My friend Gail is a mum to 2.5 children, married to John and living in Exeter. She runs her own business involved in the care industry and was diagnosed 5 and a half years ago with Type 1 Diabetes and has been living with it since. When Gail is not being a mummy, wife or business owner, she’s also an equine nutritionist. This is Gail’s story, in her words.
I am a mum of two with a third little pickle on the way, like most mums I juggle being the best mum I can be with the everyday challenges of running my own business, keeping my house from looking like a bomb has gone off and keeping on top of that never ending pile of washing! But for me, there is a whole other “thing” I have to manage, Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease which can affect anyone and at any age, though it is most common to get it in childhood. It means that my pancreas has entirely packed up and called it a day on making insulin of its own. It is absolutely NOT down to my lifestyle, my weight or eating too many sweets. And, unlike Type 2 Diabetes (where sufferers continue to produce insulin, but become resistant and it doesn’t work as well), us with Type 1 Diabetes can never get better; no magic cinnamon, fad diet or crazy exercise regime is ever going to “fix” my pancreas.
We are ever hopeful of a real cure being found and huge progress is being made by scientists – but right now, it’s incurable.
So, this is my life and it is never going to change. Everyday I wake up and before I do anything else I wash my hands, then use a finger pricker to check the blood sugar level from a tiny drop of blood from my finger tip. I then have to decide what I will eat for breakfast, how fast I need to eat (if my blood sugars are low) and what the exact carbohydrate content is for every morsel I will eat. I also have to think about my morning ahead: how active will I be? I then have to take all this information and using some clever mathematics, I have to calculate out how much insulin I need to take to be able to eat said breakfast. Hopefully – yes hopefully, I will get it right and I will make it to lunch time without having to correct a low with jelly babies or correct a high with another injection of insulin! Assuming I do, I just get to repeat the whole process again! On a good day I will take around 4-5 injections and test my blood sugars 5-8 times, over my lifetime that works out at a heck of a lot of little pricks to deal with! If I want to eat anything in between meals, I have to consciously think “what is the carbohydrate content? What are my blood sugars right now?”. The only stuff I can snack on without injecting is something with very low carb content like vegetables, eggs, meat & cheese. Everything else means yet another injection. Most of the time I’m lucky and I get the maths right. But it is not a science, it’s an art! Your pancreas (if it’s fully functioning!) is a clever old thing and works all this stuff out for you!
It’s always there, in the back of my head. Type 1 diabetes never goes away. After all it focuses on a life sustaining thing called food! If I am too low I could fall into a hypo and worst case end up unconscious and in hospital. Too high blood sugars mean I could also end up in hospital with toxic blood called DKA, or over time it will degrade my vital organs, affect my eyesight and I may not get to watch my children grow old. To most people, friends and family included, I do a pretty good job of keeping my numbers in check, but that in itself brings a different set of problems. Type 1 is a silent disease, which means people (without intent) can forget you are doing all of this stuff. They don’t see you having a discussion with yourself about whether you should have a glass of milk before you go to bed because your numbers are a little low and you would hate another hypo in the night where you wake in a clammy sweaty mess with the urge to eat the entire contents of the kitchen cupboard. Or worse still you may not wake up, or if you do you are so deep into the hypo you can’t treat yourself and you might end up dead. People don’t see the military precision of your planning so that you can go to Pizza Express and stuff your face with a carb fest pizza dinner just like everyone else, they don’t see you planning your meals earlier in the day to reduce your carb loading or the subtle workings out of “should I split my insulin dose over two injections?” so that I don’t go hypo before the finely milled flour of the pizza hits my blood full force and sends my blood sugars to the moon and back again! They just see you being “normal” which is credit to us Type 1’s in our ability to be “normal”! But we aren’t. And we have bad days. Where we want to stick two fingers up to it all, not analyse the crap out of the half a banana your daughter doesn’t want to eat, but you can’t just eat to save it being chucked away! Where I just want to bury my head in the sand and not test my blood sugars, after all if it doesn’t pop up on the little test screen your blood sugars must just be fine right? I get pancreas envy when my husband can eat Ben & Jerrys and his pancreas does its thing when mine leaves me feeling sick, lethargic and desperate for a wee!
BUT for every bad day, I have loads of good days. And there are of course the benefits, my diet is good, healthy and clean. I appreciate the treats, they mean so much more when not only do they taste good but your numbers are good afterwards! I have an amazing team of Diabetic Specialist Nurses, dieticians and of course a wonderful Professor all of whom keep me on the straight and narrow! Plus if anything goes wrong with me I get stuff looked into straight away. Not to mention that being very intune with my own body means I notice if things go sqwiffy! Oh and there is of course the no.1 benefit of getting served first at all family get togethers, just in case my blood sugars might be low!
I see being Type 1 as just another challenge life can throw at you, I can directly affect how good my health is or how bad it is. I can give support and help to newly diagnosed Type 1’s and hopefully show them that life can resume some sort of normality and that most importantly life can and does go on. I can educate and inform my friends, family and the wider public as to the symptoms and hopefully help Type 1 being picked up earlier before serious damage is done or worse still it is fatal. Which leads nicely to my final note: know the symptoms, for you, your children and your family….
- Extreme Thirst
- Frequent need to wee
- An increased appetite
- Unexpected and sudden weight loss
- Sudden vision changes
- Fruity odour on breath
- Heavy or laboured breathing
- Drunken like stupor or unconsciousness
These symptoms may occur suddenly or over days or weeks. But it is vital that if you, or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, you MUST go to your doctor immediately. If left untreated, Type 1 Diabetes can be fatal.
For anyone who wants more information on Type 1 Diabetes, visit the JDRF website.