Kicking Off 2015 with a Diabetes Discovery by Helen May


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Helen MayLast year, I started a new job with a new company with new traditions and experiences. One of these traditions is a company-wide get together every January which they call Kick Off. Perhaps, if I mention the company employs nearly 500 people, you may understand the magnitude of this event. It’s big.

The format of the event is four days of presentations preparing everyone for the year ahead and four nights celebrating the previous year.

This event takes place in Philadelphia so my trip started at 7am on Sunday morning when I left home bound for Heathrow and then on to United States of America. Not wanting work-life to impact too much on my personal life, I had tried to compact my usual weekend activities into one day. So, rising before 7am (for someone without young children) was a bit of a challenge. Thankfully, the motorway was clear so my drive was uneventful and I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to queue (for the bus from the parking, to check-in, to drop my bag, to get through security, etc.) and catch up with my colleagues.

The flight was similar to the drive to the airport – sitting down for too long and uneventful. Philadelphia is five hours behind the UK. On short business trips, I always debate with myself about which timezone to live in – the UK or my destination. As most people around me were on Eastern Standard Time, I chose to join them which meant I had to convince my body to stay awake later than 6pm, local time. On the first night, there was the excitement of anticipation of the events ahead. Staying with my European colleagues and visiting Pete’s 24 hour Diner, I finally collapsed at 2am. I had been awake for 24 hours. So, I slept well.

On Monday, the company meeting started and I had my first glimpse of what was to come for the rest of the week: presentation after presentation (some exciting, some informative, some not), getting up at every break to ease my “numb bum”, going outside with the smokers just to get some fresh air, eating pasta because it was the only vegetarian dish the venue knew how to make,… This was topped off with another late night in a local drinking establishment.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday followed the same pattern. The only difference was that Thursday’s late night was spent on the plane heading home.

As I said at the start, I am new to the company. I wanted to take this opportunity to meet as many people as possible and I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to be known from now on as the one who didn’t socialise or did not contribute. In these environments, the only way I want to stand out is for my professional ability. I do not want to be treated differently because of my age, because I am a woman or because I have diabetes.

Therefore, I was frustrated on Wednesday when I realised, despite my best efforts (and drinking the weekly recommended alcohol allowance, the night before), my blood sugars were too high. For me, this means a background headache, blurred vision and difficulty concentrating. None of which is conducive to sitting through another presentation. Eventually, I had to bail out and take a break.

The events of these four days are punishing for most people whatever their age, their health and their stress-levels. But, sometimes, I find having to deal with diabetes on top of all of that, as annoying as injecting every time I eat.

Looking at the week in a retrospective and positively light, I realise I met some great people, I got to know my colleagues better and I discovered how my diabetes is affected by lack of sleep (more than it is affected by alcohol). Hopefully, I’ll be back in Philadelphia next year and, armed with this discovery, I will try to get more sleep, find some fresh vegetables and drink more water.

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