Surviving the Spanish Flu While In Another Country

I felt compelled to write this post after reading a NY Times article about pandemic mortality rates over the decades. In 1999, I gave myself a graduation present to visit a friend in Paris, France to celebrate the millennium. My family warned against the trip because of the uncertainty of Y2K, but that didn’t stop me. My friend was a nanny for the US Ambassador and I knew my time in France would not be the typical tourist adventure. I headed out with a HUGE backpack and cannot recall what diabetes supplies were on board. 

I landed in Paris and my whole diabetes world flipped upside down. At the time, I was giving Regular and NPH injections (cloudy & clear) before breakfast and dinner. The time difference was a bit hard to adjust to at first, but I managed to quickly get things in order because I wasn’t going to let T1D stop me from having fun.

While overseas it was my #1 wish to travel to the home country of U2, my favorite band at the time. With Christmas soon approaching, my friend had a few vacations days, so we hopped the first flight to Dublin with no reservations or game plan. It was the scariest flight I have been on to date, but that is besides the point. We spent 4-5 days traveling the Irish country side relying on the kindness of strangers – literally. Our diet consisted of Guinness, cheese, nuts and bread which also made T1D a bit tricky at times, but I powered on.

Shortly after returning to France I started to feel ill, but trekked along. We were in Y2K party planning mode and had everything lined up to celebrate the millennium in style. A day or two before the big party, shit hit the fan. I had chills, couldn’t get out of bed and had only eaten an orange over the past two days. I continued to take insulin and for the life of me don’t recall testing my blood sugar. On New Years day, my friend insisted on taking me to the emergency room. We sat in the ER for 6+ hours. My friend, who was fluent in French, kept sharing with the front desk staff that I was “diabetique“. With little to no regards of how ill I was, she rang the US Ambassador and shared her concern for my life.

I was soon wheeled back and given a pill to reduce my high fever. Mind you – the cup was taken from a pile of discarded cups in the hall and I was not given a room. They x-rayed my chest and as I got dressed, there was a car waiting for me to be escorted to the American Hospital in Paris. As the driver sped to get me there, I broke my fever and literally sweat through my GAP wool coat.

The hospital gates opened and I was escorted immediately into an exam room where a male doctor appeared who happen to be from San Francisco. He quickly examined me and I was diagnosed with the Spanish flu. The doctor was kind, thorough and I left his office with two pills. Within days I was walking the streets of Paris again. Even though I lost a few days during this epic adventure – I survived and learned a lot about myself.

Fast forward 20 years – I had no idea the Spanish flu has killed 40-50 million people since it’s outbreak in 1918. With the fear of COVID-19, I remind myself of surviving a pandemic in another country while catching it in another country. Kind of funny, but seriously, we are all subject to illness and those of us with T1D are at a much higher risk. I think this is one of the many reasons I do my best to keep my BGs in range, exercise, choose healthy options, and meditate (mental health) while still living life TO THE FULLEST.

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