(I’d get some cake but, y’know…)
I’ve lived with diabetes for ten gloriously irritating years; injections and blood tests are a routine, I’ve used the phrase ‘Yes, I can eat that’ more often than I’ve uttered the word ‘and’ in any context, and I’m, now incredibly specifically good at maths: I can work out how much carbohydrate is in anything from eggs to mud, but I can’t figure out triangles for the life of me. And on this momentous day, I shall enlighten you with the story of my diagnosing, ten years ago today (give or take a week).
As with any other great story, our protagonist started by being incapacitatingly ill; I lost enough weight to make a Daily Mail reader cry with envy, and I was drinking my own body weight in liquids a day, from water to milk to Coke, showing that if there is a God, He’s got a brilliantly ironic sense of humour. Then, after deciding that ‘I’ll be fine if I rest’ for a few weeks, my mum researched ‘diabetes’, as my uncle has it too so we always suspected I could get it, and she thought I had it, a diagnosis later confirmed by my GP. We then quickly buggered off to hospital, where an unsympathetic doctor sat me down in his office, told me I had diabetes, and left immediately, in scenes closely resembling any involving Doc Cottle from Battlestar Galactica.
I then spent a week in hospital itself, in a children’s ward called Rainbow Ward, in a bed in the corner, because I was apparently the ward’s latest casualty. I had drips plugged into the backs of my hands, the processes of which I don’t remember, and a heart monitor strapped to my chest; I then pissed myself off for a week by selfishly not dying, so the damn thing bleeped every minute or so. I only got out of bed once that week, and spent it looking around the ward at other children who couldn’t leave their beds. Not a great place for sight-seeing, all those sick people.
I got a crap-load of sympathy presents though, which was nice: I got a Game Boy Advance with Sim City 2000, and got free use of the ward’s PS1, which I used to play 16+ fighters while my parents weren’t there, because my nurse Alison was a badass like that. She also gave me toast, which was invariably cold because they put the kitchen on the other side of the ward. I appreciated the effort though.
The diabetes was kinda sucky at this point: I had to have hourly blood tests to monitor my sugar levels, which hit as high as 30mmol/litre, when they should be between 4 and 7 and, being a seven-year-old, I couldn’t do any of these, or the injections, myself, meaning my introduction to this life-long medical condition was one of passivity, dependence and fear: it’s no fun being stabbed every hour when you can’t even learn the results.
I was also told off for being a diabetes nerd: I read all the kids’ books on the condition, and so proceeded to read all the adults’ books on it that were for my parents. This annoyed the nurses, who told me to go back to playing video games, which isn’t a bad prescription. I understand that they did this to protect me: I was a child, and so learning of the potentially fatal and foot-related impacts of diabetes would probably have scared me more than anything else, but I still feel my introduction to it was imbalanced: diabetes was presented to me as a ting understood and managed by others, that I, perhaps rightly, wasn’t ‘allowed’ to know about. Thinking about it, there’s no real surprise that some teenagers get hospitalised because they outright refuse to do their injections, as they’ve never felt anything towards diabetes other than annoyance and repulsion.
Within two years of leaving the hospital, I was doing all of my own injections, so I was eventually given total control of my body and my condition – help from parents is much appreciated, but it’s nice to control your own bloodstream – but I could at least have been introduced to this idea of control when I was seven.
And while I accept that it sucks sometimes, it’s really not that bad as a condition: I can do whatever the Hell you can do, provided I do an injection, which stopped hurting badly after about three years. I have four functioning limbs, an able mind, and I’m not overly-reliant on a machine to survive: I need insulin injections to live, but I won’t die immediately if I miss a meal here or there, as I’m doing now to write this post in my lunch break.
But, this is a good chance (because no other days would be appropriate to discuss this, right?) to look at the future of my diabetes: I’m getting an insulin pump in the next few months, a device which attaches on my body and contains insulin, which is released into my bloodstream at the command of a separate, hand-held device. This essentially eliminates injections, which helps with reducing the number of ‘Ow, my frakking arm’-type shouts in our house, and better mimics the behaviour of a natural pancreas: releasing insulin slowly throughout the day, not in big doses the three times I eat a meal.
The pump is also very flexible, in that I can remove it at will, either for an hour to do sports, or for a few weeks and go back to injections for better micro-management of meals if I’m going abroad and will be eating new food, that will require more complex maths to work out the dosages for.
Obviously, this won’t change my life to a massive extent, but it will make the treatment of my diabetes more convenient, which is ultimately the purpose of managing a long-term condition; barring life-changing developments in stem cells and pancreatic transplants, that would be similar in complexity and impact to curing cancer, I’ll be taking insulin manually for the rest of my life. And so on my personal Diabetes Day, I’m focussing on the fact that managing this sort of condition isn’t focused on protecting me and isolating me from others, but levelling the playing field, and making my body as independent and personal, but also as vulnerable and screw-up-able, as everyone else’s.
So happy Diabetes Day, or as my friend suggested, the Anniversary of my Divorce from my Pancreas.