Made in China – by Lucy Thomas


I’ve written before about my time working in Vietnam, and what a challenge it was in regards to managing my diabetes. I never actually planned to go to Vietnam, it was one of those pleasant situations in life where the opportunity presented itself and I thought I’d be a fool not to make the most of it.

6 months before landing in Vietnam I set out on what turned out to be a year-long adventure that began with teaching in China. Again, I never had any desire to go to China, or be a teacher. I’d graduated from university in 2008 and had to decide whether I was going to join the real world or do some more travelling and see the real world. Obviously I chose the latter. I decided to do a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) qualification and the organisation said that once I’d qualified they could get me a job in a number of places. I narrowed my choices down to Honduras and China (yeah I appreciate that those places couldn’t be any different than chalk and cheese). China it ended up being and after signing a 6 month contract I set about making plans.

It could easily be filed under either naivety or positivity but not once in the months leading up to leaving for China did I consider it would present any sort of challenge for me in regards to my diabetes. I didn’t see the difference between moving to Cheltenham for university and moving to China for work. In regards to my diabetes I’m amazed at how remarkably calm I was. But then I think I may have been completely blind-sided by more general nerves. Of which there were plenty. I was moving to a country that I’d never been to before, I couldn’t speak the language. At all. And I was going to do a job I’d never done before. So perhaps that combination of anxiety meant there was no room left in my brain to worry about my diabetes.

I was so laid back about it that it was only about two weeks before I left that I thought it may be a good idea to mention it to my diabetic consultant. Needless to say the whole thing went down like a fart in a lift.

Me: ‘Oh I’m off to China soon could I sort out some extra medication please’
Doctor: ‘China? Really that’s quite a bit of a culture shock are you sure you wouldn’t want to go on holiday somewhere a bit ‘safer’ in respect to your diabetes?’
Me: ‘Oh it’s not a holiday. I’ve got a job. I’ll be working there for 6 months, so could I alter my prescription to get that much to take with me?’
Doctor: ……………………’what??’
Me: ‘I’ve got job. In China. And I leave in two weeks.

Yes, I appreciate now I probably went about it the wrong way. I honestly didn’t see any problem with requesting extra medication to keep me going. I mean let’s face it, it’s not like I’m suddenly NOT going to need insulin is it? I was told that once you’ve not been in the country for something like 3 months the NHS (even if you’re still a citizen of the UK) is no longer responsible for your prescription. My doctor’s exact words were ‘If you’re working in China then it’s China’s responsibility to provide your healthcare and medication’.

Some of you are probably reading this and thinking, ‘what an idiot…why would you not look into this before agreeing to work in a country like China…and only speak to your doctor 2 weeks before you went. What are you, mental?’ Nope, not mental just someone who makes sure diabetes doesn’t affect their life unless it’s absolutely necessary; I just didn’t think it would be a problem. What’s the difference to me using a year’s worth of insulin and needles whether I used them in England or Outer Mongolia!

So after being made to feel like a complete reprobate for requesting an alteration to my prescription I got 6 months-worth of medication sorted. And I was good to go. Overall I was massively disappointed by my doctor’s attitude, they should’ve supported my decision to go and do something different and adventurous rather than stay in England and lock myself in a room JUST IN CASE something happens. A hypo is a hypo wherever you have it.

Anyway my time in China was really interesting. The biggest culture shock I have ever experienced; absolutely EVERYTHING was different. But the food…..jesus it was AMAZING, some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. I would fully encourage anyone to go (diabetic or not!) as it’s a country full of many contrasts and such rich history and culture……

……though if you do fancy going off and doing something like this then perhaps mention it to your diabetic consultant a bit sooner than I did. It at least gives them a bit more time to scrape their jaw off the floor before getting in a flap about your plans. Making other people flap is good…it means you’re doing something different, unusual or interesting and that’s what life is all about!

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