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Risky business - Hannah's story

Hannah smiles to the camera, holding her dog

Hannah Lowman

In a very odd sense, I felt frightened but also safe.

Hannah loves her job as a specialist stroke nurse. It was the only career she ever wanted, and despite the concerns of her university lecturers she wasn't going to let her type 1 diabetes stop her achieving her goal. The coronavirus pandemic has made her think carefully about how she manages her condition, and what she can do to stay safe. 

Life with diabetes

Training for my dream career

In my university entrance interview, I remember bluntly being told: ‘You know this career choice will be difficult for you, being a diabetic?’ At the time, I felt offended. Nursing was the only career I had considered.

Fast forward 10 years – seven of those working as a nurse – and I get what that lecturer was trying to say. In my current role as a stroke nurse, working shift patterns and being a type 1 pump user, is hard. The constant need to monitor my blood sugars, but simply not having enough free time in the day, is a battle. I feel like I work two jobs. Diabetes is full time, but there are no wages, no breaks, no annual leave allowance, and a whole lot of workplace harassment. I stash jelly babies in pockets, lockers, even my bra, to keep my occasionally embarrassing hypos at bay.

When the pandemic hit

This year, there was another factor to contend with – a pandemic.

I have been fortunate to have a very supportive work family, which has enabled me to continue working throughout the crisis, with colleagues shielding me from potential risks. My role changed slightly. I stopped attending the A&E department to assess patients and did not directly have contact with patients suffering from coronavirus. Initially, an occupational health assessment advised that I move to a non-patient facing area. However, I’m stubborn! I felt that, for me, the right decision was to stay on the wards.

That’s not to say that anxiety hasn’t been ever-present. That’s almost been the worst thing about the situation. Add to that, news reports about statistics relating to diabetes and coronavirus, and there were times I questioned my working decisions.

I felt supported

In a very odd sense, I felt frightened but also safe. Safe, because when I was at work, I knew who had coronavirus and I could distance myself from those patients. I had Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect me. I could see how many patients were coming in and how they were being affected by this virus. And I had colleagues who were in the same situation, feeling the same anxiety, and sharing the same worries.

Looking to the future

Coronavirus has taught me that we are all vulnerable, regardless of diabetes or not. Coronavirus doesn’t seem to care who it affects. It's made me appreciate the need to really take care of myself and my condition, and stop sneaking the odd biscuit here and there without a glucose check.

For now, I'll continue to juggle my life with diabetes, my family – including a fiercely independent toddler and a grumpy French Bulldog – with pursuing a career that I love.

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