When I was lucky enough to obtain an insulin pump, to treat my Type 1 Diabetes a few years ago, I was a member of a voluntary group called the Nottingham Type 1 Diabetes Group. They were a good bunch of people and through an alarming lack of self-control I became the web-monkey for the group, doing all the website and social media stuff, as well as creating a ‘blog about what it was like to go onto an insulin pump after using multiple daily injections, since the age of 22 months when I was diagnosed.
So tonight I’m posting…or should that be RE-posting an article I did for that site, you can find the original here. It’s a bit of background about what Type 1 Diabetes actually is, it’s treatment and history.
The ‘blog was quite personal and interesting to write as I had to decide how much to reveal about myself, my life and my family, who featured quite heavily. However I didn’t really think about it at the time, I just sat down in front of the computer and wrote what seemed natural. Here it is.
Okay, I’ve had enough of what I’m meant to be doing at the moment and anywhere to get a drink or something to eat has shut so I thought I’d start on my A-Z of Diabetes, or at least trying to give a bit of background on what it is and what all the things I talk about mean so…
Type 1 Diabetes, also called Diabetes Mellitus is an autoimmune disease, that is it is a problem with your immune system, in my case I believe I got a virus of some sort when I was about 22 months old, my white blood cells killed off the virus but then didn’t know where to stop and decided that my beta cells in my pancreas were also BAD so they started destroying these as well!
Beta cells have a few roles but the most important of these (to a Type 1 Diabetic at least) is that they pump out insulin and (sort of) glucagon. Both of these hormones have an effect on carbohydrates, insulin turns carbohydrates in your blood stream in to energy which your body can then use to power itself, glucagon turns stored energy, e.g. fats, etc. in to energy if you don’t have enough carbohydrate in your blood stream when you need it.
Obviously you need energy to power pretty much anything you do, if you do not have enough then parts of your body can start malfunctioning! This is called “low blood sugar” or a “Hypo”. I have experienced a whole gamut of different types of hypo and personally find they tend to be different dependent on what I’m doing at the time, for instance if I am exercising, not necessarily full on cardiovascular body pummelling, can be as low impact as walking (or more likely these days pushing a pushchair!) then I will tend to have a muscular hypo, that is some muscle group in my body, possibly all of them, won’t have enough energy and therefore I’ll get wobbly legs or arms or possibly collapse on the floor or else not be able to get out of a chair.
Worse for a number of reasons are hypos that occur when I am thinking hard, e.g. writing a document at work or doing a brain intensive DIY task, in these cases the organ in my body using the most energy is my brain and so when I run out of energy my brain ceases to function properly. The reason this is particularly bad is because my brain, being short of energy, is often unable to realise that it is short of energy and so I miss the signs I would normally pick up and just get lower and lower until (on occasion but not so much these days) I become unconscious, it can also cause bad moods, arguing (more than normal) and a general change in personality. If it is one of these ones the best thing to do is just to tell me it’s a good idea if I do a blood test, I might well argue but if I do too much you can just leave me until I collapse and then call an ambulance 🙂
So, because I am unable to produce my own insulin I need to somehow get insulin inside my body, over the years this has been by syringe and needle, plastic syringe, pen injector and most recently an insulin pump (hooray), all of these devices do pretty much the same thing but to different degrees of control, syringes were okay but you simply sucked up as much insulin as was required by eye and injected it, insulin pens were a bit better as you wound up the dose and it would give you the same dose, standardised, each time you wound it up on the pen so you knew you were getting exactly 10 units if that is what you selected. I’ll come to the pump in a minute!
Of course to control the level of insulin you are giving yourself you also need to find out how much carbohydrate is in your body, originally when I (in fact my Mum and Dad) had to do this you had to catch some urine in a test tube and add some water and a pill which would then change colour to give an indication of how “sugary” I was, e.g. whether I needed to exercise to try and bring my blood sugar down or if I needed to eat something, they were pretty much the only options available back in 1976. Then they bought out Dextrostix, which were plastic sticks with a reactive piece of chemistry on the end which, again, changed colour when you wee’d on it, somewhat simpler and less prone to accidents or mistakes in the process. Nowadays I have a blood test monitor, this involves pricking my finger with a lancet to draw some blood, this blood then goes on to a strip, not a world away from the Diastix I used to use but plugged in to a machine which then gives a reading as to your blood sugar, this has a number of advantages!
The old Diastix used to have a number of colours for the different readings, I believe that “blue” meant your blood sugar was between 0 and 9 millimoles per litre (mmol/l the standard unit of measurement until fairly recently) green was between 9 and 12 (or something like that, it was a long time ago!) and then a range up to brown which was frankly much too sugary! Bearing in mind that a normal blood sugar is meant to be between 4 and 8 it obviously didn’t give a lot of fine control over your blood sugar. Also it meant whenever you wanted to test your blood sugar you needed to be able to pee…and find somewhere to pee! Finally because it takes a while for your body to process carbohydrate and eject it the tests were always about an hour or two behind where your body was currently at.
Blood tests are more or less instant, you still have to carry kit about with you but no longer need to find somewhere private to test and the results are to 0.1 mmol/l, in this way my average blood sugar results have come down from somewhere between 9 or 12 to about 7 these days which is obviously desirable and in fact makes me feel much better about myself.
So these days I need to do blood tests to check my blood sugar, guess the amount of carbohydrate in food I am eating and adjust my insulin accordingly (a bit more about insulin types another day).
The pump is a fantastic device, it is programmed with the amount of insulin I need to deal with 10 grams of carbohydrate (CHO) and the amount I need to bring my blood sugar down by 1 mmol/l (0.3 units I think) and when my blood test monitor tells the pump what I am eating (which I program in to it) and what my blood sugar is it decides how much insulin to give me for the food and to adjust my blood sugar to the right level and then pumps it in to me! Technology is fantastic.
That’s it for now, gotta go. I’ll continue this another day, feel free to ask questions if you want more info about anything I’m talking about and remember these are my views and opinions and probably wrong on a number of counts!