Fighting slimey aliens – by Helen May

Helen-May-letterbox-150x150My approach to illness is to ignore it as much as I can and just get on with my life. When I write “illness”, I don’t think of diabetes in this category: I know not to ignore diabetes. What I mean is, when I have a cold, I try to battle through.

I may drink some hot lemon and honey but, unless I think there is a chance I may be contagious, I continue to go to work and do as much as exercise as I can. Every so often, this approach fails. This happened recently.

Despite having a heavy workload, I was to spend a week at our annual user conference. This meant a long flight to Washington DC, helping to set up demonstrations, being positive to everyone around, encouraging customers to want to spend time with us and then flying home.

I departed the UK on Sunday. The previous week had been incredibly busy and I spent the Saturday chasing some last minute documentation that was needed for the trip. Before I left, I noticed a slight sore throat which could become a cold. I wasn’t worried: I rarely get a bad cold so it wouldn’t effect me too much.

I set off for the airport and boarded the plan on time. Unfortunately, due to some pre-flight issues, our flight landed later than expected and the taxi I had ordered (and paid for) had long since departed … if it turned up at all. I eventually got to my hotel at midnight local time … or 4am UK time and I was tired. By then, my sore throat had transformed into a runny nose but, I thought, it was nothing a good night’s sleep would not cure.

I knew Monday was going to be a quiet day. The conference delegates had not turned up so I was able to catch up with my “day job” as I helped set up the demonstration stands … and sniffed … a lot. I was starting to see signs that this wasn’t one of those “one sneeze and it’s over” type of colds. Or was I just suffering a little jet lag?  In an attempt to see off both, I had an early night instead of joining my colleagues on their final night of freedom before our customers arrived.

I woke on Tuesday and wished I hadn’t bothered. My cold had got worse. My brain was full of slimey aliens who were trying to hammer their way out. They were so determined to escape that they had blocked their only escape route – my nose. I had reached the rare state of “feeling sorry for myself”. But I was very aware that I was there to do a job. So I dragged myself out of bed, tried some local drugs, I even plastered my face with make up to try to make myself look more human and, with my pockets stuffed full of tissues and more drugs, I approached the demo stand that was to be my home for the next two days.  However, by the time, I made to to the conference floor, the slimey aliens had reproduced and were hammering on my arms and legs as well as my head.

The drugs helped a little but I discovered they did not last long enough. The instructions said to be taken every four hours. After less than three hours, the slimey aliens were back with a vengeance and it was difficult to feel (and look) friendly towards anyone, let alone some approaching customers. I tried to maintain a smiling demeanour but I realised I was failing when my manager approached and uttered the relieving words “You look rubbish. Why don’t you go and lie down?” I gratefully accepted his instructions, temporarily forgetting my determination to encourage customers.

Once back in my hotel room, I started to think about my diabetes. As my body was fighting the slimey aliens, it was consuming more insulin than usual. Every time I pricked my finger, regardless of how little I had eaten, my blood glucose (blood glucose) was high. A pump set change had made no difference – the slimey aliens were creating sugar with every kick. There was nothing for it but to fight back with a temporary basal increase. It’s amazing how much a lower BG helped me feel better. Unfortunately, it did not last – I needed more insulin.

My user conference experience continued in a similar vein: woke up feeling sorry for myself, postpone cold-relief drugs to maximise “healthy-time” in front of customers, maintain high basal insulin, take lots of finger pricks, fight the slimey aliens, lie down to recharge my batteries when they start getting too slimey”, back to the conference for a few hours whilst I can look friendly, reinstate my basal boost and have an early night ready for the next day’s battle with the aliens.

A bad cold is nasty whenever it happens. A bad cold in the middle of a busy week is inconvenient. A bad cold, in the middle of a busy week away from home is just about manageable. A bad cold, in the middle of a busy week away from home with diabetes gives you even more to manage, but it is survivable if you have everything you need with you.

As unpleasant as that week in Washington DC was, it taught me a lesson – take enough diabetes supplies with you assuming you will be using twice as much away from home compared to usual. It’s easy to pop to your friendly local pharmacy for an emergency test strip or insulin top up. Luckily, I had plenty of insulin to cope with the extra basal doses I was giving myself. However, I was running low on test strips and towards the end of my trip I had to ratio myself to 10 strips per day … far more than usual but my BG was less predictable.  And I had to make sure I had a few test strips when I landed to test before I drove home.

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