The year 2020 has been full of upheaval, but the sort of upheaval that has left many of us standing still — unable to move around like before. Whether that be for holidays, jobs or simply meeting friends. In our house, my partner took a career break in 2019 and began a new job late last year. The day he started I resigned from my job, with the intention of taking a short break before finding something new. On my first day of freedom, the pandemic hit the UK shores and I inadvertently became a home-school teacher for a few months. My partner was encouraged to work from home and so we’ve pretty much stayed in for most of the year. Whilst we’ve been at home, there have been many thousands of essential workers out there who have been working tirelessly through the pandemic to help keep things moving along as much as possible. The hospital cleaners, refuse collectors, all NHS staff, home carers, etc. are just a tiny few to mention. In this piece I wanted to highlight two particular professions that our family would like to thank and that is the NHS paediatric diabetes team and the teachers at our local primary school.
“Teachers are some of the most important people in our society. What they teach young people is going to affect the future of the world and we all owe them a lot, together with the National Health Service.” Sir David Attenborough, speaking on the Radio 1 breakfast show, November 2020
I know I’ve got big writing boots to fill to follow a quote from Sir David Attenborough, but he sums it up beautifully. Head teachers, teachers, teaching assistants and the NHS paediatric diabetes teams across the country have had an enormous task on their hands in this pandemic year. They’ve had to process numerous government documents and then translate those guidelines into their own school and hospital settings. From logistics of how pupils can be taught in class, to how best to have parents pick up their children. For the diabetes team they have had to make adjustments to ensure that the regular in-person appointments, which happen every three months, could still go ahead. When the time came for our first lockdown appointment, the team we meet made a wonderful fuss of our little lady who had to attend on her birthday earlier this year. (In fact they did so well I think she’s expecting to be the star of the show for all future appointments!) I certainly don’t underestimate the amount of paperwork and scenarios each of these professions would have had to go through before opening safely.
Against this unusual backdrop the head mistress and a group of teachers and teaching assistants at our local primary school have also taken on diabetes training. Our little lady has been type 1 diabetic since the age of two and this year she started her ‘big school’ journey. However, before she could start, the NHS diabetes team came to the school to help with training her teachers in all things type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune disease, which means her own immune system attacks the cells that create insulin so she can’t independently unlock the energy source from food. The teachers needed to learn this and so much more, including:
- Finger prick testing to get glucose readings, which are being done around four times a day during school hours.
- Understanding what the readings mean (a reading of 4–7 is what a non-diabetic tends to sit between. For a diabetic, some days it’s easier to get a cup of tea out of a chocolate teapot than to be between 4–7, so a good range for our little one is between 4–14)
- Learning how to deliver insulin through the pump we now have — the daily needles have gone, hurrah! (You can learn more about this amazing tech benefit in my blog needles vs pump).
- How to spot the signs that our little one has a hypoglycaemia (hypo — low glucose) or hyperglycaemia (hyper — high glucose) episode. She can have a hypo several times a week, so this skill is very important, as she doesn’t always realise she’s having an episode.
- Anticipating that a snack maybe needed before a PE lesson as the energy used affects the body.
- Understanding that weather can affect things. Too cold and she uses more energy so will potentially drop to a hypo. Too hot and the heat can affect the insulin vial and not be as efficient as normal and she could become hyper.
You get the idea. Our pancreas does amazing things in the background. With diabetes, we (parents, the diabetes team and the school) have to act as a coordinated team to replicate its functions.
As parents who have had two years to understand type 1 diabetes, we know exactly how much there is to take on and we are so grateful to the school for making this a little bit easier for us. During our two year journey we have been incredibly fortunate to have the diabetes team to guide us through this at every step of the way. Alongside the regular three monthly appointments, they are always at the end of the phone at any time when we need expert help. We’ve also found that their expertise and dedication to their patients in this unusual time has been second to none. And whilst we are becoming more and more educated on diabetes, we are thankful that the team have been there to hold our hands, train the teachers and work on healthcare plans on our behalf.
In turn we also make sure we support the teachers wherever we can and are always at the end of the phone for questions, as no two days are the same. It can be a daunting task in the early days and even when you get what’s going on, there’s always something new to learn. We’ve got very used to seeing hypos, for example. But when you see one for the first time it can be incredibly frightening, as this little person’s eyes roll to the back of their head and they lose their footing. The teachers have never said anything, but I’m sure seeing their first hypo (which was within the first week of school) must have had an impact on them. They have been amazing in their approach and incredibly flexible, which is so important. We are so grateful for the help they have given our family and for also thinking of solutions and work arounds as we all continue to adapt to this new setting.
Type 1 is known as a hidden disability, which means that it takes a little more work to have as normal a life as possible. And it’s important for us that our little one benefits from all the wonders and experiences that any four year old should have, without stigma or worrying too much about a little old thing like diabetes. That’s for the grown-ups to do.
This bunch of lovely humans from both professions have been amazing at teaching and learning all of this whilst navigating a pandemic and carrying on with their day jobs — seeing other patients or teaching phonics and giving all our children the best start possible.
And for that we thank you from the bottom of our Christmas sugary hearts and wish you all a safe and cosy Christmas.
If you’d like to know more about the amazing work that is going on for young people with diabetes, then please take a look at JDRF