When the going gets tough, the tough make snowmen – by Oliver Double
Like pretty much everything else in life, Christmas isn’t made any easier by the presence of type 1 diabetes. Massive excitement, followed by a few days of slobbing around, eating massive snacks between massive meals does tend to play havoc with the blood sugar levels. However hard we try to keep on top of the situation, helping Joe and Tom to use their insulin pumps and continuous blood glucose monitoring systems to stay within range, it’s pretty much inevitable that some of their yuletide fun will be interrupted by either the enervated wooziness of a hypo or the urgent need to pee that comes with hyperglycaemia. Certainly, it’s enough to make you wish that for just a few days in the year diabetes would just make like a Christmas turkey and get stuffed.
However, there are just a few things that diabetes has done to enhance our Christmases. Like most families, at this time of year we get out our decorations, and in the picture you see two of them that Joe and Tom made when they were younger. These delightful (if slightly disturbing) snowmen started life as diabetes supplies. The big one was an empty pot of BG testing strips, the top of which, left ajar, makes a rather fetching black cap for our cotton-wool covered chum. The little one was the cap from a disposable insulin pen needle. The process of transforming the humble medical supplies into decorations that have graced our house every Christmas since was overseen – and, I suspect, masterminded – by my wife Jacqui who has a genius for motherhood in general and diabetes-based craft skills in particular.
Last weekend, I was driving Joe to a university interview, and asked him if he remembered making the snowmen, which must have happened eight or nine years ago. It turns out he had vivid memories of the occasion. ‘We started making snowmen out of plastic cups, but then Tom made one on a testing strips pot. I was really jealous because it was smaller and cuter than the one I’d made using a plastic cup. So I made one using a needle cap, which was quite a lot smaller. But then Tom made an even smaller one.’
He was right. We used to have a third snowman. It was built around the tiny cylindrical plastic inner cap that goes around the needle itself. I don’t know exactly what happened to it, but Jacqui thinks it fell down a gap between the floorboards. Quite how Tom managed to make something that small when he was still quite small himself is a bit of a mystery to me, but I suspect that Jacqui probably had a helping hand in it.
Anyway, the snowmen are an example of something positive that type 1 diabetes has brought to the festive season. The process of making them clearly made quite an impression on young Joe in his formative years, and I wonder whether this who-can-make-the-smallest-cutest-snowman-out-of-old-diabetes-supplies arms race that he got into with Tom helped to nurture the quietly obsessive quality which has seen him do well at school and sent him towards university.
The point is that dealing with diabetes can be tough, and particularly so at Christmastime, but what’s the point of it all if you haven’t got the time to stop and make delightful (if slightly disturbing) snowmen out of old diabetes supplies every now and then? Responding creatively to a chronic health condition is fun in itself, but it’s also a way of taking ownership of it. It’s like saying to diabetes, ‘I know you think you’re in charge of me, but look, I can not only use medical equipment to keep you under control, I can also use it to make Christmas decorations. And they’re delightful. If slightly disturbing.’