This time a week ago I was coming to the end of what had been an amazing 10 day adventure exploring the incredible city of Hong Kong and its outlying islands. It is an extraordinary place which surpassed my expectations in terms of what it could offer as a vacation destination and potentially a place to live and work in the future.
And yet, scattered amongst some truly awesome experiences, there were reminders of the inevitable influence diabetes can have in my life. Now being in such an exciting country where dumplings (i.e. cooked balls of dough) form a staple of the local cuisine, a few blood sugar highs were unavoidable. But I could deal with highs this holiday. Particularly when reaching a substantial altitude meant an incredible view…
It was in the airport before boarding our plane back to Heathrow where diabetes reared it’s (exceedingly) ugly head and decided it was time for the blood sugars to come plummeting down for the dreaded HYPO. For those of you who have experienced a low, I hope to do you justice and elucidate an accurate description of how utterly unpleasant it feels to have a hypoglycaemic episode. (I do appreciate however, that every hypo episode is different and symptoms can differ from one individual to another.)
One hell of a hypo at Hong Kong International
In general, I manage to match my dose of insulin well enough with the amount of carbohydrate I’m eating to avoid too much of a fluctuation in my blood sugar levels. However, sometimes I get it wrong… and I mean horribly wrong. What had been a rather enjoyable brie, onion and rocket sandwich turned out to be much lower in carbohydrate than I had originally guesstimated (there’s a lot of guesstimating in diabetes). After a short while perusing the duty free before our flight departed, I began to feel a gradual haziness descending, clouding my thought and clarity of mind. It felt like I had had several vodka diet cokes too many. Then came the weakness. For me, it’s my arms that start to ache first and it sort of feels like I’m wearing armbands made of cement they feel that heavy. The energy is just sapped from you say as though you’ve just played a four hour game of squash or run a marathon.
I somehow managed to make my way into the airport toilets and miraculously had enough mental strength left to test my blood sugars. Initial beep of the glucose monitor…the 5 second countdown… the second beep…2.2. Yikes. Thankfully my raspberry flavoured glucose tablets were at the top of my rucksack and I swiftly polished off half a tube before re-emerging from the bathrooms. Only to discover our flight was boarding and our gate was several escalators and a transit train away…
Cue the hypo sweats. Now I know when I’m having a bad hypo when I start sweating and a blood sugar of 2.2 compounded with the Hong Kong humidity and a trek to our boarding gate meant these sweats were coming thick and fast. In a matter of seconds, beads were rolling down my face, neck, chest and abdomen. Even my legs start to sweat which is just a bit gross.
With hypos like this, the dramatic reduction in blood sugars comes with a dramatic reduction in rational, reasonable thinking. In these circumstances, you get a seemingly insatiable hunger for sweets, biscuits, crisps, nuts…whatever you can get your hands on. So there I was in HKI, about to miss my plane, profusely sweating, dazed and confused and demolishing a pack of sour skittles followed by the other half of the sugar tablets. Because you feel so wretched, all consideration of carbohydrate amounts disappears in a frenzy of sugar consumption which leads to subsequent and infuriating highs. One of my best friends who had joined me on my travels had seen me struggling with a hypo before and she remained fantastically calm and collected, taking my bags and ensuring I was taking some sugar on board. I felt angry with myself for putting her in this position at the end of what had been a terrific holiday.
Hypos like this remind you of the way that diabetes can infiltrate your life so invasively. The unwilling loss of control over both body and mind accompanied by the feeling of being a burden to those closest to you is an inexplicably frustrating feeling. Thankfully we managed to reach our boarding gate just as the final call was being announced. It took a good hour or so to finally come round and in that time I was close to tears as I had been reminded of the harsh role diabetes has the potential to play in my life. As anticipated, the first part of the 12 hour plane ride consisted of perpetually high glucose readings and consequent correction doses. It wasn’t until we were somewhere over mainland Russia when I finally reached an acceptable level of 5.3 and drifted off into sporadic sleep.
Now my aim with this blog and with life in general is to maintain an optimistic attitude and I fully intend to identify all the silver linings of the diabetic clouds that may appear and perhaps linger every now and then. My time in Hong Kong illustrated that diabetes does not have the power to stop you from doing incredible things. It truly was a wonderful adventure and I feel very lucky to have had such amazing experiences. From hiking on Lantau Island to swimming in the South China Sea, sunbathing on stunning beaches to shopping in street markets, I did not let the fact that I had diabetes interfere with what I could happily call the holiday of a lifetime.
The Diabetic Responsibility
However, that’s not to say you can just go ahead doing whatever tickles your fancy and completely disregard ‘The Big D.’ With the diagnosis of diabetes, there comes a certain responsibility a diabetic has to accept. The management of this condition is a lifelong commitment and one in which has to be considered each and every single day. There’s no escaping this fact. But, I’ve come to realise that I myself have the power to control my diabetes rather than it control me (bar the occasional hypo as described above). This takes motivation, preparation and dedication and even with some background of medical education, it certainly isn’t plain sailing! I’ll finish with one of my favourite quotes which has become especially significant particularly in the past few years of my life from that well known Greek philosopher Epictetus. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Wise bloke that Epictetus.