Posted in Personal life

An Old-fashioned Remedy for A New-fangled Illness

For a frivolous Friday, here’s a light-hearted post that has nothing to do with my writing. It’s about a strange prescription that I received from my doctor earlier this week. Do not read if you are squeamish about health issues – you have been warned!

tube of whitening toothpaste
Beware the hidden dangers!

On returning at the end of last week from a residential school trip with 27 nine-to-eleven year olds, my daughter and I needed to catch up on sleep, which I thought would restore my energy levels. But I woke up next day still feeling rather depleted, due to a swelling in the right side of my neck that had come up virtually overnight.

A few days later, because the lump had still not subsided, and Dr Google had failed to make a plausible diagnosis, I called the doctor. I found it hard to talk to the receptionist because the swelling was now so big that it was painful to open my mouth very far (torture for any chatterbox). She fixed an immediate appointment.

After prodding about for a bit, the very nice GP gave me a diagnosis and prescription:

  • Diagnosis: blocked salivary gland caused by the tiny polishing fragments they put in new-style whitening toothpastes (we’d just switched to a whitening brand)
  • Prescription: a bag of pear drops, or any other sour sweet likely to make one salivate more than usual
Bag of pear drop sweets
No need to sugar these pills

Well, that’s one way of keeping the cost of NHS prescriptions low, I thought to myself, as I headed round the corner to Poundland and invested in one bag of pear drops and another of chewy sour cherries.

So acidic are both of these sweets that It’s hard to believe that technically these “pills” contain any sugar at all.

Pack of sour cherry sweets
Hard to believe that kids prefer these to vegetables

Apparently the best cure is to force out the blockage with a surge of saliva, before, like a pearl in an oyster, it grows to the size where surgery is needed to remove it. Yuk! The desired effect is to force a miniature volcanic eruption in your mouth. Double yuk!

So this morning finds me sitting at my desk, alert for pre-seismic movement that might herald a cure, as I chomp through sweets that feel like they’re steadily removing every last scrap of enamel from my teeth – pretty ironic when the starting point was a new improved toothpaste that promised to take better care of them.

My other Poundland purchase? A tube of innocuous clear toothpaste gel. Those whiter teeth will just have to go on hold for a while.

Tube of clear toothpaste
Going full circle – back to the Colgate ring of confidence

What’s the strangest cure you’ve ever been given for an ailment – and did it work? Do tell!


Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

The Seven Year Itch & Type 1 Diabetes

(A post written to mark the seventh anniversary of my daughter’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes)

Debbie and Laura at TIm's house
Laura doesn’t remember being without Type 1 Diabetes

Getting ready to celebrate my daughter Laura’s 11th birthday in 13 days’ time, I can’t help remembering that seven years ago on this day, I was hoping that we’d be out of hospital in time to celebrate her fourth birthday party.

What were we doing in hospital? We’d been urgently despatched by our lovely family doctor, Dr Mather. She’d alerted A&E (aka the Emergency Room) at Bristol Children’s Hospital to expect our arrival.

It was imperative that we were seen straight away to reduce the chance of Laura becoming dangerously ill.

“Are you in a fit state to drive?” Dr Mather asked. “If not, I’ll call an ambulance to blue-light you there.”

With adrenalin surging from the shock of the diagnosis, we were almost in a fit state to fly there, Superman-style, to save our baby.

All Change with Type 1 Diabetes

That was the start of a whole new way of life for us, accommodating the daily need to do things that fly in the face of maternal instinct:

  • to stick needles in in my child to deliver life-preserving insulin
  • to prick her fingers, lots of times, every day, to draw blood to test it was neither dangerously high or low

It’s a balancing act, always, 24/7, 365 days of the year. Until a cure is found, there’s never a day off, because if we stopped doing those things, she’d be dead within days. Managing Type 1 diabetes is not for the faint-hearted. But being faint-hearted is not an option.

Lucky Seven?

Laura and Debbie Young on a hill
With Laura, aged 7

Seven years feels like it should be a magic number. It’s a special anniversary when people are meant to become suddenly desirous for change or take off in new directions in search of freedom.

There’s no magic here today, except the evidence, as every day, of the wonders of modern medicine and the compassion of our NHS (National Health Service) that supplies us with the resources we need to keep Laura alive.

Another Sea Change

Laura and friend at JDRF Youth Ambassador Event
Laura hugs a JDRF mascot for luck

When Laura was diagnosed, we were just getting ready for her to move up from playgroup to school. That’s enough change to challenge any family without the complication of serious illness, but hey, when it’s your kid, you deal with it.

Now she’s poised to move up to secondary school. Next week, as her final fling at the village school, she’ll be doing her SATS exams – the tests that the government imposes on every child in Britain at this stage. The school has been preparing the children for SATS since January, and the stress of SATS is bad enough for children (and parents!) who don’t have special health care needs.

But for Laura, she’ll have the added challenge of taking exams while trying to keep her blood sugar level. Stress can have two effects on a diabetic – it can send them very high or very low. Either state is not ideal for sitting exams – it can make you feel faint, drunk, angry, scared, tearful. Or it might have no effect at all. Trouble is, you don’t know how it will affect you till you’re there.

The supposed treat of a class breakfast in school at the start of each examination day adds further complexity. Moving away from her normal breakfast routine adds risk: if we miscalculate her insulin dose to deal with whatever she chooses there for breakfast, it could scupper her blood sugar for during the exam. But we don’t want to stop her from going to the breakfast, because it’s important for her emotional and psychological well-being not to feel different from her classmates – another potential source of distress.

Laid-Back Laura

Laura head and shoulders
Calm as ever

Fortunately Laura is the most laid-back person I know.

“I’m not worried about SATS,” she assured me yesterday. “I think doing tests is quite fun.”

She’ll be fine, I’m sure. She’s bright, she’s thorough, she has a strong  work ethic. She’s not spending the weekend worrying about her SATS – she’s completely absorbed in setting up a Eurovision Song Contest final for her cuddly toys.

Yes, she’s doing fine. But I still wish we could ditch the diabetes, seven years on.

Cover of my new book, "Coming To Terms with Type 1 Diabetes"
Click cover for more info

In November, I’ll be launching a paperback of the ebook I published last World Diabetes Day, to raise funds to search for a cure. All proceeds are going to JDRF, the leading charitable funder of Type 1 diabetes research. If you’d like to read the e-book in the meantime, it’s available exclusively via Amazon on Kindle for now, wherever you are in the world. (More info here.) If you’d like to be alerted via email when the paperback is available, please sign up for my mailing list here.  


Posted in Family, Writing

The Sixpence That Changed Into a Swimming Pool

King George VI sixpennny piece, seen from either side
Just an ordinary sixpence – or is it? (Photo: Wikipedia)

This post has been written in response to’s “Pocket Some Extra Cash” challenge, inviting the country’s top bloggers to describe how they’d spend a £20 windfall to put a smile on someone’s face. To oil the wheels of our imagination, they’ve kindly given us £20 each. This is my story…

When I was about 10, my grandmother bought me a wonderful book called The Sixpence That Changed Into A Swimming Pool. It was part of the Judy Picture Story Library, a series of slim shilling novels published as a spin-off from the popular girls’ comic of that name.

On first glance, I thought it was going to be the tale of a girl with a magic coin that she could transform at will into her own private leisure centre. But it turned out to be a much more interesting and satisfying tale.

Inspirational Investment

Cover of the Judy annual, 1967
Comic annuals – such a treat

The heroine, a schoolgirl of around my own age, (let’s call her Sally, as I’ve forgotten her name), has a sister confined to a wheelchair, suffering from a disability for which the only hope of a cure was to have unlimited access to her own swimming pool. Like all Judy‘s heroines, Sally is a resourceful type, keen to help her sibling, but has only sixpence to her name. Determined to save the day by somehow acquiring a swimming pool, she invests her sixpence wisely to turn it into a shilling. I forget exactly how – probably by buying six things each costing a penny and selling them on for tuppence each. She then acquires a shilling’s worth of something to trade for half a crown or so.

And so the tale continues, providing a handy introduction to the concept of compound interest along the way. It’s not only her money that snowballs, but also her goodwill. Other people inspired by her tenacity muck in to help her run jumble sales and other fundraising events. Satisfyingly, on the final page, Sally unveils the new pool to her sister, to the pride and admiration of her family and her sister’s eternal gratitude.

It was a salutary lesson for any child whose first instinct on finding sixpence would be to spend it all on sweets. (My grandfather claims my early mastery of mental arithmetic sprung from his habit of taking me to the sweetshop every Saturday with sixpence to spend.)

Rising Prices, Raising Smiles

Now I’ve been set a similar challenge, but the sum in question is not sixpence but £20. Well, that’s 40+ years of inflation for you.

The challenge has been set by, whose research revealed that even a small windfall like this can put a smile on the face of the recipient. I’m allowed to spend it however I like – or indeed to save it – to make the most of the opportunity.

On reading the brief, the story of the sixpence and the swimming pool immediately sprung to mind. A little while ago, I befriended online, via Mumsnet, a lovely lady with six children, one of whom has been severely disabled from birth, confined to a wheelchair and often in unbearable pain. Sadly her condition wouldn’t be cured by the acquisition of a swimming pool, even if I had the time and stamina to grow the £20 into one. But I do know that her mother longs for driving lessons which would give her and her daughter more independence and mobility and greatly improve their quality of life.

I’d therefore like to forward the £20 to her, to start off her driving lesson fund. I hope I could also count on the snowballing of goodwill here, as in Sally’s story. For example, a friendly local driving instructor might decide to join in by offering a specially discounted rate for her lessons. A bigger driving school might donate as many free lessons as she needs to pass her test. And is it too much to hope that some kindly motor manufacturer might chip in with a wheelchair-adapted car?

Well, it’s the sort of thing that might happen in Judy‘s world. But even if it doesn’t, I’m sure just the gift of the £20 will put a smile on my friend’s face. And she does have a very lovely smile. I think Judy would approve.

backyard swimming pool
Oh look, a swimming pool! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Post script: Shortly after this post was published, a kind reader offered to donate an additional £20 as her “first random act of kindness of the month”! If anyone else would like to do this, please send a cheque payable to “D Young” to me c/o my work address (I’m slightly nervous of putting my home address up here!):

Debbie Young, c/o Read for Good, 26 Avening Road, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire GL6 0BS

If you prefer to pay by BACS, please contact me and I’ll send you my bank details.

I’ll bank them myself and transfer the total to Jo by BACS, to avoid creating any extra work for her, and I’ll post the total up here in a few weeks.

STOP PRESS! (Thursday 14th March)

I’m delighted to announce that this evening I was notified that this blog post has been chosen as the competition winner! My prize is £200. Needless to say, that’s going into the driving lesson fund. The swimming pool is filling up…

Posted in Type 1 diabetes

Not All Dreams Are Impossible (For Diabetes Awareness Week)

Laura, on her 9th birthday, who has had diabetes since 10 day before her 4th birthdayre herSometimes, when you have what seems like an impossible dream, you just have to do what you can to try to make it come true – and then hope for the best.  My dream  is that a cure will be found for  Type 1 diabetes. But it’s not really impossible. Clearly I’m not able to make this happen myself: I’m no Marie Curie. But there are incredibly talented, inspired and dedicated scientists in this world who, with enough money to fund their research, will  find a cure one day. Of this I’m sure. And in the meantime, maybe I can help bring that day closer by raising awareness (and funds)  through occasional blog posts here. You don’t have to read them. But I defy you to look my lovely daughter Laura in the eye here and say you don’t care. Because this is her story. 

This picture was taken on Laura’s ninth birthday, at her party. That’s five years and ten days after she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes is a devastating disease. If you are unfortunate enough to get it, it is likely to strike you in childhood – and if you get it, you’ve got it for life.There’s no known cause or cure. It’s a life sentence.

Diagnosed at the age of 3, Laura cannot remember life without illness.

No, she will not grow out of it. (Exhibit A: my husband – he still has his Type 1 diabetes at the age of 58.)

Immediately on diagnosis, the daily routine must begin of frequent blood testing, which means pricking your fingers to draw fresh blood lots of times every day. You must give yourself an injection of insulin several times a day, or wear an electronic pump 24/7 that will deliver the insulin into your flesh via a cannula. Refusal is not an option: without this treatment, the patient will quickly die. Many do, all over the world, in countries too poor to provide healthcare.

My daughter is lucky – we get the treatment she needs.

She’s lucky – she has the sterile needles required to safely prick her fingers six times a day for her blood tests. (But just because they’re sterile, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.)

She’s lucky – from day one, she had the NHS to supply the clean needles and insulin needed to provide her four injections every day, and she had loving parents who were prepared to give the injections until she’s old enough to do it herself.

She’s lucky – she’s now got an infusion pump with a tube sunk into her flesh 24/7, to deliver her life-saving insulin subcutaneously. The insertion needle for this tube is long and thick and it hurts when we have to change it twice a week.

Laura and friend at JDRF Youth Ambassador Event

We’re lucky – she’s brave and uncomplaining by nature, but even so we have to bite our tongues when someone complains about having a one-off inocculation or flu jab. She’s a seasoned veteran of the hypodermic needle. Her fingertips are pitted with black dots from her multiple daily bloods tests. And yes, no matter how often you stick needles into yourself, they still hurt. I will forever mourn the loss of my daughter’s perfect health.

But I’m not after pity for my family’s plight. What I really want is a cure – not just for my darling daughter or  husband, but for the generations of children yet to come, all over the world, who will continue to suffer from this wretched disease, until we find a cure. Please help me to help them.

For every penny that you donate to the JDRF, that cure comes a little closer.

(By the way, Laura sends hugs.)

Posted in Family, Personal life

Flu Jab Jeopardy – It’s an Old Wives’ Game

Intradermal flu vaccine
The flu jab - cause or cure? (Image by Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr)

Driving along the A433, I inadvertently accelerate every time I sneeze. I reproach myself that it’s impossible to catch flu from an influenza vaccine. My best friend, a pharmacist, told me so. But my aching left arm reminds me that in the few hours since I had my jab, I’ve started to feel distinctly unwell.

This morning’s trip to the doctor’s surgery should have made me feel a lot better. I was by far the healthiest person in the surgery and I brought the average age down by at least ten years. But now I’m sneezing for all I’m worth.

As my car kangaroos towards Willesley, I decide to take my mind off my symptoms by listening to the radio. I switch on to hear DJ Steve Wright baiting BBC Radio 2’s resident doctor.

“So what you’re saying, Doc, is that you really can catch a cold by being cold? Are you saying my mum was right when she told me I’d catch my death of cold for going out without a scarf?”

“Yes, she was.”

“But this time last year, you told me that was an old wives’ tale and I shouldn’t believe it?”

You can almost hear Dr Hilary gritting his teeth. He is not enjoying this retraction.

“Ah, but there’s been new research. It clearly shows that if you are cold, your immune system is suppressed. And therefore you’re more likely to catch a cold.”

It’s an astonishing admission. This time next year, perhaps he’ll be telling us you can catch flu from the vaccine – or that my mother was right when she said that if I leave the house with wet hair, I’ll get pneumonia. If these urban myths are overturned, who knows what other old wives’ tales will be proven true?

Goodness knows there are plenty to choose from. Some I will never believe, but still can’t help following. Even in the playground, I didn’t for a moment accept that cutting your hand between your thumb and your forefinger would give you lockjaw. Nor did I really think that if you swallowed chewing gum, it would get wrapped around your heart. But I chose not to take either risk.

I was less convinced by my grandmother’s insistence that “if you don’t eat beetroot, you’ll never have good blood”. Unfortunate experiences with a bullying dinner lady at infants’ school left me forever unable to eat that lurid vegetable, regardless of the health implications.

I didn’t want to believe my other grandmother’s assertion that if you look in the mirror too long, you’ll see the devil looking over your shoulder (presumably designed to nip vanity in the bud at an early age). But I still can’t gaze in a mirror for too long without casting an anxious glance backwards – even the rear view mirror in my car. And killing spiders is a thing of the past in our household, thanks to my elderly neighbour’s mantra: “If you want to live and thrive, let the spider keep alive”. Should I be reckless enough to flatten one, I’d half expect a posse of spider mafia to turn up to get their revenge.

And now, thanks to Doctor Hilary, I’m now going to let myself be governed by another old wives’ tale. I turn off the car radio and turn on the heater instead.

(This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, November 2011)