Bleeping Camping – by Olly Double
A couple of weeks ago we went away for a long weekend, camping in Littlehampton, West Sussex. We’ve been doing family camping holidays for a few years now, and the Littlehampton trip reminded me just how I feel about life under canvas. The fact is I really like everything about camping except the actual camping part. I love the fresh air, the feel of damp grass under bare feet, heating up a tin of beans on the camping stove and hoping the Calor Gas cylinder won’t run out before they start to bubble, and the general sense that you’ve really got to slow things down. But when you wake up at 3am to find that your camp bed has deflated and you’re lying on the cold, hard ground of a field in West Sussex, you have to remind yourself that you’re there by choice and not because you’re a refugee escaping from oppression.
However, a punctured li-lo wasn’t the only cause of my sleeplessness. Diabetes played a role, too. Blood sugar levels are easiest to control when everything’s nice and normal, but once you factor in extra exercise, excitement, and unusual eating patterns, it’s a recipe for diabetes-related disaster.
Joe and Tom spent hours on the little playground on the campsite, being particularly attracted by the kind of old-fashioned death-trap see-saw that I’d imagined had been outlawed by health and safety legislation back in the late 1960s. This thing was lethal, and they never seemed to tire of a game which saw them bouncing up and down on it as savagely as possible, trying their damnedest to catapult the other one off the end. Tom had the most spectacular fall, and still has the scars to prove it. The excitement generated tended to raise their blood glucose levels, whereas the sheer brute force involved tended to lower them. Consequently, their blood sugars went up and down as violently as the see-saw itself.
An evening meal at an up-market pizza chain restaurant caused even more havoc for their night time blood glucose readings. It never ceases to amaze me just how long the after-effects of a pizza can be.
Knowing that diabetes was unlikely to cooperate with the camping trip, Jacqui wisely made sure that Joe and Tom were wearing their continuous blood glucose monitors while we were away. These communicate with their insulin pumps, which let off a little alarm if blood sugars are going low or high. The problem was that due to all the camping shenanigans, Joe and Tom’s blood sugars were going low or high throughout all of the nights we were away. As a result, Jacqui and I were forever being woken by the annoying bleeping sound of an insulin pump alarm. The tent rang out with the mercilessly insistent little nee-nar-nee-nar siren, as if we were constantly being raided by miniature police cars. You’d have needed bleeps if you wanted to record our reaction to all this as well.
‘Oh bleep, which one’s that?’
‘It’s bleeping Joe. He’s bleeping low. I’ll give him some bleeping hypo treatment. I’ll have to check his blood sugar’s come up in 15 minutes.’
‘Wait, it’s still bleeping well bleeping. Did you forget to cancel the bleeping alarm?’
‘No, that’s bleeping Tom going off as well.’
‘Bleeping low or bleeping high?’
‘Er – bleeping high. I’ll give him a correction bolus. But that means checking him again in an hour’s time.’
‘I know. What a bleeping pain in the bleep!’
Given the sheer exhaustion we felt in the mornings, you might have thought we’d be tempted to take off their blood glucose monitors and stamp on them. But that would have been blaming the messenger. After all, the blood sugars would have been going up and down whether or not the monitors were telling us about it. Knowing about it allowed us to deal with it, and that meant we were keeping them safe from dangerous highs and lows. The annoying thing was not so much the monitors but Type 1 diabetes itself.