Many, many years ago I experienced a near death experience because of my T1D. I was working shift work and my blood glucose level went dangerously low while I was sleeping and I ended up in intensive care for a week. Among the various results of this was mild brain damage that the doctors told me I would learn to live with.
Well, the doctors were correct. I did learn to live with the brain damage and I’m still here 35 years later to tell the story. But I’ve also come to realise that brain damage, even more so than Type 1 Diabetes, is impossible for people to understand if they haven’t had close experience with it. And yesterday I had an experience that gives me an opportunity to explain more about what it’s like to live with some sort of brain damage.
In my case, the brain damage has affected my memory. And you may be wondering what the connection is between T1D and brain damage. Well, when the level of glucose, let’s call it “sugar”, in the blood drops to a dangerous level, the brain, which uses 40% of the sugar that your body needs, doesn’t get enough to be able to function and keep the body alive. So it starts looking for energy in other places, and one of them is to start eating itself to get the required energy to keep the vital functions alive. Memory is not as important to staying alive as the part of the brain that controls breathing and the heart, so it gets sacrificed to keep the others alive. Hence the damage to my memory.
So what happened yesterday?
I was walking down the street I live in and saw one of my neighbours out in her front garden. I stopped to say hello and we chatted away for a good 10 minutes about local happenings, other people in the street, her magnificent grass on her nature strip etc. We have both lived in the street, about 3 houses from each other, for the last 5 years. We’ve both attended street Christmas parties, we’ve joked and laughed and tutted about silly local government decisions. Yesterday we even passed a little bit of gossip about somebody else in the street. It was a pleasant 10 minutes in the afternoon sun chatting with somebody I’ve known for over 5 years.
So what is my neighbours name?
I have no idea. After numerous Christmas parties, impromptu street chats, assorted bar-b-ques over the last 5 years, in which I’ve been told her name at least 20 times, yesterday I had no idea what it was. So how was I able to chat for 10 minutes? I simply called on the tips and tricks that the doctors referred to 35 years ago that I would learn to be able to navigate day-to-day life. And yesterday it worked.
As we were chatting, one of our common neighbours came up in the conversation. My neighbour referred to her by name at least 3 times as we were talking about various things. I’ve met this common neighbour at least as many times as the neighbour I was chatting with, and likely more. The common neighbour is a very friendly, outgoing young mother who has a couple of young children and is highly thought of by our section of the street. But when in our chat I needed to make reference to the same neighbour, the young mother, I couldn’t remember her name. Now keep in mind that the neighbour I was chatting with had mentioned her name only moments before, but I couldn’t remember it. So I pointed at the house, made a general reference and waited for the neighbour lady to fill in the blank with the name, which she did. So our conversation was able to proceed quite smoothly with only a fraction of a second of awkwardness.
But here’s the thing. After I finished chatting with my neighbour and was walking off toward my house, suddenly the young lady neighbour emerged from her front door as I was walking past her house. She had a couple of friends with her and the older of her children. So I stopped to chat. I praised the young daughter and played some word games with her. The young mother and I joked and chatted for a couple of minutes, in which she made reference to me by name to her friends that were there. I commented that she had a good memory, because there was I, who had been told this young lady’s name 3 times only minutes before by the other neighbour, completely oblivious to what her name was.
So I called on the tips and tricks that the doctors had made reference to 35 years ago and was able to navigate through the conversation with a minimum of angst. I praised the counting ability of the little girl, made a general throw away compliment to the young mother, then proceeded to my house and inside to my sanctuary.
And all of this was in a single 12 minute period.
Can you imagine the mental gymnastics I have to perform at the annual Christmas parties? The only names I know in the entire street, after living here for 5 years, are the neighbours on the down hill side of our house and the name of the lady who lives across the street. Who knows why I remember her name.
This is just one of many, many other potential aspects of living with T1D. We all know about the missing toes, feet, kidneys and eyes, but it’s not so obvious about the brain damage and missing memory.