Today I’m celebrating a very special day, a milestone birthday of a very different kind. Google has revealed that Steve Jobs, Ben Miller and Kristin Davis were all born on this day, but as interesting as that is, I’m not really celebrating their birthdays. Today is my Godmother’s birthday, but it’s much more than that too. Today also happens to be my birthday, but, according to my birth certificate and my Mum, both of whom I trust implicitly, I’ve got another 366 days to wait until I reach my next noteworthy milestone, so my birthday celebrations this year are relatively low-key. Despite all these great reasons to celebrate, today I’m marking 30 years of one of the most significant events in my life:
30 years of living with T1D*
This is me, the Christmas before I was diagnosed
With a less than auspicious twist of fate, my life changed completely on the day I celebrated my 9th birthday and, believe it or not, 30 years on I can say that it arguably changed for the better. Don’t get me wrong, I would give anything to not be living side-by-side with a chronic illness, but the events of that day enabled me to return to much improved health and, most importantly, haven’t stopped me doing pretty much anything I’ve wanted to since then. After months, and maybe even years, of displaying what are now the well-recognised symptoms
of undiagnosed diabetes – think excessive, unquenchable thirst; massive weight loss; increasing and unexplained lethargy and a constant need to wee – an unexpected collapse at school led to an emergency hospital admission, a fear-filled night as my parents had to face the unimaginable possibility of losing me and finally a diagnosis that would shape the way my future unfolded. Without even knowing it, and certainly with little regard for my opinion, this uninvited visitor came and took up permanent residence in my body, where it has lived in varying degrees of co-operation since the mid-1980s.
The last 30 years have seen amazing developments in the care of T1D, but the most momentous event actually happened 65 years before my own diagnosis. Before 1921, my parents’ worst fears of that night would have been realised as, until the discovery of insulin at the University of Toronto by Banting and Best, those diagnosed with diabetes mellitus had no chance of survival and could only delay death from the illness itself by starving the body instead. Their discovery followed on from the hard work of other scientists and medics from around the world such as Oskar Minkowski, Joseph von Mehring and Paul Langerhans, for whom the cells in the pancreas were named, and I doubt that any can deny the life-changing impact that the discovery of insulin has had on those of us living with T1D.
My first decade with T1D was heavily influenced by the incredible mind of my consultant, Professor B, who was compassionate, understanding and impressively forward-thinking in his approach to my care. One great example of his progressiveness is reflected by the DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) approach to T1D management, which teaches PWD** to “…match their insulin dose to their chosen food intake on a meal by meal basis…“, and which was introduced to mainstream diabetes care in 1998 as a somewhat revolutionary new step. I somewhat nonchalantly shrugged my shoulders at the announcement as I’d been following that regime for around 10 years before it was accepted as being effective by the rest of the diabetes world, all thanks to Professor B and his focus on helping to improve my teen struggles with T1D.
My collection of Novopens!
Likewise, within 2 or 3 years of diagnosis, my “futuristic
” disposable syringes and bottles of insulin, which had replaced the glass syringes and metal hypodermic needles of the 1950s that needed constant sterilising and re-sharpening, had themselves been replaced with one of the first models of the Novopen. This was the first insulin pen injector of its type and combined syringe, needle and insulin bottle in one unit. I worked my way through several upgrades of the Novopen and these days use a combination of a pre-filled disposable pen injector and the last pen injector that I had, a green Novopen 3, which still works in impeccable fashion nearly 20 years on from when I was first given it. Two decades on and I’m so excited to have embarked on another adventure
, this time with the relatively new innovation in diabetes care, the Freestyle Libre
system for blood glucose monitoring. Whilst I’m not at the forefront of PWDs trialling its use, I have offered to collect data concerning my usage for a research student looking to compare blood glucose monitoring behaviour following the use of the Freestyle Libre, a study that I would hope would encourage some NHS funding for these short-lived sensors which really could revolutionise T1D for many.
To put the last 30 years into context, I worked out some quick statistics of what 3 decades living with T1D has meant for me:
- An average of 3-4 BGLs measured a day, sometimes a lot more and sometimes considerably less, adds up to around 43,838 blood sugar tests…
- …and assuming equal use, though the truth is anything but, each of my fingers has been pricked nearly 4,500 times.
- There’s been in the region of 41,636 injections to keep me healthy…
- …most of which have in my thighs, bum and upper arms…
- …although, after 25 years of steadfast refusal to consider anywhere else, I now inject almost exclusively in my stomach and have the bruises to prove it!
- I’ve been involved in several research projects since almost day 1, including one which resulted in the longer-acting insulin I now use on a daily basis…
- …and more medical students, visiting foreign doctors and interested consultants than I care to remember…
- …and the involvement of both G and M in current research to investigate a possible genetic marker for T1D.
- One amazingly fantastic juvenile T1D consultant, considered to be one of the top men in the diabetes world, around the world…
- …and another who I remember joining my team as a junior doctor at our local hospital and who is now a Professor in this field in that same hospital…
- ..as well as the care of another unrivalled T1D consultant during both my pregnancies to ensure the safe arrival of my babies and my continued health too.
- And there have been the inevitable times in hospital, particularly during my emotion-ridden years and fortunately only 1 major complication resulting from my teenage rebellion stage.
A cure may not yet be in sight, but with the amazing developments of the last 100 years, who knows what the next 30 years will bring?
*T1D – Type 1 Diabetes **PWD – People With Diabetes