporary basal rates on my insulin pump for low blood sugars and now??? I am insulin resistant in the Andes Mountains??

I play scenarios in my mind. Is it the altitude? Is it dehydration? Is it the anaerobic feedback from the intense activity which leads us to experiencing burning leg muscles, shortness of breathe so bad our lungs are burning?

When I work out at the gym and do intense heavy weights my sugars spike. When I do hill training when I run I get the same effect. Is this the same?

At this point I haven’t made the connection yet that the cold meds contain steroids.

I do think that in part, the intensity of the climb did cause an adrenalin surge that did cause my need for more insulin….pair it with an exogenous steroid in my cold meds and here is a recipe for blood sugar disaster.

My key take away?

Bring my own cold meds and pharmacy.

If ever in an emergency that I require medications while in another country, make sure to tell them I have diabetes.

If and when I decide to ascend to 15,100 feet (or higher), take note and act that if it feels anaerobic, increase my insulin rates to accommodate to it.

No doubt it is a tough balance to achieve but I wouldn’t want to throw my hands in the air and not keep playing the game. Next time I want to improve on this experience. I accept my sugars will never be perfect in these situations especially, but, I will do my best.DBB Dexalor

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