I travel a lot for work. Day trips interstate for meetings or giving talks are a regular feature in my working week. This week, I’ve had two early morning starts with two separate trips.

I have the airport routine down to a fine art. I arrive at the airport, make my way to the express lane through security, whipping my laptop from my bag, any bangles from my arm and emptying my pocket as I walk. I know which shoes trigger the metal detector and which don’t. I get through and then there is exactly enough time to get to the lounge, grab a coffee and make my way straight to the gate just as the plane is boarding. I sit down, grab what I need from my bag before tucking it under the seat in front of me and usually fall asleep within a few minutes, or read whatever book I’m carrying around with me. From arriving at the airport to being settled in my seat is usually about 20 minutes.

On a recent flight, nothing was out of the ordinary. It was early – I was half asleep as I sat down on the plane. It was still dark outside and I didn’t fall straight asleep as I needed to keep an eye on my CGM trace for a little. I’ve been hypoing out many mornings and I wanted to make sure that I was okay before settling in for the flight.

The temp basal rate I’d set in the cab to the airport had more than done its job and I was not too worried about going low – especially with the milky coffee I’d just finished.

I pulled my pump from my bra and, with the press of a few buttons, turned off the temp basal rate and gave myself a small bolus for the milk. I tucked the pump away again and then checked the Dex widget from the home screen of my phone, confirming the number on my Apple Watch.

I was on autopilot as I usually am when doing these sorts of diabetes chores. Buttons pressed, I pulled my book from my bag and started to read, completely oblivious of my surroundings. The plane took off and I was starting to get sleepy, so I put down the book on the seat next to me.

As soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off, a flight attendant leaned over to me. I was the only person in the row. I looked up and noticed that there were two other flight attendants standing there.

Excuse me, Ms Scibilia,’ she said.

‘Yes. Hi,’ I said, smiling, wondering what was going on.

‘Are you able to please tell me what you were just doing.’

I was confused. I had been reading. I showed the flight attendant my book.

No,’ she said. ‘Before that. You seemed to have some…machines?…or a box?…Down your shirt…? And checking your phone.’ She was searching for the right words to use and it took me a moment to realise what she was asking.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Um…I was just pressing some buttons on my insulin pump.’

It was the flight attendants turn to look confused.

‘I have diabetes. It’s how I deliver insulin. I needed to adjust some of the settings and give myself some insulin.’ I explained. I pulled the pump from my top and showed her.

‘I also wear a device that measures my glucose levels and it transmits to my phone….and watch. I was checking the numbers.’

I showed her. And then added quickly. ‘It’s Bluetooth. The phone and watch are both on Airplane Mode.’

‘Oh,’ she said, turning to the two other attendants behind her and quietly repeated what I had just said.

‘Do you have some sort of documentation about having diabetes?’ she asked.

Now I was really confused. This was a quick flight interstate. I never carry my doctor’s letter when travelling domestically and have never, ever needed it before – not at security and certainly not on board a flight.

‘Um…no,’ I said. ‘Oh, wait! Yes! I have a card for the NDSS. Hang on…’ I rummaged around in my bag searching for my purse.

‘Here. This is the card that gets me subsidised diabetes products,’ I said, pointing out the word diabetes on the card and then turning it over to show the information on the back.

She took the card and showed it to her colleagues.

‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry. A passenger mentioned they had seen you pulling something from your shirt and they were a little concerned about what you were doing. I’m sorry for troubling you.’ 

I half smiled and said that it was all fine, but I realised I was fighting back tears as I did. Had someone thought that I…? I couldn’t even form the words in my head. What did they think when they looked at me?

I felt really self-conscious for the rest of the flight. I’ve no idea who spoke to the flight attendant. I looked around and noticed that most of the people nearby were on laptops or tablets or checking their phones. Everyone has a device …. What was it about mine that had set someone’s mind to thinking that I was going to do something nefarious?

Are people on heightened alert in the wake of the recent terrible events around the world? Is it general anxiety about devices and suspicious little black boxes? Are people noticing more, watching more, reporting things that ordinarily would be completely overlooked?

Would I notice if someone around me on a plane – or a café or in a park or on the street – was fiddling with a medical device? Maybe, but then I have a sixth sense about it, always looking for a new diabetes best friend in the wild!

I sat quietly for the remainder of the flight, my book open, but unable to concentrate. I read the same paragraph over and over. Diabetes is meant to be an invisible condition, but at that moment, there was a neon flashing sign above my head – an arrow pointing at me announcing that there was something not quite right – and I felt very, very conspicuous and very, very vulnerable. And I didn’t like it one bit.

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