A friend in the health business recommended this book. (Thank you, Matthew!)  I googled it, and found it was written back in 1985 and fits this description:

"A young Englishwoman grapples with a singularly unstable type of diabetes."

Based on those few facts, and mainly on the title, I was expecting a helping of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll with my diabetes reading for a change. Turns out Metal Jam is named after the metallic taste of the marmalade they made for diabetics in the UK back in the mid-'80s. OK, so no Spinal Tap action. But what I found in this book was something almost equally captivating for a PWD: an introspective from someone as "as spirited and quirky as her condition is exasperating and erratic," as one Kirkus reviewer puts it. I couldn't put it down.

The book begins with Teresa's diagnosis while in her '20s, an intellectual student and lover of cricket who was off to India to "work off her conscience" helping in one of Mother Teresa's hostels. She tells her story of dragging around in a zombie-like state of exhaustion, drinking and peeing to excess, until her ankles swell up purple and she lands in the hospital. Over and over again. Even after she gets home to Britain, where doctors are supposed to understand diabetes better.

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Some little windows on another time and place made me smile: she repeatedly leaves the hospital on her bicycle.

Teresa retells, in her quintessentially British dry-humor way, how she doesn't fully understand the implications at first, has to hit rock bottom to fully grasp it, and then begins over time to suffer scary, dangerous bouts of severe hypoglycemia — or "the beast," as she calls it.

She's clearly a cheerful person, lacking in self-pity. But the way she describes near-death experiences of waking up half paralyzed, only able to move her mouth to barely scream for help are enough to make any PWD shudder. Thank the Lord that we live in the current era of medical tools Teresa could have barely dreamed of, a mere 20+ years ago. She lived in the era of a strict routine of injections — with huge needles — that had to be taken 30 min. prior to eating. And we all know how that can go. She had no way to test her glucose at home, and even hospital tests took hours to return results.

When it comes to hypoglycemia, I've personally been fortunate so far (knock on wood). I've gotten quite fuzzy and even panicky at times, but never had a low that shut my brain down completely. Yet I know this happens to many in the DOC, who've lived with "the beast" much longer than I. It's just that I always thought you get irrational, and then you just pass out. Unconsciousness doesn't sound nearly as terrifying as the purgatory Teresa McClean describes: lying consciously immobilized with your mind scattered, sinking into misery as you struggle to call for some sort of assistance you cannot grasp.

And still, she remains upbeat, describing herself as a "lover of life" who appreciates it all the more after every ugly hypo episode.

Some other things that struck me about her tale:

* How much has changed — Teresa describes visiting a diabetes clinic:

"You queue up in a line of other diabetics... You hand a urine specimen across the counter for a girl to test for sugar. Then you climb on the scales and wait while they slide weights up and down the arm of the scales until in clangs down like the guillotine and they proclaim your weight maxima voce to the assembled multitude."

Geez, so much for privacy. Makes me appreciate HIPAA.

* How much has stayed the same — Teresa asks a Pharma company why insulin is not packed in shatter-proof bottles, at least coated it plastic to protect this expensive resource. The Pharma rep's reply?

"He shrugged... Maybe it suits the manufacturers for bottles to get broken, so they can sell more, but it seems to me a needless and expensive waste."

* Interesting diabetes trivia:

Did you know that famous writer H.G. Wells founded the original British Diabetic Association (BDA)?

"In January 1934 twenty-four doctors and diabetics met in Wells' London flat to form the BDA, which was the first self-help organization in Britain and model for many more."

* Insights into public perception of diabetes vs. what it can do to even the sunniest of psyches:

"The public face of diabetes is made up of diabetic foods and forbidden foods on the one hand and diabetic personalties and the BDA on the other, with the horrors of insulin murders, suicides and therapy appearing every so often. But the dreary everyday prison of diabetic restraint and watchfulness remains a wasteland known only to insulin-dependent diabetics and the beast who lives there with them."

Still, she writes: "I have a huge capacity to be happy and despite the diabetes, despite the beast, I quite often am."

It's an old book now, out of print. The copy I have is marked in the front and back flaps with the word "DISCARD" — which itself made me shudder. Oh, the irony!

But so worth reading, if you don't mind wading through a bunch of British-isms (bedsit, etc.)

{St. Martin's press, January 1985;  USED copies are still available on Amazon for about $9 for a hard copy.}

 

The DMBooks Giveaway

Once again we're giving you the chance to win a free copy of our latest book reviewed. If you'd like to win a (used) copy of the 1980's patient narrative Metal Jam, here's what to do:

1. Post your comment below and include the codeword "DMBooks" somewhere in the comment (beginning, end, in parenthesis, in bold, whatever). That will let us know that you would like to be entered in the giveaway. You can still leave a comment without entering, but if you want to be considered to win the book, please remember to include "DMBooks."

2. This week, you have until Friday, April 6, 2012, at 5pm PST to enter. A valid email address is required to win.

3. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.

4. The winner will be announced on Facebook and Twitter on Monday, April 9, 2012, so make sure you're following us! We like to feature our winners in upcoming blog posts, too.

The contest is open to anyone, anywhere. Best of luck, Dear Readers!

 
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This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.