Ruling Diabetes by Olly Double
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.