Brenden Hills: Living with diabetes |

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Picture: Thinkstock Source: The Sunday Telegraph

The number 62 never had much of a bearing on my life.


 I was born in the 1980s and I’d never lived anywhere with a number higher than 29 on the letterbox.

But 62 changed my life on January 14, 2010, at Neutral Bay Medical Centre. It was my blood sugar level. A normal level is five.

“Have you been vomiting?” the doctor asked. Nope.

“Well, it’s not far away, so I suggest you get yourself to the emergency room as fast as you can because I’ve never seen a blood sugar level this high.

“I think you’ve got type one diabetes.”

And that was it. I did.

At least I’d entered the world of incurable disease with a higher score than anyone else.

Most people get diagnosed when their level hits 20, the doctor said.

Rugby league star Brett Stewart could only manage in the 30s.

There was no explanation for how it happened.

Diabetes wasn’t in my family. A great-aunt I’d never met had it, but no one else.

There was some mystery thing inside my body which decided it was time to kill off the important parts of my pancreas and, as a result, my ability to produce insulin naturally.

Insulin? I’d never heard of it.

It’s a hormone produced by the pancreas which pushes sugar from your blood into the rest of your body. My pancreas had just packed it in. We’d only just met.

I was now signed up for a lifetime of strict diet and exercise.

At 29 I had to become accountable for everything I ate and drank.

No more boozy nights with the boys topped off with a race to see who could get through 20 chicken nuggets the fastest at 4am.

No more competitive eating at the all-you-can-eat pizza bar.

On the plus side, I’d probably never again be thrown down the stairs of the Bull and Bush Hotel by a bouncer after singing into a microphone I wasn’t authorised to.

A run or a surf would now have to be preceded by a complex mathematical equation.

Once on the early-morning bus to work I could feel the sugar level slide and struggled to open a value pack of Skittles that exploded when I pulled too hard in my dopey state.

They ended up scattered all over the bus, but still I gathered a few off the floor and the person next to me and ate some.

Beer became low-carb and flavourless. But at least I have developed a taste for top-shelf spirits, taken neat.

These are tough realities for a man with a fondness for chicken schnitzel and a schooner.

The other downside was my new life as a pin cushion.

When your pancreas stops working, you have to perform its role by injecting insulin.

That means five injections a day. Minimum. Two in the morning, one at lunch and two more at night.

As a diabetic, routine is king. You have to structure your main meals to occur at roughly the same time every day and accompany them with an injection of insulin timed just right to shift the sugar.

The problem is there’s a lot of guess work.

Too much insulin and your level goes low, meaning you’re at risk of passing out, or death.

Too high for too long and you run the risk of all sorts of medical blowback.

And for some reason it gives you a shorter fuse than Hulk Hogan.

So, you’ve got to park it in the middle, on the edge of that five-cent piece.

It’s weird at first.

I felt like a junkie, jabbing myself with needles five times a day.

It’s confronting for others to watch. I still refer to it as “shooting up”. At least it goes in the stomach and I don’t have to look for a vein.

Before diagnosis, I ate whatever I wanted.

Now I lock my survival lollies in a safe to keep my wife’s lack of willpower from killing me.

Workmates love the endless supply of snakes on my desk, but they’re always careful to leave me enough to live.

But with your pancreas on the blink the Mars bars or pasta you’ve been eating push up your sugar level.

When it hits 15 or higher you get thirsty. Really thirsty.

Every drop of water tastes as good as if I’d run the London Marathon with a hangover on a 42C day in a ski suit.

When the levels are wrong water isn’t enough.

I turned to sports drinks, which are refreshing but are more sugary than Froot Loops. In the weeks leading up to diagnosis I was so thirsty I must have drunk 50 of them. They pushed my blood sugar level sky high.

Once you are diagnosed with a level that high it’s quite a process to bring it down.

For me it took two days hooked up to a drip on a bed that had been wheeled into a Royal North Shore Hospital storeroom due to a lack of space in the rest of the hospital.


Once the adjustment is made, it’s about coming to terms with it and just doing it.

So says Manly Sea Eagles fullback Stewart, who is a great ambassador.

That Stewart can maintain a steady blood sugar level through 80 minutes of rugby league shows you can live to your full potential.

“After a while you just figure out what works for you because everyone responds to it differently,” he told me. “You just have to plan for everything and eat accordingly.”

Wonder how many carbs are in that pic? ha ha


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