Ruling Diabetes by Olly Double


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‘I owned that fruit cooler!’ declared Tom, having just checked his blood glucose. ‘I rule diabetes!’

Neither Jacqui nor I quite knew what he meant. Even for us, it needed a little translation, so I’ll attempt to explain what he meant. In the context of any competitive activity – usually video-gaming – to ‘own’ somebody means to beat them. In the same kind of context, to ‘rule’ means to show mastery of the game and superiority over all other players.

That day, to celebrate Joe’s GCSE results, Joe and Tom had decided to eat out for lunch at a branch of a well-known coffee chain. Jacqui and I were at work at the time, so the boys had to work out for themselves how to deal with the crud they had chosen. This meant calculating the amount of carbohydrate it contained, and possibly adjusting the type of bolus pattern on their insulin pumps to account for the horrendous grease and sugar content.

Tom has a penchant for fruit coolers, which are essentially a posh version of the Slush Puppies that used to give me brain freeze when I was a teenager myself. They’re made of crushed ice and some kind of intensely sweet fruit-flavoured syrup. Think hyperglycaemia that you can suck through a straw and you’re in the right area.

We recently went on holiday with my Dad, and he asked the kind of question that family members really shouldn’t need to ask by now, as we’re currently nearly 13 years into dealing with diabetes. We were just about to eat something sweet – possibly an ice cream – and Dad said, ‘Are they allowed to eat ice cream, then?’

The answer is, of course, the same as it’s been since Tom was diagnosed back in 2000 – they can eat whatever they want as long as they have the right insulin to cope with it.

That’s the ideal, the dream, although the reality is somewhat more complicated. Some foodstuffs are a bit of a nightmare to cope with even if you know the exact amount of carbohydrate they contain. Pizza, for example, can affect the blood sugars hours after eating it, and breakfast is always a bit difficult to cope with no matter what you eat. So saying that you can eat what you want as long as you have the right insulin is a bit like the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, there are only the wrong clothes. That’s true until you go out in a blizzard, and then you realise you need to have some bloody good clothes to cope. And experience has taught us that fruit coolers are the equivalent of a blizzard.

But on this occasion, Tom had weathered the storm. He had obviously worked out exactly how to bolus for his fruit cooler, because he’d checked his blood glucose a couple of hours after the fateful drink was drunk, and it was on five-point-something – exactly where it should be. He had owned that fruit cooler, proving that he rules diabetes.

I was struck by what a beautifully positive thing it was that he was using gaming slang in this way. Thinking about something as constantly difficult and demanding as managing diabetes as a kind of videogame – rather than a boring pain in the arse – is a good way of keeping motivated.

Having said that, a few days later we found ourselves having a cake and a drink at a branch of a different well-known coffee chain, and Tom forgot to check that he had come down from an earlier bout of hyperglycaemia before tucking into a glass or orange juice and a slice of double chocolate cheesecake. Of course, blood sugar mayhem ensued, leading me to realise that even when you think you are ‘ruling’ the game, there’s always the next, more challenging level to move onto. And unlike, say, Portal or Pokemon Rumble, diabetes is a game you can never complete.

Still, it doesn’t stop me being impressed by the fact that he owned that fruit cooler. Even if he still has the odd slip up here and there, when I think about the way Tom deals with his diabetes, I’d have to agree that he does, in fact, rule.

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Well done Tom! Ten months into this very long journey, we are yet to ‘rule’ pizza or pasta but it is my 8 year old’s mission in life to do so.

As for Rachel’s comment, it sounds as though you are not the ‘standard’ type 2 but I have to admit its the first time I’ve heard of anybody envying the life of a type one. The risk of Ketoacidotis certainly is much higher for T1’s and certainly keeps me away until 2am an awful lot of the time, not to mention the multitude of bruises on arms, legs, stomach and anywhere else we can jab her.

Given the choice, I’d be trade our lot for that of T2 any day – even if it is easier to have an ice cream.

I can understand both sides of this discussion. I am type 2 and work hard to control it with diet and Metformin. It can be a pain when I am out with friends for a meal and cannot have the rich, gooey desserts they are eating. If I’m really lucky a restaurant will make me a fruit salad. However I have learnt to specify a SMALL fruit salad with nothing added after once being presented with enough salad to fill a vase swimming in orange juice with 2 scoops of ice cream. (When I made the request I did mention it was because I couldn’t have any of their desserts because I am diabetic but the chef said it ‘looked a bit lost’ with just a bit of fruit so thought he’d treat me to a bit extra!). Which brings another beef to mind – so many restaurants mention on their menus that they offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options but how many offer a diabetes-friendly option? Often when staff try hard to convince me that I should have a huge piece of chocolate cake or cheesecake ‘as a treat’ and I tell them I don’t want it because I’m diabetic they say ‘ oh that’s OK, we’ve got gluten free cake’. So frustrating.
On Type 1, I know you have a whole different set of challenges to meet because my nephew is Type 1. Unfortunately he is not as sensible as Tom, even though he is more than twice Tom’s age. He eats junk food all the time and thinks it’s fine to eat a full pack of chocolate biscuits every evening while watching tv as long as he has extra insulin. His levels are never under control and he has lots of diabetes related health issues but just doesn’t seem to care so long as he can sit at home all day ‘on the sick’ and feed his face on rubbish. My tactic when I am tempted to stray off my diet is to look at the sugar-loaded pud and think ” what do I want most, the cake or my toes” and the toes win every time! I also do not want to end up on insulin, so that’s another incentive.

Rachel, as a type 1 I would agree that meal times may be a little easier with regard to choices, but the possible repercussions of incorrect insulin calculations and easy oversights of other factors, such as the weather (heat); recent or future activity levels; illness, means that we also have to deal with the corrections of potential Hypoglycaemic attacks. This is a far from pleasant experience, with far reaching potential consequences. Please don’t be jealous of the need for insulin control.

Well done to Tom for this positive spin on mastering your fruit cooler. The teenage years are a tough time with Diabetes, and to have that positive spin on things is a battle won.

I congratulate you on your good control and doing so well but I cant help but feel jealous as its so much easier for you as a type 1 to eat whatever you want and just pump a but more insulin in to counteract it! As someone classed as a type 2 (mine is hereditary and I dont really fit the norm for type 2, as well as having had it since childhood), it is so much harder to enjoy normal life and eat out.. in fact eat anything! Without having to seriously consider its effects. I could just go crazy and eat what I like and damn the consequences but I’m smarter than that, so in most cases I just go without instead. I dont have extra insulin to pump in to counter act the sugar and carbs. I have to take them out before I eat them!

My medications work well but there is only so much metformin and Gliclazide can do to be honest and it means I can never just let go and enjoy myself. I am always held back and whilst I like to think I win over my diabetes by keeping it under good control, there is no denying that the majority of the time when it comes to what I eat or dont eat, diabetes is winning hands down. In that area of my life at least, I am far from the norm and my life is controlled by carb counting and limitations.

So yes, I do envy all you insulin users in that regard, although I am not stupid enough to think being on insulin is easy! It just makes meal times that little bit nicer.