Posted by on Thursday 4 June 2015

Release your inner diabetes Hobbit - Guest post for Diabetes UK

My diabetes, yesterday.
Last weekend we finally got around to watching the last part of Peter Jackson's mammoth 'Hobbit' trilogy "The Hobbit: Battle, battle and a bit more battle" on one of those newfangled instant video services (pauses to wistfully remember trawling the aisles of tiny, ramshackle video rental shops all those decades ago). During one of the epic-wide-shot-sweeps across the thundering conflict there emerge, through dust and fracturing hillsides, several enormous, lumbering cave trolls - staggering about, squashing people and generally getting in the way.

They reminded me more than a little of my diabetes.

Except that my diabetes doesn't often wear a little wooden backpack-style platform of Orcs throwing rocks. Although some days...

I think it was the thick-headed stagger of them that made me draw the comparison. The turgid movement. The stupidity and utter disregard for anyone or anything around them. Yup, my diabetes can be all of those things. Slow, stubborn and very hard to work around.

The heroes of the film, by contrast, are tiny, fleet of foot and scamper around very nimbly. Dancing and chasing in and out, between legs and around corners, while the grunting Diabetes Troll laboriously lifts its impossibly-heavy hammer for another ill-aimed swipe.

But there is obvious peril here. Running rings around the hapless troll is all very well, but unless you keep your wits about you, and ideally keep your distance from the 'complications' hammer sooner or later you run the risk of getting squashed.

Mercifully, diabetes complications are pretty slow moving for the most part. And an occasional out-of-range reading here or there does not necessarily mean that our kidneys pack up immediately or our eyes are instantly fried [Good job too looking at my BG results this week!]. But there is a danger in that. It is all too easy to become a little complacent. Doing something now that (you hope) will reduce the chances of *something* not happening 5, 10 or 20 years from now is not a brilliant action-reward feedback loop. What someone once described as, "We work hard so that nothing happens... We hope that all of that "something" we do leads to nothing - Nothing is a pretty lousy reward".

All that effort and nothing to show for it. Are we doing enough? Do we need to do more? And we can't rely on our feelings to measure these things. There are no pain-measuring nerve endings in many of the places that our Diabetes Troll might be taking a swing at. And the swing itself might be so slow as to be almost unnoticeable until it's right there upon you.

And that is why the 15 Healthcare Essentials recommended by Diabetes UK are SO important. The first 9 or 10 represent really important annual checks which allow you to keep an eye on your Diabetes Troll. And if you discover that you are straying a little too close for comfort, having these checks done every year allows you to take action early to reduce your risk of getting squished. Between 10 and 15 there are really important parts of your care package which will allow you to improve your hammer-dodging skills, brush up on your swordplay and make sure your mind, as well as your body are ready for the fight.

15 Healthcare Essentials Checklist

  1. Get your HbA1c measured at least once a year
  2. Have your blood pressure measured and recorded at least once a year
  3. Have your blood fats (such as cholesterol) measured every year
  4. Have your eyes screened for signs of retinopathy every year
  5. Have your feet checked every year
  6. Have your kidney function monitored annually, including having your urine tested for protein
  7. Have your weight checked
  8. Get support if you are a smoker
  9. Receive care planning to meet your individual needs
  10. Attend an education course to help you understand and manage your diabetes
  11. Receive care from a specialist paediatric team if you are a child or young person
  12. Receive high quality care if admitted to hospital
  13. Get information and specialist care if you are planning to have a baby
  14. See specialist diabetes healthcare professionals to help you manage your diabetes
  15. Get emotional and psychological support

Around 80% of the budget spent on treating diabetes in the UK goes on sorting out complications. Just think about that for a moment. 80p out of every pound. All the cost of medications, test strips and fancy diabetes gadgetry are utterly Hobbit-like when set against the monstrous scale of the cost of helping those for whom things have not worked out so well.

The vast majority (around 90%) of people living with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes have never been offered or have never attended a structured education course which could give them the skills to live better with diabetes every day.

Way less than half of the people living with Type 1 in the UK are getting the checks that they should every year. The actual figure, according to the National Diabetes Audit is just over 40%.

People are not finding out early enough that their eyes, kidneys or nerves are starting to show a little wear and tear. It is never too late to make improvements to your own diabetes management, or get the right treatment and support. Many, many people have used information from their 15 Essential Healthcare Checks to dodge the hammer-blow and nimbly dart out of reach of the troll's swing. Early warnings are just that. Improve your diabetes management and in many cases those early signs can be stopped in their tracks - sometimes they can disappear altogether.

If you live with diabetes, or know someone who does - make sure you read that list and make those appointments. Being told, 'It's all looking fine' does not make these visits a complete waste of time. It's an important annual opportunity to make sure you are staying one step ahead of the trolls.

See also: 15 checks, diabetes audits and prawns


  1. Diabetes education is indeed critical to assist in the overall care of diabetics, however, many individuals don't simply know where to start.