My hypo warning signs disappeared with the advent of ‘human’ insulin. My change from pork to human was accompanied by a spanking new insulin pump, one of the first, and the fact that it caused extremely severe hypos here, there and everywhere was lauded as wonderful news by my diabetes nurse – I was so much better controlled now!
Pork insulin is real insulin obtained from the pancreases of pigs slaughtered for meat. Insulin is a protein made up of two amino acid chains, joined and ‘folded’ into a particular shape.
Pork insulin differs only slightly from human insulin, by one terminal on one of the amino acid chains.
‘Human’ insulin is made in vats by genetically modified bacteria or yeast cells. The two chains are made separately and chemically combined. But they will not function as insulin until they are ‘folded’ by a secret procedure. After folding, it is identical to real human insulin.
I have no idea why ‘human’ insulin does not agree with me, but can only conclude that the fault lies somewhere in its manufacture – unfolded chains perhaps?
My consultant had – through ignorance presumably – also kept me on long-acting Ultratard. Ultratard was a long-acting insulin injected for basal last thing at night. This prolonged my very severe hypos, and along with other issues, eventually forced me to give the pump up after a year of trying.
I was then moved to a new, shiny Novopen and a new blood-testing machine. By then I was used to the hypos and didn’t connect them with my move to human insulin.
My problems were not a worry to anyone other than me until I wanted children. At which point, after a hypo that saw me into hospital, they kept me in to try and ‘balance’ me. My consultant at the time couldn’t manage it and while he was at a conference another consultant ‘stole’ me and tried himself.
It took six weeks and no exercise but at last I stopped swinging quite so violently and was allowed home with folic acid to try for a family. Once pregnant (this was an IVF baby) I stayed on the sofa for nine months. I had another baby 5 years later and managed by being very careful, but also, my control became a lot easier whilst pregnant.
Then I was changed to another human insulin – Humalog – and experienced other symptoms. Two of my fingers suddenly wouldn’t bend – then wouldn’t straighten. I could no longer do the lotus position or get my leg behind my head (not a pressing problem, I admit) because one of my ligaments wouldn’t stretch. My hypos became much more severe and frequent.
So I was started on an insulin pump – a Minimed 507 with Humalog. I think the continuous supply exacerbated things – my fingers almost seized up. The pain was much worse. I was getting pains in muscles. I was suffering memory loss and felt tired. In the end I looked up these symptoms and found the Insulin Dependent Diabetes Trust– and changed to using pork insulin in the pump.*
What a difference! Within DAYS I was thinking more clearly, my body (and this is the only way I can describe it) felt ‘calmer’. I slept better. My hypos decreased (from 10 a day to about three) and weren’t as severe, I wasn’t irritable all the time, the pains disappeared and in three weeks my fingers freed up and I could move them. They are still fine.
I now have an utterly wonderful team at hospital, and excellent care I can’t fault. A pump, with tiny doses, and pork insulin, a team who listen, the possibility of CGM on the horizon and my little trained alert dog, Lola, all of which now keep me as controlled as I am ever likely to be! A far cry from being thrown out of a ward because my blood sugars were uncontrollable as a teenager – I was trying, honest, I was not eating sweets! Or being told by a consultant that my tiny doses were ‘homeopathic’ and I should eat more! I often wonder if anyone else had similar problems with getting health care officials to believe them. Have you?
*Advice on symptoms possibly related to human insulin is available from http://www.iddt.org/