Thursday, 14 April 2011

Dolphins and polyols

So apparently, according to an article in the Guardian(http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/feb/19/dolphins-humans-diabetes), dolphins can turn on and off a diabetes gene. I lay in bed last night, shut my eyes tight and tried really hard to do the same thing, but alas I think I might just have turned it up a bit. My blood sugar levels have been high for ages. I can’t seem to get them down, or I’m doing something stupid like having the odd pint. It’s really, really depressing.

I learnt many new things recently, firstly that my HbA1c level was 7.8%. It should be, according to the nurse at my GP surgery, between 4% and 6% so it’s still high. However my last test was 10%, so 7.8% is a decent improvement. I also learnt that your HbA1c level can only ever drop by a certain amount each time, not something the diabetic nurse told me as it’s likely she doesn’t even know. Maybe she’ll read this blog and find out this rather vital piece of information.

I found out because I volunteered to take part in a study performed by the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism looking into MODY Maturity-onset Diabetes of the Young. MODY is not quite Type one and not quite Type 2. I’ll discuss this further in later blogs.

I also learnt of a study published in the Lancet suggesting the target rate for HBa1c test for diabetics should not be set as low as 4%-6% but should, as the evidence seems to show, be set at between 7% and 7.5%. One of the authors of the report called for GP targets to be scrapped immediately.

Truth is that I wrote some of this first post some time ago but never got around to finishing it off. I’ve been down lately and lack the original fight and positivity I had in the first six months since being diagnosed. I get a lump in my throat when passing cream eggs in the supermarket and now the larger Easter eggs are appearing, it hurts, I want one – but not just because I like the taste – I want one because I know I can’t.

Work has been stressing me out. I had a great fun and exciting project about providing health information for the fans of all 92 league clubs and it got canned for business reasons. Normally I’ll be gutted and then get over it and move on but I can’t seem to let it go. I seem to be feeling things more than ever before. I know depression is a risk for people who have just found out but I’m 10 months in – I wonder if I am still at risk, perhaps others might be able to share their experiences.

So I’ve given up drinking alcohol for three months to see the effects that has on my levels. I still don’t eat chocolate but I did try a Belgian plain chocolate ‘Sugar Lesss...’ bar on Valentine’s Day and it was pretty good. It contains something called ‘polyols’ – no, I’ve no idea what they are either but seem to be alcohol sugars. This is getting confusing now! No drinking but alcohol sugar is ok? Apparently polyols don’t break down in your mouth so tooth decay is not a problem but they constitute 37.2 % of the bar. My question is, are the manufacturers hiding 37.2% of the sugar in the bar by claiming “carbohydrates 40.5%, of which sugars: 0.9%”? I’m going to write to them and find out. Watch this space.

7.8, not too bad but not that good

I learnt many new things this week, firstly that my HbA1c level was 7.8%. It should be, according to the nurse at my GP surgery, between 4% and 6% so it’s still high. However my last test was 10%, so 7.8% is a decent improvement. I also learnt that your HbA1c level can only ever drop by a certain amount each time, not something the diabetic nurse told me as it’s likely she doesn’t even know. Maybe she’ll read this blog and find out this rather vital piece of information.

I found out because I volunteered to take part in a study performed by the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, more of which in my next blog post. The other key thing I learnt was that I will end up using insulin. This has never registered with me before. Maybe I was told and I just didn’t take it on board. Without wanting to be rude to type one sufferers, this freaks me out. It might not be for ten years, it might not be for thirty, but it seems it is more than likely to happen.

The researcher at Oxford told me she considered anything around 7% to 7.5% to be a good rate for diabetics and between 4% and 6% to be the level for non-diabetics. My nurse would seem to have no understanding of the difference and it made me feel better to hear the simple truth that diabetes makes it harder to control your blood levels. Amazingly simple! Diabetes makes it harder to control your blood sugar levels and because of this having an HbA1c around the 7% mark means you are doing well. The comedian Lenny Bruce once said, ‘the truth is what is’, in other words what’s real is what’s right. I have diabetes therefore it is unlikely by blood sugar levels will be anything other than high.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t try to get them into the normal range as the more normal the levels the longer I get to put off injecting insulin. However I’m not going to be too hard on myself if they aren’t and if my nurse tutts at me or makes a comment I’ll remind her, I’ve got diabetes!

I also learnt that the blood sugar measuring device that you get with the finger prick test isn’t as accurate at the lower levels as it is at the higher levels. I measured my blood levels after work the day I had my HbA1c test for which I had to fast in the morning and it came back with 2.2. I panicked a little and went and ate a pizza. I didn’t feel poorly or have a headache or feel tired or grumpy – all signs of low sugar – so it may just be that the reading was wrong.

One last thing, my girlfriend warned me about something in the paper relating the danger of exercising for diabetics, I haven’t seen it but I did ask the diabetic expert at Oxford, Katherine, who said exercise was the best thing any doctor can prescribe any diabetic patient. She told me a story of a man who within three months of seeing his doctor got much healthier, got his blood sugar levels down, his blood pressure down and lost weight – the miracle wonder drug he prescribed – get a dog and walk it twice a day.

So to surmise, diabetes makes it hard to control your blood sugar levels, your HbA1c level can only go down by a limited amount each month, exercise is good, and blood sugar monitors don’t work as well at the lower end as they do at the higher end. I think these things are worth knowing and I’m surprised my GP and nurse don’t. I hope this information helps you in some way, maybe you can pass it on.

HbA1 oh I see

In my last blog I wasn’t sure how the process for getting an HbA1c test goes. That’s the test for measuring your longer term blood sugar levels. Well I found out and it’s not like a dentist’s where they remind you to make an appointment, it’s all down to you. My advice is to put a date in your calendar six months in advance and hope you don’t lose the diary, computer or phone.

I woke up at 8.00am, as my test wasn’t till ten, only to discover the water to my flat had been cut off. I had enough left in my glass on the bedside table to take my pills as instructed and that was it. No shower, no brushed teeth, blagghhh!

Then of course I couldn’t eat as you have to fast for the HbA1c and my stomach was making a few grumbling noises. So hungry, grumpy and unwashed I headed to the doctors. Now lately my blood sugar levels have been a bit haywire and I haven’t thought properly about why, so as I was sitting in the rather bland GP waiting room I got to thinking, and thinking, and thinking, because the nurse was half an hour late.

What I concluded was that as I now have a lovely girlfriend I’ve been eating out more than when I was single, and although I have been going for a relatively healthy option and certainly no desert, you just can’t tell what they put in your food. As I enjoy going out, rather than eat in more, I made the decision to eat more salads when I’m out.

The problem with salad is that I begrudge paying for it. I can make a salad at home, and for a fraction of the cost, and it taste just the same because there are no special sauces I can put on them. Take today, I had a buffalo mozzarella salad from Carluccios in Smithfield, with about nine pieces of rocket, three small pieces of mozzarella, three slices of tomato, two pieces of fancy bread and some olives - £5.30. It tasted great, but I could do that at home for half the cost and make it more filling.

But I digress; I was worried about the test. The last time I took the test, also my first time, the nurse read out the result of 10, which I thought was good as I had only just been diagnosed and so I was bound to be a bit high. Only she shuck her head, apparently 10 is not good, it’s bad, as it turns out long term blood sugar levels are conveniently measured on an entirely different scale from the finger pricking test I do most days. There would seem to be some confusion as to what the normal range is and it varies according to the lab used to measure it. But it would seem that somewhere between 5% and 7.5% is the normal range. I’ll find out more if I can. (Diabetes UK says below 6.5% is good).

Long story short, the nurse couldn’t get at my deep veins so sent me to the hospital, which meant I’d run late for work. I wasn’t having the best day. They stabbed me in the arm and I left. But as I watched the large metallic doors grind open it struck me that I’ve been doing pretty much everything I should be doing. I’ve lost about four stone in weight, do loads of exercise and have had only three bowls of ice cream in the nine months I’ve been diagnosed. I have not eaten a chocolate bar nor any sweets or cakes in that time. If it comes back high I have no idea where to go from there. I think it might crush me if it’s too high. I’ve been working hard at beating this disease and if I’m failing I would be very distressed. I get the results on Tuesday night so I’ll let you all know.

Medical news

Two bits of medical news jump out at me from this week’s, Pulse magazine. It’s aimed at doctors but I have to look through it as part of my job. Drug companies often target doctors with adverts and one struck me this week. It’s an advert for a Testosterone test to see if you need testosterone therapy which I assume is being given added testosterone – I should point out it’s aimed at men.

So the advert shows a babushka doll (Russian doll) with three top halves of an overweight, sad looking man. In the first the half man holds a sign saying, “Inside this type two diabetes patient”, the second holds a sign saying, “is a man with low testosterone”, the third – a somewhat happier man, still chubby but obviously smaller – holds a sign saying, “waiting to be found”.

According to the advert, “men with type 2 diabetes commonly suffer from testosterone deficiency syndrome (first I heard of it) leading to: Loss of libido, fatigue, erectile dysfunction.” So now I’m scared but I’m also intrigued. The advert goes on, “Testosterone therapy can address these symptoms as well as reducing HbA1c, waist circumference and improving insulin resistance (which I’m sure they mean reducing insulin resistance).” Wow, that’s some good stuff, but in the light of last week’s posting about fraudsters surely this is a little too good to be true.

Well they reference every point they make to a paper written based on studies, and although I don’t know who all these people are I can take a look if I feel the need. Secondly they don’t offer a price, you and I can’t buy this, it’s aimed at doctors, and it’s not selling the therapy it is only selling the test.

“Data presented at the Diabetes UK Annual Conference in March last year revealed that Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome (TDS) is found in over 50% of men with Type 2 diabetes, more than double the rate in the non-diabetic population. TDS is associated with a 42% additional risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and up to 60% additional risk of all-cause and coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality.” http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/142252.php

No one has mentioned TDS to me in any conversations with any diabetic specialists. It looks like a real problem and I for one will be asking my doctor for a test. In fact I haven’t been called for an HbA1c since my first one in June and I’m more than due. I do find I have to do all the pushing to get appointments, I still haven’t seen an eye specialist (although I have had the test and now wear glasses in order to type this). I know they say you have to self medicate with diabetes but I didn’t know you had to self consult, self advise and self organise. Perhaps the NHS does so much for us we don’t always think to push hard ourselves. In this case it’s good to be pushy.

And finally, one other story stood out, according to one news story giving up smoking increases the risk of developing diabetes. A study by Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore (one of the top hospitals in the world) found that weight gain after stopping smoking contributed to a 73% increased risk of developing diabetes over three years, compared with non smokers. The researchers followed nearly 11,000 subjects for over a decade. The good news is that the risk gradually decreased until after 12 years there was no more risk. The top boffin leading the study suggested GPs offer quitters lifestyle counseling. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you do and then quit.

Don’t fall for it

I have a twitter account, it’s twitter.com/andykliman. I know it doesn’t make me special and to be honest I really don’t use it that much. I only have 39 followers and there is a reason for this, I don’t just accept anyone. Take Diabetestools, the username for someone or some group who are providing information on tackling diabetes. Great, you might think, there is more help and advice out there and I’m happy to take a look. Is it harmless or is there more to it than that?

They say a little information is a dangerous thing, but they should say a lot of information about bogus health claims is a dangerous thing . The first link I saw was to this address http://www.diabeticwarrior.com/eBook.html?hop=rpgincarls and a man who calls himself The Diabetic Warrior (a.k.a Patrick Lecky). Patrick claims to have cured himself of type 2 diabetes and can show you how to do it too – for a fee of course as you have to buy his book, ‘how to fight type 2 diabetes and win’. And the best thing is that on his plan you can lose weight without doing the work! Pow! Take that diabetes.

Now, for legal reasons, I’m sure Mr. Lecky has undergone a host of scientifically rigorous tests and can prove everything he is saying – although he does not say anything of the sort on his website nor does he reference anything he says on his website. For all I know, everything on his website could have been made up as a scam to exploit diabetics who suffer from real and debilitating problems. So how would you spot a scam?

There are always a number of red flags that point to a problem.

Firstly, if the person claims to be able to offer a miracle cure – such as ‘Reduce or Eliminate the Insulin Resistance of Your Body Cells’ or ‘lose 119 pounds by doing less exercise than before’ as much as you want to believe it – it’s crapola.

The second red flag is if these miracle claims are mixed in with things that are true if you just do the basics of staying healthy and eating well – such as losing weight, regulating blood sugar levels, preventing the threat of amputation and so forth.

The third red flag is when the answer to all these problems comes in one super duper special capsule/food/supplement/potion – it’s all just snake oil. So in this case the red flag would be PRIMAL foods. You have to ask, which foods are not PRIMAL?! If you read down to the bottom of the page Mr. Lecky claims a British farmer lived to the age of 152 by eating fermented milk products. I guess if you have read that far down the page you will believe just about anything – and who knew what he was eating? Did someone record his diet? RED FLAG! RED FLAG!

The forth red flag is when they claim they are fixing something ‘modern medicine’ couldn’t help them with, as if modern medicine is stupid. Modern medicine doesn’t claim to have all the answers – and if it does the claim is peer reviewed, tested and re-tested until the evidence points to it probably being true or not. Where is the evidence? Always look for the evidence – and don’t use testimonials, they’re hearsay not evidence.

And the final red flag is the charge – only $99.99 – or whatever.

The supplements industry is a multi billion pound concern and yet so many of these red flags exist – where’s the evidence? And don’t fall for the ones that reference their evidence from organisations they set up themselves. Con artists abound on the internet praying on our wish to find answers and cures that don’t exist – it’s called magical thinking. As difficult as it might be, the only real answers we have at the moment are to exercise, eat healthy and balanced meals and talk to your GP. Snake oil salesmen need to be put out of business, but Governments aren’t going to do it so we have to, through spotting those red flags. That’s why I won’t be adding Dibaetestools to my list of people I’m following – I have integrity.

A diabetic Christmas

The Christmas just gone was my first as a diabetic and I have to say I was hesitant about it. Food features highly at Christmas, Lindt seem to only advertise their chocolate at Easter and Christmas and it all looks so good, melted inner goo with crisp chocolate ... well, you’ve seen the ads. Gone was my festive chocolate orange, Terry can keep it now! And it’s not just the chocolate and sweets, it’s the glorious Christmas pud and the ice cream and the nuts and the wine and the beer.

I know Diabetes UK recommends you do treat yourself now and then, that you don’t live the life of a food monk or flagellate yourself for having a Quality Street. But my problem has always been that I can’t stop at one. Interestingly I was re-watching the ‘West Wing’ on DVD when one of the characters, who is an alcoholic, explains that his problem is not that he wants one drink, it’s that he wants ten. I feel the same way about sweets. I couldn’t have just one section of a chocolate orange, or one Cadbury’s Hero, I want ten, or fifteen or .. oh, it’s all gone, how did that happen?!

So I do give the chocolates a miss, I’d rather not have any then torture myself. On reflection I noted that my parents, whose home I was in for the festive period, also didn’t have any. They would normally have a selection of sweets and chocolates out, but I guess they were thinking of me. Funny the subtle changes diabetes makes to the lives of those around you.

One thing I did ask for was a Christmas pudding. I was determined to have some Christmas pudding with some ice cream on Christmas day. Then I looked at the sugar levels – 1/8th of the pudding was 65% of your daily sugar intake. This thing was packed full of sugar. I was so disappointed I wanted to cry. Surely there must be a pudding out there with a lower sugar level than this! I wanted to ask my Mum why she had gone for this one over any others, hadn’t she checked, didn’t she know? After all those subtle changes this felt like a kick in the teeth. But I smiled and I had about 1/16th of a Christmas pudding and three scoops of ice cream. I think there is a lesson here about communicating more clearly, I work on that one for another blog.

Then I picked at the pudding, a little here, a little there. And I went a bit mad with the turkey sandwiches by adding a splash of ketchup. Oh the sin of it all, bits of Christmas pudding and a splash of ketchup, it just feels so bloody unfair. I tested myself blood sugar levels and I was at 17. I hadn’t been at 17 since I was first diagnosed and it was a bit of a blow. So I stayed away from sugar as much as possible the next few days (except I did have some more ketchup with next day’s turkey sandwiches – to heck with it I thought, let them take my foot).

The thing is I need my foot, and my eyes, kidneys and pretty much everything really. I did feel guilty about letting things get out of control. I also felt bad that my Mum had put so much effort into thinking about my first diabetic Christmas and I had been so damned stupid about the Christmas pudding. I could have gone for a run if I was so bothered. As it was I did little exercise over the whole of the festive period. But it’s back to work now and back to the routine. Structure makes living with diabetes much easier. My bloods are back under control now – at last test 6.8, but this Christmas has shown me how easy it is to slip.

I hope you had a good Christmas and any experienced diabetics out there who want to leave some tips for us newbies – please do let us know.

Work and Diabetes: part 2

Over the last few weeks my diabetes has come second to work. Since being diagnosed in May I’ve been running my life in a way that suits my diabetes best – getting to the gym, eating balanced meals regularly and staying away from chocolates, sugar and excessive amounts of fat. I’ve just hit the 14 stone mark for the first time in, in, it’s been so long I can’t remember! I’ve turned down drinks and I’ve passed up dessert and all because I’ve changed much about my life.


However the past few weeks have been completely dominated by work. I do the PR for a company called Dr Foster and we put out the 2009 Hospital Guide. I worked 83 hours on the week of the launch, literally finishing work at nine or ten at night and getting up at six, or even on occasion five thirty. The launch was huge and the story was far bigger than I imagined.


The effect it had on my diabetes was that I was missing dinners and not eating until late, whereupon I’d have a sandwich or something light. I also found I couldn’t eat much on an early morning so I’d grab some toast from a local shop – just butter – around 10.00am if I could get out. It threw my routines completely out of whack. When I did get home in time to eat I’d have a take-away, a throwback to the lifestyle that got me in the diabetes trouble I’m in now.


I’d often think about measuring my blood sugar levels but then something would come up and I’d forget. I’ve been told that with type 2 you don’t have to worry about hypoglycaemic coma but I did begin to worry that I wasn’t taking care of myself. Getting to the gym was impossible and I’m sure I formed a small groove in my seat at work I spent so long in it.


When I did manage to measure my blood it was fine, well within limits. Occasionally my blood was in the low 5s but that’s good, not bad. As it turns out the diabetes affected me in other ways. I got a mouth infection and it seems as though bits of me were falling apart. I got a couple of rashes that would not go away, obviously an effect of stress but maybe made worse by the sugar that stays in my system making me a Petri dish for bacteria.


It culminated in the astonishingly painful throat infection I now have as I type this. It’s two weeks after the launch and this infection came on Tuesday night. By Thursday I could not eat, and even breathing was painful. I finally got an appointment with the Doctor for Friday but the nurse had put the wrong day in the diary and I was not scheduled till the following Friday. I would have shouted but I couldn’t. As it was they fitted me in as an emergency patient and I got the Penicillin I so desperately needed. I should have gone in as an emergency patient two days earlier and I wouldn’t still be in pain today.


So I guess the effects of Diabetes are much more long term than the effects of stress and exhaustion, but long term periods of stress and exhaustion will ultimately have an effect on my diabetes. Stress doesn’t have to come from work, it can come from family, from kids, from relationships, from friends and from so many other areas of life. I suppose being aware of these stresses is the key, and making sure they don’t play too big a part in your life. Roll on Christmas – that’s never stressful. 

Nine and a half weeks with diabetes

Hmmm, not sure how to approach this one, but here goes. Often in new relationships, before the crushing onset of familiarity and normalcy, the sex life is something that sparks. One of the things that might be suggested is the element of food in the bedroom. Now I’m not talking about an egg and cress sandwich watching the Match of the Day on the small TV by the dresser whilst the missus catches up with Coronation Street on the big TV in the front room.

Take the film, Nine and a Half Weeks, you know the scene I’m talking about! How different would that have been if Mickey Rourke was diabetic?

“Look, I can have a bit of ice cream... not that much.. are you crazy I’ve got an A1c test in a month! Honey! Do you know the amount of sugar in processed honey, seriously, stop. Strawberries, ok now you’re talking, in fact I believe 10 of these babies make up one of my five-a-day.”

Not quite such a sexy moment.

So what are the alternatives – low fat humous? Maybe not. Greek yogurt? That’s a possibility. Porridge? Can’t see that going down well as an alternative to chocolate mousse!

I suppose the diet mantra still rings true – you can eat whatever you like, just be sensible and make sure you have small balanced portions.

World Diabetes Day

Happy World Diabetes Day!

Really!? Happy? I’m not sure about that. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s an excellent idea to have had a day to raise awareness of the issue and the people who make it happen are doing wonderful, exhilarating, incredible, fantastical, marvellous work, but is ‘happy’ the most appropriate greeting? You don’t do the same for World Aids day. I have to say, on a personal level, speaking for myself, I’m really not that happy about having diabetes and so this greeting would seem inappropriate.

Happy diabetes day... there has to be a more appropriate way of introducing it – ‘chronic’ diabetes day. No, doesn’t work. ‘Respectful’ diabetes day, maybe? ‘I’m sorry you have’ diabetes day... that’s more like it.

So what did World Diabetes Day achieve? I suppose a lot of cakes were made, bought or won, further supporting our enemy the treat producers of the world. I wonder if we diabetes sufferers could pick out a single enemy, a nemesis if you will. Cadburys would do or Thorntons or Green and Blacks with their Mayan gold, for all those wonderful tasty chocolates they make? Or perhaps the conspiracy goes deeper – the cane sugar producers, or cocoa growers getting us hooked on their sweet, tasty raw goodness. Maybe the next Bond film could be about overthrowing the cruel Mayan cocoa growers who own the pharmaceutical companies that produce metformin.

Trouble is the Spanish wiped out most of the Mayan civilisation through brutality and smallpox, and the remaining native Mayan people are oppressed – often viciously – especially in Guatemala, so they would likely deserve their revenge. Plus they are being blamed for the end of the world in 2012 when their calendar ‘runs out’! Poor Mayans are having a bad lot so far. P.S. the ‘end of the calendar/end of world’ is the same as saying the world will end every 31 December! Nonsense.

Due to legal reasons I should point out that it is highly unlikely the chocolate, sugar and pharmaceutical companies are all tied up in a plot to supersize the world, and for Diabetes UK’s benefit these insane rantings also need to be put in the context that diabetics can eat some chocolates every now and then and that it’s all about moderation and balance.

I would like to know what world diabetes day achieves. Did it help prevent kids from heading down the road to getting diabetes? Did it help raise money for research into ending diabetes? Or did it simply make all of us with diabetes 1 and 2 appreciate that people are thinking of us and working hard on our behalf?

Sweat

When you are overweight you worry about sweat. You worry about it because of the patches it leaves under your arms, down your back and on your chest. I don’t mean when you’re at the gym where it’s good to sweat. At the gym people are judged on their levels of sweat.

“Hey there, looking sweaty, that must have been a good workout?”

“Yep. I’m sweating like a horse with a crack problem that just ran the Grand National. That’s how good at doing the gym I am.”

I mean at work and in your non-gym clothes. If you’re sweating outside of the gym it’s a whole different story.

“What’s the matter, did you just steal something? Have you been fooling around with the boss’s wife?”

So you do all you can to avoid sweat and that means avoiding anything that puts the heart rate up.
So instead of doing all the things that will help you lose weight in your daily routine you avoid them – such as climbing the escalators. When you have diabetes you shouldn’t avoid this useful activity, so how do you marry the two things?

I used to wear a t-shirt into work and then change once I’d had some time to cool down, but this isn’t ideal. You could go the whole hog and shower at work, which means you have to cycle in as an excuse for why you want to shower. But that’s ok too because you’ll start to see changes pretty soon from the benefits of cycling – plus you can ask work to participate in the cycle-to-work scheme. I heard recently from Andy Burnham, the Minister for Health, they are working with the Department of Work and Pensions to encourage businesses to provide showering facilities at work as part of the cycle-to-work scheme.

You can always join a local gym and perhaps go for a little morning swim and shower and change there. You still have to deal with the post swim exercise sweat, but at least you know you’ve been doing something healthy.

I stick to the dark or white shirts as they hide the marks better. The good news is that the more you lose weight and the fitter you become the less you have to deal with this moist problem.

Sorry isn’t the hardest word

Blog 17 – Sorry isn’t the hardest word.

Diabetes has had a number of effects on me, as it will with everyone. It creates problems that are personal to you, that you feel you can’t share. It impacts on areas of your life that perhaps you’ve never experienced before. But the worst feeling is when your life changes but you aren’t sure if that’s a cause of the diabetes or even real change at all.

I appreciate I’m not being very clear and clarity is of the essence in a blog, but at the same time perhaps the message to take away from this entry is that some things just aren’t clear, they don’t fit into a neat box called ‘symptoms of diabetes’. Symptoms are sometimes so subtle that you’re not really sure if it’s a problem at all.

For instance, since I stopped eating chocolate as a treat I’ve been eating way too many crisps and nuts and I have surmised – after a period of refraining from eating them – that they have been giving me spots. The sad fact is that I have to restructure how I reward myself, something that has been intrinsically related to food throughout my life.

But that’s not really what I’m talking about either. If you have noticed a change in your life, lifestyle or physically and you just aren’t sure it is worth talking to your doctor about do some research first on Diabetes UK and see if what you’re experiencing might be a part of the disease and then go see the Doc.. Depression is a good example. If you haven’t ever experienced it before you might not know how to recognise it. From the ‘introduction to diabetes’ class I was lucky enough to get into just after I was diagnosed, they pointed out the shock of finding out can lead to depression. So perhaps if you just aren’t feeling your normal self you should speak to a medical professional. Finding out these subtle changes are real and treatable is a huge relief.

As an update on my previous blog, I’ve been climbing every escalator possible on my way to work (I make that 15) and so you owe me three chocolate bar put backs. PS if anyone else wants to join in do follow me on http://twitter.com/andykliman.

Let’s fight this thing together

The last few weeks have been unbelievably hectic because as part of my job I've been in Brighton for the Labour Party conference and in Manchester for the Conservative's conference. I believe Diabetes UK were present at the Fringe and ran some events at the Health Hotel – a one-stop-shop for health issues. Unfortunately I was unable to attend but would have loved to have done so.

The focus for the NHS is very much on how the NHS is going to save between £15 to £20 billion over the next few years. I would have thought they could make a significant start by getting a whole bunch of us diabetics off the drugs and into exercise and healthy diet, and particularly in stopping kids from adopting the patterns that lead them down our particular road. Perhaps free gym membership and clothing vouchers to make it less expensive to lose weight and have to keep replacing the wardrobe.

So I come back to a comment in my previous blog about losing the fear. How the possible onset of blindness is not enough to frighten one reader back to the straight and narrow. And I keep coming back to it time and again, when I'm standing on the escalator instead of walking up it, but also when I do make it to the gym and have a great workout.

We can change this ourselves, we can take control of our lives, and we can take the extra steps to give diabetes a kick in the teeth. Government isn't going to be able to help us, we have to help ourselves. So right here and right now, as I type this I am making a pact with Lesleydp, and unfortunately this is not one you have a say in. Everytime you pick up that chocolate bar and put it back - I'll walk up five escalators. And every time you go for a 30 minute walk I'll go to the gym for an hour, and vice a versa. So now Lesleydp I'm relying on you to take those extra steps.

They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, well beating diabetes, as best we can, might be a thousand mile journey but each step (quite literally) is a kick in the teeth to diabetes. From now on I'm going to tweet (http://twitter.com/andykliman) each bit of exercise I do. So Lesleydp I expect you to sign up to it and we can follow each other's efforts. I won't be able to keep it up without you.

I'm in Bologna at the moment and about to go to my first ever opera tomorrow night, la Boheme. I warn diabetics away from Bologna as it seems to be the home of ice cream, cakes and cheese. It's a beautiful city that's very easy to walk around, so although I had my now traditional holiday only ice cream, I must have walked about 15 miles in the last two days (Lesleydp that's got to be worth two thirty minute walks and putting back one chocolate bar).

losing the fear

Afraid is not the right word, and neither is fear. My relationship to my diabetes at first was a mishmash of confusion and worry. It’s almost six months on and as I’ve learnt more about how my body reacts to food and slightly more about the condition I’ve also lost that initial drive I had that drove me to the gym or to walk home instead of taking the bus. As I’ve normalised my diabetes and brought down my blood sugar levels so I’ve started to flirt with complacency.

Every time I have something to eat I have to make a decision, do I have cheese in my salad or do I leave out the extra fat? Should I have a bag of crisps or should I put them back on the shelf? Previously that decision was massively influenced by the betes. It drove most of my choices. But now I’m getting lazy. Now I’m deciding that I will have that packet of crisps, or nuts, or cheese. I think I might be being too harsh on myself but I wouldn’t mind hearing how other people have coped when they get over the initial shock?

The other aspect of the betes was how it drove me to get up at 6.30 in the morning to go for a swim at the gym. That drive has also gone and I want to get it back. Again I might be being too harsh on myself because I do still go to the gym and play football and badminton, but just not as much as I used to. Perhaps I need some targets, such as running a marathon or similar. I think I might be some way off that yet.

I would like to join a regular football team but I’m not sure where to start.
Further to my concern is that as I get further and further away from my diagnosis date on the 14 May 2009 the harder it will become to keep up all my new good habits. The good thing is this is something that is within my gift. It’s for me to decide what it is I want to do and something I can take control of. I just need to get a bit more organised to fit it all in.

Handy Spin off

According to the GP targetes magazine Pulse, a study in the US has shown that Metformin, for patients with Type 2 diabetes, offers some protection against pancreatic cancer. So that's good news. Patients with diabetes who had taken metformin had a 62% lower risk of pancreatic cancer than those who had not.

Who knows how good these studies actually are, but it's an interesting revelation. All they need to do now is find out why.

These are Andy Kliman's personal views, experiences and opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Diabetes UK

Travels with my chronic condition

50 slow release metformin tablets? Check. Large supply of soft-touch true track finger pricking needles? Check. Blood testing kit complete in black zip-up carry case? Check. Now, main luggage or hand luggage? No question, if my luggage ends up in the Dolomites and not Dalaman with me, I'm going to miss my kit and my pills most of all. But wait, can I take through the needles or, in this new era of paranoia, will they be seen as offensive weapons? So I packed about ten in my testing kit and the rest in my luggage.

Drugs! What if I get stopped at customs and they find the big box of pills, it won't look good.

"Now then, that is a lot of pills you've got there sir, you're only going for 10 days."

"Delays! What if there's a strike or the planes all break. I can't be without them, I need my metformin, I'm trying to quit, I swear, I'm exercising, losing weight, give me a break officer, I need these drugs."

I figures what the hell and I packed them up in hand luggage and took them through and there wasn't a problem. It does make you wonder how much illegal drugs are being shipped around in this way, sealed inside foil wrapped Glucophage packets. I cut it fine picking them up from the chemist beforehand. Number two on your checklist (after passport) has to be; do I have enough pills to last me the full length of my stay plus a little extra, plus some emergency pills? Number three should be; how much are all the hidden extras going to cost me, such as air conditioning in the hotel - what a scam!

I don't know if it was the heat and the swimming, the Turkish food, the lack of snacking or the stress free existence of being on holiday but my blood sugar levels were the best they have been since I was diagnosed, usually around the 5.4 level when I tested. And I tested at irregular times so it wasn't just before breakfast and after dinner. I think part of the prescription for diabetes should be regular holidays to Turkey - paid for by the NHS. No? Oh go on.

I even treated myself to ice cream. Two scoops of the coldest, most chocolatey, most sensational ice cream I had ever tasted. The first since I had been diagnosed in May just over four months beforehand. The sensation, as with the second spoonful I uncovered a soft sticky chocolate addition to the smooth rich ice cream, allowed me to once again live life to the full.

No longer was I living vicariously through my friends - encouraging them to buy and eat the chocolate I couldn't, asking them to describe the taste, the texture, the release of endorphins - I was experiencing the full exquisite bucket of emotions and senses associated with rich sweet ice cream.

The great news is that it put my sugars up to 8.8 but by that evening I was back down to 6.4 and within tolerance levels. This is not intended to say to fellow sufferers that they should eat ice cream on a regular basis. Rather it is to proclaim the fantastical nature of eating the stuff on the very odd occasion, and to fully appreciate it when you do. Live in the moment of not just consumption but of life in all its sweet, textured, colourful and wondrous nature.

I believe prepared well for my holiday, I enjoyed it and I treated myself to paragliding and ice cream, two things I would normally avoid. These are my tips to a happy healthy holiday.

(see my previous blog on travel insurance for details - however note that I might have gotten a bit paranoid and read 'invalidate' instead of 'validate')
These are Andy Kliman's personal views, experiences and opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Diabetes UK

Holiday insurance

The reason you haven’t had a blog from me for a while is because I’ve just come back from ten glorious if slightly tacky days in the Olu Deniz area of Turkey. I won’t bore you with too many details (I’ll leave that till the next blog) but it is a resort area on the south coast famous for its lagoon, with still warm waters and shallow pebble beaches helping make this trip very, very relaxing. The only thing slightly nagging at the back of my mind was the travel insurance.

I’m spending a few days in Italy in October so decided on a multi-trip cover for the year. I looked at moneysavingexpert.com as I always do for such matters to see who is the cheapest with the best cover. I was concerned to make sure I had swine flu cover, which many policies exempt (be sure to check). I was also concerned about the diabetes and what this means in terms of exemptions. I picked a company called OUL Direct and applied online. I kept wanting to tell them about my diabetes but there was no place to mention it. So I studied the legal mumbo jumbo and this bit in particular:

“Pre-existing medical conditions:
This policy will not pay for any claims arising from pre-existing medical conditions or if you or anybody insured by this policy are awaiting or undergoing treatment or you or anybody insured by this policy are undergoing or awaiting any medical investigations or consultation with a specialist or awaiting diagnosis or tests results or treatment.”

Fair enough, I thought, it won’t cover any problems relating to the diabetes but will cover anything else. I’m the fittest and healthiest I’ve probably ever been, since the ‘betes’ scared me straight. My bloods are in great shape, sticking around about the 5.4 to 6.8 mark and my recent eye test was fine (apart from one small question which I’m still waiting to see a specialist over but certainly isn’t an immediate concern). So I wasn’t in danger of going hyper or hypo, my circulation is fine and I can feel everything in my feet, my blood pressure is normal and so is my cholesterol. So what else could there be? I signed the policy and went ahead with packing.

However, my Mum being ever so more wise than I, wasn’t happy. She suggested I should tell them directly about the diabetes because there was no space to do so online. So I sent them an email explaining that I had diabetes and did this affect the standard policy I was on? They wrote back to me within 48 hours and sent me the following:

“Dear Andrew,

This email validates your OULDirect.com policy recently purchased through our web site.

Please read through the following policy information carefully to make sure all details are in order and the benefits provided meet your needs and requirements.

This policy will not pay for any claims arising from pre-existing medical conditions or if You (meaning anybody insured by this policy) or anyone on whom the holiday plans depend are awaiting or undergoing treatment or You or anyone on whom the holiday plans depend are undergoing or awaiting any medical investigations or consultation with a specialist or awaiting diagnosis or tests results or treatment.

Should you require any further advice regarding the policy wording please telephone OULDirect.com at email help@ouldirect.com to ensure you are covered.”

The only problem was that I got this whilst I was in Turkey and I hadn’t checked my email for a while, and truthfully it’s only whilst writing this that I noticed the first line. ‘This email validates your policy’.

So I was on holiday without cover and they gave me a phone number as an email address, thanks OUL! I have to say I’m very glad I didn’t read it properly because I might not have gone through with the paragliding, which involves running off a 3000ft high mountain before gliding down for over half an hour, the wind rushing through your hair accompanied by the exhilaration of floating effortlessly in the clear blue sky. I took the pictures that accompany this blog.

I don’t know where I am at with my insurance. I want to phone them but I can’t. I got lucky this time but I didn’t realise the complications that diabetes can bring, not just medically, which I am beginning to deal with, but legally. It’s just one more thing to worry about, one more complication in an otherwise generally more complicated life.

But I will deal with it. I’ll send them another email after finishing this blog and I’ll let you all know and hopefully be able to provide you with some helpful advice. On the flip side, if you have some advice to offer and have been through this process, please leave a comment below.

I miss the sun but I’m glad to be back blogging.

Too Lazy for TV

I couldn’t help but notice the news splashed all over every newspaper that, ‘Britons too lazy to switch channels’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/8649190). The truth is I recognised this syndrome straight away, as I’m sure, did a lot of other people. I’ve been in my comfy armchair watching some utter rubbish, tired after a long hard day at work and the remote control is across the room on the sofa. It’s just too much effort to get up.

But why is it too much like hard work? Well first off there is the mental block, the ones gyms recognise straight away. My gym has a sign on the wall as you walk in that says, ‘well done, that’s the hard bit over’, and you know what, they’re right! Our imaginations run wild with the pain and torment that comes with the slightest physical activity. Humans have evolved to expend as little energy as possible, once a great skill when you had to hunt your own food.

The other great block to finding the impetuous to get up and change the channel is because you know there is nothing on worth looking at. You can cycle through the other 30 – 300 channels and you won’t find anything better than the rubbish you are watching, that isn’t a repeat. So why bother going through the effort of getting up? Why not just watch the remake of the Poseidon Adventure, again?

Now I don’t want to get all sanctimonious but my life improved significantly when I decided to cut TV out as much as possible. I have to admit that ‘watch again’ has helped as I can watch the programmes I want to see without having to be tied to a schedule (Dragons Den). It’s really quite liberating to say to heck with the TV listings I’m going to plan my life around other things.

Those brief few moments between the end of the commute home from work and sleep should be treasured. Join the gym and go after work, do a pottery class, learn French (or English), write the book of your life, go see a friend, take up painting, go for a walk, join a badminton group, join a book group. Do anything but watch TV. Less TV means less snacking and more calories burnt and that’s a kick in the teeth for the diabetes.

An ideal that’s also value for money

President Obama (stick with me this will all become clear), one of the finest orators of his generation, or any generation, was elected with a mandate of change. After eight years of another George Bush, America had woken up and voted for a young black Senator with a clarity of mind and a vision for change. He has successfully begun redefining America’s relationship with the Muslim world. He has put environmentalism towards the top of his agenda and would seem to have won the war against those small but vocal groups that doubt the impact of climate change. But there is one massive area where even he continues to be frustrated, healthcare.

President Obama, the figurehead of a movement for change, has smashed headlong into the wall of spin, campaign funding and lobbying by the established ‘big health insurance’ companies. Bill Clinton, the last ‘President for change’ made healthcare reform his top priority and got nowhere. If the juggernaut that is Obama, and all he represents, can’t break down a wall that says universal healthcare is communist pinky propaganda, perhaps it will never change.

Which is why I count my blessings when I pick up my prescription that Aneurin Bevan fought that same fight over fifty years ago and that the British people recognised free healthcare for all was not a conspiracy but a building block of the good society. I often wonder how it is that so many Americans have moved so far away from the British, politically, when we have so much more in common? The NHS may not be perfect but as an ideal it is beyond reproach.

However I would say that, because I’m diabetic which means I get all of my medication for free. If I was suffering from Crones disease I wouldn’t get the same consideration. Many Crones sufferers have to maintain a course of steroids throughout the rest of their lives in order to keep the chronic condition in check. So why do diabetes sufferers get free medicines but those with Crones disease don’t? Likely it is because diabetes sufferers form a larger electoral group and have a strong representative organisation in Diabetes UK.

So in a weird circle, it is in fact the political weight and lobbying of diabetes patients through organised representation that makes sure we get the full and uncompromised service from the NHS. The ideal of universal healthcare is one thing and the implications of paying for it are another. I had to make a choice recently between private health insurance and the NHS. I chose the NHS. Why? Well because it made sense for me to do so with my particular chronic condition. If I had Crones disease I’d have had to go private and still be paying for the NHS through my taxes. This way I get an ideal that is also value for money. Until President Obama can find that same economic/moral balance I wish him all the luck in the world, he’s going to need it.

Eating out

The two types of food I enjoyed the most when eating out were creamy Indian dishes like kormas and chicken tikka masala and Chinese food. And Pizza! The three types of food ... I could go on a la Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch, but I won’t. I like eating out, generally speaking, creamy, sweet, fat laden dishes that helped put me in the position that I’m in now.

So it’s true that Indian and Chinese foods now scare me. I’ve completely cut back on eating out and I have only had a small number of takeaways in the three months that I’ve been diagnosed. I’ve had pizza, which pushes up my blood sugar levels if I have it at night – too much bread – and kebab, which I heard from a diabetic friend of my parent’s is probably the best take away to have, if you have to have one, it’s got meat, it’s got salad, it’s got bread. It’s the perfect balanced meal!

So three months and not a Chinese or Indian meal has passed my lips. Last Saturday night this was all set to change with a trip down to Brick Lane, the heart of the Indian/Bangladeshi food community in London. I arranged with a couple of friends for a night out. Only I got scared. I literally got scared of eating a curry. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know what would be in it and what it would do to my sugars. So as it was a balmy evening I suggested we use my barbeque to cook up a feast of meats and salad. I didn’t barbeque the salad in the end.

It feels so silly to be scared of a curry. In fact it feels ridiculous. I need to arm myself with the information to tackle either an Indian or Chinese meal. It may well be that I should stay the heck away from both these types of foods. I’ve been looking at books on type 2 diabetes online and ‘eating out’ is a chapter in all of them so I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s scared and confused.

As ‘they’ tend to say, ‘you are your own diabetes doctor’ and ‘most of the doctoring is done by the patient’. Diabetes UK (http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Guide-to-diabetes/Food_and_recipes/Celebrations_and_eating_out/Eating_out/) gives the helpful tip that you should give it a try and monitor blood sugar levels closely to see what it does to you – a sort of suck it and see policy. But only really suck it if it’s low in fat, sugar and salt. I’m looking for a crystal ball or magic eight-ball (in US parlance) that will tell me the affect of eating it before I eat it, only there’s no such thing as fortune telling so I’ll just leave it for a bit. Or perhaps I’ll set up an experiment. A curry laboratory if you will. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Wedding Waiter

“Andrew?”

I just about heard the first calling of my name above the hubbub of the wedding, clinking classes, laughter and loudly, if wrongly, recounted memories of the happy couple.

“Andrew?”

There it was again, louder this time, is it me they want, who’s calling my name? I looked up to see the waiter poised with a plate in his hand. That’s when it struck me, desert! Someone, not me, but someone has ordered me a special diabetic desert. I had to stop him from singling me out or everyone would ask the question – what’s up, why have you got a special desert?

If that happened I’d have to tell people that I’m diabetic, and not just people, but people who I hadn’t seen for many years and would likely not see for another few years, people who didn’t need to know, people who I had no interest in telling. Not because of who they were, on the contrary these are old family friends who only have my best interests at heart, but because there was just no need to talk about it.

I saw him, plate in hand, not really bothering to look but just yelling out a name, like when you’ve answered the phone and the caller wants to talk to a family member who isn’t you. It’s lazy, but in this case surely he’s aware that any diabetes sufferer doesn’t want their personal medical history announced to the world, and certainly not to a table of people at a wedding. So I began to splurt out ‘I’m here’ but didn’t get past the ‘I’m’ before I heard again;

“Andrew, with diabetes!”

I was stunned, shocked, shell-shocked. This waiter couldn’t have exposed me more if he’d made me strip at gunpoint and dance naked on the table, making everyone else clap and shout, ‘dance, dance, dance’. Even writing this now I’m cringing inside. Would this idiot waiter have done the same thing if the condition was cancer or herpes?

“Special meal for the person with the sexually transmitted disease! Who’s got the herpes? Come on, I’ve got a special meal here!”

I didn’t know where to look. I wanted a hole in the ground to open up and swallow me. What I wanted to do was to shove that small, rather pathetic, platter of grapes right up his ... well, you know. I hope he feels bad. I seriously hope he has sleepless nights about his lazy arrogance. Of course no one said anything, after the astonished laughter died down. But that was it, the whole evening changed for me. And sure, maybe I am too sensitive about it, especially for someone who is blogging about it to the world. But at least on my blog I am in control. This guy took that perception of control away from me and laid me bare.

I’m still very angry.

Clothes and weight loss

The one good thing about the ‘betes’ is that it forces you to lose weight, I mean after all, it’s a symptom of the disease. So that’s my focus, I’m losing weight and doing loads of exercise!

However it’s getting pretty expensive. None of my old shirts, suits and trousers fit me so I had to buy new stuff. I don’t care for puffy shirts, and when you’ve gone from an 18 collar to a 16 ½ it billows like a sail in the wind. And now the new stuff is starting to get baggy too.

I’m off to a wedding and the dinner suit I had, which didn’t fit me for about three years because it was too small but which I kept in order to wear when I did finally get back into it, is now too big! It was in wearable range for about a month! A month! So I took it to the charity shop, they’ve done pretty well out of me lately – I won’t be giving to Children in Need this year. (I’m kidding, seriously)

I’m not good at throwing clothes out. I keep socks until I don’t know which end to put my foot in. So to get rid of perfectly suitable suits was damned hard. I lost weight before I was diagnosed (as I said, one of my symptoms) but I could not bring myself to throw out the stuff that didn’t fit, just in case I ever needed them again. But the ‘betes’ changed all that. If I was to get back into them it would likely be at the expense of my health. So farewell my outsized clothing, farewell.

Truth is I can’t afford to replace it all at once so I’ll be billowing down Oxford street like a dandy pirate highwayman for a few months yet as I keep losing weight.

Not that it’s really a concern yet, but I’m losing weight pretty fast with this new diet and all the swimming and badminton, I wonder what happens when it’s all gone. I might collapse in on myself and create a black hole. I’ll cross that unlikely cosmic bridge when I come to it.

Cheweee Bars

I hunted around the supermarket looking for a treat I could have that might contain a hint of chocolate and tasty sweet goodness, but also have minimal sugar, fat and salt content.

What I came up with was the Harvest Cheweee bar. It had the lowest sugar of all of these types of ‘healthy’ cereal bars.

Each bar has

Calories 92
Sugar 5.6g
Fat 3.2g
Saturates 1.1g
Salt 0.1g

I find them very tasty and feel comfortable with having one almost every day, particularly after exercise when I’m feeling tired. They won’t fill you up but they might give you a little light relief.

I’m wondering if anyone else has come across Cheweee bars and if there is some hidden health secret I’m missing? Also they were two for one in Tesco last week (10 July).

Letter to America (almost two months after diagnosis-day)

I announced on Facebook that I had been diagnosed with the ‘betes’, as a friend of mine who now lives in the US calls it (and which I’m going to steal from her). This same friend also told me she was diagnosed herself six years ago. For her it is a genetic thing and although mostly she is on top of it, it would seem to have been a tough year. My friend has been kind enough to agree to answer some of my questions, so here is an extract of the last email I sent. Please, blog readers, feel free to offer any advice and answers yourselves.

Letter to America

So diabetes, what’s all that about?! You have the genetic excuse, which although it doesn’t make it any less of an impact on your life, at least you can blame someone else. I don’t have that and it still grates. That sounds like I’m dissing your diabetes, I’m not, this is complicated. People do tend to ask if it’s the good diabetes or the bad diabetes and I have to try to explain.

It seems from some of the comments I’ve had from my blog posts that I’m actually still in shock and therefore really strict about what I do and don’t eat (although I eat too many salted peanuts). After a year or two it would seem to become a lot harder to stick to healthy eating, is this something you found?

I also hate sticking myself with that damned pin every morning and night. I gave myself this weekend off, so I haven’t monitored my blood. When you do monitor your blood levels do you tend to guess before seeing the number, as the machine ticks down? It makes it slightly more tolerable but makes me cranky if I’m higher than expected.

It sounds as if you’re struggling with the betes at times. Is this something I can look forward to or is it different for every person? I guess I don’t expect you to answer that as it’s different for every person, how can it not be? Still I think I need to ask some dumb questions so I hope you don’t mind.

Do you get involved with the cause? Is it a cause? When does a disease become a cause and can you have a cause for the non-genetically affected patients? It might be like supporting famine victims who slashed and burnt their own crops (I hope Kim Jong Il doesn’t read this – little bit of socio-geopolitics there).

[Please, blog readers, don’t judge me too harshly for that last statement I’m aware it might be somewhat controversial and I’d do better to take it out, but as I’ve said before this blog is warts and all and if that’s what I’m feeling I’m going to keep it in. This blog is not about right or wrong, it’s about sharing my feelings and right now I’m still pretty angry at myself.]

I’ve been watching the DVD box set of the first series of the excellent hit US TV show 30 Rock. In one episode they attend a fundraiser for diabetes research. I pick up on all that stuff now, mentions on the street, TV and at work. It’s like they say, a man with a hammer sees a world full of nails.

How is diabetes seen in the US? We keep hearing things such as 18 million Americans have diabetes and it’s only set to grow. I also heard that it affects aboriginal people in Australia particularly, but when some aboriginal diabetes sufferers were given the chance to live a traditional aboriginal life their symptoms disappeared after a couple of months. How would that work in the UK? Turnips, farming and servitude to a local lord! I think I’ll just keep going to the gym and try to avoid eating peanuts.

Dating with Diabetes

I went speed dating on Friday night with my friend Rob. I thought about mentioning the diabetes because it’s the biggest thing that has rocked my world in the last few months, however I stuck to the usual stuff such as my job, where I’ve been travelling and the penguins that look like the Rolling Stones that I’m making in pottery class. That said, the betes, as an American friend of mine calls it, was always at the forefront of my mind. I even felt a bit disingenuous by not talking about it.

The speed dating thing is socially complicated and it’s the first time I’ve done it. The rules of engagement are odd and different. The end was particularly weird. You stop the speed dating, which really isn't long enough at three minutes, and instead of moving on to the next person it just stops. I wanted to get the heck out of there but Rob wanted to stay for a drink. I stayed but think I should have gone because I really didn’t feel comfortable.

I thought I felt uncomfortable for a number of reasons, such as; leaving makes you look busy and shows people that you have other important things to do (even if you don’t), or secondly, and more appropriately for me, if I made a good impression in the three minute speed date I'm only going to mess it up by saying something stupid.

However the real reason I shouldn’t have stayed, on reflection, is that I felt a huge amount of pressure to have a drink. I wanted to avoid the question of why are you just having a coke? So I had two bottles of larger and a vodka and diet coke. Not at the same time I might add. I tried to order a vodka and slimeline/diet tonic but the barman didn’t speak great English so I gave up on it. I didn’t really enjoy the drinks and I didn’t really want them.

I know I can have three units a day, a pint or a vodka, but it still sends my sugars up and I get the dry mouth syndrome all over again. I’m just not enjoying it. Guinness doesn’t seem to be as bad and a friend of mine who is also a sufferer said tequila is sugar free. Of course I’m not encouraging anyone to drink either of these drinks because they all contain calories. (Wistful glance upwards) those days of excess are long gone.

I’m not sure I learnt a lot from the experience. I can’t avoid dating or diabetes so I guess I’ll just have to learn how to appropriately mix the two. I have a wedding coming up next weekend and I’m determined not to drink although I can imagine there will be a lot of pressure. I’m also not clear on how to handle the question of not drinking. We are a nation obsessed with alcohol. Perhaps I’ll say I’m driving. Perhaps no one will ask and I’m just being somewhat neurotic. We’ll see. Every day brings a new experience and I’m going to try to be positive about each and every one.

Conferences and white bread

Diabetes has affected my work life. I lose concentration at work, especially in long tedious meetings where before I might have been able to stay awake (I say might). I also seem to get very tired around about half three, which I think might be related to the come down from my blood sugar levels spiking after my standard lunch of sandwich and fruit. Or I might just be getting tired. I’ll try to find out for my next blog.

So when I had to go to an all-day conference yesterday I was concerned I would have little control over the type of lunch served and end up falling asleep during a talk. I was prepared for the usual slightly crusty white bread sandwiches cut into triangles with curling edges.

It’s a worry. I couldn’t approach an event organiser and say, ‘do you have something with a lower GI, I’m diabetic?’ It’s just not in me yet. Maybe when I get older and more belligerent I will be able to. I wonder if the same applies to going on holiday, I’m off to Turkey so I’ll see?

Whether it’s a real worry is debateable as I have tended to blow advice and guidance out of proportion. When they first said continue to eat fruit and get your five-a-day I went fruit crazy and my sugar went through the roof. So when they say choose seeded granary bread over processed white bread I avoid white bread like the plague, dreaming of tesco own brand loaves cornering me in the baking section and beating the living daylights out of me.

As it turned out the food was salad based, with a selection of granary and white buns and a bit of hot pasta bake. It was a well rounded, balanced meal. I decided against desert. I was the same as everyone else, the same I tells ya. The diabetes wasn’t an issue.

I’m writing this at 2.29 the day after the event and I guess the lesson I learnt was not to .... [snore] “White bread!!!! Arrggghh!” [snore]

The first rule of diabetes club, talk about diabetes.

The first people I told I had been diagnosed with diabetes were my parents and close friend, Darren. My parents because they are so very supportive and Darren because I knew he’d be able to give me some perspective.


My parents were very good, very supportive and thankfully just as ignorant about the condition as I was. I hate it when everyone else knows something as a matter of course and I don’t; like carbohydrates are sugar or apple shaped people are more at risk of getting diabetes than other fruit shaped people.


Ok, that last one might be less well known but the truth was that I wasn’t ready to let anyone else know. I thought perhaps I might just keep it as my secret, after all why was it anyone else’s business? I found myself wandering around Oxford Street in London looking at overweight people and thinking, has she got it, have they got it? He must have it or life just isn’t fair. I didn’t know if I should admit that last thought because it’s very cold, but in the interests of honesty and that others might have thought the same I have included it. I guess it’s part of the anger process.


No one likes being fat. No one says, when I grow up I want to be eighteen stones heavier. So when I was diagnosed with a disease that I and everyone else associate with an unhealthy lifestyle my feeling was that I’ve only got myself to blame, and I assumed this would be everyone else’s reaction too. There is with some a genetic get-out clause, but I didn’t even have that. My uncle had it but that doesn’t really count.


So I decided to tell my boss, my parents and Darren only, I would carry this secret, this burden, with me throughout the rest of my life. My parents then told my sister, who told my brother-in-law, who told his mum who was visiting. They all discussed it over the dinner table when I was home the following weekend after I had been diagnosed. At first I was annoyed but being able to talk freely about it my annoyance melted away. It also helped me to realise what questions I needed answered if I was going to be able to manage my diabetes.


Pretty soon I was telling everyone, my then girlfriend, my work colleagues, my friends, random people on the bus. At times I was introducing myself as: “Hi, I’m Andy and I’ve got diabetes!” I wasn’t but I almost did. It’s very interesting the things people admit back to you, their hidden diseases and ailments.


I went a bit mad with telling people and I’ve pulled back a bit now. It’s about getting the right balance. Friends who you go for a few pints with are going to notice that you’re on the diet coke, so tell them. Friends who you play sport with need to know in case you have a turn, it’s also a good excuse when you mess up, ‘I’d have made that shot but the old diabetes is playing up again!’ My advice is to pick your moments and expect the obvious questions in response. What type? Can you eat cake? Can you drink? Do you need to inject?


As for Darren, his advice was that he thinks I might now be able to use disabled toilets. Like I said, perspective.

Finding out

I need to point out from the offset that I am not a medical professional, I am not an expert on diabetes and no one should take anything I have to say in this blog as the gospel truth (or any other sort of truth for that matter). I am just a bloke who has been diagnosed with diabetes and thought it might be helpful to share my experiences and thoughts.


So how did I find out?


Well, throughout my childhood I remember my mum being worried I might have diabetes, way before it became popular. I used to drink a lot of water and she’d heard somewhere that thirst was a symptom. This was usually only a worry on hot summer days when I had been playing football for a couple of hours. I was a tubby kid, and a tubby adult. In fact I can only remember two times in my life when I wasn’t, both of which involved me taking up some exercise.


So in January of this year, after returning from an extended holiday, I noticed a thirst that just would not go away. My mouth would feel as dry as a sponge in a desert. And I couldn’t stop going to the loo. It’s funny how these things stay with you, but I thought back to that day with my mum at the kitchen sink pouring me a cold glass of tap water, sweat pouring off my brow, jumpers for goal posts. Surely not! Not me? Diabetes? Other people get that, lazy, overweight people ... oh, right.


I’m only 36 so to get diabetes I must have right royally messed things up. At least that’s how I saw it. I waited about four months before going to the doctors and drank beer, ate sweets and had some truly gout inducing meals. I suppose that was my denial. I suspected I had diabetes because I was also losing weight, another symptom of the disease – and likely the only positive one.


I waited and I waited and then, when the thirsts and lack of undisturbed sleep got too much, I asked my doctor for a blood test.


When the GP practice phoned me the very next day to ask me to come in, Saturday 14 May (my Dad’s birthday), I thought it might be something worse than diabetes! It was at once a relief, confirmation and disappointment when the doctor broke the news.


My immediate reaction was of brave-faced resignation, an acceptance but without the full picture of what I was being accepting of. Once I left the Doctor’s and had no one to be brave-faced toward it really hit me. I was angry with myself for putting myself at risk for so many years, I was angry at the world for making it easier to get diabetes than avoid it, and I was ashamed. I was also very confused and not at all ready to learn what I needed to know about living with and managing this burden.


On the lighter side ... free prescriptions for life!


That was exactly one month ago today and the difference between then and now is vast. I feel I have some of the information I need to cope, not all, but some. I’ve talked about it with friends and I’ve taken up exercise and healthy eating and feel so much better for it. It’s just that constant nagging frustration that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, what if I’d made those changes a year or two ago?