Hear from our experts

Leaving home and doing it “Diabetes Right”

Joe Solowiejczyk, RN, MSW, CDE Family Therapist, Type 1 since 1961

Graduating from high school is no doubt one of the most exciting times in a teenager’s life. In a few months, you’ll be leaving home to go away to school. It’s a big, incredibly awesome transition, and for the first time you’ll actually be living on your own for an extended period of time. And if you have diabetes, it means that you’ll have to be prepared to start managing most of it on your own.

You’ll be in new and unfamiliar surroundings, so it’ll be important for you and your folks to think about how to set yourself up, diabeteswise, before you actually pack your bags.

Here are a few things you should think about to set yourself up for success:

  1. Check in with Student Health a few months before you land on campus. Try to meet with the director and introduce yourself to him/her. Have a letter from your diabetes doctor explaining a little bit about your history so that they can have it in your student health records. What you want to do is to become a “known entity” to the staff before you actually need them to help you in case you get a bad case of the flu and you need help managing your diabetes because you’re too ill to do it by yourself.
    Remember, you’re more on your own at school and the expectation is that you’ll be able to take steps to get what you need for yourself, by yourself. You’ll have to learn to speak up and advocate for yourself. Doing this ahead of time, while you’re not under any stress, will really help you feel less awkward about asking for help and feeling supported when you need it. Being known by the staff will make it easier to get the help you need— whether it’s medication, IV’s or emergency diabetes supplies because you ran out. You might want to explain to them what a diabetes emergency is like, whether it’s mild hypoglycemia or more severe situations, including symptoms and best treatments.
  2. Identify diabetes resources in your school community. That means locating a pharmacy, introducing yourself there, and making sure that they have prescriptions for you on record for your medications and diabetes supplies like test strips and insulin. Even though you’ll be bringing supplies from home, you’ll definitely want to make sure that you can get them if you run out during the semester.
  3. Try, if you can, to locate a diabetes doctor or endocrinologist in your school community, in addition to any of the physicians that will be available to you through student health. You might want to see this person while you’re at school, and your usual doctor when you’re home. Again, it’s about being “known” ahead of time. This is important, especially if you have to be hospitalized for any reason, and not just for diabetes reasons. If you are hospitalized, you can have the hospital doctor contact your local endocrinologist, who will be able to consult for you and manage your diabetes competently while you’re there. Or, make sure that your home diabetes doctor has privileges at the hospital in your school community.
  4. Meet or talk with your dorm or residence counsellor and try to talk with your future roommates before the semester starts. Explain to them about your diabetes and what it takes to manage it on a daily basis. You might want to tell them about diabetes emergency situations, like having a mild hypoglycemia, or even a more severe one – telling them about the symptoms and what’s the best treatment for you and how to handle it. They might even be willing to learn how to give you glucagon! They need to know: this is about being responsible for yourself as well as to others in your circle of friends and acquaintances. Use your judgment and intuition about this. You don’t want to scare anybody away, but you do want to make sure that 2-3 people in your dorm know that you have Type 1 diabetes. This is about responsibly and competently setting up a support network for yourself
  5. Doing all this ahead of time will ensure that you’ll be able to concentrate on the most exciting things about going away to school: the adventure, making new friends, going to parties, playing school sports, taking great classes. This will help because you’ll know that you’ve built a framework, a foundation for your diabetes management that will allow you to go for the gusto.

It’s about taking that big step out and into the world, making sure that it’s a solid and responsible one, and giving you a sense of accomplishment of doing things right.