On holiday with nasty old Uncle Knackered pancreas – by Oliver Double


We’ve just been on holiday, and we decided to take Type 1 diabetes with us. Well, I tell a lie. We didn’t decide to take it, it just crept into the car before we set off and we didn’t notice it until it was too late to turn back.

Nasty old Uncle Knackeredpancreas has been an unwanted houseguest for the last fifteen years, but lately he’s become a bit less demanding. He used to force us into his routines, interrupt meals and keep us up half the night with his antisocial behaviour. Now he tends to keep himself to himself for much of the time.

The reason for the change is that as Joe and Tom have got older, they have started doing much more of their own diabetes care – and their diabetes has generally become a bit easier to manage. We used to wake up every night, as a matter of course, to test their blood sugars and make sure they were safe. It was necessary to do, because sometimes we’d find their blood sugars raging high or precipitously low. We would give them a correction bolus or treat their hypo, and by morning their glucose would be nearer to normal.

But Tom is 16 now, and Joe has turned 18 and is a fully-fledged adult. As they’ve changed from boys to teenagers to young men, the unpredictability of their blood sugar levels has gradually reduced to the point where we don’t have to worry so much about plummeting or rocketing glucose playing havoc with our night times. Most nights, we all sleep through, and nobody wakes up to test unless something really out of the ordinary has happened. And often it’s Joe or Tom themselves who wake up to check.

But as soon as we went on holiday our antisocial houseguest started up with his old tricks again. We spent the first week on a remote Scottish island with some great friends whose daughter also has Type 1, and there were lots of long walks through the stunning countryside combined with guessing rather than accurately measuring the amount of carbohydrate in our meals. As a result, all of the teens with diabetes found their blood sugars yo-yoing, and I don’t think we had a single night when we didn’t have to get up and test them. As soon as we started thinking about going to bed we’d realise that either they’d be going hypo as an aftermath of yomping through all that heather earlier in the day, or they’d have scoffed far more carbs than any of us had realised.

It was like going back to the bad old days, and Jacqui and I started getting those heroin-chic bags under our eyes again. The second week, we were at the Edinburgh Fringe, and fantastic as it was to be in that magnificent city – which looks as if it’s been constructed from pieces of Hogwarts – in the middle of the biggest arts festival in the world, our houseguest did its best to ruin it all for us. Yomping through the historical, greystone streets to get to the next show and lots of eating out proved to have a similarly unpredictable effect on the blood sugars as the activities of the previous week. Around bedtime, we’d realise that Joe or Tom or both of them would be massively out of range, and we’d have to set the alarm to wake up in the wee small hours to test and make sure that whatever remedial action we’d taken had worked OK, and that they were no longer too low or high to safely make it through the rest of the night.

I have to admit, in the couple of years since we phased out regular night time testing, I’ve got used to properly sleeping through. The alarm – that I know I myself have set, goddammit – is practically intolerable. It’s like nasty old Uncle Knackeredpancreas is pulling at the duvet and urgently whining at us: ‘Get up! Come on, get up lazybones! I know you think you’re on holiday, but you can never stop attending to me, you know! Come on, it’s 3am! Time to get up!’ And on and on like that in his horrible wheedling voice until you’ve got up and done the bloody blood glucose testing.

For all that, we still had a brilliant holiday. And nasty old Uncle Knackeredpancreas wasn’t happy about that. He sulked all the way home.

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