The shoe’s on the other foot by Olly Double


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oliver-80x80OK, so I’ve broken my hip. Went out for an early morning run in spite of the fact it was snowing, slipped on a patch of slush, and slammed down hard onto the icy pavement. So hard in fact, that I’ve given my upper femur the kind of fracture that people my age normally only get if they’re in a car accident. I’m hardcore!

Actually, I’m not as hardcore as all that. The hospital staff thought I was some kind of extreme health nut because I was out jogging in the snow, but in fact I only do a five-minute run in the mornings – less than a kilometre – and I was just trying to get back into it after a long break since Christmas.

But what is true is that I find doing nothing quite difficult. I was in hospital just over a week following my hip-cracking pavement slam and apart from the pain, the boredom was the worst thing about it. Time seemed to travel at a different pace. I’d look at the clock, read my book for an hour or two, then look back at the clock – and see that, in fact, a mere five minutes had passed.

The thing is that most of the time, I’m busy-busy-busy. I’m busy at work and I’m busy at home. Well, being a parent ensures you’re going to be busy at home. And being a parent of two kids with Type 1 diabetes seriously ensures you’re going to be busy at home.

That said, things have changed in the busy-busy-busy department since Tom was first diagnosed back in 2000. At first, Jacqui and I did everything for him because he was less than two years old. We would inject him with insulin and prick his finger to check his blood glucose, treat his hypos, all that kind of gubbins. Don’t get me wrong, I was always second-in-command to Jacqui. But just because she’s the captain of the good ship diabetes in our house – and a captain I’m proud to serve under – doesn’t mean that I don’t do my bit.

Coming from a squeamish, needle-phobic family made doing injections something of a challenge at first, but I knew that joining in with the kids’ care was the right thing to do, and it gave me a feeling of satisfaction knowing I was doing my bit to help to manage their condition. Jacqui has always been light years ahead of me in terms of reading about diabetes, learning about it so as to be better at keeping it under control, and negotiating with medical teams to make sure they get the best care available. On the other hand, I’ve always had my own little duties, like checking their blood sugars before we go to bed and first thing the next morning.

As I say, the levels of diabetes activity have changed over the years. Things were very hectic for the first few years and even more so when Joe was diagnosed in 2005. The transition from multiple daily injections to insulin pumps in 2008 saw us go from busy-busy-busy to crazy-messed-up-no-sleep-end-of-tether busy. But since then, as the boys have moved into their teens, they’ve taken on more and more of their own diabetes care, changing their infusion sets, testing their blood glucose and treating their hypos. My one last fatherly duty is checking in with them before we go to sleep. They test their own blood at this point, but I sometimes have to remind them to do it, and I wait while they tell me what’s going on with their glucose. I like the feeling of still being in touch with their condition and still having a parental role to play – and I sleep easier knowing that their sugars are under control as we go into the night.

What’s been interesting about the time I’ve spent since Femur-fracture Friday is that I’ve seen healthcare from the other angle. Instead of being a giver, I’m now a receiver. The shoe’s on the other foot – almost literally.

I’m starting to get a small glimpse of what life’s like for the boys. I was even admitted to the same hospital Joe stayed in when he was first diagnosed. Suddenly, I’m the one who has restrictions on what I can and can’t do. Instead of looking after the boys, I’m the one who’s being looked after. For the first few weeks after the operation, I even have to give myself a daily subcutaneous injection in the tummy.

More than once when Joe and Tom were tiny, I remember wanting to understand how it would feel to have to have finger prick blood glucose tests and insulin injections. I tried out their lancets on my own fingers to see what the sensation of having the skin pierced was like. I got a needle and pushed it into my own tummy fat to try that out for size. Of course, I didn’t attach it to the insulin pen – I’m not barmy. But the point is, I wanted to reassure myself that what the boys were going through wasn’t unbearably painful, given that they had to do it several times a day.

But now, having to inject myself for real – albeit with clexane rather than insulin – gives me a much better insight. First of all, there’s the psychological aspect. Every time I inject, I have to get over the weirdness of sticking a sharp thing into myself. Then there’s the pain. To be honest, I can barely feel the little needle going through the skin, and although it stings a bit afterwards, it’s really not bad at all. And yet, one of my happiest moments of the day is when I’ve done the injection and it’s out of the way.

Suddenly, I can understand why Joe and Tom are sometimes reluctant to go and change the infusion set on their insulin pump, or put a new continuous glucose monitoring sensor in. It’s not that it’s terribly painful, it’s just that it’s not terribly nice either. And more than that, the worst thing about it is that YOU HAVE TO DO IT. It’s the fact that you have no choice in the matter if you want to stay healthy. It’s the inescapable chore.

So what I’ve discovered is that I prefer doing things for other people than having them do things for me. I prefer to be on the giving end of healthcare, rather than the receiving end. With my restricted mobility, I can’t check in with them about their glucose levels before I go to bed, and I miss it. And, given the choice, I prefer not to have to inject myself every day.

Not that I’m feeling sorry for myself. It will take me a good few months to get my hip back up to speed, but for all that, my condition is only temporary. I’ll soon be off the injections and in a few weeks’ time I should be back on my feet.

People with diabetes have a lifetime of inescapable chores ahead of them, at least until one of those brilliant teams of scientists finally comes up with a cure. In that sense, Joe and Tom will always have their shoe on the wrong foot, and the fact that they put up with it shows that if anybody’s hardcore in this family, it’s them.

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