It is diabetes week this week and this health condition is something that effects on average 3.5 million people in the UK. To help raise awareness we are speaking to Willie Watt about his life with diabetes.
What is your profession? What does it involve?
I am an architect, a director of the architecture and interior design practice Nicoll Russell Studios and as a result of that I work on projects across Scotland and the UK.
What is your diabetic condition?
I am a type one or insulin dependent diabetic. Type one diabetes is a chronic medical condition which I and everyone like me has to constantly manage. With modern technology such as the insulin pump (akin to a powered drip) and Continuous Glucose Monitoring Systems that I use, it is becoming easier and easier so that many around you may not be aware that you are diabetic. That said a type one diabetic is always conscious that they need to manage the condition, they may need time to do so and to be prepared which is particularly the case when travelling. Given I work around the country I recognise that I must pack medical supplies including cannulas, injectable sensors, needles, blood testers, test strips, reservoirs, chargers, insulin of various kinds, batteries, dressings etc.
How do you find travelling with type one diabetes for work?
Taking my medical supplies through an airport can be a challenge.
I have experienced issues at security where staff have not been aware of the significant health risks involved in X-raying my insulin pump or using a full body scanner. All type ones want our essential medical kit in our carry-on luggage but again I have encountered staff who have not been aware that insulin cannot be frozen so cannot be carried in the hold, likewise they have been unaware of the health risks associated with my medical kit being lost or delayed as a result of it being in the hold.
Clearly if I have encountered these issues countless other diabetics will have experienced similar problems, so protocols should be improved.
Travel brings about extra challenges in terms of managing the condition, dosing, taking on food etc, but the real challenge which thus far I have managed to avoid (through a degree of preparation and mostly luck) is where in an airport, station, train or plane would I change over my glucose sensors or cannulas? To do both the entire process takes over 30 minutes and involves the use of small, sterile parts and ultimately inserting certain components into your stomach, so you need a clean environment, a degree of space, time and lay down space (where the components will not fall) and clearly all of those items close to hand in your luggage. I am not shy or squeamish historically I have injected on trains and planes in toilets etc, but I still think about this and what I would need to do every time I travel because it is much more involved. Cannulas and sensors have to be regularly replaced, but also need to be replaced because of treatment protocols, odd results or error codes, but I don’t have an obvious answer and ultimately would rely on staff being sufficiently helpful to find a suitable space and time for me.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Although I mention all of the above, I really enjoy working across the UK, because I enjoy what travel offers you. Beyond work I am a frequent volunteer and my use of technology has opened up the outdoors to me where I am a qualified Mountain Bike Coach and Mountain Bike Leader.
How does diabetes affect your travel planning? What information do you like to look for?
As I have already said it makes me think about what I need to pack, my itinerary versus my cycle of blood tests, eating, dosing, cannula and sensor changes. Detailed timings relating to all of the steps along the journey are therefore important, along with an understanding of the opportunities of when and where I can intervene as necessary.
How could destinations/businesses improve support for those with diabetes?
I have had a couple of negative experiences. I am sure others will have had similar negative experiences. Type one diabetics may be at the vanguard of wearable medical technology, but many others with other conditions will be adopting similar (but different) technologies, travel and public environments will need to flex and adopt protocols to meet all of their emerging requirements. Ultimately staff need to be properly informed and trained to support diabetics when they may come forward and ask for assistance.
How do you think having a virtual experience can help your travel planning and day to day activities?
Type one diabetics would be better informed and would therefore understand the opportunities to manage their wearable technology.
Thank you Willie for sharing your diabetic experiences with us and we hope you see an improvement in awareness in the near future.