Friday 22 April 2011

'Diabetes Wellness Day'

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation (DRWF) Spring Conference ‘Wellness Day’, at the Medway Campus of Greenwhich University. Like many other charities across the UK, the DRWF aim to raise awareness about diabetes and offer advice, information and support to the many people in the UK living with the disease, but DRWF are a little different in that they put a real focus on (as their tag line states) ‘staying well until a cure is found’. For some it can be hard to know just how to look after ourselves and some may have lost the motivation and desire after years of trying with seemingly few results. But this day had a real focus on not only physical health and staying fit, eating well and keeping our bodies in good shape, but also on the emotional and psychological side of things. A nice change from the usual, I might add.

As was expected there was a busy exhibitors room packed with a number of stands and stalls which people with a lazy pancreas, their carers or professionals may want to visit, including a One-Touch stand (by the way, T1s keep your eyes out for the Verio Blood Monitoring system) and an Accu-Chek stand, which were placed suitably far enough apart to avoid any fisticuffs, not that professionals would do such a thing! There were stalls manned by the NHS, one for DRWF themselves and one run by Dr Jen Nash, founder of Positive Diabetes and part of the pancreatically challenged portion of society herself. There were stalls filled to the brim with information about healthy eating and lifestyle, super duper aloe vera products which can help lower blood sugar levels (a statement I unfortunately didn’t get time to probe into) and stalls for the local PCT in Medway.

But the best part of the day for me was the talks. I have been to several Diabetes Days in my time. Sometimes they can be spot on and sometimes they can be a little one-sided or aimed at entirely the wrong audience (the Type one day I attended where they only talked about Metformin and erectile dysfunction was certainly interesting, but left me with little I could really put into action!). But this day managed to incorporate all the elements that anyone with diabetes – which ever type – needs to keep at the forefront of their mind if they are to successfully navigate their way through a healthy life.

We were given a talk by Linda Main of Heart UK about how we can look after our hearts with even the simplest of changes (FYI, aim for the soya products and plant sterols folks, apparently they are a great way to lower cholesterol). We had talks by TV nutritionist/Chef Azmina Govindji, who demonstrated how to incorporate low GI into our diets to benefit our health and offered some tasty treats as an example (first time of trying bread and butter pudding – certainly won’t be the last!). There were fantastic talks from Mark Sillett and Alison Smith about Nordic Walking and Tai Chi (respectively) and we even had the chance to try some Tai Chi outside in the sunshine as a taster. It was a great reminder that ‘exercise’ doesn’t need to be about climbing a mountain or running a marathon (as I all too often forget myself) and that even the most gentle of exercise can improve our health and quality of life no end. The day was then brought to a close by stand up comic and Drama teacher at Kent University Oliver Double, who has two diabetic sons and had a really refreshing take on diabetes and some of the many foibles that happen along the way. I even managed to win a DVD with the aid of some well-planned cheating (on Oliver’s part) during a game called ‘Count your Carbs Right’ about – you may have guessed it - carb counting.

But the talk which had by far the biggest impact on me and re-affirmed my faith in why we bother raising money and investing in ‘cures’ was a talk called ‘The human face of diabetes’ given by Rae Lawson, who has undergone two human islet cell transplants and whose story should both motivate and inspire even the most downtrodden and ‘burnt out’ diabetic. It is early days, but Rae has been off insulin with no hypers or hypos for 6 months and has, as her Doctor happily advised her, achieved better blood sugars than himself. I have saved this story for a later post because quite frankly it deserves a post of its own and having brought me such a renewed sense of hope, I want you to feel this way too. Hopeful. Rae has also been kind enough to say that she will answer a few questions for me about her experiences, so I would love to know what YOU want to know.

This was my first DRWF Wellness Day but it most certainly won’t be my last. There is also one scheduled in June (full details to follow) and I will be on the list for that one too! It was clear to see how much hard work and passion had gone into this day and for such a small outfit, the DRWF had certainly been able to pack in some big BIG talks.

Rae's post will follow soon but I promise, you won't want to miss it!

Monday 11 April 2011

An Inconvenient Truth

It’s not often that I get caught short in public with a fly-by hypo which comes from no-where and knocks me off my feet. And it is even less often that I forget to stock up my hypo treatments after a previous low. Mainly because I often keep hypo treatments stashed in all sorts of places like some sort of sugar-worshipping hoarder, including every handbag I own, the glovebox in the car, and even my sock drawer! But being human and being someone who has had T1 diabetes now for over 24 years, it is easy for me to wave my hands in the air and admit that sometimes, it happens.

Well this weekend in happened. As many of you will know, hot weather poses a bit of a dilemma for diabetics in that it seems to make – for some unfathomable reason – injected insulin much more effective. ‘That’s good’, you might think. But unfortunately the heat does this rather unreliably so and often when you don’t see it coming, possibly because the heat and tiredness that can come with it can mimic the early stages of a hypo itself. So this weekend when I was not only out in the sun thanks to a lovely weekend away visiting my aunt with my mother-ship, I was out of my routine, eating unusual food and getting a bit more exercise than I normally would. I knew all along that lows were going to happen. That was just a given.

But what I wasn’t expecting when I had my low, which happened to be in public and only shortly after the devouring of my last few Dextrose tablets, was the reaction that my mother would get after asking if she could jump a queue at a coffee bar as her daughter had diabetes and she needed to get her some juice. Now normally the other people in the queue could be expected to be the ones who would be the ones likely to cause a fuss. We are all thirsty and we all want a drink in the hot weather. Most people don’t recognise or understand the urgency for treating a hypo, because other than someone looking a bit confused, there aren’t a huge amount of physical signs.

But despite being told to go ahead in the queue by all the waiting customers, the persons whose reaction was most surprising and in my perhaps hypo-clouded eyes unacceptable, was the girl at the till. Apparently my mothers request meant she no longer needed to make eye contact, and could get away with speaking to my mother as though she – and I – were inconveniencing her no end.

Newsflash sweetie, diabetes inconveniences me too. And a damn site more than you, I would imagine.

I understand that not everyone ‘gets’ the importance of treating a hypo immediately. In fact most don’t even know what a hypo is. And I understand that jumping a queue to buy a drink in the hot weather looks odd. But if you asked someone to use their chair if they were asthmatic, or asked to give up your seat on a bus because a pregnant lady with pain needs to sit down, you would. Without question. Why serving someone for a drink they need because of life or death can be an inconvenience is quite frankly beyond me.

It is true that we need to educate people about diabetes, its symptoms and all that comes along with it. But this experience showed me that in some cases, we need to educate people about manners and common sense first and foremost.

This post is dedicated to the girl who works in that bar, who for just an instant had an opportunity to pay attention and take in a message, and who chose not to take it. This one’s for you.