Tuesday 12 April 2011

An Long Egotistical Post about Me

A few years ago - between 5 and 6, I think - I worked for a firm of accountants and had come home to live with my parents. I was coming towards the end of a three year training contract and had just done my last set of exams.
I thought I'd been working hard (though I now know, with hindsight, that life in practice is super super easy ;-) ) -  I probably had, quite, with all the exams and things, and we certainly didn't get much in the way of time off. I was interviewing for new jobs.
I was conducting a silly long distance relationship with my boyfriend (now Lovely Husband) and I was singing three or four nights a week and quite a lot of weekends.
I was tired. Very tired. I'd come from from work and fall asleep in the armchair. I'd eat dinner and head straight to bed, if I didn't go and fall asleep in front of the television.
It wasn't surprising. I had a lot going on.
I lost some weight. I needed to. I hadn't cut my diet - if anything, I was eating more. I wasn't getting any more exercise. But I was working hard. And I was very hungry.
I kept waking up in the night with really bad cramp in my legs. Weird.

I had a week and a half of holiday in August.
I went to Suffolk with my family for the first bit. We have really active outdoorsy holidays in Suffolk, which I love. But it was rainy and I was tired. I slept for most of it. It was nice.
My boyfriend had been at a summer school in Gothenburg for two weeks. I flew out to meet him for a few days for a bit of holiday and touristing.
It was fun. I don't remember many of the details, except that it was really pretty, the food and booze was very expensive, everyone spoke awesome English and there was a museum with birds and fish and things - a bit like a zoo. 
It was pretty hot. It sometimes made me a bit grumpy. And thirsty. But the summer is like that.
I was clumsy. I dropped a lot of things.

The last night, we used the kitchen where we were staying to cook dinner. We cooked meatballs. Obviously. We were in Sweden.
I woke up in the morning feeling terrible. I wondered if I had food poisoning.
It started to hurt more as the morning went on. My kidneys were really painful - I could barely stand up to shower. I'd had a kidney infection before. It felt just like that. I was glad we were going home.
We made it to the airport. I felt dreadful, but we managed to walk up the hill and get the bus ok.
We made it back on the plane. I didn't eat or drink anything, but we got back in one piece.
When we got to Heathrow, I couldn't walk far enough to get to the train. We had to keep stopping and sitting down.
Husband called my parents and they came to pick us up in the car, so that we'd not have to get back on public transport.
We waited outside for them to get there. I called the agent that I'd been talking to and postponed the interview I was supposed to be doing the next day.
My parents arrived. I explained that I had a kidney infection and wanted to go home to bed. We could go to the doctor the next morning for some antibiotics. They offered to take us to A&E. I said I'd prefer to go home. They took me to A&E anyway.

While we were waiting in the shiny new UCH building, the fire alarm went off. Someone had been smoking in the toilets. The doctor came over to where we were sitting and said that we didn't have to evacuate, that they would see me during the alarm, so I got to skip the queue.
I can't remember exactly what they did to me (might have been a blood or urine sample), but it took about 45 seconds for the doctor to know what was wrong.
They made me wear a hospital robe and they took me to an admission ward where they gave me morphine for the pain (which was bad enough to make me cry) which had no effect whatsoever, refused to give me anything to drink even though I was literally gasping (they were worried it would make me sick and kept promising that if I waited, they'd give me ice chips to suck) and cut a little hole in my neck and sewed a tube in (I think it was a bit bloody, but my mum didn't look too upset) and did some kind of weird xray/photo thing.

They wheeled me up to a intensive care ward. The new hospital building had only just opened, so it was very quiet - there were only two other people in there and we were, collectively, the first people ever to be in the ward. They tried to put a drip into my arm for hours, but I was so dehydrated that they couldn't get the needle into the veins (I had the most amazing bruises for weeks). In the end, they used a mini kiddie needle in the back of my hand. It turned out that the hole in my neck was for a tube which they'd shoved down into my heart (to give drugs super quickly). The photo had been to see how the heart-tube looked - apparently it has gone too far, so they had to swap that for a mini children's tube too, which they sewed back into my neck. It was only three stitches, but I think that that was the most painful thing that anyone has ever done to me - they sewing man was really nice, but I think I was horrible to him - I guess he's probably used to it.
They pumped me full of what turned out to be insulin, saline and glucose and they finally gave me water. I felt better almost instantly - the crippling abdominal/back/kidney pain dissolved extremely quickly and I fell asleep pretty much straight away. My parents and boyfriend came to see me and then left again. I thought they'd all gone home, but it turns out that my boyfriend stayed in the chairs outside the ward all night. The nurses told me he'd been crying.

Intensive care was very very nice. Like a posh hotel. I had my own lovely nurses who did super unobtrusive tests on me every half hour or so, chatted and basically totally pampered me. The other people on the ward were really ill - I couldn't see them - I hope that they made it.
Because I wasn't supposed to be there and hadn't filled in a card the day before, there was no breakfast for me the next morning, but the nice nurses stole some toast for me.
My boyfriend was there a lot the next day - he looked tired. The nurses giggled and said, when he was gone, that he was tall and handsome. They also said that they'd felt terrible for him during the night, when he was sitting out in the plastic waiting chairs, and that they'd wanted to hug him. They had offered to bring him things, but he didn't want anything. My dad came later and took him home for a shower and some sleep and things. Someone brought me some contact lenses so that I could see.
I might have stayed another night - I don't really remember. Someone brought me the book I was reading. I wanted to read it as I was bored, but I couldn't really concentrate.

My dad and my boyfriend came back. It might have been the next day. While they were there, the nurse came to take the line out of my neck. She offered to let them go, but they said they'd stay. She cut my stitches and pulled about a mile of tube out of my neck. Poor boyfriend went a very funny colour and had to sit down - he's very sensitive ;-) She put a plaster on my neck hole.

An important doctor came round in the afternoon, trailing a load of students in his wake. He said that I looked too healthy for intensive care and should be moved as soon as possible. He got his students to look at me and asked them how they could tell that I'd been really ill. They were all a bit quiet and shuffly, so I secretly pointed to my neck plaster so that they could impress him by noticing that I'd had a central line (which turns out to be more than just the red tube line that takes you to Essex) in.
Apparently that's only for super sick people, though I have to say that I never really seemed *that* ill. I wasn't dying or anything.
The long awaited consultant came to visit. He was very young. I think my parents were there. He didn't really tell me anything definitive, but said that I probably had type 1 diabetes and that it was super unusual for someone of my age to get it (which I've found out since isn't really true). He told me off for not going to the Dr earlier. Even looking back now, I don't think I would have - I do recognise that there were signs, but I don't think I'd have picked them up enough to actually make an appointment with my GP.

I was moved onto another ward in the old hospital building. They told me we could go in an ambulance, so my boyfriend stayed for the ride. When it came to it, we just got a car. I was a bit disappointed, but, given that it only took about three minutes to get there, I guess we didn't really miss out much. And I *did* get to go in a wheelchair :-)

The less said about the general ward, the better, as far as I'm concerned.
Suffice to say, it was a massive shock after the loveliness of intensive care. It was loud and full of crazy old people and the nurses were nowhere near as nice (AND they woke me every hour to fingerprick and test my blood).
Boyfriend walked from Kentish Town (where he stayed with my family - how traumatic!) in the sweltering heat every day to come and keep me entertained and my parents brought me actual clothes and things.

The diabetes nurse brought me insulin pens, some leaflets and a blood testing gadget and showed me how to use them on a weird spongey thing. She was very 'no nonsense'. My boyfriend loved her.
They let me have a shower, but it was a bit rubbish as I was still attached to a drip and, it turned out, couldn't really stand up for long enough for it to be good (you clearly don't have to be in bed for very long before your legs forget how to hold you up). A not too mean nurse helped me wash my hair with someone else's shampoo.
I made friends with a girl with cystic fibrosis (who had a private room on the ward, worked in PR and was the only other person that was remotely close to my age), I called my work to confess that I wouldn't be back for a few days, I took disgusting potassium tablets and I ate hospital sandwiches.
A lovely nurse from the Philippines (part of a husband and wife nurse team, in fact, though they were on alternate shifts) helped me inject myself the first time.

By the time Friday came (having been admitted on Sunday night), I was incredibly relieved and absolutely desperate to go home.
The young consultant came to sign me out, but decided not to, as I still had blood ketones.
They were gone by the next morning, but there are no doctors around at weekends to sign you out, so I had to stay an extra two days. TWO DAYS! I was going insane by the time they let me out. You don't get much sleep on those general wards.
I briefly went blind over the weekend too, which was a bit scary until I tried taking out my (pretty strong) contact lenses, and discovered that, contrary to first impressions, my sight had got miraculously better, not worse at all. Tragically it only lasted about 10 days. Someone should do some kind of research though, I reckon. Surely if hormone changes can make you go from pretty blind to perfectly sighted in a couple of days, it should be possible to harness that for good, no?
Unsurprisingly, they let me go first thing on Monday morning.
My boyfriend was already there, so we went down and waited outside for my dad to collect us.

We sat in the garden all afternoon and pretended to be on holiday.
The next day we went to the zoo. It was lovely, though it totally wore me out.

After that, boyfriend had to go back home (he'd already stayed a week longer than he was supposed to) and I had to go back to work.

I went to my GP a few days later to sort out the many prescriptions and things and to get him to sign a form so that I could get free ones.

I have to go back to the hospital clinic every 6 months to be tested and things. They take gallons of blood, put drops in my eyes and ask me whether I smoke.

I have to inject myself between 3 and 6 (give or take) times a day. I carry around craploads of kit - insulin pens, testing stuff, sugary things and wear one of those medic alert bracelets (when I remember).

The diagnosis was horrible for my family, and definitely for my boyfriend (who obviously felt terrible about taking me on holiday and bringing me back on the verge of a diabetic coma - I think the whole experience was quite 'make or break' for him, actually, though we might not have known it at the time). 

I'm not upset about having diabetes. I was never cross or resentful. At the time, I think I was probably just pleased to be feeling better, and, since then, I've never had massively strong feelings about it.
I'm generally fairly good at controlling it and it doesn't particularly stand in my way. In fact, sometimes it's nice to be kind of special :-)
I'm sure it would be different if I'd been diagnosed when I was little or when I was a teenager, but, for me, it's not really been a big thing. Talk to me again in 30 years when I'm blind and my feet have been amputated, I guess ;-)


  1. What a great post! Doctors everywhere should be made aware of this so they can give it to bored patients to read while they're waiting in hospital after a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis.

    Seriously though, sounds very scary. Jennies are brave!