The noisy disease – by Helen May

Helen-May-letterbox-150x150I have never liked to do things just because others do. I was the only girl in my class at school who did not have her ears pierced. Not because I was afraid of the pain or I was worried about them getting infected or because my parents didn’t want me to. I didn’t have my ears pierced because every one else did. I wanted to think for myself rather than do something because “it must be fine when everyone else does it.”

Over the years, this trait has remained: I am an engineer in a world when most engineers are men; I holidayed in Georgia (ex-Soviet Union) because I didn’t know anyone else who had been there; one of the reasons for my latest choice of car is that I haven’t seen many on the road. But a strange phenomenon happens when you make the choice to be different: you discover lots of other people like yourself. I worked on an engineering project that was staffed entirely by women; I meet other people who have marvelled at the Caucus mountains in Georgia and every other car on the road seems to be an Audi (although I have only seen one the same colour as mine).

Thirteen years ago, when I was diagnosed, I could only name one person with diabetes – someone in my school who I have since lost touch with. Then I discovered two people at work with Type 1. A few years later, I heard the distinctive sound of a dose being dialed up on an insulin pen from a cubicle in the ladies toilets. On a recent training course, I discovered three out of the fifteen delegates had an insulin pump. One of my colleagues once ran to my desk asking me what to do because one of her customers was having a hypo. Thankfully, the guy was able to look after himself and my assistance was not needed.

People with diabetes are not restricted to work environments: I’ve seen a guy in a restaurant one evening get out his basal and bolus pens. Although he did not have a children’s pen like mine, he was the catalyst to taking my basal earlier in the evening. I saw a “pager” with a white cable clipped to the top of some swimming trunks on the beach in Greece which started me thinking about a pump.

Recently, I was at the airport, waiting for my boarding gate to be announced, sitting opposite an elderly couple. The woman was lying down with her head on her husband’s lap. I thought she was asleep but when I looked up from my laptop, I noticed the couple talking. Next time I looked up, the husband was putting a needle on an insulin pen and gently manoeuvring his wife to give her some insulin, Tenderly, he put his arm around her as her head remained on his lap. I thought he was giving her a cuddle. But he had his smart phone in his hand. I know some people will never let go of their mobile “lifeline” but this was a lifeline in a different way – his phone was the receiver for her  Continous Glucose Monitoring (CGM). I thought about commenting but they looked so intimate that it seemed wrong to interrupt.

I know there has been an increase in the number of people with diabetes, but I think my observations over the last 13 years have been a result of awareness. Just as I became more aware of red cars when I bought one, I became more aware of the signs of diabetes since I have had it: the beep of a blood glucose meter, the crunch of a dextrose tablet, the click of an insulin pen dial, the shadow of a pump in a trouser pocket, the reading of a CGM. Diabetes has been called “the silent disease” but once you tune in, it makes quite a lot of noise.

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