Saturday, July 27, 2013

Extra Baggage

Tonight, I've been thinking about bags.

Part of living with diabetes and low vision is all the "gear" that needs to be carried around on a daily basis. I mean, most people can leave the house with their keys, wallet, and cell phone at a minimum and get through the day relatively fine. With diabetes, throw in a glucose meter kit, emergency carbohydrates, insulin pens or a pump, backup supplies (for pumps), and other miscellaneous gear such as a means of record-keeping. With low vision, throw in a monocular, magnifier, sunglasses, and a cane. With allergies, throw in Benadryl and other antihistamines, tissues, an inhaler, and an EpiPen.

And then throw in any of the other necessary extra stuff, such as an iPad or e-book reader—if you have room. Not to mention lunch!

This afternoon I went shopping for a DSLR bag, in hopes that I will bring my camera more places, and it has involved a fair amount of watching YouTube, reading reviews, and making comparisons. I settled on a bag that is larger than what I need for my camera gear, but has the room I need for all that "extra" stuff (and room to grow should I purchase another lens or two). Tonight, I began thinking about revamping my enormous swim bag into something more manageable, and did a quick Amazon search for some ideas. I am always after the most compact means of carrying my stuff, and with all this thinking about bags I also began thinking about how I could easily transfer my essentials from my everyday bag to my camera or swimming bag.

One of my biggest challenges is deciding what is reasonable to carry with me on particular outings and what is overkill. Do I really need to bring my EpiPen when I'm just going swimming at the local pool or going for a walk through the park? On one hand, I don't plan on eating anything other than what I brought. On the other hand, allergic reactions are never planned. I'm allergic to more than just food, things like pollens (trees, grass, weeds), animals (cats and dogs and feathers), dust and dust mites, mould, tobacco smoke, and mosquitoes, most of which are impossible to completely avoid. I get hives from petting cats and dogs and from touching potatoes, and have had situations where I've had to leave an environment because just breathing in steam from potatoes makes me feel allergic. Is the convenience of saving a small amount of space worth the small risk that I may have a life-threatening allergic reaction during an activity as sheltered as swimming? What if some random kid sitting next to me on the bus spills his bag of potato chips in my lap?

An EpiPen takes up a small amount of space. But when you repeat this for a dozen different pieces of "essential" gear, that space can add up quickly.

I went through a period where I had whittled my "essentials" down so much that the only backup pump supplies I carried on a daily basis was a filled insulin pen and a few needles. Everyone with diabetes knows that low blood sugar can come out of nowhere, and glucose tablets (and backup glucose tablets) are one thing I am never without. But, like an EpiPen, backup pump supplies aren't needed on anywhere near a daily basis, and can take up a lot of space. This worked for a while—until I actually found myself at work one day with a failed infusion site and rapidly climbing blood sugar. At the time I covered with injections, but after repeating that routine several times at work and other locations I've begun to carry a spare infusion set and cartridge with me at all times.

In terms of my low vision gear, I typically pack a monocular, a Compact Mini (a small video magnifier), sunglasses, and of course my cane, although that's mostly in my hand and not in my bag. Still, this is delicate equipment, and my bags in the past have been stuffed so full that LCD screens have been cracked (thankfully on a point-and-shoot camera, not my video magnifier) and sunglasses have been crushed. I've tried leaving some items, such as the monocular, at home ... but without fail, Murphy's Law means that on those occasions I invariably end up on and unfamiliar street corner with sparse pedestrian or vehicular traffic, a situation where a monocular is invaluable for me. And so, I end up counting all these items as essential.

I do make some compromises on what I carry. I only carry one EpiPen with me, even though most sources recommend carrying two. I don't carry a glucagon kit around on a daily basis, even though there is a chance I may someday need it. I don't carry some things, like my reading glasses, on a daily basis even though I occasionally find myself wishing I had them. I carry about as much medical gear to survive for roughly two days—assuming nothing in the bag is lost or damaged—and just hope I never encounter a disaster that calls on me to survive for longer. I live in an earthquake zone, and on occasion I'll see articles or PSAs about how everyone should have a kit that would enable them to survive for 72 hours unassisted in their homes and cars. That's a tall order for someone who uses public transit, but after seeing numerous natural disasters occur in populated areas over the past few years, I've decided that it's not so far-fetched that I could get stranded across the city for a night or two.

Often, especially on days when I have to bring a lunch or something like my iPad or BrailleNote with me, I end up carrying two bags. Sometimes, I feel like a pack mule, especially if I also stop at the grocery store on the way home and end up with a few bags of produce in addition to my original load. I have tried backpacks, but don't favour them because they can get awkward on crowded public transit, and I invariably end up whacking someone in the face when attempting to sit, stand, or turn. My current project is to find a way of packing lunch that makes it small enough to fit inside my bag, so that I have that one less thing to carry on my daily commute.

Evidently, I do a fairly good job of packing large amounts of gear into relatively small bags. Every time someone picks up my bag they go, "Wow, what do you have in here?!" I'm sure they don't really want to know--that would involve going into my entire medical history--but I assure them that, no, I really can't go without anything in the bag. Now, to solve the issue of quickly transferring essentials from one pack to another without forgetting something ...

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