My mother, Christine, is my greatest role model. Strong, reflective, vulnerable, open and generous beyond words, she too felt the effects of Matthew Wright's recent verbal assault on the diabetes community. And she was kind enough to put into words how his words - and the bigger problem they represent - affected the mother of someone with diabetes. Here is her beautiful guest post.
Anna has wanted me to write a blog post from a mum’s point of view for some considerable time, but it was Matthew Wright’s outrageous sound-bite about “diabetes-triggering chocolate Easter eggs” that has at last galvanised me into action.
At the tender age of “just-turned 4” my blonde, blue-eyed, slim daughter had not spent the summer sitting around eating chocolate and watching TV but had returned bronzed and happy from a 5-week family holiday in the Austrian Tirol – where at the age of “still only 3” she had walked up mountains (once to glacier-level) every other day and, to the utter astonishment of the local tourist board, had completed enough walks to earn herself a gold “Wanderpass”.
Just 3 months later, on Christmas Eve, I drove my semi-conscious, critically hyperglycaemic daughter to hospital while my devastated husband stayed at home wondering how he would find the heart to “celebrate” Christmas the next day with our 2 sons.
Within a year of Anna’s diagnosis of Type 1 I had the opportunity to attend a week-long conference in Kaiserslautern, being both cared for (yes, we mothers need looking after as well) and educated about Type 1 along with 30 other mothers and their newly-diagnosed D-children. The age of these children ranged from 18 months to early teenage and not a single one of them was overweight.
Every one of us mothers, however, felt both guilt-ridden and confused that their beautiful child had developed Type 1. We were all asking why – where on earth had this come from? Of the 30 children only one had a living relative with Type 1 – the 18 month old baby girl - and her desperate father (the Type 1) was so devastated - because he thought it was “his fault” - that he couldn’t yet inject his baby daughter with her life-saving daily insulin.
In amongst all the heartbreak and guilt the various reasons we mothers were putting forward as having been the trigger for the Type 1 were variously stress, shock, the coxsackie virus, a recent immunisation against measles and mumps and bereavement. Guilt, fear and lack of information is a toxic combination. I was soon convincing myself that I had over-stretched my 3-year old and that in fact the 5 week holiday and the gold medal had stressed her little body so much that her insulin-producing cells had failed as a result.
But for all the reasons we were throwing into the ring about possible causes for Type 1 we all knew deep down that our friends and neighbours who heard that our child had developed diabetes were all presuming that the reason for the condition had been “too much sugar in their diet”. They also thought that diabetes management was simply a case of “not eating any more sugar”.
This was 25 years ago. My daughter was the only child I knew with diabetes, other than the ones I met on that conference. The kindergarten (and, later, the school) had never seen a case before and the day they had to call the helicopter to deal with her hypoglycaemic collapse practically made the newspapers. It also sorted the men from the boys with teachers drawing lots NOT to go with her in the helicopter.
So where have we got to, in Britain, 25 years on? Not very far, if Matthew Wright’s remarks are any indication.
But the D-community appears to be increasingly well-informed, supported and educated, thanks in part to bloggers like my daughter. They take the time to get alongside each other, to share information and experiences, to encourage each other and support each other during the tough times. And believe me, there ARE tough times. They are also embracing a range of new technologies that help them recover some of the spontaneity and confidence that are often the first casualties of this condition.
What neither the D-community nor Joe-Public needs is the kind of ill-informed, casual, misleading remarks that return us to the dark ages of Edwina Curry and her salmonella-triggering eggs.
I suggest that Matthew Wright sits down to a decent-sized portion of humble pie this Easter and takes the time to issue an apology to a whole community that he has deeply offended.