In the emergency department over the last two weeks I have encountered some surprising things about type-1 diabetes and the people that have it. Some of these can’t really be disclosed but I have come up with a few things that I want both people with diabetes and people without to know. From this hectic week in the emergency department, I believe that these things are the most important to get across to anyone with diabetes and anyone who knows someone with diabetes.
On Thursday I met a beautiful young 17 year old girl who has had type-1 diabetes since she was about 2 years old. She was over it, didn’t want to deal with it anymore and had done her insulin only 2 times that week so far; she was supposed to do her insulin twice a day. Her blood sugar on arrival to the hospital was 33.0 mmol/L. I got to chatting with this girl and told her that I also have type-1 diabetes and have had since I was 10 years old, nothing in comparison to her diagnosis at 2 years but a similarity none the less. There were a lot of things that I did not get to tell her, like the fact that I have had diabetes for 19 years but I think I managed to get the most important things across to her; at least I hope I did.
She was genuinely surprised to find out that a person who has type-1 diabetes was a Registered Nurse; she didn’t think people with diabetes could have ‘real’ jobs. She had been told this, she said, by her doctors. Whether or not this is true, the fact still exists that she was either told this or it was implied to her by someone. This is so wrong; if the primary things that people with diabetes are hearing are negative then that is obviously what they are going to start to believe. Unfortunately, negative implications are the main ones that abound in diabetes.
When people are diagnosed with diabetes, the only comments the individual seems to take in are negative ones. I don’t know if this is because of tunnel vision on diagnosis or just because of poor communication of health professionals but either way, it should not be the case. This young girl presumably would not remember her diagnosis, so who is it that gave her the impression that she could not sustain a meaningful job? I can’t really remember anything specific about the week I was diagnosed, but I do remember a lot of negative aspects about diabetes from this time, and I know my mum does not praise those doctors for their tact during my diagnosis. We learnt most of what we know through purchasing and looking through books, and eventually through a good doctor who we found, one of the few great doctors I have had the pleasure of knowing, I have not had many.
I emphasised to this girl that a person with type-1 diabetes can do anything they want as long as their blood sugar levels are under control. I understand that she was frustrated with her diabetes and she had never really had a life without it, but I wanted to let her know, that neglecting her insulin and neglecting to test her blood sugar levels were not going to be helpful methods of doing this in the long run.
I do insulin primarily because I know that if I don’t I could lose my eye sight, I could suffer heart failure, kidney, nerve, eye and/or foot damage, skin and mouth conditions, osteoporosis, pregnancy complications and hearing problems (Mayo clinic)1 . These are all things that I know I don’t want, on top of amputations due to peripheral neuropathy and other things like that. I have done my best to maintain good control of my diabetes because I want to live a full and normal life; I want to live beyond that. I don’t want my partner, whomever that may be, to have to take care of me when I am falling apart at the seams. Because I have an average blood sugar level or Hba1c of about 5.9 I have reduced these risks significantly. Whilst it is hard sometimes, I imagine, it would be undoubtedly harder to live life with any of the complications associated with diabetes. I think that testing my blood sugar levels 10-15 times a day, and doing numerous injections or (now) inputting information into my pump is just a tiny price to pay for this massive benefit. Every individual has their ups and downs and every individual has crap that they have to deal with in life; there are much worse things than diabetes. Diabetes is manageable, you just have to keep positive, live each day as it comes and test, bolus, eat, repeat as much as it takes to maintain control of your diabetes.
So when someone says to you “Can you eat that”, “Don’t you have to do insulin with that?”, “Do you have the bad diabetes?”, “Your low, do you need insulin?”, “You shouldn’t eat chocolate”, “You can’t do that”, don’t listen to them. They don’t know as much as you do, you just need to be smarter to take what people say with a pinch of salt. Realise, that they don’t know, they are speaking ignorantly and unless you correct them, or at least try to, they will never understand and they may keep on saying these heartless things to other people even though they don’t mean to.
I just want people to know that a person with diabetes can do absolutely anything that somebody without can do. I have competed in sports at a high level (gymnastics, diving, basketball, netball and water polo), I regularly exercise, I swim, I paddleboard, I rock climb, I have travelled alone in foreign countries, I drive competently in foreign countries and in Australia, I have driven since I was 17, I have lived alone, I have lived in rural Australia far away from anyone I know, I have completed two bachelor’s degrees and am currently undertaking a post graduate certificate, I have worked as a full time registered nurse for 3 years and been an active member of society before then, I have been open about my diabetes, I have educated others about diabetes and I have maintained an almost constant good control of my diabetes. All of this is possible and fairly easy, you just have to keep stepping forward.