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Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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“If I could go back in time, I’d tell my nine-year-old, newly diagnosed self, that things will get easier, and there are better things out there.”

Diabetes UK

Chloe Gillum

Was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2002

I think having type 1 diabetes has definitely led to my career as a nurse.
Chloe Gillum

Chloe Gillum, 26, from Weston Super Mare, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of nine. Her experiences as a child made her want to become a nurse and work with children. She now works as a nurse specialist in a hospital.
She shares her experiences and knowledge of type 1 diabetes with her colleagues. Chloe is learning to balance her work and wellbeing so that she can reach her goal of becoming a paediatric nurse.

 

 

 

Journey with diabetes

Work and diabetes

I always wanted to work with children, because of what I’d experienced when I was diagnosed aged nine. There were things I wanted to make better. I think the personal touch makes such a difference. If I went to my diabetes clinic around the time of my birthday or Christmas, there’d be no mention of it. So, I try to make a fuss of my patients at those times. I’m keen to celebrate the things that are going on in my patients’ lives that are outside of their health. 

Before I was accepted onto my nursing course at university, I had to do an occupational health check to make sure I was fit to work. That involved talking about what my requirements were, how much support I needed and making sure that my diabetes was well managed enough that I could live independently. 

When we started looking at nursing placements, I was allowed special compensations as a type 1. For example, I said that if my blood sugar is low in the morning, I’ve got to wait an hour before I can drive a car, so there wouldn’t be any point in putting me in a hospital that’s a two-hour drive away, because that would make me late for work. 

You don’t have to work nights as a type 1, so I could have opted out of doing nightshifts, but I was keen to try them. 

It was nice to know that I had the option of not working nights if I didn’t get on with it, or if my sugars weren’t that good as a result, but I’ve always done nights, both during my university placements and as a qualified nurse.

I got on with them quite well, even though working nights can mess up your hormones. I’m on an Omnipod insulin pump, but I guess if you’re on injections, it would be hard to work out when to do them. It took me around a year to figure out how much of a temporary basal to put on my pump and all those other bits and pieces.

When I worked nights, I did have a couple of lows when I was sleeping, because I forgot to put on a temporary basal. But, generally, working nights was less stressful and less busy, so I had more time to eat and to manage my own health on nightshifts. 

Life with diabetes

Challenges

I’ve recently started working as a nurse specialist at the hospital. It’s more of Monday to Friday, nine to five role, but it involves me being on call and holding a bleep. 

My main issue in this role has been long ward rounds. I always thought being on my feet was fine and that I had my insulin ratios right, but I kept going hypo. If they lasted over an hour, I’d be hypo and eating jelly babies in the middle of a ward round. That’s one of the biggest challenges. 

Having a bleep where you have to get somewhere to see your patients quite quickly is also a challenge. The adrenaline rush either makes my sugars go high or low, and I can’t predict what way they’re going to go. That’s where my FreeStyle Libre has come in really helpful. I can scan it using my phone, so I’m carrying less kit. 

I don’t currently have a bag or a base at the hospital, which can be tricky because I can’t really carry around a big rucksack with all my diabetes supplies! It was a question of figuring out what I’d need if I was walking around all day and fitting everything in my pockets. I’ve come to realise that certain wards keep snacks – hypo boxes – for patients, and I can use those if I need them.

Because my new role is more mobile, my boss made it really clear to the whole team that I was a type 1 and sometimes I might just need to sit down or step out. If I’m feeling a bit funny, I’ll just tell the other staff on the ward I have type 1. 

I don’t hide the fact that I have diabetes and never have done. I’d rather tell someone than have them think I’m not doing my job properly.

Improving people's understanding of type 1 diabetes

You’d think that working in health, all my colleagues would ‘get’ type 1, but they really don’t! Over the years, I’ve come across some quite ignorant people. I’ll be on my lunch break having a chocolate bar, and they’ll say, ‘should you be eating that?’ I tell them that I can eat a healthy, balanced diet, just like them, but I’ve found some people can be quite defensive and just don’t want to learn. 

I’ve dealt with people who really want to learn more about diabetes, but then I’ve dealt with people who are really closed off to it. I’ve done so many informal education sessions in the staff room, and when I worked in intensive care, they don’t see a lot of children with type 1 diabetes there. There are nurses who have worked there for years and haven’t seen children with type 1 on a typical ward, so they sometimes don’t know what the most recent knowledge is. I try to leave Diabetes UK information sheets for them.

My ultimate goal is to become a paediatric diabetes nurse. However, I’ve learned over the years that it can be hard to juggle work and your own wellbeing, so I do need to get better at shutting off outside of work. 

Diabetes UK and me

Going to a type 1 Family Weekender

If I could go back in time, I’d tell my nine-year-old, newly diagnosed self, that things will get easier, and there are better things out there. I think my mum and dad helped me start to see that about 10 months after diagnosis, when we went to a Diabetes UK family event in London. We met other families and I met other children with type 1 and could see that injecting was normal. I remember meeting a couple of friends that I’m still in touch with 17 years on. 

Meeting other people was so important, because we lived in rural Wales, and I didn’t know anyone with type 1. It does feel isolating when you start out. 

But it’s not a really rare condition, where you’re the only person out there. Now, when I meet diabetic patients, I tell them you can still have a career and do anything you want to be.

 

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