Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s antibodies attack the beta cells in the pancreas. These cells produce insulin which muscles need in order to convert glucose into energy. All carbohydrate we eat is turned into glucose which is transported in blood to cells in our muscles. Without enough insulin, cells cannot use glucose. This both increases glucose (or sugar) in the bloodstream and causes the body to convert its own fat and even muscle into energy. This explained why I had lost so much weight and even seen the muscles in my arms and legs apart to waste away. One of the other side effects is that the liver produces high levels of toxic ketones. Too many of these cause “ketoacidosis”, with causes collapse and hospitalisation. Luckily my diabetes was diagnosed before this happened. Unfortunately, I did suffer from one of the other side effects of high blood sugar: thrush. I think that is natures way of kicking a man while he’s down! (At airport security, Emily was more concerned about the thrush cream than the needles.)
If uncontrolled for a period of years, high blood sugar can cause other complications such as increased risk of heart disease and stroke, blindness and ulcers in feet. Luckily this can be managed. The average diabetic (I am told) may spend as much as two hours a day calculating how many carbs they are about to eat, what exercise and other environmental factors may affect blood glucose levels and therefore much insulin to inject themselves with. Understandably, this puts considerable strain on sufferers. Diabetes “burnout” is common and one in four diabetics will be diagnosed with clinical depression at some point in their life.
Another short-term risk posed by diabetes is experiencing a “hypo”. This is when blood sugar levels drop below a safe level. The symptoms include reduced physical and mental ability (someone experiencing a hypo may appear drunk) and in extreme cases, collapse and hospitalisation. Because sustained exercise causes a drop in blood sugar, getting the glucose in the right zone is complicated and risky during exercise and consequently many diabetics don’t bother with longer endurance challenges.
For anyone, and especially someone as active as me, the diabetes diagnosis is clearly a life-changing event. Will I ever be able to climb a mountain again?
Given the magnitude of the diagnosis, I have been unable too think of anything else over the past 8 days. One of the mental games I’ve played with myself is wondering what other conditions I would swap for my diabetes.
A broken arm? Definitely! A broken hip? Yes. Cancer that gets successfully treated? Ummm… yes, but the whole experience would be horrific, and it wouldn’t be allowed to come back. Crohn’s disease? Wouldn’t like to say. Blindness? Would rather have diabetes.
Then I think about other things in life I could trade for diabetes. On the day I got diagnosed a friend of mine was told her mum had weeks to live. I’d rather stick with the diabetes thanks. Separating from my wife? No: would rather have diabetes. Losing our new house and all the equity in it? Yes I’d rather that than diabetes