Ladies and Gentlemen, had you seen me this morning I’m sure you’d have thought that you’d never see this week’s post. A tiny figure, hunched over an i-phone outside a tent in the Ogwen Valley; the North Ridge of Tryfan making a stunning back-drop but the weak phone signal draining the battery. I wailed in frustration as I tried to describe to you the workings of an insulin pump before the battery died completely, but had to pause regularly to respond to the screaming of the tiddler or to keep tabs of the toddler, who was having the best time ever (well, since yesterday) exploring the tents and the front seats of the car.
Anyway, I thought I had my explanation sussed, when along came hubby (between climbing assignments this morning) to read over my shoulder.
‘No-one who doesn’t live with diabetes is going to follow THAT’ he muttered diplomatically, before the sceen flickered and it all vanished.
‘These social networking tools are very well designed,’ my father-in-law commented from the safety of his tent. ‘You feel as if you can’t live without connecting to them -’
Agggh! Frustration! And maybe I shouldn’t be using my morning off to write my blog at all! Maybe I should be brushing my hair, or at least finding my hairbrush, or going for my first run, or – or…… O God HOW am I going to explain about insulin concentrations to my readers….?
Anyway, this being my morning off, we jumped into a car to find a cafe which has a plug socket and a nice log for small children to play on and the hubby and father-in-law to supervise the Toddler and jiggle Tiddler up and down as necessary. As we drove over, we turned over the radio……. and heard a headline that completely stopped the press. Scratch insulin pumps: here is an Emerging Story. Rewrite, Liz! Rewrite!!!!
Imagine plummy BBC English broadcaster voice here: Theresa May has been diagnosed with Type One diabetes….. She is going to need injections at least twice a day for the rest of her life.
Yes, that is the Home Secretary. The second most powerful woman according to the Women’s Hour Power-List (and probably Britain’s MOST powerful woman because number One was actually The Queen, bu this is a blog primarily about my body and not feminism so I shall say no more about it) and she has TYPE ONE DIABETES! IN HER FIFTIES!
OK, so not hooray. Please excuse my insensitivity. My sympathy goes out to Theresa May. If she’s anything like I was, she will be feeling lousy, slightly fuzzy of vision, cheated out of being able to take her pancreatic function for granted and a little bit surprised to find out that ‘Juvenile-Onset Diabetes’ is no longer really associated with juveniles, but can come on – seemingly randomly – at any age.
She also appears to think that the most significant change to her life with diabetes will be injecting herself with insulin at least twice a day, as though she will be able to forget about it the rest of the time.
I remember having similar ideas. I was a twenty-six year old vet. I had been loosing weight steadily of the preceding months without trying and was actually feeling smug about my new size eight figure. I remember having to get my dress taken in repeatedly before I got married: the woman in the dress shop was getting quite frustrated. Large amounts of carbohydrates were making me feel a bit sick but I craved fast sugars – it took a lot of explaining to people afterwards that I was not diabetic becasue I used to swig orange juice from the carton, litres at a time, but was actually consuming the sugar because my cells were telling me that I was ‘hungry’ (see my previous post, Type One Diabetes for non-diabetics). Looking back, I was increasingly lethargic, going to bed as soon as I got home from work and a minor dog-bite on my thigh took well over three months to heal. These changes all happened very gradually and I thought nothing about them.
I didn’t realise I was ill until I got Thrush, which is common in people whose kidneys are throwing massive excesses of sugar out of the body via the urine (Thrush is a fungus that moves in to eat the sugar). At the same time, I was suddenly excessively thirsty. I decided that I had a urine infection and called the doctors, to be told by an authoritative recptionist that there was no appoitment available for three weeks. Had I done nothing I might have ended up comatose or dead, but luckily I was a vet and I was at work, so I urinated on one of those urine test-strips that people use in veterinary surgeries. I was expecting to find a bit of protein in my urine and possibly some blood. Instead, ‘blood glucose’ indicator turned a dramatic shade of green.
There was a brief comical scene which involved me trying to stab myself with a needle to get some blood to test with a glucometer, but I couldn’t bring myself to stab myself hard enough. I am a wimp. Luckily my receptionist, when handed a needle, was happy to oblige and few minutes later I was on the phone to the doctor’s receptionist again.
‘You couldn’t give me an appointment this morning, but I’m a bit worried. Would you let the doctor know my blood sugar is 30 milimoles per litre and ask him if this is alright?’
I knew bloody well of course. I just sat around my surgery and waited for the phone to ring.
So. I diagnosed my own diabetes! I didn’t really worry about the ‘diabetes’ bit: I thought I’d been clever! I remember telling my friends that if someone was going to get Type One diabetes it may as well be me: I am a vet; I understood the biology already; I was well aware of the complications so would look after myself and the hospital had said that I could still do a long-distance footpath and go to India when I finished my job. That was alright then. I didn’t even end up in intensive care on a drip, because I am lucky enough not to have been making ketones. Some people make ketones like mad and are hospitalised in a coma by the time a diagnosis is made.
As I said, at the moment what is being reported about Theresa May is that she will be having twice daily (or more) injections for the rest of her life. And that she will continue to be an MP and business will be as usual.
Indeed, I think it is widely believed that diabetics just have to inject themselves sometimes and carry on with life. I think most diabetics put a lot of effort into making things look as easy as this. I will also avoid commenting further on the Home Secretary’s personal health, as this is nothing to do with me and there may be factors that I don’t understand.
But what I will say is that we control diabetic dogs with a steady, fixed regeime of two injections a day. In order for this to work, we make them eat the same number of carbohydrates every single meal to match. We ban them from treats and suggest a very stable routine. We generally believe their regime to be crude compared with the latest human medical techniques. Injecting every time we eat to ensure that we take in enough insulin to properly ‘burn’ the carbohydrates in the food, for instance. Carbohydrate counting. Regular testing to make sure things are working. These techniques are associated with greater freedom to enjoy life and eat what we want and also with lower complication rates.
As for injecting every day, not all type one diabetics have to do this either: NEXT post, I will go back to my original idea of trying to explain to you about insulin pumps.
Meanwhile, let me say once again: Hoooray!!!!
Not Hooray that arguably the most powerful woman in Britain is ill; that she now has a chronic illness which will always be part of her life; that has been assocaited with lower life expectancy and some very real, formidable complications if you get it wrong – I met my first type one diabetic when I got talking to her while treating her Guide Dog. In the Doctor’s waiting room the other day, I met a woman who was waiting to talk to the consultant about whether they would amputate her remaining leg.
But Hooray! That she is brave enough to share her condition with journalists. Hooray that, even if it is reported as being so simple to treat that she just needs two injections every day, at least everyone will know that a woman with type one diabetes can function as Home Secretary.
Which I’m sure she will: it might be more complciated than she or the journalist realise, but it can definitely still be done.