With type 1 diabetes requiring so much self-management, it’s easy for diabetics to think that they know everything there is to know about the disease. I’m extremely guilty of this, which is why I had put off doing the DAFNE course despite repeated recommendations from doctors and nurses who promised that it would be a useful diabetes refresher course for me. I finally relented and signed up for the five consecutive day DAFNE – which stands for Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating – course at a London hospital but only to get the healthcare professional in my life off my back.
Last Monday morning, when we were told that the first lesson would be on the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, I simultaneously groaned and rolled my eyes as my fears were confirmed: the course was superfluous. What diabetic doesn’t know the difference between the two main types of the disease? Me, it turns out. I thought the difference was simply that type 1s produced no insulin and type 2s produced insufficient quantities of insulin. What we learned was that type 2s can make adequate levels of insulin but that their cells may not be responsive or receptive to it.
I’m glad that my false bravado was dashed so early on as it meant that I was much more alert and open to the subsequent lessons such as the crucial module on carbohydrate counting. Because I find carb counting so onerous, I have resorted to eating very few carbs and generally only eating packaged carbs with the carb level clearly labelled. Due to my diabetes ego and smugness, I figured that the carb counting was inherently difficult and it wasn’t down to my ability or lack thereof. After numerous group exercises looking at photos of food and sizing up plastic replicas of cheese cake, fish fingers (which I mistook for sausage rolls and could explain a few of my major carb counting mishaps in the past), and bread, I realised that although carb counting is tricky, it’s not impossible. I’m now feeling much more confident about my abilities and may be more willing to stop eating the same exact thing every day. (I say right before going to prepare the same quinoa salad lunch I prepare every single day for work).
An even more important lesson, which I suspect will have a greater impact on lowering my HBA1c, was the one on managing hypos/low blood sugar. As I’ve mentioned on previous blog posts, I have a HUGE HUGE HUGE fear of low blood sugar, which has caused me to keep my blood sugars elevated. Hearing about the other participants’ comfort with having blood sugars on the lower side and even seeing some of their low values (we kept detailed logs of our carb intake, blood sugar readings, insulin doses, etc., which we reviewed as a group throughout the week) was reassuring. Also reassuring was learning how rare it is to die from low blood sugar and mortality from lows and death is often linked to drugs and/or alcohol.
However, what may have been the most valuable aspect of the DAFNE course was the other participants. Type 1 diabetes can be lonely and to be surrounded for a week by others who deal with the same daily trials and tribulations was incredibly comforting and heartening. I felt completely safe, which is a rare occurrence for me. And to have a forum, which allowed us to get into all the nitty gritty of the disease felt almost gluttonous and like a dream come true (I bet if I hadn’t been so homesick, I may have gotten a similar contentment from Clara Barton Diabetes Camp when I was seven). I also haven’t laughed that much in a long time. I’m obviously biased, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: diabetics are the funniest and most irreverent people around.
My new motto in life is, ‘What would Dafne do’? But I just need to make sure to never say that motto out loud in the company of my older sister Daphne as it would give her too much satisfaction to think that I’m finally, after all these years, taking all her diabetes suggestions to heart.