On The Insulin Dependent Road: The DIY Guide to Touring with Diabetes


By Tim Mack

Photo by  Ashley Kossakowski

Photo by Ashley Kossakowski

So you want to go on tour? Fantastic!

Going on tour is one of the best parts of playing music. It’s time to pack all your gear and a few of your closest friends into a van that isn’t fit to drive down the street and head out across the country. But before any of that happens, there are a few things you’re going to have to do to prepare for your journey.

First, do you have all your gear? Drums, guitars, bass guitar, etc. This stuff is arguably the most important because if you don’t pack your gear then you’re missing the whole point of a tour, you big dummy!

Second, do you have all of your clothes and essentials for the tour? Rule of thumb for packing tour clothes is to take the total number of days you will be on the road then divide that number by itself. The resulting number is how many pairs of clothing you will need. Using this equation, we find a 13 day tour yields one shirt, one pair of pants, one pair of underwear, and one pair of socks. Same for a 30 day tour. It’s simple mathematics. A toothbrush, sleeping bag, and pillow are all musts and will be a nice addition to whoever’s home you forget them at.

Third, do you have all your meds? Your meds are important because, unlike socks and underwear, you WILL need them. Do you have enough insulin to make it the entire tour? How many days will you be on the road? Divide that by 6 and that’s about how many vials of insulin you should bring. What about test strips? Do you have enough to last the entire trip? One vial of test strips usually lasts about 5 days. Hopefully you accounted for the upcoming tour and tried to be frugal with your blood sugar testing in the weeks leading up to it. That way you will have plenty of strips to bring on the road. Don’t forget to bring your insulin pump supplies so you can swap out your pump site every three days and bring that bag of syringes just in case your pump stops working. Of course everything would be for naught if you forget the cooler and lunchbox you will need to keep your meds from frying in the heat during those long drives.

Do you have everything packed up and ready to go? You do? Radical! Time to hit the road! It’s day one of tour and you’re first up for driving duty. But hold on. Don’t go putting the pedal to the metal yet. There are a few things you have to do first.

Make sure you adjust your mirrors. The rearview mirror is useless since you can’t see out the back window anyway thanks to the pile of gear blocking your view. The side mirrors, though, should be adjusted properly. Make sure everyone is buckled in and then check your blood sugar. If it is under 100, you are not fit to drive. In the case of a blood sugar reading under 100, eat a few glucose tabs or drink some soda to get your blood sugar back up. Once it is back up above 100, you are all ready to head out on your very own tour adventure!

TIP: IF your van does not have air conditioning, make sure your insulin pump is not in your pocket. If you find yourself on a long, non-air conditioned, drive then you need to put your insulin pump in a lunchbox alongside an icepack. If you don’t do this, then your insulin pump will heat up and make the insulin inside of it useless. This will send your blood sugar skyrocketing and you will not be a happy band mate.

Hopefully the drive went well and you made it to the venue.  If you made it to the venue in one piece then it’s time for the show! Load in your gear and put it wherever the promoter tells you to put it. If you don’t know who the promoter is just look for the only person there. So load in, set up, and then wait the 2 hours after the actual start time for people to start trickling in. At some point you will receive a rough estimate of what time you are supposed to play.

Test your blood sugar about a half hour before you play. You probably want to go into the show with a blood sugar of around 180. This way when your blood sugar drops after the show due to the physical exertion, you will hopefully stay in the range of 80-140 and not go too low. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water before the show as well because nothing ruins a set like heat stroke. Head to the stage about 5 minutes before the show starts to make sure your gear is all set and ready to go. Time to rock!

If you prepared for the set then you shouldn’t have a problem, but if you begin to feel light-headed or dizzy, make sure you check your blood sugar. If it is under 60 you need to stop the set and raise your sugars right away. In case of a low blood sugar emergency, just ask your guitarist to play some tunes from his solo project while you down a Pepsi and wait for your body to stop shaking.

As soon as you finish your set, you should start tearing down your equipment. Take all your gear offstage and then break it down. This way you’re not taking up time mucking around on stage. If the headlining local band needs to borrow your gear, then you can just leave it set up. Sometimes it’s difficult for the band that lives 20 minutes away from the venue to bring amps, drums, and talent.  But what are you gonna do? Say no? Ha! If you do that then there’s no show, dummy! So lend up!

So the show is done, you’ve packed up all your gear, and you have found a place to crash for the night. You are exhausted from a long day of driving and rocking out but before you can get some sleep you need to make sure your blood sugars are in a good place. By now they should be dropping a little from all of the day’s activities. Remember, you cannot go to sleep with blood sugar under 100. This is very important. If your blood sugar goes too low while you sleep, you may not wake up at all. So if you are under 100 then you need to eat or drink something to bring your blood sugar back up. Some fun activities you can do while you wait for your sugars to go back up are: watch your band mates sleep and wonder what their dreams are like, watch Adam Sandler’s The Cobbler on your phone, or just stare at the ceiling for a while. The sky is the limit!

Make sure you rest up because you’re about to do everything again tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. At times your health will stress you out to the point where you think, “why the fuck am I doing this to myself?” Your blood sugars will refuse to go down then refuse to go back up. You will lose at least one vial of insulin at some point. You will Google search nearby hospitals because even though you drank a coke and ate a bag of skittles, your blood sugar is still 54. You will be on the phone with the company who made your insulin pump trying to figure out why it isn’t working the way it is supposed to. Everything will feel out of your control and you will just want to quit.

But you won’t. You will keep going because the good will outweigh the bad. Long days will end with nights spent with familiar faces you haven’t seen in what feels like ages. Unfamiliar faces will become new friends. You will experience the kindness of strangers firsthand when one puts a roof over your head and a couch for you to crash on for the night. And once you’re sharing a stage with your best friends and playing music you created together, you will remember why you do this. Because touring and playing music is what you love, and it’ll take more than a broken pancreas to take that away from you.