Thursday, 14 June 2012

Diabetes Week

There are quite a lot of Something Days about these...eh, days. Various organisations jockeying for public attention, sympathy and/or money. This week (I kid you not) we have World Blood Donor Day, National Bug Busting Day (UK) and National Flip-Flop Day (UK). Also ongoing at present we have National Smile Month, Aromatherapy Awareness Week, Cervical Screening Awareness Week and Men's Health Week (to which end I am running the Glasgow Men's Health 10K this Sunday, whilst wearing flip flops, smiling, busting bugs with aromatherapy and giving blood - one of these facts may be true). 
Fighting for attention amongst all of this is Diabetes Week.The motto of Diabetes Week this year, organised by the charity Diabetes UK, is "to make a connection". I may have this wrong, but as well as trying to raise awareness of diabetes itself the motto is there to highlight one of the roles of Diabetes UK, offering advice, support, connections for diabetics. To that end they hope to raise £200,000 this week to support their Careline which provides practical information and emotional support to people with diabetes and their friends and families. There are also the connections between individuals, between diabetics, with healthcare staff, between friends, families, etc. Well, there you go, "make a connnection". Diabetes UK is an organisation that I have a lot of time for as they are active campaigners for the healthcare needs of diabetics and major funders and catalysts for diabetes research in the UK. So rather than wear jeans to work on Friday I plan to make my contribution by connecting (see what I did there) to the internet and trying to make sure that you are aware of the Diabetes week (and that you don't waste your time on Aromatherapy Awareness).

I've had Type 1 diabetes since I was a first year student at Uni, which was 24 years ago, when I was 17 years old. The first inkling I had that this would have knock-on effects for me was whilst I was in hospital being stabilised and received my provisional driving license in the post, which had to be sent back to DVLA with my new medical details. In those days blood glucose testing was a new-fangled thing for those capable enough, the rest did urine tests for sugar. You put the blood on the strip, timed it for a minute, then wiped the blood off the strip, then waited another minute (2 minutes if it was over 15mmol or something) and then checked if the colours were nearer the 7-10mmol range or the 10-13 colours. Then you got your syringe (plastic and disposable as we'd just got beyond sterilising glass syringes) and drew up your short-acting, then long-acting insulin from separate vials, then injected, as near as possible to 30 minutes before meals twice a day. All that drawing up from syringes really meant retreating to a cubicle in the toilet when eating out. Hypos (or low blood sugars) were a bit more vague than nowadays - try getting the blood right (you needed a good, big drop), the wiping and the timing right, and then the colour checking with a low sugar. Not always easy. Carbohydrate counting was done as "exchanges", then that went out of fashion, then it has come back in again and we are all counting and weighing food again.

Thinking back now it is amazing how many of the wee changes and improvements are taken for granted, and these all came about by engineers and scientists paid to do the research and the work. I was in a lecture theatre in Toronto (it is a long story) in the summer of 2002 when the early results of the DCCT study were announced proving the theory that better blood sugar control for diabetics leads to fewer long-term complications in Type 1 diabetics. Then the UKPDS study a few years later pushed this idea further forward for Type 2 diabetics. Big research undertakings, expensive and necessary work, which (do you see where I'm going with this?) costs money. Nowadays my blood glucose meter gives an accurate result in 5 seconds from a teeny-tiny smirr of blood, my insulin injection pen is slipped out and used easily in public (though I still prefer to make a big scene about it to try to start up a conversation about diabetes with any random stranger). Also I do love it when a bouncer at a gig or club decides that I can't take that pen thing in, that's always a good excuse to rant. The human analogue insulins don't have the troublesome side effects of the bovine and porcine insulins for many people and have more varied time profiles to help fine tune your control. Again, all the product of research. As a student Diabetes UK gave me sponsorship money as a diabetic studying "life sciences" and with their help I have had the chance to get involved in some of the ongoing research into various aspects of diabetes care and treatment. They have always been easy to get in touch with and a good source of information on anything vaguely diabetes related.
Diabetes UK's idea, not mine!
I recently started running after a few years of making excuses when it came to exercise. Initially this gave me a few new challenges regarding blood glucose control and insulin doses, but as Danny McGrain, Gary Mabbutt and Steve Redgrave seemed to manage with diabetes I thought I could do it. So after successfully managing a few 10km races last year I've applied to run the Great North Run half marathon this year and I'll be getting sponsored to raise money for Diabetes UK. Unfortunately they've sent through my kit. Not satisfied with just sending a running vest, they've sent an outfit. Thanks for that Diabetes UK. Anyway, they haven't manage to put me off so I'll still do it.

Online I've usually gone under the name "Paul4Jags", which seemed to work as a Partick Thistle supporter ("The Jags") who happens to do several insulin jags per day.

So anyone feeling like sponsoring me to run around the streets of Newcastle dressed like a smurf whose been electrocuted please click here, Paul4Jags Just Giving Page, and THANK YOU!

PS. I ran a personal best in a 10K with 42 min 39 sec in the Mens Health 10K race at the end of Diabetes Week. At the end when I was openly checking my glucose a fellow diabetic who noticed asked if he could check his sugar level as his machine wasn't working. Delighted to help and there are always unpredictable benefits of being open about  these things. I forgot to ask him his time. Doh!

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