Outward bound – by Ben Rolfe

Our new blogger Ben is the father of Alice, who has Type 1 diabetes. Here, Ben and Alice talk about her first trip away from home alone since her diagnosis.

Ben Rolfe with his daughterMy point of view

“It’s not fair. Why can’t I just be normal? If it was anyone else they wouldn’t have to worry about taking insulin, checkers, snacks.”

The first part of this refrain was pretty standard from my 14-year-old daughter, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes on Christmas Eve just over two years ago. My wife and I, with the help of Diabetes UK and of course Dr Google had always tried to maintain a sense of normality for her ever since. “Re-education” of schools, music, sport and dance teachers, and even parents of other kids followed in order that Alice could be free to check her blood (we don’t use the word “test” – too much pressure, like an exam) whenever and wherever she needed, and if necessary to treat with Lucozade or further insulin.

Hence having this familiar conversation, albeit at 1.30am, the day of her departure to the Lake District to follow in the footsteps of her non-diabetic older sister, and undertake a week long Outward Bound course. This would involve rock climbing, swimming in the lake, team building exercises such as raft building, but also a two-day expedition where the participants camp overnight and cook their food on a gas stove. Alice had been stressed about this aspect for days, hence having to get up at 1am to treat high blood sugar, and then spend the next hour or so calming her down.

“But Daddy, how am I going to carry everything? I’ll have my clothes, sleeping bag, tent, poo tube…” (you don’t want to know)… “and my diabetic stuff. What if the pump fails?”
I did what any parent would do, and reassured my daughter that everything would be ok, the instructors were trained and would help, and if it was a real emergency she could call me. In the back of my mind, of course, I was worried sick, but determined that the diabetes should not hold her back.

In the event, she had a wonderful time, although did have to call home for advice on how to treat high ketones despite having blood sugar levels which we would consider to be in the target range – 5-7 or so. She was obviously having so much fun she was burning more energy than she was ingesting!

Alice’s point of view

Before going on a summer camp, most teenagers worry what other kids there will think of them, or that they won’t be able to do some of the activities. For Type 1 diabetic teenagers, it is only a bit different. We worry about what the other people there will think of us once they know we are diabetic, or that a hypo or hyper might stop us from doing the activities. When packing, people who aren’t diabetic fear they might forget their toothbrush, whereas diabetics fear they’ll forget their insulin. I shouldn’t have worried so much.

I didn’t tell anyone, except the instructors, that I was diabetic when I got to the Outward Bound centre in Ullswater. I managed my blood sugar quite well for the first few hours and kept my condition under wraps. Of course, the people in my group knew I had an illness as I carried a mini can of Coca-Cola and a pouch everywhere, whereas they didn’t need anything. It was only until the evening, when we walked up a hill that I had a hypo. Everyone saw me drinking my coke and stuffing biscuits down, but they didn’t say anything. It was at that point that I actually wanted to tell them now as I didn’t want them to think I was just greedy. It was when my new friends asked me if I was alright that I started to tell them about diabetes. I was surprised that they already knew, apparently they had figured it out but were treating me like anybody else. I was so happy because if they already knew and were treating me as if I was no different from them, they would be like this the whole week long.

Even though some things went wrong – like when my pricker broke and someone had to go buy me a new one from the pharmacy – I felt normal because they didn’t see me as just a diabetic, but as a normal person. So, if you’re diabetic and going on a summer camp, don’t worry because people will understand and will treat you like anyone else (just don’t forget your insulin though!).

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