A diagnosis with type 1 diabetes back in May 2010 changed my life.
I remember how awkward I felt around my new condition at the time. Carefully finding a spot on my stomach and willing up the courage to insert the needle and administer an insulin injection. Standing in the kitchen eating a white bread sandwich at bedtime, feeling uncomfortable as soon as someone walked in and saw me. The way I tried to carefully follow the very vague instructions I had been given upon my discharge from hospital – 20 units of Lantus at dinnertime, 5-10 units of Novorapid at meal times, and a white bread sandwich at bedtime to stop me from going low.
I remember how “different” I felt at the time. The reality that this condition would be around for the rest of my life was still sinking in. Nervously walking into diabetes clinic for the first time, and seeing other patients there reminded me that I was now a “diabetic” – something I felt very labelled by at the time.
It was there that I first met my diabetes educator, Gwen, a straight talking woman with plenty of diabetes knowledge and experience. My Mum was there with me at my appointments, and Gwen made her feel very much included as well. I’ll never forget her famous diagram of the mouth, the liver and the pancreas, as she demonstrated the role of a functioning pancreas when food entered the body. A diagram that she still uses to this very day.
In the months that followed, Gwen went on with helping me to fine tune my insulin doses, so that I wouldn’t need that white bread sandwich at bedtime. When she saw how complex and spontaneous my meals were, she taught me how to carb count. She always made herself available to me outside of appointments by phone and e-mail, despite how busy she was. When my first endocrinologist told me that I had very poor control, Gwen was the first to see the look of disappointment in my face. She was prepared to go and have a word with him, and she made sure that I didn’t see him again in future.
Gwen often reminded me that the first year was biggest hurdle to get through, in terms of education and clinic appointments. Her job was to make her role as my diabetes educator redundant. After the first year or so, I went on managing my diabetes without regular education sessions.
As I began to consider insulin pumping last year, I felt that it was time to touch base with Gwen again. Nerves after such a long space of time were immediately relieved, as Gwen proceeded as though our last appointment was only yesterday. She approached the matter with the seriousness it deserved. She never sought to influence or sway my decision either way, and respected the decision that I eventually made.
It’s hard to imagine starting out on an insulin pump with anyone other than Gwen. Nerves were eased going into it with someone I was so familiar and comfortable with. It was fantastic to be able to chat with Gwen over the phone every day during that first week. I was very comfortable uploading all of my data to Diasend for her to see.
Last week, I had my final education session with Gwen before she retires at the end of the month. Even though there has been considerable distance between our sessions over the years, I still find it hard to say goodbye to someone who’s been there since the very beginning.
Gwen has been a huge part of my diabetes journey. She is the professional who has the time for me. Who sits down with me, and has my undivided attention for a whole hour. Who knows me, and the very hands on approach I take towards managing my diabetes. My GP, although excellent, doesn’t often have the time for me and is quick to dismiss my concerns. I don’t always see the same endocrinologist on clinic days. Too often, they are quick to sign off on my six monthly checkup and move on to a higher priority patient.
There have been a lot of changes over the past six years.
Back in the beginning, I managed my diabetes with a meter, insulin pens and a paper logbook. Today marks four weeks since I first started using an insulin pump. I also have access to a logbook meter, Diasend software to analyse my data electronically, and a FreeStyle Libre.
Back in the beginning, I was a nervous newly diagnosed teenager who used to shy away from his diabetes. Today I am a confident, passionate and knowledgable person who is empowered to make his own diabetes decisions.
In some ways, I feel as though I am reaching the end of a chapter in my diabetes journey. And it feels nice to have been able to close that chapter with Gwen.
Goodbye, Gwen. Wishing you a very happy and fulfilling retirement that you deserve.