Day of the Doctor – By Olly Double


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Last night we went out to the cinema to watch the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, ‘Day of the Doctor’. Jacqui had got the snacks sorted out and carb counted in advance, so we had nothing to worry about while we watched the movie. The place was packed out with Who fans young and old, buzzing with excitement, and the episode itself did not disappoint judging by the spontaneous applause that burst out as the final credits started to roll.

Appropriately enough, as we shuffled our way out of the cinema my mind started to travel backwards through time. The first Doctor Who story I ever watched was ‘The Sea Devils’, which was originally broadcast at the beginning of 1972, shortly before my seventh birthday. Not only have I been a fan of the programme since I was six, but in 1975 – at the tender age of ten – I went along to Woolworth’s in Lincoln to get my Doctor Who book signed by Tom Baker. I got there ages early and was right near the front of the queue, and a photo of me staring at the great man as he signed my book appeared on the front of our local newspaper, the Lincolnshire Echo.

Looking back, the programme I loved all those years ago was so crude and primitive. The scripts were sometimes a bit plodding, the video effects distinctly clunky, and the sets famously wobbly. In order to enjoy it, you had to add a liberal dose of your own imagination. Driving back from the cinema, I started to think about just how incredibly exciting the ten-year-old me would find it if he could somehow travel forwards in time and watch the stunning 3D visuals and breakneck action of ‘Day of the Doctor’. I also thought about how cool it was that the whole family had enjoyed such a cracking evening without type 1 diabetes stepping in to spoil it.

It hasn’t always been like this.

When Tom was little, his blood sugars were in a constant state of chaos which meant the chances were that any trip to the cinema would probably be interrupted. It wasn’t just the normal interruptions of having to test his blood sugars every now and then. The excitement of watching the film, with or without sugary snacks thrown into the mix, often sent him seriously hyperglycaemic, which meant sooner or later Jacqui or I would have to miss a few minutes of the film taking him out to go for a pee. This was such a regular occurrence that we would agree in advance which of us would get the honour. As he got older and too old to take him into the ladies’, it was always me who had to do it. That went on for a long time. I remember having to take him out of the second Harry Potter film back in 2002 when he was three years old, and the last time I remember it happening was The Incredible Hulk in 2008.

That year may be significant, because it was 2008 when Tom and Joe went onto insulin pumps. These amazing bits of technology have made such a difference to our lives, because they have given the boys so much more control over their blood sugar levels. Of course they still go out of range, but it happens less often and the highs and lows are nothing like the kind of highs and lows they used to have. The old I’ve-crossed-the-renal-threshold-and-now-I-need-to-rush-to-the-toilet type of hyperglycaemia is now largely a thing of the past.

The fact is that diabetes technology has improved so enormously since Tom was diagnosed in December 2000. The equipment we were issued with to treat him back then was as primitive as the video effects in 1970s Doctor Who. Mixed insulins that made his blood sugar levels wobble as much as Tom Baker’s sets. Blood glucose meters with old-fashioned monochrome displays – black and white like the 1960s episodes starring William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, not vibrant colour like the Matt Smith era of today. The meter Tom first used had to be calibrated with a special chip every time you started a new pot of test strips. You had to feed it with a big old drop of blood, squeezing it from his tiny toddler finger, and it would take 30 seconds before you got a reading. The one he uses now will work with a much smaller amount of blood, gives him a reading in five seconds, remembers the time and date each test was taken, and will even communicate with his insulin pump.

But of course, if you travel back through time before the year 2000, diabetes equipment gets even more primitive. Syringes with big needles that had to be sharpened and re-used, and blood sugar tests that you could only do once in a blue moon because they involved adding chemicals to your urine and boiling it all up. Frederick Sanger, who died very recently, identified the amino acid structure of insulin which allowed the production of synthesized human insulin, rather than having to use stuff extracted from animals – which was the only choice available before the 1980s. Go back far enough, before the 1920s when Banting and Best discovered insulin, and you reach a very bleak time indeed when a diagnosis of diabetes was a death sentence.

Thinking back makes me realise how very much we owe to the scientists who have done so very much to improve the lives of people affected by diabetes. Even in the thirteen years my family has been living with the condition, the improvements in technology have made such a difference to us. Last night, the whole trip to the cinema went perfectly. Not a second of the Doctor’s amazing adventure was lost due to a hyperglycaemic trip to the toilet. Even with all the excitement – not to mention the snacks – neither Joe nor Tom went more than a couple of mmol/Ls out of the normal range.

Having said that, diabetes will never entirely leave you alone. When I got up this morning, I went into Joe’s bedroom to check his blood sugars, and found him lying there, light on, glasses on, headphones in ears, eyes still closed.

‘Are you awake, mate?’

‘Yeah.’

‘How come?’

‘I went low. Had to have some Lucozade.’

Even with all the great equipment we have now, hypos are still an inevitable part of life. If you want to avoid them completely, you’ll have to get into the TARDIS and go forwards in time to the glorious moment when somebody – at long last – finds a cure.

BONUS FUN QUIZ! How many of my previous Diabetes UK blogs have referenced Doctor Who?

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