Type 1 diabetes, maths and me 

Maths is my life. And no, this isn’t me saying that I love maths, sitting myself down to do Pythagoras equations or algebra every day. What I really mean by this is: Type 1 diabetes.

Rewind back exactly three years. After weeks of a vigorous cycle of drinking>peeing> constant sleeping and in the end, fainting, I finally went to see my GP to get blood taken to find out what was wrong with me (this might be a good time to add how much I despise blood and needles!). Also, I had been in complete denial and actually quite proud that I was drinking more fluids. Three days later, I received a phone call telling me to go immediately back to the GP to find out my results. At this point, I was still unsure of what it could even be. It’s not like it would be anything too bad, right? Wrong! The doctor did a few extra tests and when the result came back she sat in silence for ages (well, what seemed like ages) and then told my mum to take me straight to A&E.

Little did I know when I walked myself into hospital on Thursday 23rd of October 2014 that I would never walk out ‘recovered’. My first night could be considered to be the worst night of my life. I cried so much I was literally unrecognisable due to how swollen my face was. I had two drips inserted in the inner joint of both my elbows which meant that I could barely move, let alone sleep. On top of this, every hour I had someone prick my finger to find out my blood sugar (I was surprised I had fingers left to prick), I was also hooked up to a heart monitor and blood pressure monitor that squeezed my arm constantly making it feel like it would fall off! Oh, and don’t forget to add into the equation all my previous symptoms, a few drunk people in A&E and a terrified 17-year-old in hospital for the first time and… voila! As I said, the worst night of my life.

After my very long night, the diabetes consultant came to pay me a visit and gave me the ‘present’ of officially diagnosing me with Type1 diabetes. Now, remember that fear I had of blood and needles? Well, I had to conquer that fear ASAP. The doctor informed me that I would have to check my blood sugar at least 7 times a day and inject myself insulin on average 4 times a day. So, what was the first thing I did? That’s right, I cried even more. I even made the doctor cry for the first time when diagnosing someone… quite impressed with that one, to be honest!

I spent the rest of the weekend trying to get my head around my diagnosis and being taught the ins and outs of controlling my blood sugar. I was amazed watching the nurses and doctors calculating how much insulin was needed in order to bring my blood sugar back down to a normal range. I was discharged on the Monday and, although the original symptoms were no longer there, I was still walking out of that hospital with a condition I would never live without. Something I still struggle to come to terms with.

You are possibly wondering what I was thinking when I was diagnosed. Firstly, what is diabetes? Let’s get something straight. I didn’t cause it by eating too many sweets! There are many forms of diabetes and I am sure you have heard of at least one. Type 1 and Type 2 are most common. Here are the basics: Type 1 is an auto-immune disease, where the body’s own immune system destroys the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas and is normally diagnosed in children or adolescents. People with Type 1 have to inject themselves with insulin to compensate for the ‘death’ of their pancreas. Type 2 can be caused by many things including lifestyle and is characterised by the body losing the ability to respond to insulin, often medication is enough to help. Both types of diabetes can cause serious complications if not treated properly.

Secondly, what exactly is insulin? Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which converts carbohydrates into energy, when the pancreas stops making insulin it causes the blood sugar to rise dramatically. As the body is no longer getting energy from carbs, it starts to convert fat into energy. This is extremely dangerous as it develops ketones, which is a breakdown of fatty acids in the blood. Most Type 1’s are diagnosed when they are in ketoacidosis, myself included. Ketoacidosis can be fatal and can end with the person in a coma. I am so lucky to have been diagnosed just before it got that far.


So, where is the maths?


As I mentioned earlier, my life with diabetes is surrounded in numbers, ratios and equations. Let’s start with numbers. As a ‘T1D’, I have to inject insulin in order to keep my blood sugar between the ideal range of 4-7mmol… but it’s not as easy as it sounds. I must take insulin whenever I have a meal with carbs (normally 3 times a day) but depending on how many carbs I have in each meal, I have to adjust the number of units of insulin I give myself.

So, many foods (and drinks) have different amounts of carbohydrates and it also depends on how much of that food you are eating! For my injection’s I have a ratio which is 1 unit of insulin to every 10 carbs I eat (1:10). Basically, if I had a meal with 50 grams of carbs I would inject 5 units. Having to measure the amount of carbs is the tricky part as it means using the nutritional information which is normally given in carbohydrates per 100 grams of food or sometimes per serving. This means I often have to do an equation to work out how many carbs I am going to eat by adding up the different types of carbs on my plate e.g. rice, potatoes and vegetables. On top of this, some foods with carbohydrates can easily put my blood sugar into the 20’s, which means if I calculate my food wrong I could end up much too high and having to do another injection to bring my blood sugar back down. This means a correction ratio is given, for example 1 unit of insulin drops me 2 mmol (1:2). Something that makes taking insulin even more complicated is If I go below 4mmol I am in danger of having a hypo which means I do not have enough glucose in my body to fully function. This can make me feel shaky, confused and sweaty. When I have a hypo, I need to take some fast-acting carbs (something sugary) to bring my blood sugar back up quickly as if it goes too low it can cause a seizure. Keeping blood sugar between 4-7mmol is a complete balancing act when so many things other than carbs can also contribute to it rising and falling including exercise, hormones and stress. This makes Type 1 diabetes a total roller coaster of highs, lows, carbs and of course, maths.

The Discovering Mathematics module has completely opened my eyes to the fact maths is all around me and reminded me that I use it every day of my life! I am so thankful to have a profound knowledge of fundamental maths as without it, I would not be able to physically keep myself alive.

Example of a slightly bumpy roller coaster day! Mostly kept within the range which is what is important.

To date, in the three years of living with T1D, I have on average, given myself 4,380 injections and pricked my fingers 6,570 times to find out my blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is a condition that affects me physically and mentally. In fact, only recently have I felt more in control of my diabetes and it is all because of my new blood sugar monitor. A new technology that allows me to scan a sensor on my arm to find out my blood sugar instead of pricking my poor fingers and also traces my BS continuously for me to see (let’s not get started on the maths that must be involved in that!). I am so lucky to have the love and support I receive from my friends and family who make sure I never feel alone in my life journey.

Example of ideal blood sugars at certain times of day, the ’58’ is different way of measuring BS and is the healthiest average over three months.


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2 thoughts on “Type 1 diabetes, maths and me 

  1. Caitlin Tindal

    This was such an interesting topic to read about! Really opens your eyes to how maths can be in every aspect of your life, and what you have to calculate on a daily basis.

  2. Alan MacDonald

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this Jacqueline! It was really eye opening to see how much mathematics rules your life with the different calculations you have to do on a daily basis with your diabetes. It was really great that you chose a topic that was personal to you to explore mathematics and it has shown the real societal importance of mathematics in people’s everyday lives.


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