glucose Archive

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MY DIABETES STORY

I found out I had Type 1 Diabetes on the 15th of January 2009. This is my story.

I am a Type 1 Diabetic. This is my story:

For a long time I had this odd sensation inside: I didn’t feel at one with myself, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. There were many possible contributing factors: private, personal, mental, physical, and professional. 

I guess it all came to a head in October 2008. We (the family) lost someone very special that month; it was a loss that cut me very deeply, more than I was prepared to acknowledge at the time.

The months after the funeral – leading up to Christmas – was a numb procession, and I attributed my dark, unpremeditated mood swings and the feeling of cold resentment and disdain towards the world to the unremitting grief that I was enduring. I had not been eating well; I connected the drastic weight loss to grief.

I was learning to drive and would have been taking my test in January. I was blaming the shifts for my lapses in concentration when driving, and the driving for my indolence during shifts – feelings of lethargy are habitual for any shift worker. My bouts of insomnia were, I believed, answerable to the relentless shift patterns as well. 

I was aware that my eyesight had gotten blurry and I was getting frequent headaches – I stare at over 200 CCTV screens for a living, who wouldn’t get a sore head and square eyes from doing that?

The air in workplace can be quite dry; it is common to get thirsty. It was only until I was drowning myself with pint after pint of water, thirst un-quenched, that I realised something was wrong. My voice had lowered over the space of weeks; gruff growls and phlegmatic rumbles, as if gargling wall tacs. 

My throat was inflaming and I was experiencing persistent pains, like barbed wire had encumbered my tonsils. Again, there was a probable explanation: several of my colleagues had succumbed to a lingering flu bug and had simply spread the love to me.

It was during the 2008 Christmas period that I rapidly deteriorated. I was feeling tired, incensed, and confused. My family (of nurses) thought that I had, ‘come down with something’ (weren’t they right). I had no interest in Christmas at all – or anything else in life. During the dull festive period I was happiest when retreating to work or having driving lessons; where I could find focus on the job at hand. I was clearly not myself.

For weeks I had been snapping at my girlfriend and arguing with colleagues for no reason; generally behaving like a prepubescent teenager, realising my actions through the punishment of hindsight. I can be a miserable bastard anyway, but these moods were darker; out-of-the-blue. I had also been enduring the same headache for over a month. Something wasn’t right.

My 30th birthday celebration consisted of me, my girlfriend, and a mutual friend meeting up for a meal and drinks in Cardiff – I didn’t crave for much else in the way if social interaction. By 7 o’clock I had abandoned tequila and was drinking tea. By 8 o’clock I was ready for pipe and slippers. Anyone who knows me with testify that I am always among the last revellers to fall. And I still had that damn headache.

It took two weeks to get an appointment with the doctor. I was getting worse by the day. Finally, after enduring an eight hour night shift, I arrived at the local surgery. Following an examination I was abruptly admitted to hospital.

My keytone levels were dangerously high and I had registered one mother-and-father of a blood glucose reading: 30 mmol – A nurse shouting ‘Bloody hell!’ is always the first hint that something is amiss.

Tired and confused, I contacted the relevant family members for a lift to hospital and started to pack my overnight bag. I didn’t have a clue what diabetes was; I was hoping that they could have it sorted in a few weeks. 

Ignorance would not be bliss. The wait at the hospital was over 3 hours. By this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, and was feeling it in every part of my forlorn, fragile body.

Finally, I was allocated a bed to not sleep in. Various pricks, prods, pokes, and consultations; pretty student doctors telling me to piss in ugly jars. It was getting too much. I started getting quite worried when they attached some sort of heart monitor. All that talk of kidney and liver functions was quite unsettling, too. 

Hospital curtains are not soundproof, but medical staff must be genetically altered to believe they are. I was trying very hard not to get salty with the staff; they helped me achieve that by simply ignoring me. I just wanted to go home, close my eyes, and sleep.

Men are funny creatures: On the bed of reckoning; tired, panicked, fatigued, and sedated; connected to drips, and whatever else was sticking in and out me, and I still had time to eye-up the nurses. Pepé Le Pew lives in my libido! Eventually, some smartly dressed doctors approached me. My initial thoughts at the time were ‘Don’t look at me all fucking jolly and smiling!’ But they did. 

While looking at me all fucking jolly and smiling they told me that I have Type 1 Diabetes. I would have to inject insulin for the rest of my finite existence. A new full time job; without pay or leave entitlements. No promotion prospects and the daily potential threat of termination – of the terminal kind.

It’s surreal to think back to that life-defining moment. While the specialists were telling me the most important, life-changing news, I was formulating a cheesy James Bond sketch in my head: 

A rather attractive nurse approaches me and says, ‘please lift up your t-shirt so I can examine you.’ Mere seconds later, I’m sat up in bed wearing nothing but a dazzling white towel robe, pouring two glasses of champagne. A single red rose peers over the deck of a silver ice bucket. ‘Would you care for some caviar?’ I ask, lifting a seductive eyebrow, ‘An hors d’œuvre, perhaps?’

The sleep deprivation and denial had settled in; sheer disbelief and refusal to face the reality: that diabetes is for life. Always. For ever. Longer than a little while. No cure. A bit of a pickle to say the least, old chum.  

I was discharged the same night and was instructed to return the following morning to learn to inject myself and test my levels. This was followed by a consultation with the dietitian who would convert me to fruit, veg and other alien foods. 

I strongly recollect having best night’s sleep that I can ever remember having. I woke up feeling new, sharp and focused; no longer high. Had I not been myself for so long that I had forgotten what ‘being myself’ felt like?

Answers were coming ten-to-the-dozen: I had been suffering with high sugars for a long time. Whenever I consumed a hearty lunch my eyes would feel like they wanted to spin around like the slots in a fruit machine. I would feel especially tired after eating rice, pasta, and potatoes.

During the weeks leading up to my diagnosis I was quenching my thirst with orange juice and tea with the usual two sugars – sugars! I was eating healthy: rice, pasta, and potatoes – carbohydrates! I was beginning to think that I was lactose intolerant because I always felt sleepy after eating cereals and things with cheese, like pizza – pizza and cereal are high in carbohydrate! 

I took to injecting quite quickly; my survival instinct had kicked in at this point – subconsciously absorbing this new information. The lecture from the dietitian didn’t sink in, however. Irony is me contracting a disease that involves maths: I’m one of the 5-in-4 people who has problems with fractions! 

I was given a semesters worth of books to study; addressing cheerful subjects like blindness, neuropathy, ketoacidosis, heart-kidney-liver failure, amputation, hypers and hypos. “Erectile dysfunction? What the bloody fuck?” 

The specialist had written down how much I was to inject myself with, but I didn’t have a clue how much to eat – and I was too dumbfounded to ask. I was still drifting in a haze of denial; yet to be blindsided by the brutal realisation. But it wouldn’t be long before that freight train rolled in.

Later that evening I was sobbing over a lonely breast of chicken and a heap of steamed broccoli. It was as if every bereavement and breakup I had endured in my life had reunited and was dragging my guts across a bed of hot coals; littered with shards of glass, ghost chilies, and Lego. 

I felt like I had been betrayed by myself. And I failed my fucking driving test. After reading the study notes of my condition, silly things started running through my mind – the desperation phase: 

I began looking for miracle cures on the internet; kidney and pancreas transplants. I didn’t ask for diabetes to enter my life; this disease that would always there when I woke up and the last thing on my mind before Morpheus lured me to outlandish realms.

By design I am a fighter; I take the blows that life hits me with and bounce back stronger. I am a control freak; living my life the way I want to. Over the years I have come back stronger and found positives: I passed by driving test and I worked out my carbohydrate-to-insulin ratio.  

I attended a diabetes course where I proved to myself that I was doing everything right; I have become friends with other diabetics and learned from their experiences.

I am at a point where I no longer feel restricted by my diabetes; I just have to think about things a little more; plan ahead. I make more time to observe and learn about the world around me; to live the dream and enjoy the smaller, more pleasant things on this pale blue dot!

‘Would you care for some caviar..?’

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CARBS AND A CUMBERLAND PIE

After a few months as a newbie diabetic, I discovered my carb-to-insulin ratio. It was all thanks to a man named Clive and a Cumberland pie...

After a few months as a newbie diabetic, I discovered my carb-to-insulin ratio. It was all thanks to a man named Clive and a Cumberland pie:

A lot of things are taken for granted in life; things like walking, talking, breathing, and whiskey. It’s only when those things are compromised that you realise you couldn’t function without them. Cruelly, for a diabetic, one natural and satisfying act in life is also one that demands the most care: the simple act of eating.

As a Type 1 I have to be more conscious and careful with my meal portions – ‘All things in moderation’, as my late Gran would say. For diabetics diet is all about carbohydrates and sugars – just like time and space is relative, so are carbohydrates and sugars. I’ve never had a sweet tooth and have always maintained a balanced diet; in that respect I am quite fortunate.

Five out of four people have problems with adding-up, and I am one of those six people. In the early months of diabetes I struggled with counting carbohydrates, especially pasta and rice. I was practically living off ‘healthy living’ microwave meals and Kellogg’s variety packs because the nutritional contents were printed on the back.

My overall feeling was that if I couldn’t eat, drink and be merry, then just measure me up, lay me in a wooden box and feed a thousand worms me for Christmas. I was on a fixed insulin dose of insulin per meal and was advised by my dietician to consume around 50 grams of carbohydrate per meal. So I did just that. Two hours after food my target blood glucose levels were always between 5-7 mmol – where a ‘normal’ person’s levels live.

But, it was getting to the point where I was eating to stay alive and not getting any pleasure out of it. During night shifts I don’t get very hungry, so instead of one large meal I take bread rolls. Rolls are around 25 grams of carb each – half of a main meal. I found that by halving my dose to 4 units per roll I was achieving the same target blood results (5-7 mmol).

On one afternoon shift I was talking to my work colleague, Clive, about my food dilemma. ‘What you’ve got there is the six times table’, he said. I stared at him, confused; as if a Berman cat had just materialized on his head. He continued, ‘4×6 is 24, and 8×6 is 48.’ The Berman coughed up a fur ball. ‘For 24 grams you take 4 units, and for 48 grams you take 8 units…that’s close to the six times table!’

The Berman cat caught, and toyed with a small vole. ‘If you were to eat something containing around, say, 36g of carb, then wouldn’t you require 6 units?’ The Berman put on a top hat and leapt into the air in triumph; performing a rather slickCharlestonroutine.Eureka! (Meow!)

Later in the shift I headed with purpose to ASDA and purchased a Cumberland Pie containing around 36g of carb and dosed as per six-times-table. A few hours after eating it I was within my target blood glucose range.

Over the next few days I experimented like a hippy in Amsterdam with different meals of varying consistency containing different carb contents, and achieved some far-out results. My insulin-to-carb ratio – or ‘food mojo’ – is around 1 unit for every 6 grams of carbohydrate I consume. My diet – within reason – is whatever the hell I want it to be.

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TEQUILAS AT SUNSET

A trip to London’s south bank resulted in my first public encounter with another diabetic.

 A trip to London’s south bank resulted in my first public encounter with another diabetic (Written in 2009).

My girlfriend and I had spent the day at the Christmas markets in London’s Hyde Park; and later at the South Bank where we stumbled upon Las Iguanas – a South American themed cocktail bar that, once upon a time, served the best Tequila Sunrises this side of Saturn.

Las Iguanas have since decided to scrub Tequila Sunrises off the drinks menu – which is like Severn Trent Water deciding not to supply H2O anymore. In all fairness, though we asked if they could mix us some Sunrises anyway, and they did – at happy hour prices, too!

I did have get narky with one of the bar staff at one point; he decided that he would only serve Tequila Sunrises in pitchers – priced at un-competitive mortgage rates. I assertively remarked that this was our third call to the bar – for the same drink – and challenged him to explain his sudden shift to the right-wing of bar politics.

Upon my triumphant return to our table, another couple had perched themselves on the sofa beside us. I noticed that the blond girlfriend who was injecting into her right arm, using something that looked familiar: it was the same insulin pen that I use.

“Excuse me,” I asked, holding my own insulin pen aloft; like a secret hand shake of the Freemasons. “Are you Type 1?” She smiled and nodded. I couldn’t help but give a wry grin at her response when I told her that I was a recent type 1, “How’s that working out for you?” It was like a prison inmate asking another prison inmate ‘what are you in for?’

The diabetic I had just introduced myself to was named Lucy. She was 24 years old and had been ‘doing her time’ since the age of 11 – just as she should have been starting to enjoy the fruits of life. Lucy and her boyfriend, James, were out on a day trip toLondonin an attempt to ‘do something cultured’ with their day.

After a while we began swapping stories and comparing our likes and hates of our disease; like the overwhelming temptations of certain foods – and, generally, the general unfairness of it all. We soon discovered a mutual adoration for adopting spirits as a coping method – well, spirits are sugar free!

Naturally, being so young, Lucy took the news of being insulin dependent quite hard and constantly rebelled against her diabetes; stubbornly doing the same things as her friends, only to end up getting incapacitated by hypos. She even secluded herself from the other diabetics at the local clinic; resenting being viewed as different from her friends.

Lucy’s gung-ho attitude was swiftly rectified at the age of sixteen when she found herself in hospital as a result a severe hypo. Lucy recalled hearing her mother asking the doctor if she was going to pull through; the doctor simply shrugged his shoulders.

It was during that brief spell in hospital were Lucy acknowledged the fragility of diabetes – how easy it is to kill yourself without trying. It was the wake-up call she needed and has since grabbed the diabetes bull by the horns.

She still goes off the rails from time to time, but she is still young and comes across as mature enough to understand that anything can be enjoyed in moderation. I have since met a few other diabetics who were diagnosed quite early in life; I can’t imagine how restricted they must have felt during the times when rebellious instinct was at the forefront of their adolescence.

I was diagnosed quite late in life and had already enjoyed my rebellious teenage years in pirate fashion; drowning myself in murky, snakebite infested waters and high spirits; chocking on the thick layers of fog as I passed duchies on the port side.

I have since become far too cautious for my own good; even my diabetic nurses feel the need to persuade me that it is okay to ‘let go of the reigns every now and again’. Meeting and talking to people like Lucy has definitely helped me come around to their way of thinking.

Lucy told us that her handbag had recently been stolen, containing the essential glucose meter and insulin pen. While waiting for a replacement glucose meter she was getting by on sheer guess-work. Lucy’s improvisations had recently resulted in a nasty ‘episode’ on a tube train; I had a similar experience.

Lucy’s boyfriend, James – who eventually managed to get a word in – works with dogs. He provided a fascinating insight into the new training techniques being developed for medical benefits, including ‘hypo awareness dogs’ for people with poor diabetic control.

Happy at having had his chance to speak, and Lucy finding that her cocktail glass was empty, the couple set off on their cultural adventure.  After all the help and advice she gave me, I felt like should have offered something in return, but the only helpful thing that sprung to mind at the time was, ‘don’t go to the Tate, it’s really shit’. So, I wished them well on their adventures and returned to the bar.

Update:  Las Iguanas have once again started selling Tequila Sunrises.