Running The Routeburn

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Pausing at the lookout during my favourite running route around Mount Crichton, Queenstown – New Zealand (and holding my Freestyle Libre!)

I’d been back in New Zealand for just a few weeks, when my friend ran up behind me as I was rekindling my relationship with running and Queenstown’s mountains. I’d missed them both, and had recently discovered a new favourite track from the recommendation of a customer at work – a steep 7km loop through a Scenic Reserve, which sits 10km out of town (and phone coverage!). ‘Hi Stranger!’ a voice called out from behind me, and I looked over my shoulder to see my old Gym Trainer bounding up the trail behind me. I was walking by this point (it was steep…), but spent the next 10 minutes attempting to run alongside her while we chatted, before she left me in the dust and I spent a further 10 minutes walking and gasping with one hand on my hip whilst I got my breath back. During the conversation, Nat had asked me if I was running the Routeburn in a couple of weeks time. I wasn’t, but when I got home I had a Google of it anyway.

The Routeburn Track itself is an epic alpine ‘walk’ traditionally covered over 3 days, and passes through two national parks – Fiordland and Mount Aspiring. It is also part of a World Heritage Area and has been rated number 7 in Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Hikes of the World. The easiest way to describe the scenery in this part of the world is to say imagine Lord of the Rings – as Isengard was filmed just north of Glenorchy. The only issue with the Routeburn Track is the logistics of getting to and from each end – the Routeburn Shelter is about an hours drive north west of Queenstown, while The Divide is about 3.5/4 hours south west of Queenstown (see the map below – there really is no quicker way of driving to the Divide!)

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The Routeburn Classic
, however, takes The Routeburn Track and, well, runs with it. The race is also limited to 350 athletes because the number of people on the track at any one time is restricted by the Department Of Conservation. The website says that if you ‘like a challenge, feeling of isolation and running through areas and landscapes straight from a postcard or fantasy novel’ then you are in the right place. My eyes were wide and I was grinning at my laptop screen by this point. The Routeburn Classic sounded right up my street, and so I signed up (being fortunate enough to do so because of other athlete’s misfortunes – dropping out through injury, or other – as the event fills up pretty soon after opening!) The terms and conditions of the race included statements such as ‘Participation in The Routeburn Classic is a test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries the potential for death and serious personal injury’ which only heightened my enthusiasm. I also had to agree that I had no ‘pre-existing medical condition’ and had ‘sufficiently trained’ to participate in The Routeburn Classic… Ahem…

Because the race takes place in the Fiordland, which is known for its extreme elements, there is a list of compulsory gear which has to be carried at all times, and was checked upon registration the day before. If caught running without the items (one thermal bottom, two thermal tops, a hat, gloves, a seam sealed stitched wind/waterproof jacket, a survival blanket and a whistle), the participant would be not be allowed to proceed to the Alpine environment.
On Friday morning, the day before Race Day, I was counting down the hours at work. I had decided that a 5:30am-midday shift would be completely fine, but I found myself excitedly counting down the hours before running around in a frenzy to make sure I had myself ready, fed, watered, packed up and good to walk back into town to meet The Girls and register at Outside Sports by 1:30pm. Somehow I did all of this and still found myself time to buy a new pair of Lululemon tights to run the race in…completely necessary, of course (in my defence, they’re water resistant…something all my other running tights lack!).

I’m going to skip the next 36 hours spent in Te Anau/Knobs Flat and jump straight in to the start of the race – because it ended up being postponed for the first year ever because of the weather and the helicopters being unable to fly in if required).

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The race

The race began 500m before the Divide, which is to have the effect of ‘spreading the field’ before you reach the single track of the divide. I think I barely reached 50 of those cold, early, uphill metres before wanting to go home. I hated it. All I could think was ‘why the hell am I doing this?’...And then we reached the track – the ‘well-graded’ track – which basically means unless you’re super fit then you’re walking that mofo for a good 3.5kms – gaining an elevation of 400m. These were a tough few kilometres. It always takes me a few kilometres to get into the rhythm of a run, and because the track was so narrow and so steep, I found myself walking in single file behind many other people. If there was ever a chance to overtake, I struggled to find the motivation when everyone else around me was walking. But we were progressing, nonetheless. Up, and up, and up. It was somewhere along this uphill slog that I started to chuckle to myself as we hiked up the hill in single file, fully equipped with backpacks and a few of us with fly swatters sticking out of our packs, as this image popped into my head:

Because I was still in high spirits, and enjoying the atmosphere of the run, I couldn’t help but burst into a little ‘Hi Hoooooooo!’ which, to my embarrassment, was met with complete silence (!!!)

From here, there was a nice little descent into Howden Hut, where I managed to sly ahead of a few people, but I still really struggled to get past them. I enjoyed the downhill, and as this whole section of the track was covered by woodland, I felt confident in my step and did some good speed. From Howden Hut,  however, the ascent began again through a lush silver beech forest. At 7.2km and 1000m above sea level, we rounded a corner to see the incredible Earland Falls – a magnificent 174 metre high waterfall cascading down the mountain and spraying onto the track. At this point, I was glad to be sharing the moment with a fellow Routeburn Virgin – who’s exclamation at the sight of the waterfall added to the grin that was already spread across my face. I stared for a moment to take it in. I tried stepping forward, but couldn’t resist looking back up… and stumbled. Lesson learnt. The terrain of much of the track is far too undulating to try running whilst simultaneously giving the view the time of admiration it deserved.

Earland Falls

A little further up from the Falls and though the woods, we came into an area called The Orchard – a bizarrely located, small, open, grassy area filled with ribbon wood trees – before re-entering the woods. After 12km, I reached Lake Mackenzie before the 10:30am cut off time (anyone reaching this Hut beyond that time would have to return to the Divide with the marshals) and I falsely believed that much of the climb was done and dusted.Unfortunately for me, I was very wrong. We immediately began to climb through ancient forest, our runs becoming jogs, before becoming slogs. We climbed through moss and lichen, and I occasionally had to use my hands to clamber up rocks. Eventually, we broke out into the alpine world of daisies, buttercups, gentians and elderweiss where we had a cracking view of the Darren Mountains across the Hollyford Valley. This is where the views went from incredible to even more stunning as we climbed the open face. Think iced carved valleys. Think majestic snow covered peaks of the Southern Alps. Think mirror lakes. Think clouds beneath you. I looked up the mountain and saw we were climbing in a zig zag formation – not from the path in front of me, but by the tens of runners ahead of me, winding their way up. This was one of the occasions where I swore to myself. A lot. I kept having those moments where you can see what’s ahead of you, and you’re not sure that you like it. I persisted anyway, and then the snow started to fall and I broke into another grin. I loved it. And then a lady from Sydney who was following me up the trail was exclaiming her delight at the snow; ‘I’ve never ran in snow before!’ she said, and I could only smile and concur that it was flipping brilliant. There I was, a good chunk of the way through the Routeburn Track, running up an open mountain face in a singlet with a view too beautiful for words and snowflakes falling on my shoulders.

It was at the top of this section of the track where I remembered a piece of advice from someone at the race briefing: ‘layer up when you reach the bluff on the right, after the zig zig because you’re going to be exposed around the corner and lose all the heat you created on the way up’. So I pulled my thermal top over my head right before the bend around the bluff, and was instantly glad of it. The temperature had dropped to about -6 with the wind chill factor on the way to Harris Saddle. It was also around this point that my luck finally ran out on the rocks, and I slipped straight onto my bum. Luckily for me, though, this part of my body is naturally well padded and I was glad that this and my wrist took on most of the weight. I could finish the run with an injured wrist, but I did not want to injure my legs. I was fine and jumped right up – grateful to the man in front of me who stopped to check I was okay.

Somewhere along the last push past Oceans Peak, a loud orange figure stood on the horizon, before the path took a turn beyond her to the right. The figure was calling out to every single person. She high fived all participants, urging us all on. She was so full of enthusiasm, and I was amazed at her energy, especially this far into the race. As we approached her, the marshall told us we were half way, and I told her she deserved a medal, too. I was thrilled with the news of being half way (I ran with no watch or device that would tell me how far we’d ran, or how long we’d been running), and was especially thankful for her presence on that mountain.

19.5km from the start and we’d made it to Harris Saddle – the highest point of the course, sitting approximately 1300m above sea level. ‘It’s downhill from here!’ they said; ‘gravity will take you now!‘. I thanked the marshall’s for the information, and grinned as I pushed on. I turned a corner just past the Saddle, and it’s there that I saw the beautiful Lake Harris – and a large lens pointing towards me from down the track.

Routeburn

From here, we were blessed with more views of the mountains towering above the Routeburn River before we descended towards the Routeburn Falls Hut. It was here that I saw the remaining distance on a sign, and said ‘9kms to go!’ out loud, which was met with a silence from the marshals. I realised they may have thought that I saw this as a bad thing, so I added ‘awesome!’  to my comment which was met with more welcoming smiles. The landscape around the falls remained as dramatic as along the mountain face and the Saddle, until we descended into the alpine pastures of the Routeburn Flats. The track began to shadow the river which roared through a gorge. On more than one occasion during this segment of the track I found myself gripping the handrail fairly tightly and cautiously stepping my way down the path! Not much of the track had handrails, but on the parts it did, I didn’t hesitate to keep within arms distance of them.

‘Save something for the last 7km’ were words that I’d heard from multiple Routeburn Classic returners..and I can see why. Although the final 7km looks good on paper (just look at the elevation profile…it looks pretty flat, right?)… the reality is somewhat different. If you walk or run the Routeburn Track from the Divide expecting to find yourself cruising along down the final quarter of the track, then I think you’d be slightly taken aback. Although it is generally a gentle descent through columns of red beech trees, the wood also hides a few substantial ascents amongst its trunks, and they’re the reason you’ve got to keep something in the tank. I’ll admit to walking a few times during this section of the race. Not because I didn’t have anything left to give, but partly because my knee had been giving me grief since the descent from the saddle- and the field was so spread out by this point that I was often completely alone amongst the trees. I didn’t feel the need to give it my all – I just wanted to finish, and at this stage of the race, that was a given. The scenery was somewhat unstimulating compared to the surprises that the Routeburn Track had sprung upon me – I was no longer running along pristine lakes or above clouds along open mountain faces. Instead, I was back in my comfort zone of serene woodland. Don’t get me wrong – this part of the Routeburn is still beautiful – it was just a familliar kind of beautiful setting that I was used to.

It’s also during this stage of the race that I kept feeling myself well up. I’d have to slow to a walk just to calm my breathing. Someone overtook me and said ‘well done’ as I just about squeaked a ‘you too!’ back before choking up again. It happened on both of my marathons. The first marathon would always be a special event, after all – only 1% of the world’s population can say that this is something they’ve accomplished – and I completed it 2 months after my Type 1 Diagnosis, proud of my determination despite my body’s apparent retaliation against being well. With the second marathon, I struggled monumentally with my blood sugars during the second half of the race, and was left feeling incredibly frustrated at my body’s inability to run a marathon without having to fight death.

With the Routeburn, things were different. I cut my consumption of carbs to a minimum to ensure that my body was burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates – a state called Ketosis (to enter Ketosis, you generally need to consume around 20g of carbs or less per day – a single bagel contains 50g!) I eat low carb anyway , but taking it a step further to enter ketosis meant that I could run without the fear that I would to battle hypoglycemia at the same time – which is what happened during my marathons. Being in ketosis meant that my blood sugar levels had remained stable throughout the race (apart from an initial massive spike due to the intensity of the incline – but I came back down on my own to a perfect level). It also meant that I was able to complete a 32km run without consuming any food or glucose. I couldn’t have cared less about the pain in my knee at this stage, or the speed it took away from me. I didn’t care about how many people over took me, or how many times I had to slow, or walk. I wasn’t breaking any records. A long time ago I realised the best way to control this chronic illness was to eat low carb, and in doing so I found an alternative way to fuel my body to enable me to run the 32kms of the Routeburn safely. I didn’t have to eat a big carby breakfast, or carry lots of food with me. I didn’t have to test my sugar levels constantly, or keep topping up my sugar levels. I didn’t have to worry that my emergency Glucagon Kit was out of date, because there was no fear that my levels would plummet. I was safe in ketosis. I was just like the people around me, only I was running with Type 1 Diabetes, and crying with gratitude at still being able to run one of the most beautiful treks on our planet.

Routeburn

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When Big D gets you down.

Nope.

I think that one of the worst parts of having a chronic illness is that sometimes, it breaks you. Maybe you have several bad days in a row. Maybe you just have one really bad day. Whichever it is, you realise you’ve gone on for so long being fine and that today, you’re not. You’re so far from fine that you’re struggling to even move. You don’t know how you made it through work, and you don’t remember how you made it home. You hide in your bed under your blanket all afternoon as the sky darkens outside. But even then, even in the depths of your grief, your illness is haunting you. You can’t sleep easy with the thought that maybe you won’t wake up. You can’t even nap without checking your blood sugar to ensure you’re not going to die. You’re pissed off that you ate some fish you thought was ‘safe’, but in actual fact has sky rocketed your blood sugar. You’re pissed off that an hour later your correction injection has plummeted your blood sugar despite still having an hour left until its peak effect and with an already potentially dangerous level…and dropping. You eat, despite not being hungry. You eat to keep your levels up. You eat to stay alive. You feel like you’re trying to survive in a body that wants to destroy you. You check you blood sugar. Still low. You check again. Still low. And again. Coming up. You’re dosing in and out of your slumber, wondering if this is happening, or if you’re even awake. You’re exhausted. You skip your run. You skip the gym. You skip meeting friends at the pub. You curl up and cry in a ball in your bed instead because your illness has had you today. It’s got its grubby claws around you and its squeezed away your sparkle. And then you grieve. You grieve over the stupid little fish that you ate. You grieve over the simple foods you can no longer eat without your body reacting terribly to it. You grieve over the realisation that you have an illness that will never leave you. You grieve over not being able to eat whatever you want, without it having consequences. You grieve over the life you lost and the life you’re forced to live. You cry until your eyes are puffy and then you tell yourself to pull yourself together. Today is a bad day. It happens. But you will pick yourself up and you will remind yourself that tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow, you will be bigger than your illness.

5 reasons you should treat a hypo with glucose tabs (and nothing else)

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 3.36.17 PMWe’ve all been there: you’re going about your day when a hypo smashes through your body like a lead balloon falling through the sky. You need sugar and you need it now. If you’re at home, there might be a variety of high sugar ‘treats’ on offer, and it’s all to tempting to go for it. And perhaps sometimes, you do; You unwrap the chocolate, scoff it down and before you know it you’ve had 2 or 3 or more with almost no acknowledgment of consuming any of them. You sit and you wait…has your blood sugar risen yet? Have you had enough sugar? Have you had too much? Do you still feel low? You panic at still feeling low and have a whole chocolate bar. That’ll do the trick. But 5 or 10 minutes later the panic you felt about dying has been replaced with guilt as you’re blood sugars are fast heading the other way. You’ve had too much and you now need to counteract the excess sugar with more insulin. And then you struggle with estimating how much insulin you need to bring you down the right amount without still being too high or going too low once again and riding the diabetes rollercoaster. Maybe you level off after a few hours. Maybe you don’t. But either way, you feel like shit. Shit about the high. Shit about the low. Shit about your poor control.

Here’s a different scenario:

We’ve all been there: you’re going about your day when a hypo smashes through your body like a lead balloon falling through the sky. You need sugar and you need it now. You test your blood sugar. Through your murky brain, you work out how much and when you last injected to estimate how much further you’re going to drop. You take the appropriate amount of glucose tabs to bring your blood sugar back up to range. You wait. The symptoms swiftly subside and you’re back to a stable level. You feel okay. A little drained from the low, but you didn’t over correct. You’re back to being you.

I’m a fan of bullet points, so here are 5 reasons why you should treat a hypo with glucose tabs (and nothing else):

1. Glucose tabs are accurate…

You can work out exactly how many mmol/L a single glucose tab will raise your blood sugar, and take the exact amount without having to worry if you’ve eaten enough – or too much.

2. …and fast acting.

Other sugared carbohydrates like chocolate take too long to bring your blood sugars up and within range. This can be dangerous if your insulin is still having an effect on your blood sugars (and thus likely to bring you down to a dangerous level), but also it may increase your hypo-unawareness.

3. They’re not particularly enjoyable.

And they shouldn’t be. If you see hypo-s as an excuse to have a ‘treat’, then you risk using them as an opportunity to be ‘naughty’ rather than deal with the problem in hand.

4. It sets you up for a good day

By avoiding sugared carbohydrates, you avoid triggering cravings for more of them. It also means you won’t have the mentality of ‘well I’ve already had such and such now, I might as well have more!’

5. You were offered a ticket on board the diabetes rollercoaster, and you turned it down.

Stable blood sugars are yours for the taking, congratulations!

My First Run 3 Weeks After Knee Surgery

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 12.00.02I went for a run this morning, which is exciting for three reasons. The first: I had knee surgery 3 weeks ago. The second: Today is my third day being out of hospital after a 5 day stint in there. The third: I did it on an empty stomach, with a starting blood sugar level of 4.6 mmol/L (perfect…if I wasn’t going for a run).

Ben and I ran a gentle 5km – down along the outskirts of Queenstown and around the gardens. After a nervous 10 minutes I tested my BS – 5.2. Excellent. (as long as my BS was going up, not down, I was safe). This filled me with enough confidence to run the rest of the distanScreen Shot 2015-05-23 at 11.59.42ce without testing, and we ended the run running up the steeper road to our house (which is an elevation of 50 metres from the lake). We did it, non-stop. And I didn’t need to consume any  glucose at any stage. Awesome.

Half an hour after my run I was down to 7.3, followed by 6.4 another half hour later. 2 hours after the end of my run I came down to 4.2…just in time for some lunch!

Who says diabetics can’t run without carbs? 

Hospital Care Part 2 – Ostracised for eating Low Carb

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 19.54.41On Sunday I wrote about being force fed glucose in hospital, the day after my admission. I thought that would be the worst of it: being on a glucose drip when my levels were increasing above the healthy range with no intention of stopping; Being offered a sandwich when my levels were steady and in the healthy range: Being offered fruit, toast and cereal, and sugar with every coffee. I thought that would be it. I thought wrong.

On Sunday night my level was still a very stable, very healthy 5.7 mmol/L,  and yet the nurse still wanted me to have a sandwich because I wouldn’t be able to eat in the morning, so she bribed me by offering me a coffee with it. I took it but still bolused, not wanting unhealthily high blood sugars unnecessarily, but was woken at 4am and 7am by nurses testing my blood sugar (5.2 and then 5.2).  By that stage it was too late for them to make me eat because I was ‘nil by mouth’ (no food or drink). I preferred that because the only breakfast option was toast or cereal. So I spent the morning waiting for a CT scan.

An obviously inexperienced nurse then came to take my blood sugar, pricking my finger on the print side and struggling to get blood out (I squeezed it) – 4.8 on their meter (which takes 20 seconds to give a reading! Can you imagine that during a hypo?!) and she said ‘that’s ok’. By this stage apparently I could have breakfast but I obviously declined, and another nurse asked ‘do you not eat carbs for diet or weight?’ and I said ‘No. It’s because I’m a diabetic and carbohydrates spike my blood sugar too much. If I don’t eat them my blood sugar is always within range.’

My coffee was then dropped off with tinned mandarins in juice. So, pure sugar in a pot.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 19.54.59The new nurse tried to help cater for my needs by calling the kitchen and saying I didn’t eat carbs – I said any green veg would be fine. The meal arrived with extra mashed potato. The nurse came back and asked if it was okay. I don’t know if it was hormones or the fact I hadn’t eaten a meal in 3 days, but I just started crying. I apologised. I was a blubbering wreck. She got the meal replaced – saying she’d already taken the potato off it. I lifted it up and it was carrots, parsnips and chunky steak in gravy. I just had the steak which I had to wash down with water because it was so dry, and left the high carb veg on the side.

Later on I managed to get an hours leave as my boyfriend and housemate had driven down to see me – so we went to Lone Star and I got half a chicken with cabbage and bacon, which was so good, but my stomach hurt a lot and I realised hospital was where I needed to be. We went back and my high carb hospital dinner was on the side waiting for me.

In the morning, it seemed I’d made myself an enemy. The lady doing breakfast asked me what I’d like and I politely declined. She said I was a diabetic so I had to have breakfast (wrong). She also said I had to have it because the nurses hunted her down the day before. I said I’m a diabetic so I don’t eat carbs or sugar to control it. She left me to ‘think’ while she went to see other patients. So I just had a black coffee and water.  When she took my mug away, I gave her thanks and she gave me a scowl.

Line in hand2 hours later somebody dropped me off a Low Fat yoghurt (Low Fat means the fat content has been replaced with sugar)..So It contained a lot of sugar. Excellent.

Come lunch time, I was back on ‘nil by mouth’ but the same lady still brought me lunch. I had the pleasure of informing her, and she scowled again, turning with my tray and saying to the lady making the beds; ‘You know that lunch I was telling you about?’ and then nodded at my tray. So rude. When she came back to clear all the dishes, she cleared everyone in the rooms except my coffee mug.

Later on in the afternoon I had an endoscopy, but because I’d taken NovaRapid just before I was ‘nil by mouth’, my blood sugar had been very slowly falling all afternoon. By the time I got into day surgery, I was 3.6. So what followed was another nightmare – a glucose IV drip. Thankfully I had a very kind endoscopist who ensured me I would be okay and only let through 100mls of the drip before turning it off. The problem came after the endoscopy when the drip continued, dBlood Sugarespite my sugars being 8.2. When I made it back up to the ward, I was allowed to eat but dinner had been and gone and there was nothing for me. The nurse said the glucose drip couldn’t be removed until I’d got food and taken my insulin (huh?). I started to cry. Again. I kept asking her to remove it. She wouldn’t. She said she was off to wash another patient and come back to me in 10 minutes. I was starting to panic again. I found the device to stop the IV from going into me and so I stopped it, but it alarmed so I released it again. A very lovely lady from another section of the ward saw my breakdown and was nice enough to go and get me some salad and chicken from the fridge. She even got me diabetic friendly jelly. I apologised for my state and thanked her profusely for bringing me my first hospital meal in 4 days. The nurse at this stage came back and upon seeing my food, asked me if I’d taken my insulin before she removed the drip. She didn’t understand that if she hadn’t kept the drip in in the first place I wouldn’t have needed any insulin! I was furious. And my blood sugar was 10.6.

The same nurse came around at bed time for me to check my blood sugar so I could work out how much Lantus I needed… Yes, you read that right. She thought my night time, long acting, background insulin changed in amounts each time. Nooo.

I managed to get my sugars back down by the time I was awoken at 2am for my usual blood sugar check (I don’t know why they feel the need to test me every night), except I was awoken by two voices discussing the fact I didn’t want my sugars testing. Someone said it was okay because my last reading was 10.6. Fab.

In the morning the dietician came to see me, saying ‘we’re a hospital, not a hotel’, and that ‘all the other diabetics would eat the yoghurt and not need to bolus for it’. (What?! I would have seriously high BS levels after eating that thing. Not to mention all diabetics are different in their sensitivity to carbs and insulin, and I’m very sensitive to both) She said they cater for peoples illnesses, not ‘unusual diets’. So apparently catering to keep my chronic illness under control wasn’t on the agenda. Her advice to me was to ‘eat around the carbs’, which I said ‘okay’ to but knowing it was virtually impossible. I’d given up all hope of being fed anything suitable in the hospital, and figured they would have me on an IV drip if need be.

Next to come and see me was the diabetes nurse, who was equally as unhelpful. She tested my ketones which came up at 1.1 mmol/L and she said any higher than 1.5 mmol/L and she’d want me to be in hospital. She said I was messing up the chemicals in my body – that she wouldn’t want my heart to stop. Nutritional ketosis is safe and ketones run up to at least 3.0 mmol/L, they are only an issue for diabetics when they are coupled with high BS levels and a lack of insulin, causing the blood to become toxic. 

When my next high carb lunch arrived, it also came with jelly. The regular full sugar kind. 

As it happens, that turned out to be my last meal in hospital. 5 days after admission and I was finally discharged, so relieved that I cried when I made it home. I hope to never have similar experiences again, and I hope for no other diabetic to experience what I did either. The sad truth is that they are, now and in the foreseeable future, in countries all around the world. Low carbohydrate consumption to control diabetes is still hugely controversial, despite the glaringly obvious benefits. As a diabetic, life without carbs gives me a new lease of life that I’d hope for all diabetics to experience. It’s going to take a lot more research and educating before the medical boards join us, but I’m confident that it will happen. One day.

Being force fed glucose in hospital as a Type 1 Diabetic.

I haven’t had the best couple of days. Late Friday night, I had fairly bad abdominal pain for the fourth night in a row. By ‘fairly bad’ I mean painkillers didn’t help, I couldn’t sleep, and it really hurt. My breathing had changed to more of a puff like I get when I hypo. So Ben drove me to the local hospital. After a couple of hours and some morphene later, I was examined, had an ultrasound, an overnight stay and blood tests and an X-Ray in the morning. Come 10am, the doctors decided I needed to see a specialist in the nearest surgical hospital, over 2 hours drive away. So there I went strapped in to the back of an ambulance.

When I got there, I was left in A&E for three hours before a doctor got around to me. She said I would need an ultrasound again – (by a ‘professional’ this time – someone who’s full time job is to ultrasound) and so I waited. By this stage I’d gone all day without food. My Lantus had kept me at 5.0 mmol/L from my admission, through to 3pm, which I was impressed with. But after that I dropped slightly to 4.3. I said to the nurse, ‘if I’m not getting the ultrasound soon, I’m going to need just a tiny bit of glucose’. I wanted just a little bit before I had a hypo, but I couldn’t have a jelly bean. She went away and came back with a Glucose drip. Shit. I told her I wouldn’t need much and that I’m really sensitive to Glucose. She either wasn’t listening or didn’t understand. Half an hour later I tested my blood sugar and I’d jumped to 7.9. Panicked, I unhooked the large glucose bag and went to ask her if she could detach me. She went to ask the doctor. When she came back she said that between 4 and 8 is a normal level, so the doctor wants me to keep it on. I said ‘But I’ve just gone up that much in half an hour, it’s just going to keep rising’. The nurse assured me it would level off and that I needed it. 15 minutes later I tested again. 9.4. I started to panic again and said ‘I really think you should take this out’. She said it was fine, that 20 is a normal number and people aren’t harmed at that level. That’s when I burst into tears. I was a Type 1 diabetic being force fed glucose. Because my levels are so good and relatively low for a Type 1, I would enter Diabetic Ketacidosis (DKA) at a lower level than other diabetics…So the glucose in my blood would have kept rising to the point that it would become acidic and put me into a coma, with death as a likelihood. I wasn’t going to sit and let myself be killed by some ineducated nurse. Thankfully, she swapped the Glucose drip for a regular drip, but only because I was upset, ‘not because it’s medically necessary’. I was so angry.

A little later on, they moved me up to a ward where I was met by a nicer nurse. Unfortunately for me, I was still waiting for my ultrasound by 8pm, and my sugars dropped to 3.6, just as we got the call to go down to ultrasound. Dammit. Another Glucose drip went in, but the nurse slowed the dosage. In and out of the ultrasound I went and she stopped the drip when I reached 6.1. By this stage, I was allowed to eat for the first time in over 24 hours but the only available food was a sandwich. I took my insulin and sucked it up, setting my alarm for in 2 hours time for an inevitable correction. I corrected at midnight, setting another alarm for 2am. As it happens, a nurse came to check my blood sugar at 2am just after I’d done it myself because I was being put on ‘nil by mouth’ again (no food or drink) and I was 5.1 mmol/L so she came back with a sandwich. I said I was fine and declined.

Come morning, I was at a nice 4.2 (they didn’t think so) so they put me back on Glucose, but at a lower dosage again. The doctor came around at 9:30am and said I could come off the drip and eat again – but it took 1.5 hours after this for a nurse to come back around and see my notes. She gave me some water but said the lunch cart would be another hour, but offered me yoghurt or toast. I said I don’t really eat carbs. She asked what I’d usually eat and I said ‘bacon and eggs, meat, fat, salad, just not carbs’. She then she offered me fruit. I said I didn’t eat fruit (She’s a nurse, doesn’t she know fruit has high fructose content?!) She said the diabetic food option is probably a bowl of pasta. I said ‘that is not a diabetic option!’ to which she said ‘I know’. So I was on the verge of tears again, telling myself to man the hell up.

A nurse popped by in the mean time and asked if I was diabetic. I said yes. She said ‘insulin required?’ I wanted to say it depended on what the meal would be, but I think what she meant to ask was ‘insulin dependent?’ – either that or I thought I’d end up with a plate and a syringe full of insulin on it.

‘Coffee?’ ‘Yes please.’ ‘Milk or sugar?’ Sigh.

When lunch arrived, I was scared to lift the top off as I saw an orange on the side of the tray. Lifting up I saw liquidy scrambled eggs, one slice of bacon, a tomato and toast. I ate the slice of bacon with my water and sat there for another 3.5 hours before anyone came to see me.

Now the doctor wants to keep me in for a third night. But she said I could leave the hospital for a wee while if I felt up to it. I made a break with it to get food. As soon as I left, my stomach pains increased again, but I had a delicious, decent, meaty, low carb dinner. Because my BS was 5.1 when I left, the nurse told me to be careful and to have carbs. Sigh. I came back with a BS of 5.1. She said ‘you are quite good with your levels aren’t you’. Yes! Yes, I am! Now please have faith in my ability to keep my own blood sugars stable! It’s quite easy to do without carbs! I wish I could’ve said that. Instead, I said ‘yes, they’re always stable. I have the HbA1c of a non-diabetic.’ She said ‘Oh, good’. I don’t know if that meant anything to her. She walked away, leaving my hospital food on the table (Roast beef, gravy, yorkshire pudding, mashed potato, peas and a fruit salad…they couldn’t have fit any more carbs on that plate if they’d tried). 

So here I am, lying in my hospital bed with unexplainable stomach pains, nurses and doctors that don’t have a clue about Type 1 diabetes and an inability to maintain my blood sugar levels without unavoidable carb and glucose intervention. I also just have my phone, which is why my final Diabetes Blog Week post is delayed.

Oh hang on, the nurse is coming around.

‘Hot drink?’…’Coffee please’...’Milk or sugar?’…

24 life lessons from 24 months on the road

I wrote this blog post at the end of 2013, before diabetes, but that doesn’t invalidate it in any way. If anything, it makes it even more valid…

Today celebrates a whole two years on the road. I’m sat in Sydney’s International Departures, an airport which has more airplanes on the runway at one time than the airport I work in in New Zealand has flying in and out in an entire day. I’m feeling somewhat overwhelmed, and equally pensive. At some point over the last 24 months, I stopped being on holiday, and I realised that this is my life. I also realised a lot of other things along the way:

#1 Travelling the world is one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself.

‘I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”’ – Bill Bryson

If you love travelling, then I couldn’t have explained any more precisely as to why travelling is such a great gift to love than in this post. Giving yourself the gift of travel is like Alice choosing to chase the rabbit down the rabbit hole. She had a whole lot of fun, and she learned a lot about herself along the way!

#2 Our struggles make us.

‘The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’ – Nelson Mandela

Shit happens. 2013 has been a bad year back home, to the extent where my family would’ve been less out of pocket if the hospital offered season tickets. But life is like photography – you use the negatives to develop. And the negatives that are just too ruined to develop? You could grieve over them and be bitter that they didn’t turn out well, or you could use the experience to become a better and stronger person.

#3 Live for the little things.

‘It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.’ – Arthur Conan Doyle

The bad jokes, the sunrises and the sunsets, the good coffee, the live music, the howling wind, the gushing rain, the smell of freshly cut grass. These are the things that life is all about. These are the things that remind you what it means to be alive.

#4 Worrying is futile.

‘Worry is the interest you pay on a debt you may not owe.’ – Keith Caserta

Whatever happens, happens. If a problem is solvable, it’s needless to worry. If a problem isn’t solvable, worrying isn’t going to help. Benefits of worrying are zilch.

Back when I did my first backpacking trip around Europe, my friend and I found ourselves stuck in Rome when there were no spaces left to Milan. Instead of freaking out that a spanner was thrown into our previously unhitched plans, we talked through our options and decided to stay on an extra few days before heading straight to Paris. We had to skip out Milan, but it all worked out and we were probably better off for it by having more time to explore the magical city of Rome. So worry not, because it’s not going to change anything.

#5 Always pack snacks…and toilet roll.

Whether you’re on a 27 hour bus ride across borders in South East Asia, or just in a bar in Australia, toilet roll always comes in handy. Similar goes for snacks – You never know when you’ll face delays and have no way of purchasing food (que delayed flight in Sydney…)

#6 Dream with the dreamers.

‘Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.’ – Shel Silverstein

Stay wildly ambitious and ditch the cynics. People too weak to follow their own dreams will find ways to discourage yours.

#7 Leave behind the remains of who you were.

Sure, life is about creating yourself, not finding yourself. But that’s not all. Think about art – to create a masterpiece, you’ve gotta wipe out the mistakes and improve it. You as a person are basically the same thing: You’ve gotta shred the negativity like a tree loses its leaves and you’ll feel the sunlight easier without them. Quite simply; you’ll blossom.

#8 Let yourself move to the next chapter in your life when the times comes.

‘You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy.’ – C. JoyBell C.

Don’t remain stuck on the same page and let your past make you better, not bitter.

#9 Happiness is a state of mind

‘Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.’ – Dalai Lama

It’s a way of life, achievable through a number of steps which pin happiness as a lifelong journey, not staked on something that can be lost.

#10 You are powerful beyond measure.

‘If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now and when you get there, you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.’ –  Masaru Emoto

You are capable of doing so much more than you would ever believe, just by pushing your barriers of comfort.

#11 Material possessions hold you back.

‘It is the preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.’ Bertrand Russel

You need far fewer material things than you’d initially think, and packing light becomes a way of life when airport scales stand between you and your new home.

I’ve bought so much crap on my travels, and have been known to wear most of my clothes on a flight because of luggage being overweight. It wasn’t fun.

#12 Spend all your cash on experiences.

‘What you have learned from experience is worth much more than gold. If you have a house it may burn down. Any kind of possession can be lost, but your experience is yours forever. Keep it and find a way to use it’ Somalay Mam

Fact: we all adapt to commodities. New things are always great at first, right? But after a while we get use to every one of them, and in the end they get discarded. But experiences? Experiences involve anticipation…they provide the basis to valuable memories which will last a lifetime.

#13 Regret nothing.

‘Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Regardless of whatever you’ve done, you wouldn’t be where you are now had you not done whatever it is that you think you regret.

#14 Embrace fear.

‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.’ – Frank Herbert

Here’s more on why you should live despite being scared to death.

#15 You’re in control of your own destiny.

‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’ – C.G.Jung

Your problems are yours to solve, your destiny is yours to make, your life is yours to live, you decide who you want to be.

#16 It’s never too late to change.

‘For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.’  – Eric Roth

#17 Say ‘yes’ more than ‘no’

‘Probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life, happened because you said yes to something. Otherwise things just sort of stay the same.’ – Danny Wallace, Yes Man

Saying ‘no’ to things instantly slams the door in the face of the person who is asking. It holds us back. It closes us off to many potentially great life experiences. We’re effectively fighting against what is happening to us in our lives. We’re resisting so much.

Saying yes, however, can be much more enjoyable.

If not, why not? What’s stopping you? Try anything once. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again. Either way, you’ll discover more about yourself.

#18 ‘Someday’ is a myth. 

‘We waste so many days waiting for the weekend. So many nights wanting morning. Our lust for future comfort is the biggest thief of life.’ – Joshua Glenn Clark

There are seven days of the week and ‘Someday’ isn’t one of them.

So you say you wanna do something? GO DO IT!

#19 Never let other people, or society determine how you should live your life. 

People have asked me when I’m coming home to ‘settle down and get a real job’. My response? Why? Having kids/starting a career/getting married are all good things that people my age and younger are doing, but it doesn’t mean I want to do all that yet. So why should I? You’re only as young as you are today for this day only. You’re only as free as you allow yourself to be. I’m having fun and I’m living my life the way I want.

Basically, only you know what is best for you.

#20 People are generally good. 

I haven’t the time or space to list the amount of times people have helped me out on my travels, but I’ve had a stranger give me a ride to the bus station at 5am in the morning on the border of Thailand, and new friends looking after me in the middle of the night in Laos when I had food poisoning.

#21 Travelling doesn’t get travelling out of your system.

‘Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.’ Judith Thurman

There are so many places to go, and so many things to see in this world. Travelling will only fuel your desire you keep on travelling.

#22 Life is unpredictable.

‘We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.’ – C. JoyBell C.

A lot will change, and so will you. Learn to accept it and go with the flow.

#23 Experience is the best teacher of all.

‘The only mistake in life is the lesson not learned’ – Albert Einstein

It doesn’t matter how many times someone call tell you something, but sometimes you just won’t believe it until you see or do it for yourself. Even then, you may have to make the same mistakes twice before the reality of the experience sinks in.

#24 There is only one thing certain in life.

‘What you have to decide… is how you want your life to be. If your forever was ending tomorrow, would this be how you’d want to have spent it? Listen, the truth is, nothing is guaranteed. You know that more than anybody. So dont be afraid. Be alive.’ ― Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

And that’s death. So live!