Why I Carry A Backpack Instead Of A Cute Purse

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

“What do you have in there?!?” the woman behind me in the grocery store line aggressively asks. Her eyebrows are raised and she’s pointing to my backpack purse—the one that is the actual size of a college student’s backpack.

“Essentials,” I respond before turning back to the cashier. I’m not in the mood for small talk about my big bag … again. Instead, I’m trying to lure my toddler to stay on her butt in the front of the cart while I pay for our items.

The woman is not the first person—nor will she be the last—to ask a passive-aggressive or legit-curious question about my purse. Ever since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes almost fourteen years ago, I haven’t been able to carry one of those cute lipstick-and-cell-phone-only clutches that fashionable women carry. I’m loaded down—always.

What’s in my bag? The real question is, what’s not in my bag? I carry diabetes supplies, including a vial of insulin, two insulin injectable pens, a complete extra insulin pump set, a few syringes, glucose test strips, bandages, bandage tape, and fruit snack packets. I never, ever leave home without my Jolly Green Giant purse and bag of medical supplies.

Being a type 1 diabetic is no joke. In essence, without insulin, I will get very sick—fast. Though I wear an insulin pump, which gives me insulin 24/7, it can have its moments. At any time, I can get an occlusion alarm, meaning I’m not getting insulin.

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

There have been times when pump sets have been pulled out of my body, like when the tubing gets caught on a doorknob or cabinet pull. When diabetes is being a total jerk—like it inevitably is sometimes–my pump’s insulin just isn’t effective enough. This can happen for a myriad of inconvenient reasons. I have to pull an insulin pen and needle top from my purse and inject into my stomach.

The fruit snacks? No, these aren’t for my kids. (Though I’m absolutely not against parental bribery.) I carry fruit snack packets in case my blood sugar drops too low, and I need a fast, medically-necessary sugar fix. If that’s not enough, I also have a nasal spray that can shoot my blood sugar up. The medical tape I keep on board the USS Diabetic Tote has been applied to my skin on numerous occasions, securing various pieces of my insulin pump components.

Of course, it’d be lovely if I was the only patient in my family of six, but I’m not. Some of my children also need constant, reliable access to emergency medical supplies. I have a child with a tree nut allergy. Yes, we’re one of those annoying families who has to check the ingredients of every single ounce of food our child eats and play “20 Questions” when a birthday party cake is served. Having a child with a food allergy can be downright terrifying.

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

Then there are my kids with asthma, so I have a rescue inhaler on hand. In general, my kids’ asthma is well-controlled. However, with all the winter viruses going around, the unpredictable Midwest weather, and the occasional game of out-of-control tag, I can’t be too prepared.

I lug my bag around, plopping it down on countertops, tables, car floor boards, and benches whenever I can. I may audibly grunt when I pick it back up. There’s a reason my chiropractor sees me every other week. It’s not an option to just leave the supplies in the minivan—available to grab if need-be. Medications like insulin, rescue inhalers, and allergic response injections cannot be subject to extreme temperatures or they can lose their effectiveness. Not to mention, these are extremely expensive items to just leave laying around.

The reality is, carrying around all these medical supplies is unpleasant, but they are absolute essentials I can’t ditch for the sake of fashion or less-achy shoulder blades. The last thing anyone wants in a medical emergency is to panic (more) and scramble to find the go-to treatment. I need to know where all the things are at all times–and the easiest way to go about this is to keep the supplies readily available in my bag.

Courtesy of Rachel Garlinghouse

I do what a good mom does—suck it up and get the job done. Then I hear yet another older person say to me, “Doesn’t your back hurt?” as I’m carrying my preschooler in the front and my enormous backpack over my shoulders. “Yes,” I say, “It does.” But what am I going to do? A preschooler in a parking lot is safer in my arms than trying to break free from my hand to pick up a piece of someone’s spit-out gum or stomp in a murky puddle.

In addition to all the medical necessities, I carry all the mom-and-kid essentials in my purse—if we can even call it that. My wallet, cell phone, keys, lip balm, hand sanitizer, ponytail holder, and water bottle are always with me. Sometimes I’ll throw in wet wipes—even though I don’t have any kids in diapers—because they can fix almost every problem.

One day—maybe—I’ll have a smaller, on-trend purse that coordinates with my outfits and costs more than $29.99. But for now, my Mary Poppins bag I snagged on clearance will do just fine—because it has to.

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