Crash of the Insulin – by Olly Double


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How does time travel affect diabetes?

We’ve just got back from a family trip to Ipswich, for Crash of the Elysium – an interactive theatre experience put on by Punchdrunk, which allows you to take part in a Doctor Who adventure. We made a weekend of it, meeting up with some good friends – Mark, Kate, Isobel and Dominic – and all booked into the same hotel. We have both Doctor Who and diabetes in common – Isobel has type 1, just like my sons Joe and Tom.

We got to Ipswich in the early afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to look around. During the course of the afternoon, some of us started getting rather nervous. How scary was the Crash of the Elysium going to be? There were lots of attempts to rationalise it.

‘They wouldn’t want to frighten their whole audience away, would they?’
‘It’s suitable for kids, so how scary can it be?’
‘In any case, it’s not real, is it?’

The more this went on, the more nervous some of us got – and not just the kids. Knowing that Tom tends to get low blood sugars when he gets nervous, my wife Jacqui gave him some extra sugary snacks and reduced the basal rate on his insulin pump. In spite of this, he kept having hypos as the date with Doctor Who destiny grew closer. Despite being 15 – two years older and wiser than Tom – Joe was also getting spooked, judging by the way his glucose levels kept dipping.

Before the show began, we got Joe and Tom to check their blood sugars, and put their pump alarms onto silent mode – although I thought the little bleeping alarm they give off to indicate high or low glucose would fit in quite well with an interactive sci fi adventure. I won’t give too much away about what happens in Crash of the Elysium, except to say there was a lot of darkness, dry ice, running through tunnels, and an encounter with some of the Doctor’s scariest adversaries. At one point, these fearsome creatures – don’t blink when they’re around – managed to send us back in time to the late nineteenth century. I imagine that being displaced in time must have played havoc with the internal clocks in Joe’s, Tom’s and Isobel’s insulin pumps.

Emerging triumphant at the end of the adventure, Tom clearly felt relieved – because suddenly his blood sugars took off into the stratosphere like an alien spaceship. It was as if his diabetes thought, ‘Right – I’ve kept him low for long enough. Now let’s see how they cope with some industrial-strength hyperglycaemia. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaarrggh!!’

We’d decided to eat at a very nice Chinese restaurant and, as ever, Tom checked his blood glucose before eating. He was over 20 mmol/L, around three times higher than he should be. To make matters worse, we were about to eat Chinese food, which often seems to mess up the boys’ blood glucose – yummy though it is. Jacqui’s supercomputer brain whirred and hummed gently, and she quickly worked out a plan of action, involving an immediate correction bolus and the maximum increase in basal insulin. Through the meal he kept checking his BG levels, which kept refusing to go down very far, and we kept correcting him.

At bedtime, he was still high – but we were about to face the Crash of the Insulin. I woke at 1am to test the boys’ blood sugars, and found that Tom had crash landed right down to 2.9 mmol/L. All that extra insulin had obviously been too much for him. I decided to stay in the boys’ room to wait out the 15 minutes until retesting to make sure he’d come back up to a safe level – rather than padding back down the hotel corridor in my pyjamas. I lay on the sofa, my eyelids got very heavy, and before I knew it, it was 1.30. I must have time travelled into the future or something. I did another BG test and found he’d come back up to 4.8. Thank goodness for that.

I went back to our room, gently woke Jacqui up, told her what had happened, and asked her if she wouldn’t mind checking them again at 2.30 to make sure Tom hadn’t gone low again. That done, I crawled into bed, and hoped for a bigger time jump this time – all the way to the morning.

Sadly, I was hijacked halfway down the time vortex.

I felt Jacqui’s hand shaking me awake. ‘Olly, will you go and check them?’ She’d tested them about an hour later as promised and found Tom on 3.9 and Joe was over 9 mmol/L. She’d given Joe a correction bolus and given Tom a hypo treatment and lowered his basal rate. Her intention had been to wake up again a bit later to retest and make sure everything had worked OK, but having done all that diabetes-related shenanigans, she’d found it hard to get back to sleep. Having done so, the terrors of the Punchdrunk show had taken their toll, and she’d had a terrifying nightmare about zombies. Given all that, it was hardly surprising that she was asking me to do the retest instead of her.

I staggered back down to their room and tested them again. To my great relief they were now on good levels, allowing me to go back to bed for the rest of the night. Next morning I found out that the boys’ blood sugar levels were not the only thing to have fallen victim to the time dilation effect.

It had also enlarged the bags under my eyes.

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oh my goodness, the crash of the elysium sounds like an AMAZING experience!! sorry it sent the kids on a glucoaster, but you managed it with a calm head, which is all we can ask of ourselves.

so glad to have a quick chat with you at FFL last week. thanks again for doing what you do. :)

Hooray – we’re famous now. Great piece Olly and thank goodness none of them actually went hypo during the performance as we would surely have all been eaten.