Earlier today I received an email from an American friend who has been living in Hong Kong for over six years. She attached a photo of a suitcase dedicated solely to diabetes supplies bound for the US for an 8-week summer stay and then she’ll return when school resumes. Two years ago her son Ned (a 4th grader today) was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in a hospital here in Hong Kong.
If you think having a child with diabetes is difficult, multiply your experience by a dozen or so because living in a foreign country with a diagnosed Type 1 child can be very difficult indeed. What is difficult?
- Language barriers
- Different Medical systems (different is a relative word – it can mean not the same or substandard)
- Backward technology or perspectives (say, pumps aren’t used regularly)
- Products can “go out of stock” at whim or become unavailable
- Big cities in Asia are expensive and currency values can inflate prices against the dollar (especially in the UK) (Most expensive cities in the world 2012 article here)
- Cultural values about illness can be unusual or just different to that of your home country. Sometimes children are more restricted, sometimes less so
- Insufficient nutrition labels or no labels at all
- Isolation, lack of support or just generally less fellow patients/families to meet
Resilient families and individuals adapt and make the most of it. Sarah deals with every new challenge related to her son’s diabetes with aplomb and caution. She is sincere and tough without being morose. In fact, she laughs a lot aloud. Ned is given every opportunity to be a kid. That’s not easy – I can tell Sarah doesn’t want him to feel burdened. Ned will thank you later in life, Sarah!
The other day I was sitting with a few moms and dads while the children swam in a pool. I heard Ned’s pump alarm in a duffel bag and Sarah and I turned to each other nodding our recognition at the sound.
Real support is feeling familiar solidarity.
This post is dedicated to all the families living abroad, far away from home with Type 1 diabetes, whether you are facing spitting rain on the streets of Edinburgh, fighting the crowds on the sidewalks of Hong Kong, or feeling the heat of the sand in Qatar. We know you are out there! Please contact us if you would like to share your experiences.
There are reportedly 3 million Americans who expatriate every year, and approximately 5 million British Nationals who live abroad. In total, there are 200 million Expatriates (people who leave their native country, but retain their home country status) according to the United Nations.