Life took an interesting turn on Friday. For the past few months, I’ve been getting increasingly run-down feeling, and had a few random low-grade symptoms I’d put down to stress (including, on the eve of the conference I presented at a couple of weeks ago, my already bad eyesight getting exponentially worse – but, you know, that could just be because I was tired (spoiler alert: it wasn’t)). After all, work has been flat out all year, I’ve been taking on new responsibilities, and outside of work I have a million projects I’m working on and an increasingly busy social calendar.
I’d been putting off going to the doctor, mainly because I was always too busy (or in Hobart, or in Wellington, or…) and it didn’t really seem that urgent. But finally the accumulation of “this isn’t quite right” got big enough that I found a spare hour to go to the doctor on Tuesday. He gave me a general check-up and ordered a tonne of “it’s probably not, but just in case” blood tests, but didn’t seem overly concerned.
And then, first thing Friday morning, I got a phone call from the doctor (first time that’s ever happened!), saying he’d just got the test results back, it looked like I had diabetes (yes, really – I was totally in shock when he said that, because although I’m not the skinniest person ever, I do have a pretty healthy diet, and exercise regularly), and that he needed me to come in straight away and get some more blood tests done. So, after a couple of quick calls to colleagues to make sure someone would be in to open the Lab and let the students in, I went back to the doctor and got more holes poked in me. He told me to come back on Monday and he’d have some more definitive results then, so I went off to work.
That evening, as I was leaving work, I got another call from the doctor. Yes, definitely diabetes, my blood sugar was too high to safely leave until Monday to get sorted, so he needed to get me started on insulin straight away. Except his office was about to close. So after a bit of back and forth it was decided that the best course of action was for me to head to the nearest late-night pharmacy (luckily there’s one at Church Corner, not far from campus) to collect the prescription for insulin etc he would fax to them, and from there to the 24-hour surgery in town, where I could get instructions on how to inject myself.
It’s at times like these that having friends is essential. I rang Harvestbird to ask if she could spare an hour or two (I thought) to meet me at the pharmacy and take me to the clinic, because I suspected that as well as a lift, I’d need moral support through the process (or at least, another pair of ears for all the information I was already getting thrown at me). She definitely went above and beyond in the friendship stakes, as I ended up being at the clinic for more than four hours, and all the while she diligently wrote down everything anyone said, and then took me back to spend the night at her place, so that I wouldn’t have to process it all on my own.
But anyway, that’s skipping ahead a bit. When we arrived at the clinic, there was a bit of confusion about whether or not we were in the right place, because we’d gone into the emergency department, when I should have been in urgent care, but then when I said we could go to urgent care if they gave me directions they said no, I should stay in emergency, and it was all very confusing. And despite it being 2018, patient records still aren’t electronically shareable between practices, so I had to go through my whole history with a triage nurse, so he could enter it into their computer system, and then when I was passed on to another nurse, she had to try and track down whichever doctor in urgent care my GP had talked to, and get the notes they’d written from that phone conversation… and in the middle of all this, I got a phone call from urgent care asking where I was and did they need to send someone to get me, because nobody had told them I’d turned up…
But eventually all that was sorted, and I was seen by one of the emergency doctors, who said I probably could have waited until Monday, but seeing as I was here and had the insulin, they might as well give me some, and then, looking at the results of yet another blood test they’d given me, decided maybe I actually needed a saline drip as well, to thin out my blood a bit, and that maybe I should be put under observation for a while (hence the visit extending to four hours…) He was really nice, though, and ended up spending ages with me explaining how diabetes works, and what the insulin does etc.
Meanwhile, the nurse was complaining about the fact that my GP sending me to them was not the way it was supposed to work (I’m not sure what she thought he should have done, given that he only got the results back at 5 pm on a Friday) and giving me lectures about how diabetes meant I’d need to totally change my lifestyle. She wasn’t mean, exactly, but I had the definite impression she thought I was just another idiot who didn’t know how to look after myself, and had brought it all on myself. However, when she finally stopped lecturing for long enough to actually ask me about my diet and exercise, and realised I was already pretty much doing everything I should be, she got a lot friendlier, and was racing around printing off useful resources for me, and giving me documentary recommendations. She was really patient about teaching me how to test my own blood sugar and give myself insulin, too. She said later on that it was a novelty getting to do that sort of nursing, so she was really enjoying it (And it did seem to be a very quiet night in the emergency department, from what I could tell – there were only a handful of other patients, and all the staff seemed to be pretty relaxed).
By this time, the initial shock of the diagnosis had started to wear off, and I was dealing with the whole situation in my usual way – by just treating it as an exciting adventure/learning experience. It was all a bit surreal really (still is) – especially when I got to do such cliched as-seen-on-TV hospital things like take my drip stand for a walk down the corridor when they decided they needed to keep me under observation for a few hours, so moved me to the obs (just getting into the medical lingo ) department to do that.
The obs department had a little kitchen for patients to make themselves food and drink, with a well-stocked fridge, so Harvestbird and I established ourselves in there, instead of the tiny room I’d been allocated, and I was able to have a (probably unnecessary from a blood sugar point of view, but totally necessary from a “it’s 9 pm, and I haven’t had anything to eat since lunchtime” point of view) piece of toast. I didn’t think exploring the fridge’s offerings any further than that would be a good idea, given I was under observation precisely because they wanted to see if the insulin had any effect on my blood sugar…
Eventually, sometime after 10, they finally decided I’d been poked with enough needles and sent me home (or rather, to Harvestbird’s place, after a quick stop at home to feed the cat, because she’d kindly offered me a bed for the night so I wouldn’t have to be alone). It wasn’t the most restful night (especially because every time I’d finally start to drift off to sleep, my mind would come up with another thing I urgently needed to Google), but by morning I’d at least got over most of my “it’s not fair” feelings, and was into “right, this is how it is, now what am I going to do about it” mode.
Which started with my first totally on my own, no nurses watching over me, pricking my finger to test my blood sugar (I have the coolest little gadget that does the actual blood test – it’s so much more hi-tech than what I remember diabetic kids at school having!), and giving myself an insulin injection (which hurts way less than the blood test part, but the thought of sticking a needle into yourself is still pretty intimidating!). And then a super-healthy breakfast prepared by Mr Harvestbird.
Back at home, I had a visit from a nurse from the urgent care department (yes, a home visit from a health professional! The NZ health system may have its failings, but once it activates, it really activates!) to check how I was doing, record blood pressure etc, and make sure all those lessons on how to test and inject myself had stuck. She was really friendly, patiently talked me through all the questions I had, and arranged a prescription for a big box of the test strips (because for some reason the blood test kit only came with 10 strips, and I was supposed to be testing my blood 7 times a day, so they were running out very fast (especially because it took me a while to get the hang of just how big a drop of blood I needed, so I kept getting errors on the machine and having to start again)). And then arranged to come back again on Sunday! (Plus gave me a number I could ring at any time over the weekend if I had questions or needed help – she basically said that until I saw my GP again on Monday, I was under the care of the urgent care department, so could call on them as needed).
Oh, and did I mention that all of this was free? Other than paying for my initial GP visit on Tuesday, a few prescription fees ($5 per item), and the first set of blood tests (also $5), I didn’t have to pay a thing. So far I think this entire adventure has cost me less than $100 (and some of that is because I had to go and buy myself a really nice notebook to record my blood sugar levels in – because if you have to stab yourself in the finger 7 times a day, then at least you should have something pretty to look at while you’re writing down the numbers). Once again, I am very grateful for living in a country with such a good health system!
Since then, life has been a whirl of blood sugar tests, insulin injections, and starting to get my head around my new dietary requirements (so far pretty similar to what I was eating already, other than being a bit more diligent about avoiding sugary and fatty foods – kindly Lytteltonwitch removed the temptation of the rest of the Tasmanian chocolate for me :-)). The doctor is still playing round with my insulin dose (plus given me tablets that help the insulin work better), which will probably go on for a while, but my blood sugar levels are trending downwards, which is good (well, as long as they don’t go too low, but they’ve got a while to go before that’s a problem!).
But I think I’m going to cope. So far I think the hardest thing for me to adjust to (other than the fact that we’re heading into Christmas, and the round of morning teas and lunches that accompany that…) is going to be the eating at regular times thing – I’m so used to just working through lunch, and not remembering to eat until late afternoon. Now I need to have an actual lunch break, at the same time every day – I may end up having to set an alarm or something!
Otherwise, though, I think I’ll be ok. Once we get my insulin levels right, and I figure out exactly what I can and can’t safely eat (the doctor is going to refer me to a dietician eventually to help with that, but he said first he wants to get my base blood sugar level stabilised), I think this’ll all very quickly become the new normal. And that’s one thing about living in Christchurch, the idea of adjusting to a new normal is something we’re all very used to! Kia kaha and all that