Diabetes diagnosis and how participating in clinical research can help

Guys hospital research unit hosted a group of MPs and Diabetes UK staff for a tour of their facilities today. Guys has a world class research facility and does more for diabetes research than I could do justice to here. The number of dedicated staff supported by sophisticated (and expensive) machines gave me renewed hope that we can beat type 1.

I was asked to speak about my experience of being diagnosed and of participating in a clinical trial. I’ve written about my diagnosis quite a bit in the early days of this blog,  but with the benefit of hindsight,  I thought I could summarise my experience with a few pictures.


Travel with diabetes

Type one diabetes shouldn’t stop us from pursuing our dreams. And it shouldn’t stop us from more mundane things like going out for dinner or getting on a plane. But travel does bring its own challenges for a diabetic, particularly one with as small a brain as mine.

(I wrote about my first diabetic travel experience here)

Kit faff

When traveling, one has to remember to bring all one’s kit. Do I have enough test strips? Do I have enough insulin in my pen? Do I have spare insulin in case I lose my pen? Do I have enough long acting insulin? Do I have spare batteries for my blood tester? Do I even have my blood tester?

Remembering the diabetes stuff is only half the battle of course. After the triumph of packing my diabetes stuff, my brain is liable to let its guard down and forget something equally as important. Like my passport. This is where marriage comes in. “Have you packed your passport?” says my wife. To which I reply “OMG no! That was close. I’ll never do that again.” Which shows that my lack of memory is matched by my lack of self-knowledge. Of course I’ll do it again!

The next challenge is to remember to take my diabetes stuff off the plane with me. I seem to be incredibly inept at this simple task. I flew to New York in September and left my insulin pen on the plane. After spending about an hour on hold to various different lost property offices I gave up, and (with relief) fell back on the spare insulin pen I’d brought with me. I vowed never to leave my insulin on the plane again.

Undeterred by this fiasco, I returned to the US this week: to Houston, Texas. I took my insulin off the plane this time. But left my blood tester behind! What an idiot! Since my diagnosis, I’ve tested my blood before bed every single day. The risks of a night time hypo would be much higher if I inadvertently went to bed with low blood sugar and no midnight snack before hitting the sack. So I was scared to go to bed, sans test, after a meal out and a total guess at insulin dosage.

Luckily they have 24 hour pharmacies and blood sugar testers are available without a prescription. They are also cheaper and suffer from the American insistence to persist with imperial units. My first year result was 138. What the hell is that supposed to mean?! Is it high? Low? Enter Google. Apparently it should be between about 75 and 145 so that was pretty good for bed time!

Blood sugar of 106. What the hell does that mean? Turns out that 106 is spot on. Which is more than can be said for most of my readings later.

Blood sugar of 106. What the hell does that mean? Turns out that 106 is spot on. Which is more than can be said for most of my readings later.


Armed with my new blood tester I could go bravely into new culinary lands, dosing myself up with insulin as I went. When at home, I always make my own breakfast and normally make packed lunch and my own dinner too. So most of the time I know exactly how many grams of carbohydrate I’m eating. Eating out is more difficult because I don’t know how the restaurant has prepared the food. Have they put sugar in it? What’s the sauce made of?

Eating out abroad is often a different kettle of fish because the cuisine is less familiar, meaning the carbohydrate estimate is even more of a guess.

I’ve really enjoyed the food in Texas here. But boy do they love sugar! For example, we checked into the hotel and they gave us a freshly baked cookie. That’s a lovely touch, but not healthy. I used mine as emergency hypo treatment so ate two small bites one morning.

The first full day in Houston was an amazing culinary experience. For a start, the service in an average American restaurant is far superior to what we’re used to in Europe.  We started the day with breakfast burritos. Yummy! Then for lunch on to a very unpromising looking Vietnamese place in an old industrial unit

next to a dilapidated parking lot. The egg rolls (kind of like spring rolls) and fried rice were mind blowing. And the noodle soup with chilli, herbs and bean sprouts was also delicious. Dinner was Tex Mex. Another massive pile of meat, with sauces, tacos, washed down with copious tortilla chips.

As usual, I avoided sugar where I could. But nonetheless I used over twice the insulin I normally do and still had off the charts blood sugar most of the time. I’ve really enjoyed being in Houston, but it’s no surprise that it’s not just the buildings and cars which are twice as big as everything back home.

Exercise is always important, but for a diabetic all the more so because it increases insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. So I’ve squeezed in yoga (Americans love yoga!), running and lapping the stair case of my 20 storey hotel. Not as beautiful as a mountain but still good fun in a weird kind of a way. And it has definitely helped me weather the sugar onslaught later that day.

Working hard in the stair well.

Working hard in the stair well.


We managed to time our trip with the opening night of the rodeo. What an experience! We joined 72,000 others in an enormous stadium set around a muddy field where cowboys performed the most extraordinary stunts.

There was a lot of riding angry bucking animals like bulls and horses. Teams of two cowboys would race reach other to lassoo a baby cow (a steer). The most extraordinary one was a race to gallop after a running steer, jump off the horse onto the steer’s back and then wrestle it to the ground by its horns. Insane mentalism! The commentators loved to point out how much money these guys had won: they are multi million dollar athletes! One guy had won $600k the week before just from holding on (reeeal taaaiight) to a bucking horse.

Some of the best entertainment was a load of young students (none of them athletic looking) who had to chase down a steer each from a group of fifteen steers released into the football pitch sized ring. The crowd roared as each unlikely looking student somehow managed to wrestle a bigger faster steer to the ground! The commentator proudly announced “all these students are members of the FFA.” That’s Future Farmers of America.

The best bit was the young cowboys. These are tiny (think six years old) boys and girls who compete at holding on to a running sheep (reeeeeal taaaiight). They were braver souls than me. Many were trampled as they came off the sheep.

I’m writing this on the plane to a snowy New York. My book, notepad, phone, insulin pen and new blood sugar tester are all in the seat pocket in front of me. What are the odds of me getting them all safely to my hotel??

Diabetes Management Uncategorized

Does training help the body burn fuel more efficiently?

An important part of getting fitter, and improving both speed and endurance is training the body to burn fat at higher levels of intensity. This is really important for athletes who do the things I like doing – running (because they can go faster and further) and mountaineering (because mountaineers don’t have very good access to food to top up their limited carbohydrate stores).

One of the advantages of having diabetes is that I can observe how much carbohydrate I need to eat to keep my blood sugar stable. Does this mean that I have an insight into how well my body is adapting to burning fat? Can this help anyone else?

Data Training

Diabetes as Art

I’ve been going to the monthly quantified self meetup whenever I can. They are really interesting evenings. At each evening, three people present on any aspect of self quantifying they have been doing. Given that I have diabetes and track a lot of data these days, I feel like there’s stuff I can learn from the presentations. Even if they’re not relevant to me they are normally fascinating, and this techy geeky world is something I wouldn’t have discovered without my diagnosis (the gift of diabetes keeps on giving…!).

At the last meetup a photographer called Travis Hodges gave a presentation on his work. He is doing something called “follow me” which is where he took a photo of someone, got them to tweet one of their friends and then took a photo of them. The chain goes on. The collection was so successful that he was asked to do an exhibition in Brixton, and decided to do portraits of self trackers, their devices, their motivations and their data.


Tiger to run London Marathon – Guinness World Record Attempt

I have decided to run the London Marathon (in about a month’s time) dressed in a Tiger costume. It covers my whole body – feet, hands, head and face! It’s going to be hot.

I asked the Guinness Book of Records if there was a Onesie category (I wanted to run as a type-onesie) but there isn’t, so they suggested the animal.

The record is currently held by a cow in 2:51:18. It’s going to be really hard to go faster than this but the London Marathon is all about having fun and pushing personal limits so I’m really excited about trying. When I signed up for the marathon straight after diagnosis, I wasn’t even sure whether I’d be able to do it with diabetes. I’ve come a long way since then, and hopefully wearing a stupid costume will raise awareness that people with type 1 can do everything a “healthy” person can.


Diabetes and being ill don’t mix

Gratuitous shot of Mont Blanc. What an amazing view to have whilst marching 850m up a hill.

Gratuitous shot of Mont Blanc. What an amazing view to have whilst marching 850m up a hill.

I’ve just come out of a two week long cold. Despite evidence to the contrary (I got diabetes six months ago), I think of myself as someone who never gets ill. So getting a cold and feeling low on energy and not wanting to run was a real blow. Not least because my fund raising page reminds me that I only have 54 days left to the Marathon. Given that I want to run it in a very challenging time, two weeks of almost no quality training is a real blow. I’m still waiting for comments on whether I should run the marathon in a Onesie by the way. So far two people have commented, and that’s not quite enough to encourage me to do it!

Data Skiing