I was in a transit hotel room in Bahrain, travelling to London. I was on my own and my sugar level had dropped dangerously low. I had double vision and was struggling to think and coordinate my movements. I remember the phone ringing over and over, which turned out to be the front desk to say the bus was leaving for the airport. I knew I had to get my sugar level up so I started eating sweets by the handful. By the time I was able to think and act, I was late for my flight – luckily it had been delayed. That was the same night that Princess Diana died; I almost did too.
In November in Australia is National Diabetes Week. The theme this year was to raise the profile of Type 2 Diabetes.
“Diabetes” is a difficult subject. Many people, who rely on the media for much of their information, consider that someone who has “diabetes” has brought it on themselves through poor lifestyle choices. That is the general theme presented by much of what we are told in the news, TV programs and movies. And unfortunately, this year’s theme for National Diabetes Week has propagated that opinion.
However there are around 120,000 “diabetics” in Australia, and 30 million in the world, for whom that label is grossly misplaced. They are people with Type 1 Diabetes. There are enough of us in Australia, of all ages from birth to old age, to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground to over flowing and not one of us has contributed to us having this overwhelming illness. Type 1 Diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes are completely different illnesses, but with similar symptoms.
You may ask why it matters that there is confusion. For the mother of an 8 year old child with type 1 diabetes, who is thought of by the other mothers of class mates as being the cause of her child’s illness, it matters. When you consider that politicians are people too, when it comes to the allocation of medical research funds, knowing that there are 120,000 Australians who did not get this illness through their lifestyle choices, it matters. And when a middle aged person who has had 40,000 injections and 100,000 finger pricks in their life is dismissed as being a drain on the public health system, it matters.
“Eight hours to live” – quite evocative, isn’t it. But for a person with type 1 diabetes, it is an accurate description of day-to-day life. For every day of their life, a person with type 1 must balance their blood sugar level with their injection of insulin with their food and with their amount of exertion. If a person with type 1 doesn’t proactively manage their illness, they could be doomed to be dead in 8 hours. If I have my standard injection now and then don’t eat, for whatever reason that may present itself, I will be dead in less than 8 hours. At best I will be in intensive care in hospital.
The cruelty of type 1 diabetes is that if we don’t apply constant vigilance, and even if we do, we risk the many awful long term complications, such as eye, kidney and heart problems, amputated toes and feet, amongst others. Plus there are many things that can throw our sugar out of whack that people just take for granted; stress at work or in a relationship, the weather, if you have a cold or have injured yourself. All of these daily things and more can make the blood sugar level go up or down.
Type 1 diabetes impacts not only those who have it, but also those who are close. That includes partners, family, work mates and friends.
Who do I blame for my type 1 diabetes? Nobody of course. It was just one of those unfortunate twists of fate that gave me this illness. Then what am I asking for?
I’m asking for some clarity in the media to help the general public understand better that there are 120,000 Australians amongst you, 30 million people world wide, who did nothing to cause this illness. And as this illness can impact any of you, and any of your children and grandchildren, every dollar allocated to the brilliant medical research teams by the tax payer will be a dollar toward finding the prevention and cure that is so close at hand.
I won’t benefit, but your grandchildren will.
And please, when next you are faced with the topic of “diabetes”, please remember that there’s more than a grand final crowd of regular Australians of all ages who did nothing to be burdened with this. They are your work mates, your neighbours, the fellow in the hardware, the lady in the corner shop, or that person on the train who may not be looking too well.