Living with T1D: A day in the life of a rocket scientist with diabetes

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April Blackwell

Living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) presents a unique set of challenges on a daily basis. On top of being a parent or performing a stressful job, we have to balance the logistics of a complicated condition — a diabetes-related issue can significantly impact normal life duties, and vice versa.

For me, every day is an exercise in this delicate, intricate, exciting balance. Here's an overview of the literal highs and lows I experience during an average day living with T1D, combined with my duties as a mother and rocket scientist.

Wake up call

I may be living with T1D, but it's my role as a mom that usually wakes me up (sans alarm clock). Every day around 6:30 a.m., my two kids toddle down the stairs and hop in my bed for a few minutes.

Every child is unique, but these two have a mom with T1D, so they're sensitive to my insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) site placement. They are keenly aware that the insulin pump vibrations in my pajama pocket are an indication that "mommy should check her diabetes" and proceed to tell me (as toddlers do).

Otherwise, mornings are somewhat routine around our house. We eat a healthy breakfast as a family, and I bolus for the cereal and coffee creamer. Then, I gather up my supplies for the day, including backups for all my T1D devices.

Arriving at the office

As a flight controller in NASA's mission control center, my shift starts promptly at 7:30 am. I always prepare with a cup of coffee on the drive in and by taking a quick check of my blood sugar before heading inside.

Flying the International Space Station from mission control can be stressful, but the work itself is not all that different from the mechanics of managing a condition like T1D. During my shift, I monitor data from the space station and troubleshoot problems if they arise. With T1D on board, I simply monitor an extra set of data (coming from my own body) and send insulin pump commands to account for food or anomalies.

Managing diabetes while managing a spacecraft

Low blood sugar snacks are a necessity while I'm at work, and I always carry a backup insulin pen and a glucose test kit in case of a pump or CGM failure. Unfortunately, I've had to tap into these reserves while on shift before. It helps to always be prepared.

Each flight director (the leader of all the flight control teams worldwide) is aware that I have T1D. It's important that they understand the full capabilities — and potential weaknesses — of their team. For instance, I may need to eat a snack or perform an injection while doing my job; and in this type of environment, it's best to keep surprises to a minimum!

Taking care of my diabetes while managing a spacecraft is critical in order for me to appropriately recognize potential issues and contribute to the team's collaboration during an emergency. After all, six (or more) humans in space are counting on each of us in mission control to keep them and their spacecraft safe.

Winding down

After work is done, its time for family. In Texas, we enjoy swimming after dinner to cool off, so I do a quick blood sugar check-in, make a correction or advance correction bolus if necessary, and disconnect from my insulin pump for an hour or so. Luckily, my CGM site can stay put even in the water, so it's a quick connection physically (and via Bluetooth) when our swim is complete.

After the kids are in bed, I like to head out on a 30-minute walk just to clear my head, steady my blood sugar and enjoy some "me time." This is when I can wrap my head around challenging problems at work or come up with a creative way to teach my four-year-old how to read. These precious few minutes of movement do so much for my diabetes management, too!

The logistics of managing such a dynamic disease like T1D can feel like rocket science sometimes. On the bright side, it makes real rocket science seem a little easier.

Curious to read up on other aspects of daily life with type 1 diabetes? Visit the Edgepark HealthInsights blog to access its library of articles and learn more.

April Blackwell

April Blackwell is an aerospace engineer who works as an Attitude Determination and Control Officer in the International Space Station mission control center. She has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for over 20 years and is a passionate advocate with the hope to inspire everyone to reach for their dreams regardless of medical status.

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