I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while (it will involve puppies, as promised) – this is not not something I usually talk about in such detail, and until it nearly killed me many times in just a few months (and continued to do so over the next few years, most recently two weeks ago), it was never really something I thought about – type 1 diabetes. I used to wonder why other diabetics made such a big deal of it, in fact, I’d get annoyed at them for being so dramatic and often bin or close down whatever article I was reading. To me, it wasn’t anything serious, it was just ‘normal’ – we’d been injecting insulin (sometimes infusing it via an insulin pump) in place of my pancreas since I was a toddler in nursery school. I couldn’t remember anything different to checking food packets and giving injections and pricking my finger to check the level of sugar in my blood. Growing up, my paediatric endocrinologist walked through the milestones in my life with us from the seat of his clinic room. He told me over and over again that I was no different to any other kid, that I was normal – and I never felt anything but that. I did sports, I just adjusted my injections. My friends’ parents were usually too nervous to let me stay over their houses, but that was pretty much the only thing that ever bothered me.
It was so normal that I forgot I needed to tell my friends and secondary school teachers that I had “the ‘betes” (I don’t know why I’ve suddenly started calling it that, but I like this new name so it can stay), and even my closest friends remained oblivious (most still are) until the panicked “Do you have any food… Like, any food at all? My blood sugars are low and I’ve lost/ eaten all the stuff I usually carry to fix that” (at which stage I usually got some very confused looks and the inevitable “You have diabetes? So when were you fat then? But you can’t eat sugar” – which is actually what would actively put me off of telling people). People are often surprised when I tell them I have diabetes, as if it should be glaringly obvious to them or something. Now, due to other health junk that bothers me a lot more, I look like a bit of a wreck and occasionally have fluid on my lungs (like right now, may I add), but until then, I looked and felt like a normal human.
Then my diabetes started to be complicated by new developments/ deteriorations in my health, and it started to exacerbate other issues like my rubbish immune system and confused heart (which in turn made my diabetes even more complicated). On top of hormonal changes which made getting a good blood sugar about as likely as winning the lottery, and the impact of other serious ‘health hiccups’ (as I now call my near death experiences/ life threatening health junk), we lost all control. We tried new types of insulin and had them specially ordered from America, we discovered I was making some antibodies towards it because my body at that point had been given 12-13 years to discover that the insulin in my blood hadn’t been made by me. Lumps of insulin would appear instantly as I injected and sit underneath my skin for days and weeks, not being absorbed (still a major issue, if you keep in mind the fact that this stuff is supposed to keep me alive). Sometimes it doesn’t do the whole not absorbing thing, suddenly works far too well, and my blood sugars go from HI (off the scale high) to 0.7 in a couple of hours, with no warning (I aim for 5-10mmol. I should lose consciousness at 1.8ish but I seem to have built up a tolerance…).
I now get no symptoms of DKA (which happens on average every month or two due to all of the above, but is rarely mentioned not just on this blog, but anywhere… because it’s kind of overshadowed by nastier stuff that I have or it tends to aggravate), so by the time I go to hospital I’ve usually lost the ability to even lift my head off of the pillow, all the doctors freak out at how unwell I am, and once finally stabilised I tend to end up unconscious, and/ or at the stage of needing an ICU stay (or only just avoiding it). A few times my brain has swelled up in response to this, which most recently (and thankfully very briefly) turned me into a human vegetable at the end of last year. Either way, I end up far too close to eloping with the grim reaper thanks to my diabetes, far too often.
I also don’t get any symptoms when my blood sugars are dangerously low. Once when I was in hospital, I ended up unconscious with blood sugars of 0.6, and I had absolutely no idea anything was wrong until I woke up with my consultant sat next to me saying “Oh good, you’re awake!” And this is where the dog comes in (the puppy part is on the way, don’t worry). My dog is not just adorable, and he hasn’t just saved me emotionally. He’s literally saved my life over and over again.
A couple of years ago I woke up in the middle of the night with my dog staring at me. He wouldn’t move – I offered him food, tried to let him outside, even tried giving him a cuddle. He wouldn’t move a muscle. At this point, I convinced myself he wanted to eat me and ran downstairs in a panic (yes it was so long ago that I could still run). When I told my mum, she said I should check my blood sugar if he did it again. A few nights later, it happened again, and I did. My blood glucose levels were very, very low (hypo). I treated the hypo just as I sort of lost the ability to function, and woke up with my dog curled up in my bed with me (he’s not allowed in the bed according to mum… The dog and I no longer follow this rule). A few weeks later I woke up with the dog stood on the bed, nudging my face (which he now also does if he finds me on the floor). After initially mistaking him for a mass murderer, I checked my blood sugars and sure enough, they were low. He’d done it again, and went on to do it many times more.
I didn’t realise the comfort my dog gave me until I moved away from home and nearly died a few times in the middle of the night due to complications of high blood sugars, or dangerously low ones. I’d set my alarm for every half hour, just to check up on myself and make sure I was alive, such is the unpredictable nature of my diabetes. The lack of sleep annoyed my health in general, and I got infection after infection, which further upset my diabetes. In the absence of my dog, I could’t sleep the whole night through… And so I came home to him, frequently, just to allow myself to feel safe again.
Problems with this:
- My dog is now a 10 year old cancer survivor riddled with new tumours (which the vet says are benign thankfully). His health is deteriorating, and he’s slow and sometimes struggles to get around.
- He has never been trained to alert properly, and only knows when my blood sugars are low, which at the moment is not the most pressing blood sugar issue (it’s the other way I’m worried about)
- Even though he’s my dog, my family (recently mostly my little brother) is so besotted with him that I could never separate them.
And this is where the puppy comes in. It has been suggested to me many times by various different health professionals, that I would benefit significantly from having a medical alert dog that detects the early signs of low blood sugars and DKA and high blood sugars. It was recently again suggested to me that a medical alert dog might give me the confidence to sleep through the night again, and allow me to avoid the life threatening situations I so frequently end up in (which I am told may have a significant detrimental impact on my long-term health if they continue to happen this frequently). I’ve delayed enquiring about this for a long time because I felt perhaps a dog could change someone else’s life instead, and I don’t want to take that opportunity away from someone who really deserves it (also my parents have forbidden me from getting a puppy or dog of any sort, even a medical dog, even though I don’t live in their house any more and they are preparing to turn my room into a spare room)… But feeling so unsafe in my own body, and being so scared of what may happen from hour to hour because of something that I never really thought had the power to kill me, has left me depressed and even suicidal at times as it is both emotionally and physically draining.
Diabetes was never a big deal to me. It’s the health problem that worries me the least and I often shut it out in the back of my mind and refuse to talk about it because me it has never been a ‘problem’, it just makes me who I am. As part of my effort to think more about myself, I’ve been reviewing many areas of my life (as and when the moment takes me) and I realised that it is ok to let my diabetes bother me a little at the minute, even though as far as health problems go it could be so, so much worse – it’s still pretty high on the list of things likely to kill me.
Over the past couple of days I’ve been looking at puppies for sale. I’ve fallen in love with multiple litters of chocolate labrador puppies here in Kent, and even a litter of red labrador puppies in Yorkshire. This is pretty torturous, because I know that getting a dog capable of saving my life would completely change my life, but I can’t afford to pay for the training at the moment and my parents will never let me get a puppy while I’m renting a flat (but a girl can dream!). So I’ll just have to keep bouncing in and out of intensive care until someone finds a ‘financially/ practically viable’ way to chill out the ‘betes.
I think a lot of people underestimate the severity of diabetes. I, for a long time, was one of them.
p.s. Yes, I can eat sugar. No, my diabetes wasn’t caused by dietary stuff or whatever, type 1 diabetes is autoimmune and is the only type of diabetes to involve the actual destruction of the cells which are meant to produce insulin (in type 2 you make insulin but not enough, or your cells are resistant to it, which is why type 2 diabetics usually don’t have to inject at all and can manage their blood sugars with diet and sometimes tablets). Those people you’ve heard about who got rid of their diabetes by eating (insert name of random ‘superfood’)… yeah – type 2. Unless some food can resurrect my beta cells and stop my body killing them all off again (both currently impossible with current medicine and science) then it isn’t going to do much for type 1. No, I am not, and never have been overweight (in fact I’m the opposite) Can you tell I’ve heard it all?
Now if you’ll excuse me, future flatmate is staying with me at the moment and we’re currently trying to find a place to live from September, and even I am now sick and tired of this post, so I’m going to end it now. Thanks for reading, sorry for… the entirety of this post! Don’t worry, this is the only time the ‘betes is going to be mentioned this much ever in my entire life. It was difficult for me even to bring myself to write about it, because my brain is still all but it’s just diabetes (even though it clearly isn’t ‘just’).