By Sarah Bolger, Financial Advocate for Dosh
November is Diabetes Awareness Month but what does that actually mean. Well, to be truthful, probably not a lot to most people. Unless it involves someone that you are close to, a friend or family member, there is never that need to delve that little bit deeper than seeing it on social media and maybe scrolling past it or maybe hitting the like button just to look involved. I am as guilty of that as the next person until for us, all of a sudden, it did actually mean something.
In 2013, our little boy Charlie was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and that day is ingrained in my memory. I remember every word that the GP said to me and then once we got to the Hospital everything became a blur of urgency, medicines, explanations, injections, insulin. People were using medical jargon I did not understand like DKA and to be honest it was downright scary. I wasn’t aware when we went in that within a few weeks I would be an expert on nutrition, biology, chemistry, food science and begin thinking like a Chemist. They also don’t tell you when you are in hospital that you will become more determined than you ever thought possible to ensure that your little one doesn’t get left out of things. The hardest thing for me is when school friends don’t invite him to playdates, parties and sleepovers because other parents are scared of the responsibility. And too right. I would be the same in their shoes. We go on every school trip with him and my Husband even went on his residential trip this year so he now knows how to build a raft and has many a campfire song up his sleeve!
If you have no experience of anyone with diabetes, firstly I am so pleased for you, but secondly I would say its more important for you to make yourself aware of the symptoms as you wont have the knowledge that naturally comes from knowing a sufferer. Every 6 seconds someone in the World dies from a diabetes related complication but although there are nearly 3 million people living with the condition in the UK alone, only 10% of them have Type 1 like Charlie so people don’t always understand it or are even aware of it. There are over 29,000 children in our Country with Type 1 and this scary number is growing by about 4% every year especially in children under the age of 5. Nobody knows why. It has nothing to do with diet or exercise and is not hereditary.
Let me explain. There are two main types of diabetes. Most people when they think of diabetes think of Type 2 which is where the Pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t react properly to insulin. It usually, but not always, appears in people over the age of 40 and is generally treated with diet and activity although medication or insulin can be often required.
Type 1 diabetes, like Charlies, on the other hand, is a very different disease. It is an autoimmune disease which mainly affects children and has no cure. The pancreas does not produce insulin at all and as a parent you have to literally step in and be the pancreas for them. I cant remember my career counsellor mentioning that job!! For you or me, our bodies naturally produce substances to keep our blood glucose at a safe level but for Charlie that’s a full time job! He has to test his blood 10-15 times a day, he has to calculate how much carbohydrate is in everything that he eats and I mean everything and then he has to work out the correct amount of insulin to give to counteract the food. We try our best to control his levels but its impossible. You must have heard the phrase “ like plaiting fog” well I think it was meant for us. Everything affects him. Eating, not eating, exercise, just sitting around, being unwell, being too cold, being too hot, stress, excitement and the best one of all .. growing up! Yes that’s right growth hormones are my worst fear especially as they tend to kick in more when Charlie sleeps. During the day Charlie can tell me when he feels “low” or “high” – that always gets a few funny stares in public. When he is asleep though he cant do that obviously so we test his blood 2-3 times throughout every night. It was like at the age of 7 we had a newborn again but without the nappies thankfully! Most parents are so glad when they get their children to bed but for us we cant wait for him to get up safely in the morning.
SO … What do you all now need to do. Well, as a parent you definitely need to know what to look for and act quickly. Type 1 diabetes hides very easily in childhood ailments and is often passed off by GPs as flu sometimes with fatal consequences. Thankfully, my GP was fantastic but that’s not always the case. The things that you need to look for are below but there are far more symptoms
- Feeling more tired than usual.
- Losing weight
- Going to the toilet more often
- Being more thirsty than usual.
In hindsight Charlies symptoms were coming on for probably over a year.
He started by vomiting. Not regularly so that you would be concerned, just maybe once every 6 weeks or so. He was never ill before or after vomiting and was full of life at that point. He would simply stop in his tracks, vomit and then run off again as though nothing had happened. I put it down to excitement or his food not having settled!!
Then his legs ached. Growing pains I said.
A rash. Its so hot this summer it must be heat rash!!
Then he started to drink more. Remember that hot Summer?
Go to the toilet more. Well he was drinking more it just made sense.!
Then came the tiredness and the loss of weight and then I became concerned and took him to the GP but not before he developed fruity breath, like pear drops. This, I now know, is a sign of diabetic keto-acidosis!! Pheww long word. So that’s what DKA was in hospital!! This is the body started to break down fat for fuel and can be fatal.
But you can see how you can miss some of these signs. For goodness sake, I missed all of them for quite a while as they don’t all come together so you don’t do the maths.
If my contribution to Diabetes Awareness Month is to get just one person to read this post and remember even some of it then I am happy with my little self. Please take some time if you can to have a look at the short slideshow that Charlie has put together, with a little bit of help of course, even if its only for the great soundtrack.
Be aware, be very aware!