Last chapter, I was talking about how people reacted to my illness, in particular in the circumstance of holiday camps, and how their reactions affected me. There were times I felt discriminated against, and other times when I felt incredibly supported and understood.
In this chapter, I am going to talk about the advancements of science and technology at that time, and more personnally, about our move to Sydney, Australia, from Paris, France, in 2006.
As I mentioned before, insulin has been globally manufactured and marketed since 1922. This was the result of years of scientific research to understand what diabetes actually is and how to treat it. Before then, being diabetic meant being on a death sentence: people with diabetes would be put onto starvation diets until they eventually died, giving them only a few months to live. But in 1910, English physiologist Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer's study of the pancreas leads him to the discovery of a substance that would normally be produced in non-diabetics: insulin. From then on, we were able to find our way to today. As far as the occidental medicine is concerned, the discovery of insulin stareted with Frederick Banting and Charles Best extracting insulin from dog pancreases to then inject it into dogs whose pancreases have been removed. Spoiler alert: the animals’ blood sugar levels went down, marking the discovery of insulin. (this website is really interesting to read with much more info if you’re curious: HERE)
We discover new things everyday since those first breakthroughs. We were then able to save lives with insulin but not yet cure diabetes altogether nor finding a foolproof way to prevent it. Most of the researches conducted today lean towards just that. But there is also an enormous amount of research done to ameliorate the conditions of diabetics and improve the existing treatments.
What we know for sure is that without regular injections of insulin, a diabetic wouldn’t last long. SInce that fact was established, the injection system has been innovated and ameliorated numerous times, so that diabetics can do it independently from their doctor. At first, with small vials and disposable syringes, then the pens (see last chapter), and finally, the pump therapy.
The pump therapy has been around for a while. The notion that it would be beneficial to provide insulin in a more physiologic manner by continuous infusion began to receive serious attention in the 1970s. The early portable pumps were large and quite complicated to use, with limited options and commands. Remember that the first computer was as big as a room, the first insulin pump was so big that it needed to be carried in a back pack. Only a very few select people had access to it. It is only in the new millennium that it has been developed into a more convenient, user-friendly, affordable tool.
I was first introduced to it in early 2006, when my diabetes specialist, Dr. G., and the diabetic nurse IJ advised us to not use the pen injections anymore and start the pump therapy. I was in my adolescent years by then, and the pump was, amongst so many other advantages, less intrusive and painful, etc. It would give me back a little bit of freedom and I would be able to enjoy my teenagehood better.
The results were immediate. My HBA1C (average blood glucose level over 3 months) went down, and I enjoyed not having to go through the whole process of injecting anymore. Even though the pen injection was 100% easier than the syringes, I still had to disinfect the area, put the right number in and then put a needle to my skin, several times a day. With the pump, I had the little machine constantly on me, injecting very small amounts of insulin every few minutes (to do what my slow acting insulin was doing and keep the sugars stable throughout the day) as well as bigger injections for my meals (which was the fast acting insulin). I would just have to push a few numbers on the machines and that would be it. The insulin would go through the cannula, and into my belly, and that’d be it. The precision also made it incredibly helpful. We were thrilled and awestruck by that little piece of technology!
The following episode of my life is not very eventful diabetes-wise but incredibly important to me nonetheless. After a few months of accomodating to the pump, my family and I were getting ready for a new life, halfway across the world, in Australia. To be honest, that was a very difficult time for me (I mostly made it difficult for myself). I had never agreed to go, but didn’t really have a say in the matter. To me, it seemed like I was being uprooted, cut down and planted to a place that I didn’t know. I didn’t want to leave my friends, my family, my city, my country. I was happy where I was! Why did we have to go and change our whole lives? I remember pleading for hours on end to my parents and in the end, even proposing that I stayed in France, go to boarding school or something. I was too young and stubborn to realise what a great opportunity my parents were giving us, what a sacrifice it‘d be for them, how fortunate we were to live this adventure and how many doors were opening for us.
So for months, we prepared. Received strangers in our house so they could decide if it was good enough for them to buy and make it their own. That desolated rundown heap of rubles that we renovated and gave a new life to. The home that we built and loved. It was heartbreaking. We packed what we’d take, but had to part with many loved items, sold many things at the local flea-market, gave away the rest. We received numerous friends and family members at our now empty house to celebrate the new beginning, but also and mainly, to say our farewell. There were a lot of tears and even when we were laughing and talking, the laughs were too loud to be only laughs, the talks were too intense to be only talks. We were leaving them behind and even though they were happy for us, excited for our new adventures, we were also, in a way, leaving them. As for us, yes, we too were happy (most of us anyways) and excited (I have to admit that I reluctantly was as well), but we were frightened by the unknown and hurting to have to say goodbye.
But we weren’t going there completely blindly. My aunt and her family had been living in Australia for 20 years, and IJ had given us the name of a diabetes nurse educator (I’ll refer to her as JO) in Sydney that she was in contact with, so that I’d have someone to help me out when we’d be there.
So by the end of October 2006, we were good and ready. Our things had been shipped ahead of us via container, and we were now staying for a few days in a small hotel in the 17th arrondissement until our departure. On the D day, we all headed to the airport, only to be welcomed there by dozens of our friends carrying banners and singing a song in unison. It was all incredibly emotional and we reached our plane in tears.
When the plane’s wheels left the French soil, I realised that this was it. We were really doing it. We wouldn’t be turning back. We were going to Australia.
Fast forward 28-odd hours, when we arrived at the Sydney airport, welcomed by my aunt, uncle and cousins. Everything was different here. We left in autumn, we arrived in spring. We had learned english (superficially but still enough to give us the basics) but could not understand the australian accent and idioms. We had to adapt to their way of life, their culture, their habits. We had to learn everything again. Here’s a very simple exemple: in France (Paris at least), it is acceptable to push an obstructing parked car a little bit, just enough to park your own too, however, you mustn’t, ever, walk on the grass in parcs. In Australia, people will scold you if you dare touch another car with your own, even a gentle push, but walking on the grass is welcomed and even encouraged.