Thursday, 29 March 2018

My Song is Love Unknown: What's good about Good Friday?

This is an update of a post from three years ago. Unlike many bloggers, I like to write about a variety of topics which interest me, but in so doing, I am well aware that some will be indifferent or even hostile to some topics. So if you object to religion, stop reading now. However, if you can bear with me, you might just come to see that being religious doesn’t mean you’re opinionated, self-righteous, and in-your-face, or that you necessarily have to believe in implausible miracles.

I don't often write about religion on my blog, and I certainly don’t wish to bore people who are not interested, but if I can’t write about religion at the most important times of the Christian year, when can I? Today, Good Friday, commemorates what was surely one of the most significant events in human history and yet its meaning and significance are increasingly forgotten, at least in our increasingly secular country.

As a Unitarian Christian, the whole business of Jesus’s death and resurrection is complicated for me. Many people now pay little attention to the traditional meaning of Good Friday and Easter, yet nobody can deny that the events of what we call Holy Week are as significant as any in the history of mankind. The fact that many of us are on holiday from work, that we are eating hot cross buns today and chocolate eggs on Sunday is a direct consequence of our commemoration of those events 2000 years ago.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the events of Holy Week and Easter are pretty hard to deal with. The day on which the hero of our belief system was cruelly and violently put to death by a tyrannical occupying power is called, in English at least, “Good”. As if that’s not bad enough, Christians are then supposed to believe that he did it “for their sake” and that he then rose from the dead, thereby defying the one certainty in life: death. According to many, that’s what’s “good” about Good Friday – the idea that Jesus “died to make us good”, to quote C F Alexander’s wonderful hymn, “There is a Green Hill far Away”.

Actually, calling it “Good” is a largely English-speaking oddity. Most other languages have a different term, most commonly some variant on the word “Holy” – in French, for example, it is “Vendredi Saint”. Of the major European languages, only Dutch – which is the living language closest to English in many ways – uses the term “good”: “Goede Vrijdag”. I actually think the German term is pretty apt in terms of telling us what happened: Karfreitag – which means Sorrowful or Suffering Friday.

Whatever you call it, it wasn’t a very good day for Jesus and his followers. They would have taken some convincing, at the end of that terrible day, that what he went through was in any way good. I too struggle to see what’s good about the cruel and horrible death of a patently good man.

As a Unitarian, I certainly don’t accept the idea that we are all inherently sinful and need someone to suffer and die in order to save us. I believe that we human beings are all capable of the most terrible sins, but that’s not the same thing as being sinful, and I certainly believe that our salvation lies in our own hands, not those of an innocent man. So in that sense, there is nothing good about Good Friday for me.

However, I have an aversion to well-meaning attempts to manipulate language to make it match literal truths. After all, Easter is a term derived from the name of a pagan goddess of Spring and fertility, so at one level I’m happy to accept Good Friday as “just a name” for an important day.

Yet the explanation that today is a good day because it recognises the good thing that Jesus did for us is not necessarily the correct explanation for the name of the day. Another very plausible explanation comes from the fact that the words “good” and “God” are often interchangeable in the English language. We need look no further than the word “goodbye”, which means “God with you” (God-by-ye) for proof of that. So if we accept this explanation for the term, “God Friday” is perhaps a little easier to accept.

I certainly prefer this explanation: to call it God’s day is much easier for me to accept, in that my own interpretation of God is that it simply means “good”. My concept of God is not as an omnipotent father-figure and creator who ordains all that is, was and shall be, but rather that “God” means all that is good in the world. After all, it is commonly observed that there is only one letter of difference between God and good, and also only one letter of difference between devil and evil. Etymologists rightly point out that this is probably just a neat coincidence, but it certainly suits me to believe that “God” can simply mean all that is good in the world, while “devil” can simply mean all that is bad in the world.

Jesus’s death, and especially the manner in which he was condemned by a fickle and baying mob, was surely the work of the devil – of evil. No different from many other acts of betrayal and violence throughout history. But it is my view that wherever there is evil, good is never far away, and good always has the last word. Time and again, when something dreadful happens in our world, we are left to despair of humankind’s capacity for evil. Yet invariably, and especially if we look for it, there is a response which is good, although you often have to look harder for it, because the media prefer bad news to good news. There are so many examples, but one that always sticks in my mind is the way in which the family of 12-year-old Tim Parry, the boy killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993, used his death and that of 3-year-old Johnathan Ball in the same incident as a catalyst to set up a peace foundation, contributing in no small measure to the eventual end of the IRA bombing campaign and the start of the Ulster peace process. I could quote numerous other stories from throughout history to make the same point. Good – or God – had the last word.

So instead of despairing when something dreadful happens in our world, and bemoaning the absence of God at such times, perhaps we should look for the good – the God – which is always there to respond, to comfort and to heal. And in that respect, Good Friday is aptly named, in that it however hard it must have been to believe it at the time, God (or good) was not far away. Good Friday comes just two days before we remember that even if the physical Jesus was put to death, his spirit, his values and his example of how to live a good life continued to shine in an at times dark and evil world, and still do so to this day.

So this Friday is indeed good, if only as a reminder that however evil our world may seem, good, aka God, is never far away. And my chosen title, My Song is Love Unknown, sums up all that the life and death of Jesus means in our sad world: “Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be” seems a pretty good summary of what he was trying to achieve, and to attempt in our own small way to do likewise is the least we can do to honour his memory.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Reflections of My Life: Growing old with Type One Diabetes


Reflections of My Life. This sounds a bit personal and heavy, but it doesn’t signify any particular change of mind-set.

It’s just that I’ve perhaps had more time for thinking in recent months, and together with a few unrelated events and changes in my life, it’s led to a blog post forming in my mind. As always, I’ve given it a title from a song, and this one is a real favourite of mine. It’s a track by Marmalade, a somewhat under-rated Scottish band who spanned the late 60s into early 70s with a series of songs that saw them grow from beginnings in fairly bland 60s “pop” into a versatile, musically and lyrically literate outfit. This one is a real gem from early 1970, a song as wistfully reflective as the title suggests.

So what’s this post all about? Well, I guess it’s about growing old, and in particular growing old with diabetes. And why now?

Well, I’ve been doing a lot of digging recently.

There’s been a lot of literal digging, as we have just moved into a new home with a very large, undeveloped garden. I’ve been out in all weathers, patiently and methodically creating two long, undulating borders along the sides of what was a rectangular lawn. It’s the sort of task I love. Easily defined, constructive and with a visible and measurable outcome, it gives me fresh air, exercise, stable blood sugar and lots of thinking time. I have also been delighted by the extent to which people on twitter have enjoyed following the progress of my work. Simple pleasures.

My Growing Border
Then there’s been some metaphorical digging as I make similarly slow but equally steady and rewarding progress indoors, uncovering the full extent of my family, past and present. I’ve been building a family tree on Ancestry for several years now, tracing back my own and my wife’s forebears, but a particular meet-up with cousins from two generations on my father’s side has led me to propose and organise a gathering to celebrate the centenary of my paternal grandparents’ wedding, in April 2019. This has re-connected me with 8 first cousins with whom I had been in minimal contact, and to hear about their lives and their families has been a great pleasure and also a reminder that we are all growing older together. I am, with the help of my cousins, planning quite a party.

So I was thinking about all this whilst digging away at my lawn, when at some point in recent days I saw this post from the wonderful @LisWarren, one of the many great friends that I’ve made in recent years though the online diabetes community:


With her 50+ years of living with Type One and tireless advocacy work, Lis is, along with @PeteDaviesType1 and @apatrickmooney a shining reminder to all of us that diabetes is no barrier to a long and healthy life, but she is right to draw attention to the fact that the very success of treatment and care for Type One diabetes since the discovery of insulin therapy in 1924 inevitably leads to there being a growing cohort of older people with Type One. The discredited epithet “juvenile” for Type One still persists enough to sometimes give the impression that it is a young peoples’ condition, which it of course isn’t. And therein lies a challenge for all of us who live with diabetes. We’re very good at self-care, but how good will be at it in old age?

My own “reflections of my life” in recent months inevitably include an awareness of the ageing process, and whilst I am not and never have been, one to dwell on doom and gloom, I nevertheless cannot help but wonder what it will be like to live with Type One at an advanced age.

My own parents both enjoyed good physical health and led active lives well into old age, but if one fear does haunt me it is that of succumbing to the Alzheimer’s Disease which turned my late mother, once a lively, witty and energetic schoolteacher, into first a grotesque caricature of her former self and then an unrecognisable and unrecognising shell of a human being, whose death at 85 in 2013 was a merciful release both for her and her family. I was not a blogger at the time of her decline and death, but it is a story that I may tell on here one day: to end up as utterly helpless and unaware in the final years of life as she did, and to become totally dependent upon others for diabetes management is a very sobering thought for me.

As I wrote in this recent post about technology and diabetes, I accept that I am too old to have any prospect of being cured of Type One, and I also accept that whilst the health of older people is much better than it was even in the recent past, I will over the years that I have left become weaker, frailer, more forgetful, less capable and so more dependent upon others.

But let this not end on a gloomy note. I am very well thank you, busy creating a garden, building a family tree, collecting and posting photos for daft #GBDOC collages and organising events for my family and others. And many of my friends, especially those in the diabetes community, are a lot younger than me. So I am a long way, I hope, from being “put out to grass”.

And at the risk of repeating the conclusion from that recent post, I have great faith in technology to help me both with my life in general and with diabetes management. I feel blessed to be young enough to have embraced the revolutionary changes in ICT that have swept through our lives over the past couple of decades. It is easy to think of smartphone addiction, social media and the like as a young peoples’ thing, but these gadgets and gizmos which we all love so much will be a massive boon in old age that my parents’ generation have in many cases missed out on. I imagine the care homes of the distant future being full of old folk, still sitting around on chairs as they do today, but all clutching a tablet or smartphone and fully engaged with and enjoying stuff like silly videos on You Tube, gifs and viral posts on social media. And hopefully, they will be a lot happier for it. Technology and old age certainly do mix.

For those with diabetes, is it too much to ask that access to technology - pumps, CGMs, closed loops and the like should perhaps be regarded less as “just for younger PWD” and more as a priority for those of more advanced years.

Now, back to the digging….

Friday, 2 March 2018

I Will Survive - but I'd like a bit of help, please.


Cure for Type One Diabetes? “If there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it” sang Diana Ross back in 1976.

Well of course, if someone offered any of us living with Type One Diabetes a cure that was permanent and free from nastier long-term side effects, we’d grab it with both hands. There’s a running joke among people with Type One that a cure is “ten years away” - I remember hearing this when I was diagnosed back in 1997 - and for a while I kidded myself that it might be true. I remember my late mother saying she would gladly use her pension pot to help fund any treatment that would cure me, and whilst I politely thanked her, I soon realised that her life savings were not in any danger.

“Ten years away” isn’t true, never was and possibly never will be. I’m fully reconciled to seeing out my time on this earth in the company of my unwanted friend T1D. I hope I’ve got thirty odd years left, and it would be great to make it to 50 years, especially having been diagnosed as an adult. That’s my life goal, but it will require me to see my 90th birthday and a little more for that to happen.

But if that sounds negative and defeatist, it isn’t. It’s just realistic, and I have to say that I had a “light bulb moment” after attending the wonderful Type One - Rise of the Machines event in London last Saturday, 24th February 2018. 


Quick shout out to Partha Kar for making it happen, all the speakers, and Ben Moody and the team at TechUK for hosting. My light bulb moment is nothing particularly new, but rather just a clarity of focus about the way forward for managing Type One. Let me explain:

Rise of the Machines was all about the use of technology in managing - not defeating - Type One Diabetes. It was an inspirational day: we heard from some of the medical technology companies about their work in developing the gadgets and gizmos such as insulin pumps, CGMs and Flash Glucose monitors which have done much to improve the lives of those lucky enough to have access to them, and they deserve our applause and recognition for the work that they have done and continue to do to make our lives better. I am lucky to live in the era in which I do, and in the country in which I do. Then we heard from the big two charities, Diabetes UK and JDRF, who do so much to raise the funds required to fund technical and medical developments.

But we also heard from some of the stars of the world of #WeAreNotWaiting - those highly motivated people with diabetes, or parents of children with diabetes, who have used their skills in ICT, especially coding, to take what the medical technology companies have done and move it onwards in a way and at a speed that could not be achieved in the - rightly - cautious and regulated world of corporate medical technology.

Whilst the work of the #WeAreNotWaiting people on closed loops, artificial pancreases and the like is not for me and unlikely to be (it depends as a starting point on the use of insulin pump therapy, for which I am unlikely to be eligible in the foreseeable future), it shows what can be done and points the way to a longer-term future in which Type One Diabetes will be artificially managed to the extent that it can be a mere inconvenience rather than the full-time occupation that it all too often seems to be.

And therein lies the crux of the matter, and there are encouraging signs everywhere that people with diabetes, healthcare professionals and the scientific research community are starting to recognise it.

Diabetes is a condition, not a disease. Type One will not be “cured” in the foreseeable future. The best hope for those of us living with it is therefore to have access to the best possible assistance in living with it, and for that to happen, technology must increasingly be seen as an essential, rather than some kind of desirable add-on.

A condition not a disease: most diseases require drugs, either to reverse and cure them, or to make them bearable and prolong life. However, a condition, especially one like Type One Diabetes which is not degenerative, requires assistance with self-care to ensure that those living with it can do all that they would do without the condition, and not become a burden on an overstretched healthcare system.

In this sense (and I know that to say so is controversial) Type One Diabetes is perhaps a disability, and people with other disabilities, however minor, benefit from an increasing range of technological solutions to make their lives liveable and as normal as possible. Some examples are so common that they are overlooked: those with less than perfect vision wear glasses; those with tooth damage or decay get fillings and crowns; those with hearing loss use hearing aids; those with minor heart problems use a pacemaker; those who have lost limbs use prosthetics or wheelchairs. The list is endless.

So why the apparent unwillingness to use technology to help those with Type One Diabetes? There is at present great frustration in the Type One community at the postcode lottery of access to FreeStyleLibre flash glucose monitoring, a high-tech but relatively low-cost innovation which allows people with diabetes to carry out the all-important monitoring of their blood sugar levels in a manner which is convenient, non-invasive and infinitely more informative than finger-prick testing. There is suspicion and even hostility towards it from some, even within the healthcare profession, yet people with diabetes and many of those who care for them are overwhelmingly convinced of its short and long term benefits. The CCGs who are resisting accepting it to their approved listings for NHS availability cite its cost, yet appear focused on just the headline up-front cost of around £70 per month. This despite the fact that it is already widely accepted that this cost is broadly comparable to that of an adequate supply of finger prick tests, without even considering the longer-term cost benefits of improved control.

However more significantly, I was struck by the views of a consultant who spoke at the Rise of the Machines event. He pointed out that there are many drugs in very widespread use whose cost is far greater. For example some treatments for Type Two Diabetes (a far more common condition) such as GLP-1 Agonists cost £68 -78 per month. This is a minor cost when compared with other drugs such as Infliximab which is used to treat auto-immune conditions such as Arthritis & Crohn's. Patients typically receive infusions every 8 weeks, costing £1500-2000 dependant on dose.

The consultant who spoke argued that FreeStyleLibre sensors at £70 per patient per month would have been accepted readily and with minimal dissent if it were a drug. The suspicion and even hostility comes from the fact of it being a piece of high-tech kit and as such points to the need for a change of mind-set.

I for one very much hope that we are on the cusp of just such a change. Technology is everywhere, and devices of a level of sophistication that would have been unimaginable even twenty years ago are now part of all that we do. Smartphones and satnavs for example, have taken over how we communicate and travel, yet would have appeared to be expensive luxuries in the recent past.

Those who regulate the access of people with Type One Diabetes need to realise that for most of us, we need gadgets as well as drugs. The “drug” for Type One is well-established, fully effective and aside from minor potential developments such as smart insulin, what we use today is fine. The unusual, arguably unique, thing about Type One is that a highly effective drug - insulin - keeps us alive yet threatens our day-to-day well-being 24 hours a day, every day. We survive and flourish best when helped by machines which can help us to monitor and react to the insulin which keeps us alive.

With the help of technology and machines, accessible to the many and not just the few, there is every reason for me to believe not only that with Diabetes I Will Survive, but that I and my many friends with Type One will live long and prosper. And we'll cost the NHS a whole lot less in the long run.

Deal??

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Do Anything You Wanna Do: DAFNE and me

Well, I finally got to meet DAFNE! After 20 years of living with Type One Diabetes, I have, better late than never, received the “education” to which we are all entitled to help us live with a condition which demands so much of us in terms of self-care, self-monitoring and self-treatment. Just in case you don't know, DAFNE stands for Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating, and is the recognised education course for people with Type One Diabetes. I'm now a DAFNE graduate, and I've got the certificate to prove it:-

My DAFNE Certificate 
Those readers who follow me on Twitter, or who have read my previous blog posts, will perhaps know that I had to fight quite hard to be allowed onto a DAFNE course. Fourteen years after diagnosis, I was discharged from hospital care back in 2011 because of my “good control” and lack of complications, and my D-care had been reduced to an annual check-up with my GP. It was only when I started associating with other Type Ones, thanks to the GBDOC, that I came to realise how minimal my input from the health service had become, and with retirement from work and a twenty year diaversary occurring at around the same time, I asked to attend a DAFNE course, only to be told I was ineligible because I was not under hospital care.

So I referred myself back to the hospital, only to be told there that my HbA1c was “too good” and that I “didn’t need” a DAFNE course. I politely insisted, citing a wish to be better informed in my judgements of insulin dose, rather than relying on semi-educated guesswork, and eventually found myself at the start of 2018 on a course. It was the 5 x 1 format, rather than a full five day week - apparently more popular due to peoples’ work commitments.

So how was it?

Well, most importantly there have been many positives:

I have come home every week like a new boy at school, clutching a shiny ring binder increasingly full of paper, and the information both on paper and presented during the course is detailed and useful. I have achieved my basic aim, namely to learn more about the complex relationship between food, insulin and activity. The pocket-sized Carbohydrate Portion List alone is a wonderful thing, and I have been genuinely surprised and enlightened to learn of the carb content of some foods which are a regular part of my diet. Some puzzling highs and lows over the years now make much more sense!

DAFNE Swag
The presenters, a dietitian and DSN, have been thorough, attentive and caring in their approach to the diverse group of participants on my course, and display detailed knowledge of both diabetes and the principles of DAFNE approach to its management. I cannot fault them for their knowledge of their material and their belief in it.

The opportunity to devote time and mental space to my condition has been most welcome and useful. I developed Type One at a time in my life when I was extremely busy both professionally and personally, and so I have to say that I didn’t really give diabetes the attention it warranted until quite recently. I just wanted to carry on as normal, and indeed I was pretty successful in so doing. But looking back, I can see moments when the cracks were starting to show, and I should perhaps have given the condition a little more of my time. So being forced to “study” diabetes, to note food intake and injection doses in minute detail and to discuss outcomes has been good for me. Nobody has ever mastered diabetes.

My colleagues on the course have proved to be very good company, as fellow PWD invariably are. Prior to this course, I had never met any fellow Type Ones in my local area other than pupils at my school, so it has been interesting to meet a small group who share the condition. As always, it serves as a reminder of the completely random nature of Type One to meet people who are a diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds, lifestyles, tastes and experiences, yet with such a big thing in common. We have had many laughs together, as well as sharing in our difficulties.

What of the negatives?

Well, I am loathe to criticise, not least having had to fight to get on the course. And in overall terms I feel better-informed and therefore more confident for having done the course. However, in all areas of life, I am not a fan of absolute rules and principles. I prefer guidelines, and my experience of diabetes has taught me that it is a condition where absolutes seldom work.

So the somewhat evangelistic application of “DAFNE principles” that pervades every aspect of the course does not sit comfortably with me. To be told as a rule, as if it is a matter of life and death, not to pre-bolus, not to test after meals, to change my lancet and to wash my hands before every blood test, to apply mathematical formulae to doses and corrections seems to me to run counter to the very nature of diabetes. It’s a mercurial condition which defies logic a lot of the time. The same food, the same activity on two apparently similar days can produce startlingly different outcomes for no good reason. The same BG reading can feel very different to different people. The same insulin works for some and not for others. My favourite acronym from the online community is YDMV: Your Diabetes May Vary. How very true, yet DAFNE somehow appears to suggest otherwise.

In personal terms, I was more than a little dismayed to have a radical change of dose imposed on me at the start of the course, a massive reduction in insulin intake (both long and short acting) compared to that which had served me well for many years and given me an Hba1c of 46 (6.4). It was inevitable that such a striking reduction would lead to uncomfortable highs, and it did, such that over the five weeks, we gradually returned to the previous levels. Having said that, an adjustment to the balance between basal and bolus has been the most useful and significant outcome for me, but that could have been achieved by less dramatic changes, as to reduce both at the same time didn’t give the opportunity for true evaluation of cause and effect. I intend to persist with experiments with these levels.

Now I fully recognise and understand the difficulty of delivering a course to participants of varying degrees of knowledge and experience of diabetes, and I repeat my admiration and respect for those who have researched, devised and present such a valuable body of knowledge to patients who need it. I also realise and accept that rules and principles have to err on the side of safety, not least in our risk-averse age and culture.

However, I do wonder whether a limited dose of peer input might be helpful, to both the course presenters and participants alike. My own experience of diabetes has been that in 20 years, all the most useful hints, tips and knowledge has come in the past few years thanks to the GBDOC. Perhaps some of that expertise and experience could be brought to education courses such as DAFNE. I would willingly offer my time to meet fellow PWD, provide a little real-life experience and above all assure them that it is possible to live well with Type One. I would love to have met my 60 year old self when I was newly diagnosed at 40.

In more general terms, I wonder whether some thought should be given to the timing, nature and delivery of diabetes education. What is the best timing for effective education following diagnosis? Is it the best use of scarce resources to run five day courses delivered by two busy HCPs? I wonder whether two or more shorter courses might be more effective. Perhaps one 6 - 12 months after diagnosis then another after around 5 years. These could be as little as one day in duration, with additional content available in print/online. And could they be delivered by HCPs with volunteer peer support?

And in the meantime, I’ll watch, listen and observe, but when it comes to self-management, I’ll be as stroppy as Eddie and the Hot Rods were in this classic of rebellion back in 1977: 


And here’s my DAFNE playlist:


Disclaimer: I am very aware that I am not an expert, and have no qualifications other than experience and common sense. Please be aware that what works for me in managing my diabetes may not work for you. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Kiss from a Rose

This is a brief post, the first of two that I shall be publishing in the next two days. 

Tomorrow’s is about my experience of a DAFNE course, and as such it is typical of the sort of stuff that I and many others post because we have diabetes. I hope it is at least interesting to others and potentially helpful to them. But in the end, it’s self-indulgent and trivial.

However, this one is anything but. I’m writing this post because of a campaign which has been drawn to our attention by one Chris Aldred, better known to the dia-world as the Grumpy Pumper

For this, Chris deserves endless credit: beneath that grumpy persona beats a heart of pure gold, as we all know, and he has done us all a favour by reminding us just how lucky we are, or more importantly, how unlucky others are. And to do something about it.

It’s about the Spare a Rose Campaign, which aims to draw attention to the grotesque inequalities that exist as regards diabetes care and treatment in different countries. Quite simply, this should remind all of us in the UK that however badly done by we may feel, our life with diabetes is – excuse the pun – a bed of roses compared to many other parts of the world.


We were reminded in the news only yesterday by the clergyman father of Lauri Love, the English computer hacker threatened with extradition to the USA for allegedly stealing details from the FBI, that "To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life" This is variation of a quotation originally attributed to Cecil Rhodes, yet despite that provenance from a man who represents much that is wrong about our past, it is not a bad thought to carry in the context of healthcare.

We are the lucky ones.

Take this as an example: A few minutes ago, I received a delivery of FreeStyle Libre sensors, brought to my door by a courier, and paid for by me. I had tracked their arrival on an app on my phone, and immediately announced it to the world of Twitter, because there has been an issue regarding delays in sensor supplies to UK customers, caused, it is alleged, by the spike in demand caused by their availability on the NHS. It’s the sort of thing we all tend to do on social media. We moan because we can.

How pathetic am I, that I have been bothered about a delay – only a delay – in the availability of a device which is, yes, of great value to my diabetes management, but essentially a luxury in a worldwide context.

Elsewhere in the world, it is a shortage, or unavailability of, insulin which is the issue. In the USA, it is the extortionate price of insulin which is the issue. And indeed less than a hundred years ago, insulin therapy had yet to be invented. Successful treatment of Type One Diabetes started within living memory, and in many parts of the world is still not a reality.

So let’s just remember that next time we moan about some frankly trivial aspect of our care and treatment by the NHS. We are the lucky ones. And before anyone accuses me of finger pointing, may I remind myself that whenever you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back.


Let’s all join our man Grumps and donate the cost of a Valentine’s rose – or more if we can. Let’s all Spare a Rose. The website is here:-


Chris will be leading a #gbdoc tweetchat on the topic tonight, Wednesday 7 February 2018 at 21:00 GMT from the @GBDocTChost account. Please join in if you can, and let's give some less fortunate than ourselves a metaphorical Kiss from a Rose

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Gold

Happy Christmas! It’s still OK to say that. I’m writing this on January 4th 2018, so by my reckoning it’s the 11th day of Christmas, and those eleven pipers are busy piping as I write. My decorations are still up, my tree is still lit and will remain so until Epiphany, which is this Saturday, January 6th.


As it happens, we are this year hosting an Epiphany Party at my home on Friday evening - twelfth night - as a fundraiser for a community organisation of which I am Chairman (my town’s Twinning Association, which overseas our flourishing links with similar partner towns in France and Germany.) Our activities are entirely self-funded, so we hold fundraising events that enable us to offer hospitality to visitors from our partner towns. We did the same a year ago, and it was so popular that people asked for another one, and we were happy to oblige.

Our King Cakes at the 2017 Epiphany Party
However, I would still be celebrating Epiphany even without this event, and it seems to me a crying shame that we neglect this opportunity to prolong the fun of Christmas into January – as many other countries, not least our European neighbours do.

Epiphany commemorates the arrival to visit the baby Jesus of the Wise Men (often referred to as the Three Kings, even though there is no reference in the Bible to there being three of them, or to their being Kings). But of course the word Epiphany also carries a more general, secular meaning of "a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation". 

The story of the Wise Men bringing gifts - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh - lies behind the tradition of exchanging presents at Christmas. In my house, in a tradition inherited from my late parents, we mark the last day of Christmas by exchanging one last present (a small symbolic gift), and take the tree down, but we have also adopted the French tradition of the “Galette des Rois”, whereby a cake is served, containing a charm, the recipient of which is named “King” for the day and is crowned with a paper crown and allowed to order the rest of the family around for a bit. When our children were little, we used to ensure that one of them got the charm, thereby giving them the right to turn the tables for a bit by requiring us to do the washing up or some other task. Further details about how Epiphany is celebrated in other countries are available here:-


I find it sad and surprising that the retail and commercial trade doesn’t make any attempt to recognise Epiphany here in the UK. Shops jump straight from Christmas to Easter, with Creme eggs on sale from Boxing Day onwards, whilst card shops jump straight from Christmas to Valentine’s Day. The retail trade seems only too keen to seize on somewhat contrived and rootless dates like Black Friday, yet misses a trick in not acknowledging festivals like Epiphany, St Nicholas Day (December 6th) or Candlemas Day (February 2nd). I wrote about Candlemas in a previous post here.

This year (2018), Epiphany falls on a Saturday, giving the perfect opportunity for one final celebration of Christmas on a Friday evening, a nice end to the dreariness of back-to-work week at the start of January. Why not make a Galette des Rois and see who gets to be “King” for the day? And enjoy another Christmas drink while you’re at it. There are numerous recipes for the galette on the internet, such as this one:-


But you could always just make - or buy - any sort of cake according to tastes.

And as for so many festivals, there’s a wealth of hidden musical treasure to accompany the day. Here’s my selection of traditional sacred epiphany hymns and music seasoned with some secular songs with Epiphany meaning or lyrics. Who needs an excuse to listen to Spandau Ballet's iconic 80s classic Gold, a fitting title for this post?



Happy Epiphany!

Friday, 15 December 2017

I'll be There for You

2017 has certainly been a significant year for me. Full retirement and a house move are pretty big events, so the year hasn’t exactly been quiet. Indeed I feel well and truly shaken out of any sense of drift or complacency, and grateful that I’ve been able to make these significant changes in my life at a time of my choosing, and with enough physical and mental energy to embrace them as new challenges rather than feeling “put out to grass”. I am certainly not daunted by having turned 60 - I have a nice sense of entering a new phase of life.

I never planned it this way, but I have to say that my relatively recent discovery of the online diabetes community has been a tremendous help in enabling me to feel re-invigorated and re-energised at this time of my life. I thought it appropriate to post some thoughts on this informal peer support community to mark a notable milestone in my life with Type One diabetes.

It’s twenty years on December 19th since I was diagnosed with the condition (an incorrect diagnosis of Type Two in the first instance - I've told that story here), shortly after the landmark birthday of 40 years. Of course that has to go down as a big negative in my life: developing an incurable, life-changing and potentially life-threatening medical condition at around the halfway point of a typical lifespan is not what anyone would choose for a happy and contented life.

Yet when I think about what I have done this past year alone, it is hard to avoid thinking that my life might now be rather dull without diabetes. I know that there are people out there who resent positivity about diabetes, so let me apologise to them, acknowledge how lucky I am to be able to live well with the condition, and ask that we accept that everyone has their own way of dealing with what happens to them. My own approach is, and always has been, to look for silver linings. And getting to know so many others who have, or live with people who have, diabetes has certainly been a silver lining for me. Some of the greetings I received from diabuddies via Twitter on my 60th birthday were wonderful, so thank you - you know who you are.

In 2017, diabetes has given me opportunities and experiences which have filled the potential void caused by retirement from a busy people-centred job: speaking engagements at #TADtalk2017, at the FreeStyle Libre factory, at the All-Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster and live on Breakfast TV would all have seemed like bizarre dreams a few years ago. And then there’s the real-world meet-ups: this year alone, I have spent lovely times in groups large or small in Oxford, Manchester, Amsterdam, Witney, Bakewell, London and Birmingham with friends from all over the UK and beyond, who were in all cases complete strangers until very recently. And most days I spend time on Twitter in conversation, sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, with others all over world whose only connection with me is a shared medical condition. My horizons have expanded immeasurably thanks to an annoying and sometimes dangerous medical condition.

Yet it hasn’t been all sweetness and light. Wherever two or three gather together, they will disagree about something, and the diabetes community is no exception to that. It’s human nature, after all. The online community hasn’t been the happiest of places at times this year, and I have found myself the subject of some hostility, in particular over two issues:

Firstly, it became apparent in July that there was significant controversy and lack of confidence surrounding the so-called GBDOC and its founder and hitherto de facto leader. With trust in the brand and its weekly tweetchats severely eroded, I found myself as one of a well-meaning group of people who attempted to guide the community into a more collective and inclusive ownership, rather than being a mouthpiece for one individual. Although our moves were widely accepted, appreciated and recognised they nevertheless caused a degree of resentment in some quarters and unwarranted accusations of a “takeover”. 

Those who felt so threatened by this appeared not to acknowledge that nothing happens in a group large or small without someone taking the initiative, and that taking the initiative does not necessarily imply power grabbing or ego tripping. I hope that the continued existence of a warmly supportive GBDOC community and of weekly tweetchats under the community account @GBdocTChost led by volunteer hosts serves as powerful reassurance to those who feared a takeover. I would like publicly to thank in particular @Jules1315 @type1bri and  @Type1Adventures for their work in ensuring that this happened and continues to happen. Public-spirited, generous-minded and supportive individuals every one of them.

Then secondly came another source of controversy sparked by the decision in September by the NHS to add FreeStyle Libre sensors to the approved tariff for free availability on prescription. Although this development was the result of many months of hard work by groups and individuals, notably our very own NHS Sugar Doc @parthaskar, I was inevitably associated with the decision given my longstanding public endorsement of the Libre, my consequent attendance at events run by its manufacturers Abbott, my speaking to a parliamentary committee about it and my TV appearance on the day of the announcement. Understandably, I again felt the resentment of those unhappy with the decision, and even found myself and others accused, laughably, of “taking payment in little brown envelopes” from the manufacturers.

With some folks fearing that availability of the Libre on prescription would lead to reduced availability of CGM and other diabetes technology, or criticising the fact that Abbott have a monopoly on flash glucose monitoring, or unhappy that NHS availability was leading to delays in supplies for those still self-funding, and valid concerns arising with the use-by dates on sensors, it seemed for a while as if the funded availability of a new device which had been so very helpful to so many, including me, was the work of the Devil himself. And as so often in life, the quietly contented were drowned out by the noisily disgruntled, which must have been disheartening for those who had worked so hard to make it happen. The Libre, like insulin pumps, like CGM, is not for everyone, but at least we are moving towards a situation whereby it should be available to all, regardless of ability to pay. Had social media been around at the time, I am quite sure that some might have been equally angry about the first insulin pens, pumps and meters. Change of any kind is seldom universally welcomed.

Again, however, as time has passed and things settled down, more positive voices have come to the fore, and we reach the year’s end with the online diabetes community very much alive and well. My hope for 2018 and my next 20 years of living with diabetes is that people will come to accept that differences of opinion, factions and groupings are an inevitable part of any group of people. The wonderful thing about the GBDOC is that the very randomness of diabetes produces an online community which is by definition random (albeit including only those who use social media). So it would be a pretty odd, and frankly dull place if we all agreed about everything.

Other groups of which I am part consist of very differing people, some of whom I like a lot, some of whom I am indifferent to, and some of whom I disagree with. But that doesn’t mean I necessarily want or need to criticise those with whom I don't get on; indeed I have massive respect for those whose opinion differs from mine on all sorts of issues. In the real world, I just sit in a different part of the room from those with whom I differ significantly, and the GBDOC rightly consists of people who sit in different corners of the virtual room. I tend to “sit” with those who actually don't talk about diabetes that much. I just like having friends who “get it”, and I enjoy talking to them about other areas of mutual interest, with the comforting feeling that I am hanging out with folk who have such a big thing in common with me. It is a joy to me to share cat pictures or things like this year's #BaublesOfGBDoc with a group.

But we all use #gbdoc in different ways and rightly so: some talk enthusiastically on social media about pumps, ratios, doses, CGMs, closed loop systems etc, and I admire them for it and enjoy their enthusiasm and expertise.  But it’s not for me. Others use social media as an outlet for their woes and frustrations, and whilst I don't tend to do that, I do try to be a virtual shoulder to cry on and greatly value that opportunity. Some, including me, post images of their triumphs and I for one derive great pleasure from seeing other peoples' success. There's a word for it: confelicity. It saddens me when I read suggestions that to do this is selfish because it causes distress to others: nobody forces anyone to be on social media, and there’s always a mute button if others’ way of saying and doing things causes stress or offence.

When push comes to shove, we are all on the same side and it is a constant pleasure to me to see such a diverse group of people being a real source of company, friendship and support to others. It’s what friends do; as the theme song says I’ll be there for you. And I for one am glad that so many others are there for each other and for me. 

Here's to the next 20 years. 

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