Blue Fridays in November is about diabetes advocacy.
I’m supposed to wear blue every Friday in November and advocate about diabetes. The thought doesn’t thrill me.
There was no Diabetes On-line Community – DOC – when I was diagnosed in 1981. There was no line to get on.
Back then, I was admitted to a hospital in country Victoria, where I’d failed the glucose tolerance test, taken during a family holiday. I slumped soon after that hit of glucose and was carried, by a doctor, to a hospital bed. I raged for a bit; had a cry for a couple of hours. But I responded well to a single shot of insulin. By the time my family arrived that evening to hold a vigil at my bedside, I was cracking jokes about being able to eat as much powdered mustard as I liked because it was ‘free’, according to a pamphlet I’d been given. Carb-free, for those not in the know about just one of the elements involved in managing diabetes.
Spent the following week in an eight bed very public ward at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Successfully injected myself on the first attempt. Surprised by how easy and pain-free it was, despite my former horror of injections.
Each morning, for the rest of my life, it was emphasised, I would require a single injection of a mix of long and short-acting insulin. I’d inject myself, after I’d gauged my blood sugar level.
Like this: first thing in the morning. Empty bladder. Ten minutes later, catch the next bit of pee in a jug. In a test tube, using a dropper, mix six drops of this urine with six drops of water. Drop a tablet into it. The cocktail fizzes. Check cocktail’s colour against a chart. Thus see how many ‘pluses’ of glucose are in one’s pee - how sugary it is. Take more or less insulin accordingly. (How primitive!)
Had to do the same thing in the evening, at six o’ clock. Carried my little chemistry set around with me. Often did this procedure in the ‘ladies’ at the local pub on a Friday after school. What larks.
And the other thing was that I had to eat by certain times, because on only one injection a day I had to eat when my insulin ‘peaked’ in its action, otherwise I'd have a hypoglycaemic reaction. Low blood sugar. Bad. (And they are!) This had all been explained to me during that steep learning curve week in hospital. I’d also been given a crash course in carb counting by a dietician who drummed into me the nexus between carb counting and good blood sugar control.
Back then there was no nutritional information on foods. The only sugar free soft drink was Tab Cola. Gold Crest manufactured a ‘diabetic’ range of cordials.
I was discharged from hospital with a supply of syringes, insulin and testing gear. It didn’t last long. We didn’t have a National Diabetes Supply Scheme back then. I tried to buy syringes in a pharmacy across the road from my school and I think the pharmacist called the police! I found out from the local diabetes association that there was a 'diabetic friendly' pharmacy in the city where one could buy one’s supplies without suspicion. Syringes weren’t cheap either.
There was a sort of ‘tourist excitement’ to all this which turned into ‘culture shock’ after about three weeks. It was a hell that I endured for a year, at the end of which I was wraith thin and constantly sick with a variety of ailments that thrive on excess glucose in one’s system.
And then I found a brilliant young doctor who was into multiple daily injections and ‘home glucose monitoring’. Lucky for me.
That was thirty years ago.
It’s my day off today. I’m wearing a blue-grey tee-shirt and blue jeans. Quite sure I won’t be telling people about diabetes today, other than through this blog, which perhaps five people will read.
We’re not supposed to talk about people ‘suffering’ from diabetes. But you know what? I have suffered. And apart from battling with this condition on a daily basis, I’ve had to suffer people’s ignorance and insufferable, almost prurient curiosity about it.
Tip: when you meet someone with Type 1 diabetes, don’t ask them if they should be eating whatever it is they’re about to eat. And don’t tell them about your grandfather, or other close friend, who died of diabetes. We don’t want to know.
Could go on, but no one likes a long blog. If you’ve read this far, cheers.