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..?’