*Trigger warning* – This post discusses needles.
The first post in this series comes from Bradley Bulch. Bradley has Type 1 diabetes. Here is a day in his life.
Waking up in the morning can be difficult dependent on the night before; if I’ve had a rough night with low or high blood sugars (or often times a rollercoaster between the two), I feel it in the morning. A few coffees before university can do the trick, but the exhaustion from waking up to a blood sugar level of 1.7mmol at 3am is hard to overcome.
As a diabetic, my targeted blood sugar readings are between 5 – 7mmol. A reading below 4mmol (hypoglycaemia) results in dizziness, blurred vision, cold sweats, confusion and shaking. The symptoms increase as your sugar levels drop lower, until you pass out. Extremely low levels can result in permanent brain damage and even death.
As one of the 400,000 people in the UK with Type 1 diabetes I control my own insulin dosages, a job which would be done entirely by the normal functioning pancreas of anyone else.
This means we are prone to episodes like this at such awkward times. The factors that can cause blood sugar drops are numerous; cold or hot weather, exercise earlier in the day, one unit too much insulin, alcohol, too little carbs (carbohydrates) or even illness such as cold or flu.
Though I’ve never passed out from low blood sugar, it is always a worry lingering in my head as I try to get some sleep.
On the way to university, I can sometimes find myself battling with whatever I had for breakfast, cereal is particularly difficult as milk has a surprisingly high amount of sugar in it, and I often find myself correcting a high reading on a bus because of it.
You get some strange looks from people as you’re sat in a wobbly bus with a needle in your arm, but it’s better than the alternative.
Because I have no pancreas to produce insulin which converts the sugar from my food into energy, I use small 4mm needles to inject insulin directly into the back of my arm.
Without this insulin my blood sugar will rise continuously, which has some extremely dangerous effects on your body.
High blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia) are different to lows in that the effects aren’t as instantaneous. The initial symptoms of dehydration, tiredness and overheating are guaranteed, but it is the long term effects that are the most worrying. If insulin isn’t administered you can find yourself experiencing ketoacidosis, which is when your body begins to break down fat and muscle for energy. This produces ketones, which your body cannot handle in excess and can fall into a coma as a result.
Before my diagnosis at age 13 I had zero energy, I appeared so malnourished the teachers were calling my family and doctors expressing their concern. I was constantly thirsty, up every half hour every night for the toilet and a pint of water, and couldn’t stand up in class without my legs wobbling.
But I still played as much football as I could, in hindsight, I don’t know how I managed to stay awake. The nurses when I was admitted into hospital couldn’t believe I walked in because of my state and how high my levels were.
The machine didn’t give a number when my blood was given to it, it just read ‘high’.
During dinner times when I’m on to my second, or on a bad day, third injection of the day, I find myself explaining to a new person just what I’m doing and why. I’m extremely open about this as teaching someone about diabetes is very beneficial for both me and them, the information I give them could save my life, or that of someone else.
Since estimating insulin for different foods every day causes problems (for me at least), I find it’s easier to just stick to a routine. The same meals every day may seem boring to most people, but if I know how many units of Novorapid (fast acting insulin) to give for the same portion of chicken and rice every day, I can safely assume I won’t be encountering any extreme highs or lows soon.
Exercise is extremely awkward too, I’ll never begin a gym session with a reading below 6; half a bottle of Lucozade will work and stop my blood sugar from dropping if it is. High levels of 12 or above are just as awkward for exercise, it’s true that cardio lowers your blood sugar, but trying to muster up enough energy to jump on a treadmill when your reading is 14.6, is nearly impossible.
Once I’m home after uni, had my tea and done whatever work needs to be done, it’s time to try and sleep. Just assuming I haven’t given too much Levimir (long acting insulin), or that gym session before won’t send my bloods down in the middle of the night.