It’s December 2003, not long before Christmas, and I am sitting in a temporary office made out of a cutained off area of a hospital ward that previously housed a bed. Set up as a makeshift diabetic clinic while the hospital I used to visit for my regular check ups was undergoing a major renovation, the doctor in front of me listens as I tell him my sorry tale.
I haven’t visited the clinic for some time, at least a year, despite my very erratic blood sugars that have been wildly swinging from very high to very low. For a type 1 diabetic it’s not very good and I’m told I’m lucky I haven’t had any complications from it. The doctor, a consultant, tells me it’s time for a radical change and that he’s got a perfect solution for me and my diabetic problem. “A new insulin!” he enthuses, a supposed solution to all my problems. He’s so eager for me to start using it that it seems like there’s no other option, that this is the best thing for me that will fix everything, will fix me. So then why, during all this enthusiastic excitement, do I feel a niggling doubt?…
A necessary change
Before this visit to see my consultant I had been battling swinging blood sugars for some time. If I’m honest, the type 1 diabetes I had been diagnosed with as a child, had never really ‘behaved’ the way it should. Within the first year of diagnosis and being advised to eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates by a well meaning, but clearly not very bright, doctor, I had suffered blood sugar problems with many days of it swining from very high to very low and then high again. Although diabetics are supposed to keep their blood sugars steady, mine had never been steady for more than a day or two, and had been making me more and more depressed over the course of my teenage years.
I hadn’t gotten along well with some of my previous visits to the clinic, because many times a junior doctor or diabetic nurse would make an obvious statement about how overweight I was, a result of all those carbs I was supposed to eat, and how I wasn’t taking responsibility for my blood sugars. Little did they know that unlike some teen diabetics who deliberately stopped taking insulin to get thin, I had religiously taken insulin every day and was really trying my best. They didn’t seem to care that my school life was affecting my mental health and that the resulting depression could cause problems with my blood sugars. Well, that and the numerous colds and flus I kept getting every year which made it worse too.
So I had visited the clinic as little as possible, I just didn’t want all that criticism, and by the year 2000 they seemed less interested in my attendance anyway. They kept me on their books but didn’t pester me to come in until I took my own initiative and went for a visit late 2003.
Making the change
The moment I was called in to the appointment and I explained how much I had been struggling with my blood sugars the consultant didn’t even bother to try to fix things with the insulin regime I already had. His enthusiasm for a brand new insulin and new way of injecting (4 times a day versus my previous 2) seemed over the top, almost fanatic. He was a nice doctor and seemed to be in a very good mood but something about his demeanour was just over the top. He laughed, smiled and seemed giddy about the new insulin as if it was this wonder drug that had just been invented, and he was so excited at the prospect of putting me on it. He said that with this I’d finally have perfect control over the diabetes that I’d wanted for years. How on earth could I refuse?
There was a doubt in my mind though from the start. Something about the 4 times a day injections I felt wary of. I’d heard that they could lead to problems down the line (problems I now know helped to trigger my obssessive compulsive disorder – OCD) and I wasn’t sure so I shrugged and said “I don’t know”. But the consultant dazzled me with his spiel about how brilliant this would be for me, and how this new insulin in particular was the best thing in the world. It was new, it acted just like insulin in a non-diabetic’s body, and with this new regime (and new insulin) I could live a completely normal life.
A normal life I mused, oh what a joy that would be. It was the only thing I had ever wanted since being diagnosd with diabetes when I was nine. I was overwhelmed with his rhetoric and found it hard to think of a reason to say no, so with a shy nod I said “I guess I could try it”. The doctor smiled and laughed and told me that everything would be great. And he left the makeshift cubicle for a few minutes to sort out my new prescription.
Strange items in the consulting area
Already depressed from my daily struggles with erratic blood sugars and now extra tired from having been the last person to see the consultant at the clinic, having waited hours in the waiting room, I looked around this makeshift cubicle/office space. On the desk, the consultant’s white ceramic coffee mug sat to the side of his papers, an interesting purpley-blue logo was printed on the side. It was of a company name I’d never heard of before, at least not until this consultation.
As the doctor came back he sat down with a prescription pad and pen, the pen had the same white colour and logo printed on it as the mug. A notepad pushed to the side also beared the same logo and white colour and I remember something on the wall (a calendar perhaps?) had the same logo too. The logo was all over everything in this consultant’s makeshift office, it looked like the sort of cheap (and sometimes tacky) merchandise you pick up for free at certain events: free pens, stickers and plastic bags, etc. all bearing the logo of a company/place you decided to visit, I know because I’d seen and picked up similar freebies from universities I’d visited when attending their open days. It was cheap, and sometimes even tacky but I guess because it was free a part of you you just wants that merch.
Clearly this consultant must have been to a conference of some kind where he’d picked up all this free and ( quite tacky) merchandise. But he was clearly thrilled with his free stuff and was using it while he eagerly wrote up my new prescrition. A prescription for this brand new insulin, the supposed wonder drug, and solution to all my problems. As he finished off writing and went through the details of how I was to inject this new drug in this new 4 times-a-day regime, my eyes were drawn to a box sitting on the far end of his desk, an empty box of the insulin I was going to be taking. I stared at the box mesmerised by its design, the drug name clearly printed on the side, and above it, much smaller, but still clear enough to see was the name and logo of the pharmaceutical company who made the drug. I recognised it instantly. It was the same one as on the doctor’s mug, pen and notepad.
A bad reaction
The same day I got the new insulin from my pharmacist I injected it in the dosage I had been told. I was wary of it working too well so I was careful to not inject too much. However it wasn’t long before I suffered a very bad reaction. At first it was simply a bad hypoglycemic attack, a very low blood sugar which was fixed by eating enough carbohydrates. But the shaking caused by the hypo didn’t stop and I found my whole body vibrating right through to my bones and core, something which I’d never felt before in my life. It left me scared and terrified as I didn’t feel myself, and I didn’t want to be alone.
I spent the whole night in this shaking/vibrating state and feeling strange in my head. I was so light-headed and felt like I wasn’t really in the room. It scared me so much that I didn’t want to go to sleep in case I didn’t wake up. This bad reaction to the insulin I had taken didn’t go away until more than half a day had passed and the last of the drug had finally left my system.
I’d never had an allergic reaction to an insulin before, but that one reaction was horrible enough, that I stopped taking this drug and I went back to taking the previous insulin, too afraid of what would happen if I dared to take it again. After relaying the bad reaction to the diabetic team at the hospital I was asked to come back a few weeks later to try yet another new insulin that had been recently made available. This insulin, like the previous one that had given me the allergic reaction were both known as ‘analogue’ insulins, genetically modified versions of the ‘human’ (not made from humans!) type of insulin I had already been taking, but although this new one didn’t give off the same allergic reaction as the first, I still had an allergic reaction of sorts.
It didn’t happen right away and so I didn’t notice what effect the new insulin was having on me until my life was completely destroyed by it. It didn’t cause an instant shaking or vibrating sensation in my body, but the damaging long-term side effects would leave me depressed, apathetic and close to suicidal. But did my consultant even care what I was going through? Was it really worth giving me the latest diabetic drug? And did his decision on which drugs to give me have anything to do with that free merchandise in his office?…
Have you ever been given a drug that gave you a bad reaction? Have you ever seen ‘merchadise’ in a doctor’s office? Would you trust a doctor’s advice on taking a certain drug or treatment? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂