Abseiling by Olly Double


One of the first words we picked up after Tom was diagnosed back in 2000 was ‘BM’. We heard the medical staff in the intensive care unit at Guy’s hospital talking about giving Tom a ‘BM’, and quickly realised it meant giving him a finger prick blood glucose test. We didn’t ask precisely what the initials BM stood for, but by the time Tom left hospital we were calling blood glucose tests ‘BMs’ just like the nurses and doctors did. Comparing notes, Jacqui and I decided that BM must stand for ‘blood monitoring’.

A few years later, I did a stand-up show about diabetes called Saint Pancreas, and it was only while doing the research for it that I actually bothered to Google the term BM to find out what it actually meant. It turns out that ‘BM’ stands for Boehringer Mannheim, which was a company that used to produce blood glucose testing strips. So we’d been quite wrong when we thought it meant ‘blood monitoring’. Mind you, not as wrong as my sister. When she’d first heard us talking about ‘Tom’s BMs’, she’d thought we were talking about his bowel movements.

What’s interesting about this is that ‘BM’ is an example of medical slang. Although its original meaning became irrelevant long ago – Boehringer Mannheim was bought up by Roche way back in 1997 – medical staff have still been known to use the term today. Some people have actively campaigned to get rid of the word, arguing that it’s misleading, and they’ve got a point. The problem with saying ‘BM’ is that excludes anybody else who’s not in the know as to what it means.

I reckon there are quite a few diabetes-related terms like that. For example, when Joe and Tom were much younger and still on insulin injections, I’d sometimes worry about treating them in public in case our actions were misconstrued. For example, when Tom was a toddler, his blood glucose was all over the place, and it wouldn’t be unusual while you were, say, going around the supermarket, to find out he was vertiginously hyperglycaemic. So total strangers might see me injecting him with something and subsequently telling Jacqui, ‘Tom’s really high.’

I thought I could feel the judging eyes of passers-by boring into me, and in my mind’s ear I could hear them get out their mobiles and whisper into them, ‘Hello, is that The Jeremy Kyle Show? I’ve got an idea for an episode you could do, called, “I saw sick junkie parents inject child with drugs in Tesco’s.”’

But if diabetes-related language can confuse outsiders, it also brings those of us affected by the condition – directly or indirectly – closer together. Talking to other parents, it’s not long before we’re going on about anything from DSNs to HbA1Cs, from boluses to basal rates. The fact that we can understand all this medical jargon highlights our common experience, as if each word or acronym is a little echo of the things we’ve been through.

In our family, there’s an even more rarefied argot – our own little nicknames for the diabetes rituals we have to go through on a daily basis. For example, once I discovered the weird origins of the term BM, we immediately started training ourselves to say ‘BG’ – meaning ‘blood glucose’ – instead. It wasn’t easy to change a word we’d been using so frequently and so long, so one thing I found myself doing was messing about with the new word, just to get it into my head. So sometimes instead of saying ‘BG’, I’d say, ‘beegie-weegie’. Even today, I still sometimes ask Joe or Tom if they’ve done a beegie-weegie recently.

I often still do the first beegie-weegie of the day for the boys – it’s my way of helping to share their burden – and I sometimes use a similar bit of verbal silliness to make it feel a bit less laborious. Instead of saying something sensible like, ‘Can you give me your hand so I can test your blood glucose?’, I’ll say, ‘Can I have a finger, or possibly a binger?’ When they were younger, they’d hold out a finger for me to prick with the lancet, and some days I’d say, ‘Ah! A finger!’,on others, ‘Ah! A binger!’ At that stage, they were still impressionable enough to think there was some kind of logical system that allowed me to designate the digit they were offering as either a ‘finger’ or a ‘binger’. Now they’re in their mid-teens, they just tend to ignore me, or if I’m lucky, roll their eyes in mild irritation.

A more teen-appropriate bit of family diabetes slang is a word that I think Jacqui invented. It refers to a situation in which their insulin pump slips out of their pocket and is left dangling by the thin plastic tubing. If Jacqui sees that, she’ll say, ‘Look out Joe, your pump’s abseiling.’

I think that’s a lovely verbal invention, and I hope the diabetes community will take it up and start using it. On that note, if anybody has their own private diabetes slang words, please let me know via the comments box below. Perhaps if we start sharing our language, we could start making diabetes jargon a bit less dry and acronym-based. After all, a little bit of silliness now and then helps to get you through the day.

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Oh boy – my sister and brother-in-law tend to name each and every object in the house, so the pump obviously has its own name. The old one was Stan, and the recently acquired new pump is called Whitney (new-Stan, geddit?)