I was lucky enough to spend my first weekend with type 1 in the French Alps with Emily. I had already read half of the diabetes book I’d been given by the time the plane’s tyres had hit the tarmac in Geneva. The first section is about receiving the diagnosis (twelve people a day are diagnosed with type 1 on Britain, half of whom are adults). There were plenty of quotes along the lines of “my world turned upside down”, “why me?” and “Whose fault is this?”. So how did I feel?
Firstly, relief that my weight loss was “only” diabetes and not anything worse. Then shock that I had “the bad type”. It hadn’t occurred to Emily or I that I might have type 1. My uncle had developed type 2 diabetes a few years before, and we assumed that I’d be following in his footsteps of modifying my diet for a few years.
On being told my first question to Dr Powrie was could I expect to ski tour (an activity that involves walking or climbing up mountains before skiing down them) at the level I was doing before? Could I run long distances? He told me it would be complicated and that I shouldn’t expect to be able to do these activities. The obvious response to that was denial: of course I’d figure it out.
Over that first weekend I had the overwhelming desire to share the news. I emailed all my family and closest friends (or at least the friends I climb and ski with). There’s no point in keeping this kind of condition secret anyway because injecting oneself before meal times is so public!
The second overwhelming desire was to learn as much as I could about the condition. This has preoccupied pretty much every waking thought since. The desire to continue to do the things I love in life is incredibly motivating. I need to be able to climb mountains this winter. That means I need to master my condition so that I can safely exert myself at altitude without endangering myself, or my companions, with a bad hypo. Insulin becomes ineffective if it freezes and the battery powering the blood glucose reader will stop working if it gets to cold. I need to develop fail-safe methods of ensuring my monitoring and medication actually work.
There is so much to find out. How do I register at a GP? I haven’t been to one since I was at school. I want to understand the physiology relevant to my condition. How exactly does carbohydrate affect glucose levels? Where can I buy insulin from? What athletes have type 1? Can I meet them to ask advice? How do I find out how many carbs are in my food? How do I track medication, carb intake and glucose levels? What do the diabetes charities do? Should I try to raise money for them? Shall I write a blog? How do I do that?
The questions are endless. I’m trying to tell myself to slow down and take one step at a time. First of all I just need to learn how to keep my blood sugar in a healthy range. I see Dr Powrie on Monday: the day we get back from France. He starts me off on pre-meal injections. My work colleagues are amazing: they take my regular injecting in their stride and are incredibly supportive. I spent most of my first full week as a diabetic visiting various hospitals and doctors and consequently delegate everything I can to my busy colleagues. I definitely owe them lunch. Dr Powrie also reminds me not to get my hopes up with the ski touring. He does it himself so he knows what’s involved.
I see him again on Wednesday and on Friday. By Friday he decides it’s time to get me varying my doses depending on how many carbohydrates are in my meal. It’s like a maths problem. First I work out how many grams of carbs there are in the food I’m about to eat. (Luckily there is an app for that.) Then I take 0.75 units of insulin for each 10 grams of carbs. Finally for every 3 units of blood glucose over my target (which is 10) I should take one more unit of insulin. Easy? I’m beginning to understand why type 1s – apparently “type 1” is a noun – spend so much time thinking about medication and eating