Today’s guest post comes from Lauren Proctor who lives and works in London. Lauren describes how she was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and what it has been like living with her condition since then.
When Lauren was 19, in her second year of university and busy with three jobs, she thought that her tiredness and unquenchable thirst was in part due to a busy lifestyle and student living.
‘I would have to ask strangers sitting next to me in lectures if I could have some of their water, and, the night before I was diagnosed, I had to go to the toilet five times. I was almost in a car crash because of my blurred vision had – so I knew something was wrong.’
Lauren googled her symptoms as she progressively began to feel worse. She booked an appointment with the university nurse, convinced she had Type 2 diabetes, but the nurse dismissed her claim, telling that Lauren that she was ‘young and slim’ and it was unlikely she had Type 2 diabetes. They carried out a simple blood test which showed Lauren’s blood sugar levels were at 15.5 mmol/l (a normal reading would be between 6-8 mmol/l). The doctor was consulted and Lauren was told to go to hospital. She waited three hours before finally being admitted to a ward ‘full of geriatrics’ and ‘without a clue of what was happening’.
The level of information that Lauren received was poor, although the hospital health care team wanted to see Lauren inject insulin before she home to make sure she could do it. She was given a blood glucose monitor and a box of test strips, but on returning home she managed to break the sharps box.
‘I really felt I was on my own and didn’t know what I was doing. I had my first hypo a week later in the library. I think I had 15 different medical appointments in four weeks; there was so much to take in.’
Lauren found the comprehension of living with Type 1 diabetes a daunting prospect. ‘For a lot of the first year I’d just stay in my room and just cry. There are quite a lot of links to diabetes diagnoses and mental health problems because it is such a challenge to deal with.’ Lauren’s student lifestyle became more stressful; remembering all her diabetes equipment and the need to test her blood glucose levels on top of revision for her Easter exams.
Adapting to Type 1 Diabetes
As Lauren’s awareness of how her blood sugar levels improved, she began to recognise when her blood sugar levels were too high. She would get ‘snappy, thirsty and have very little patience’. Similarly when her blood sugar levels are low, ‘it feels like you’re drunk. I struggle to string sentences together’.
Those who manage their diabetes through the use of insulin have to inject themselves with insulin, the idea is not a pleasant one, ‘but you just have to get on with it’. Lauren injects herself three times a day in the tummy before every meal and once her thigh before bed. She also tests her blood sugar levels four times a day using a finger pricker and blood glucose monitor.
Knowledge is power and education is the facilitator to knowledge
Lauren finds she has good control over her blood sugar levels because she read up in books and educated herself on everything about her condition; she did everything by the letter. However, it was not until three years later, after having moved to London, that she was offered a diabetes education course, DAFNE. Lauren’s own learning had given her good knowledge of many of the topics covered on the course, but she but still found that she learned more on the five day course than she had in her first three years after diagnosis. It was a good opportunity to find out from other people what their experience living with Type 1 diabetes was like and to discuss topics such as dealing with being unwell, pregnancy and carb counting.
Understanding her diabetes and managing her blood sugar levels helps Lauren to reduce her risk of developing serious health complications. ‘How I control my diabetes now will affect how likely I am to lose my sight or limbs in the future. It’s horrible but true.’
This long term view of her health is something Lauren feels the Government should take notice of. She worries about the current short-sightedness of how diabetes in the NHS is costing people their lives and limbs as well as NHS funding. Lauren argues that offering diabetes education at the point of diagnosis for those living with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes will not only benefit people with diabetes to live healthy, functional lives but will saves the NHS the cost of treating diabetes and its complications later on.