Diabetes and me: Insulin injections and information overload

After two weeks of going it alone, I left the hospital in a complete daze from a three hour appointment with a diabetes specialist, and weighed down with a bag of insulin supplies.

I’m pretty sure this was the gold standard Oscars-style goody bag of the NHS. There were needles, lancets, finger prickers, glucose test strips, ketone strips, glucose gels, glucose tablets and two types of insulin pens.

A whole load of things I didn’t know existed, and terrifyingly, a whole load of things I now need to stay alive … all stuffed in a Tesco bag for life. Oh, the irony!

My appointment started as I’d expected … I was formally diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood if we’re being specific), and being told in no uncertain terms that insulin injections were the only option.

Not the odd injection when I’m feeling unwell, or a course of insulin like antibiotics until a virus has gone – multiple injections every single day for the rest of my life.

I have now taken on the role of my pancreas … with no job application, no interview and no training. You enjoy your early retirement, mate, I knew I needed a bit more responsibility in my life *insert eye roll emoji here*

I’m not entirely sure how I didn’t cry. I suppose I was expecting it after all the research I’d done, as there is no cure for type 1 diabetes and no other medication as your body needs insulin to keep going. I knew I had to face up to it as there was no alternative … and I’d been feeling so rough I was hoping insulin would be a magic cure.

When I was younger, I remember reading the Babysitters Club books (bear with me), and one of the characters – her name was Stacey, funnily enough – was diabetic. I remember her saying how she got to practice injecting on an orange when she was diagnosed…

I have no idea why that stuck in my mind from 25-odd years ago, but it’s all I could think of when I was shown how to change a needle, set a dose and administer insulin. But there was no orange for me … it was straight into a test injection in my stomach, with no time to second guess what I was doing.

It’s funny how your mind works in these situations, as the nurse had mentioned injections in my leg, and I was wearing jeans. I was sitting there, half listening, and half worried that she was expecting me to pull my jeans down in front of her. Instead, she had a glimpse of my paler than pale stomach as I put the needle in just above my belly button.

Surprisingly it didn’t hurt – although she did warn that insulin straight out of the fridge can sting. That’s one to look forward to.

For the next two-and-a-half hours I was given a series of instructions, numbers, and so much information it was hard to take it all in.

Six units of basal insulin in my leg at 7.30am, two units of bolus insulin before every meal, wait 15 minutes before eating, check my levels two hours after eating, a glucose level below 4 is a hypo, treat with 10-15g of carbs, then retest 15 minutes later, don’t exercise if below 5 or above 13, insulin pens last 28 days out of the fridge, I must be above 5 to drive or insurance is invalid, it just went on and on… numbers, medical terms, and information overload.

Where am I going to find space for all this?!

Looking back, it’s all so surreal. I’m the type of person who blacks out during a blood test, I hate the thought of needles, and I’ve always eaten pretty much what I want to, when I want. And there I was being told injections and finger pricks would be a part of my everyday life, and from that moment on I’d have to religiously count carbs in every single thing I eat.

It’s completely life changing.

I can’t have been thinking straight, as my main concern was how I could carry on running and training for the Cardiff Half Marathon (which at this point I hadn’t told anyone about in case I couldn’t go through with it).

There was a flicker of concern shown between the specialist nurse and dietician when I mentioned the half – I don’t think it’s a question they come across regularly on diagnosis! – but they were very supportive. They gave me a Freestyle Libre, which is basically a sensor that sits in my arm and continually monitors your blood sugar level. I can scan it with my phone (crazy!) and not only check my blood glucose level, but see if it is steady, going up or dropping. When I’m running it’ll mean I can tell when I need to eat something to stop it from going too low. Game changer!

Anyway, after speaking with the dietician (who told me off for cutting down on carbs too much), the nurse and the consultant, I was sent on my way with a bagful of supplies and trusted with a drug that if I misjudge could kill me.

No pressure then.

The next week or so was a blur of trying to work out when to inject (guessing 15 minutes before your food is ready isn’t as easy as it sounds), what meals worked for the two units of insulin, and attempting my first run on insulin.

This, I did on the safety of a treadmill in the gym in case my glucose went too low. I armed myself with a load of jelly babies propped on the water holder, and managed four miles. I’m a bit of an emotional runner at the best of times, and I have to admit I had to hold back the tears when I finished.

The enormity of it hit me all of a sudden. I was overwhelmed with this being my new “normal”, and angry with my pancreas for deciding that 35 years of work was quite enough, thank you very much. But I was also so proud of myself for being determined not to let it beat me.

Feeling overwhelmed after my first run on insulin

I have alarms set for injections and for checking my blood sugar after meals, my handbag weighs a tonne with all the supplies and emergency snacks I now carry around, popping to the shop takes at least an hour as I’m obsessively reading the nutritional labels to see if there’s anything decent I can get away with eating without insulin, and my Google search history could probably fill a dissertation on type one diabetes management.

But, and this is a big but … I can eat pasta again, I can run again, and more importantly, I’m feeling positive. Let’s do this!

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