Just like cleaning my teeth – by Helen May

I visit my dentist and dental hygienist once a year. When I was young, I had a brace but since then, my dental visits have been very dull. The only filling was due to a chipped tooth. Each year, when they express their pleasure in my gums, I tell the dentist and hygienist “yes, I clean my teeth twice every day”. It has become a habit which I very rarely break: As soon as I get up, before I shower, I clean my teeth; and, every night, before I go to bed, I clean my teeth.

When I say “every night”, I mean almost every night. Very very very occasionally, I am so so tired when I go to bed, all I want to do is sleep. Taking my clothes off is a challenge. I am gratefully I rarely wear make-up so I don’t have to exert any energy to remove the mascara which would otherwise drip down my face in the night. I am exhausted. On these nights, I just lie on my bed and fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow*.

The next morning, I awake and, in my torpor, I quickly realise something is amiss. As I was sleeping off the excesses of the previous day, someone or something has been filling my mouth with the most disgusting taste and coating my tongue with a carpet-like substance. Suddenly, I remember. I did not clean my teeth. I  jump straight out of bed to rid my mouth of this vile abomination. Ten minutes later, all is right with my dentistry. There is no lasting damage, my tongue will not turn into a fur rug and my teeth are not going to fall out.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, the idea of remembering to test and inject before every meal and before I go to bed, seemed alien. I was sure I would forget or, if I remembered, I was sure I would get the insulin dose horrendously wrong. Sure, my carb count isn’t 100% perfect, I occasionally forget to lower my basal whilst exercising, I don’t always test before every meal. But generally, it has become a habit.

Like the dentist, I visit my diabetes consultant once a year. And, every year, just like I tell my dentist that I clean my teeth twice a day, I will tell my consultant I inject for every time I eat.

When I say “every time I eat”, I mean almost every time. Very very very occasionally, I am offered a sweet or a cake or I grab another sandwich from the buffet and I am distracted before I get a chance to inject. I may be engrossed in conversation with a friend or a customer; I may have grabbed the cake from the table as I run for an appointment; or, very rarely, I just forget.

It doesn’t take me long to start feeling lethargic but slightly twitchy. I can’t concentrate properly. I need to visit the bathroom.  Through my torpor, I realise something is amiss. Suddenly, I remember my forgotten injection. I take a BG reading and a corrective insulin dose. Within 30 minutes, I start to feel better. There is no lasting damage, I will not go blind, I will not suffer from neuropathy.

Just like very occasionally forgetting to clean my teeth, makes my mouth feel rubbish but doesn’t mean my teeth will fall out, very occasionally forgetting to take my insulin for a few hours makes me feel rubbish for a short time but it does not have long lasting affects. The short term discomfort of both is enough punishment so I don’t beat myself up any further for being a human who  gets tired, gets distracted, forgets rather than a machine that goes on forever, focuses on one task and repeats that task by clockwork.

*Although I am occasionally too tired to clean my teeth before going to sleep, I have not yet been too tired to take a BG reading and correction before sleep. Some habits seems easier to keep than others.

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