Sugar Brothers – By Olly Double


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In my office at work I have a desk diary that Jacqui made me, featuring some of the photos she’s taken over the past year. January features a shot of Joe and Tom walking along the edge of the sea on a windswept beach in Suffolk last summer. They’re wearing similar hooded tops, and they’re very close together. It takes a second to notice that Tom – the younger and shorter of the two – has his arm around Joe. Not only is it an unselfconscious show of affection, he’s also looking out for his big brother, huddling up to him to try and warm him up.

A couple of weeks ago I was nearing the end of an afternoon at work, busily trying to get as much as possible finished in the last couple of hours before going home. The phone rang, and there was Tom on the other end of the line, sounding fed up and just a bit worried. Once again, the ever-reliable Southeastern trains had been cancelling services between Faversham and Whitstable so he was stranded at the station, unable to get home from school.

This seems to happen every few months, and it often means I have to drive home from work early, picking him up from Faversham on the way. On this occasion, I was a bit unsympathetic. I had a lot to get through before the end of the week, and was reluctant to tear myself away from what I was doing and leave myself an even more unfeasible amount to do the next day. However, there was more chaos to throw into the mix.

‘My sensor says I’m on four-point-something and I’ve run out of hypo treatment,’ said Tom, at the other end of the phone.

‘Oh,’ I said, somewhat stumped. I glanced over at the desk calendar. ‘Is Joe with you?’

‘No,’ said Tom. ‘He’s still at school, revising for his mocks.’

‘OK,’ I said. ‘And is there any information at all about when the next train might be coming?’

‘Yes, but it says that the next one won’t be stopping at Whitstable.’

I was at a loss, so I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I called my wife Jacqui, who now works in the same building as me. I explained what Tom had told me, and asked if she had any idea how to deal with this situation.

‘I’ll call Tom,’ she said, without missing a beat.

I put the phone down to let her do just that, and tried to get back to what I’d been doing. I was a bit thrown by what Tom had told me, and even more concerned when Jacqui called me back after having talked to Tom.

‘He’s been running low all afternoon,’ she said. ‘He’s been on a zero percent basal rate since lunchtime and used up all his hypo treatment. He went to the school office to get some of the emergency supplies they keep there, but they only had a couple of mini-cans of 7up and they were both undrinkable. One of them had leaked, and they were both covered in mould.’

‘Could he go and buy a fizzy drink or something?’

‘He hasn’t got any money with him. I’ve told him to go and stand by the ticket office and if he feels hypo to tell them he’s a type 1 diabetic and they need to help him. I’ve also called Joe and he’s going to go to the supermarket and get some Lucozade and take it to Tom at the station. But we need to go now and drive to Faversham to pick them up.’

As I quickly packed my things up to leave work, I thanked my lucky stars that Jacqui is so brilliant at dealing with a crisis. Then I started thinking about Joe, who was leaving his revision behind to go and rescue his brother. That’s Joe all over. Ever since Tom was born he’s been looking out for him. They used to play together even before Tom could talk, and if Tom fell over or accidentally bashed his own hand with a wooden brick, we’d hear Joe’s little three-year-old voice urgently calling down the stairs: ‘Quick! Tom’s hurt!’

When Tom was diagnosed back in 2000, Joe patiently put up with the disruption to his own little life, as the stresses and strains of dealing with blood sugars that zigzagged all over the place apparently without rhyme or reason inevitably diverted our attention away from him. Of course, Joe was utterly distraught when he was himself diagnosed in 2005. He’d seen what diabetes had meant for Tom, and he really didn’t want to have to experience the injections, the finger-prick tests and the yo-yoing glucose at first hand. The first thing that really calmed him down after the doctor confirmed that he was diabetic was that it would make him more like Tom. ‘Yes!’ he exclaimed, with a slightly manic joy. ‘We’ll be the Double diabetes brothers!’

As Jacqui and I hurried out from our building towards the car park, her mobile phone rang. It was Joe. He’d met up with Tom and the situation was now all under control. Tom had drunk some of the Lucozade Joe had bought, and his blood sugars were coming back up. We didn’t even need to come and pick them up, as the next train had been announced, and they’d be back in Whitstable in about twenty minutes.

As we drove home, we talked about how lucky we are to have a son like Joe, who’s so caring and responsible even at the comparatively tender age of 17. They may argue from time to time but in the grand scheme of things, Joe and Tom are ridiculously close. Joe still looks out for his little brother, and my desk calendar provides photographic evidence that Tom sometimes looks out for his big brother as well. I wouldn’t say we’re lucky that both our kids have diabetes – that’d be crazy talk – but I do think we’re fortunate that it’s become a bond of understanding between the two of them. And we’re incredibly lucky that they’ll help each other out of a crisis, no matter what life – or Southeastern trains – throws at them.

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Thanks for sharing this Olly. This may sound bizarre to some but your boys have shown some of the positives of having diabetes. Obviously we’d rather our kids didn’t have it but it brings out certain qualities within them that will stand them in good stead in life.

My 16yr old son was diagnosed with type 1 when he was 9yrs old. We had a rough time to begin with. He wouldn’t inject himself, meaning his dad had to go to his school at lunchtime to do his injection. He slowly let me do some and then his sister, who is 4yrs older. We left them together one evening and came home to find that he’d injected himself! She’d somehow managed to manipulate him into doing it without him even realising ;-).

Since then the years have passed and they have the normal sibling relationship with petty squabbles over who’s doing the washing up, but there is no doubt that they are there for each other 100% and I’m sure you know how that makes you feel as a parent. This was proved even more so when they climbed Kilimanjaro last year and it was definitely a case of needing each other to keep going when it got tough. Who knows what their relationship might have been like without that ‘little’ thing called diabetes but I know how blessed I am to have the kids I have, as they are, and it sounds like you are too.

Xxx