Jamie Kurtzig was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at the age of 19 months. Now 16, she has been writing about her experiences on a blog series since 2017, first as “Diary of an Artificial Pancreas” and most recently under the titles “Looping with Jamie” and “Global T1D with Jamie”. Her family had been living in the Ukraine and India until the pandemic hit, returning to the United States earlier this year.
By Jamie Kurtzig
Evacuating India: Well, unfortunately, the new pandemic is making my family feel nervous about living in India. Our US Consulate and Embassy shut down and are only accessible by phone. Europe announced restricted travel, and borders were closing right and left. Our Visas in India were restricted, and our home base city, Bangalore, imposed a curfew (similar to our US “Shelter in Place” order). Temples, grocery stores, and even the Taj Mahal closed down. Thankfully, we made it there just days before it needed to close.
We decided to leave our North India vacation early and head back to Bangalore to gather our month’s worth of belongings and medical supplies and evacuate. I had been homesick this trip, so I was relieved to be going home. Personally, I was nervous about getting stuck in a foreign country. There are 1.2 billion people living in India, and there are not enough doctors or hospitals for everyone. If we had stayed one more week (like some of my dad’s work colleagues did), it could have taken us weeks or even longer to get home on a $2,000 per seat government sponsored plane. We packed up our lives months earlier than expected and booked new flights back home.
It was a stressful journey home since all the flights in India and all connecting airports/flights were crowded. We used hand sanitizer every few minutes and wore masks the entire time, but we did get to watch as many movies as we wanted (24 plus hours!!!). This part was great! I literally watched 7 movies – in a row!!
I was shocked at what happened when we returned to San Francisco. My parents had warned me that it might be a long wait at immigration/customs, but actually, nothing at all happened. There was no delay, no waiting, no questioning, no temperatures taken, nothing. When we started our self-imposed 2 week quarantine, we literally had no food or toilet paper since we had been gone so long.
Pandemic Puppy: For my brother’s birthday, we got a dog! This is my first dog ever, and I have wanted one my whole life! He is a goldendoodle named Miles (so we could say “We walk Miles every day”), and his middle name is Hope (after the JDRF Hope Gala). I don’t mean to brag, but I think I have the best dog in the world. Although he has had some accidents in our house (especially on my bedroom rug), we love taking him on walks, petting him, and playing with him. In the midst of all of this bad news, Miles has definitely helped cheer us up!
Virtual Hope Gala!: This was an amazing event, and I am so proud of the JDRF Bay Area team for putting together such a fantastic event in such little time and under all of these difficult circumstances. Their creativity and dedication made the switch from in-person to online extremely smooth. I was so honored to be a part of this special event that holds so much special significance to me and my family. This fundraiser is especially important right now because many clinical trials are stopping or being put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, science and innovation are more important than ever right now. Please continue to support JDRF and causes that are important to you and your loved ones. They need you.
My first AP exam: I am taking my first ever AP exam. I am taking the AP Spanish Language and Culture exam this year. Although I was prepared to take a long, multi-part written and spoken exam in person, this year’s restructured exam is only 22 minutes long and is 100% spoken!! This new news was quite a surprise for me, but I tried it anyway and it went well! My mom had helped me get some accommodations for this test months ago before the pandemic (like breaks as needed and access to food and drink, etc.), but it turns out that there was a loophole that we did not account for. I was entitled to all of these accommodations only for extended, written tests. Since the new exam was only 22 mins long and all verbal, I did not qualify for the accommodations. We just let the accommodations go this time and will know for future tests. I hope this information will help others who need accommodations for these big standardized tests.
Black lives matter: I know that this is a very sensitive topic right now, but I don’t think that I can stay silent on this issue. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others are completely unacceptable, and I feel so much for their families right now. I know that, as a white person in a predominantly white community, I will never understand what it is like to be a person of color.
Here is one thing I have been thinking a lot about lately: During all of my travels in Ukraine and India this year, I have requested to skip going through the metal detectors (to protect my diabetes equipment) countless times. I was wondering if people would treat me differently if I looked different. Oftentimes, people will just let me through without any additional tests, but I wonder if that would be the case if I looked different.
JDRF Summer Challenges: I am bummed that the JDRF One Walk, one of my favorite JDRF events, couldn’t happen in person this year, but I also really enjoyed JDRF’s pivot to the Summer Challenges! These were a series of 9 fun challenges that you could do from your very own home. My family did many of the challenges, and our favorites were making our own #JDRFPowerMask, gaming on Roblox, and creating works of art.
Close Concerns: I was supposed to be in the Dominican Republic this summer as part of the AYUDA program (American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad), but that got cancelled like everything else. So, I am thrilled to be working at Kelly Close’s Close Concerns for the second summer in a row! Although this summer’s virtual experience is much different than last year’s in-person experience, I am still loving it and feeling like I am contributing to the T1D community so much. I am really so grateful to Kelly and her smart team. I learn so much from them, and they have made me feel so welcome and valued.
Driving tests: I am going to be completely honest with you. I am a horrible driver. Since I got my permit, I have driven countless hours, but I am still struggling to stay safe and control the car well. I failed my behind the wheel driver’s license test twice and only passed after hours upon hours of driving around the DMV. (You only get three chances before you have to start the whole entire process all over again.) I was so nervous about my third and final test! I think that passing my third test was some kind of holiday miracle for me! Some of my biggest learnings have been to always look over your shoulder (and make it dramatic), be careful at two-way stops, and to drive around the DMV a ton. Interestingly, my blood sugar was super high during my first two tests (in the 300s) since I was so nervous. I wonder if this negatively impacted my performance on these first two tests. Overall, this driver’s license process was much harder than I thought.
JDRF Family fun nights: I absolutely loved organizing JDRF family fun nights to help keep our awesome JDRF community together! We hosted a scavenger hunt for random household items and a bingo night. We had a blast at both, and the ice cream bingo night prizes were a hit! Thanks to all who showed up!
Online school: Online school has been rough for me so far this year. I am actually pretty good at the logistics of it since I already did a year of distance learning last year during our travels. But, this second unwanted and unexpected distance learning year is hard for me now, especially since I am not able to see my friends much in person. We went to in-person school for a few days in our second quarter, but this was very restricted. We only went to in-person school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we ate lunch with our previous class. It’s a start.
Social distancing: Social distancing has been an interesting experience for me. It has been extremely frustrating for me to not be able to see my friends and family in person that much, and I have found myself noting the parallels between real life and dystopian books and movies! Although this year, in general, has been one of the hardest years for me personally, I need to remind myself of the silver linings of social distancing and put this extra time to good use. The best use of my time has been watching Marvel movies. I have seen every single Marvel movie, with my favorite characters being Captain America and Black Widow. My favorite Marvel movies are Black Panther and Spiderman Far From Home. In all seriousness though, I have actually had enough time to read books for the first time in forever! I have also been spending more time with my family, playing lots of card games, and going on walks with Miles. One of my pandemic projects has been participating in the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. In this challenge, high schoolers can enter a short video about a topic in science or math. Here is my video about the intersection of diabetes and coronavirus since I saw that diabetes can increase my risk of more severe coronavirus symptoms.
So, grab some popcorn and enjoy!
Wishing you a happy and safe holiday season!