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Shared experience

When I first started using a blood glucose sensor, it was honestly life-changing

Nadeem Masood talks to us how he manages type 1 diabetes at work, whether he’s in the office or out and about at events.
Content last reviewed and updated: 19.06.2024

Nadeem Masood wearing a high vis vest and sitting on a chair at the finish line of an event.

Living with diabetes. A term we often see, hear, and consider. But what about working with diabetes? Anybody with type 1, who is in employment, is affected in different ways, whatever job they do. How they manage their condition will vary based on the timings and the demands of the job.

In the office

When I was first diagnosed with type 1 in 2006, I was in an office-based role. I would spend a significant part of my day at my desk, only occasionally climbing a few flights of stairs to move between floors. If my blood sugar fluctuated, it was usually down to what I was consuming rather than physical activity.

In my current job, which is also office-based, I do move around a lot more during the day. From the factory both upstairs and downstairs, to the warehouse on the other side of the building, I need to keep an eye on my blood sugar levels to try to avoid hypoglycaemia.

Commuting is a different affair altogether. For several years I chose to cycle to work, anywhere between 8 and 12 miles each way. This naturally posed a more significant challenge. I would adjust my breakfast insulin dose based on the exercise I was about to undergo or check my blood sugar before leaving work at the end of the day.

If required I would eat a snack to cover the journey home and then set off.  At times I would miscalculate, have a hypo en-route, and would need to get my sugars back up before continuing. I have also taken public transport, but even that involved some walking, so I’d still have to watch my sugar levels. This monitoring became as routine as the commute itself. Nowadays I have the luxury of working just a 20-minute walk from home, so it is much more manageable, although I do still need to keep track of my ever-fluctuating blood sugar.

Physically demanding jobs

Coming back to work itself, there are so many physically demanding occupations that require you to carefully watch your sugar level. House removals, construction work, fitness instructor, sportsperson, actor, to name a few. In 2014 I began working in the Challenge Events industry on a freelance basis, as a second job during weekends, and thus began another personal challenge at work. Unlike my office-based roles, this is very physical work, and the shifts can be long, upwards of 12 hours, and often through the night, into the early hours and beyond.

I help set up rest stops and event villages which involves lots of lifting; unloading equipment and infrastructure off vehicles; erecting and securing gazebos and large inflatables; working with barriers, obstacles, and outdoor furniture; and at the end of a shift de-rigging everything and reloading the vehicles.

It can be demanding work; I often walk several miles throughout the day. That doesn’t include the course sections I sometimes mark between two separate locations, or walk around an entire site to see the course layout, both of which will require me to walk a few miles or even farther.

Telling others

My blood sugar management has never been more vital than when I am working an event shift. It is very easy to get caught up in your work and lose track of your sugar level, which is something that has taught me to be even more vigilant and aware.

Initially I would prefer to keep my diabetes private from colleagues, for the most part. But over time I have been more open about it, sometimes through necessity. Having a hypo is no fun at the best of times, but even more so when you are doing something physical.

Sometimes you just have to go away for a few minutes, sit down, eat something and wait for your blood sugar to correct itself. That may mean leaving an incomplete task to somebody else, and that usually requires an explanation. Your colleagues will understand and sympathise, if they are aware.

Over the years I have found different ways to manage my diabetes when working outdoors; eating a little and often usually works well, but due to the demands of the work it is very difficult to completely avoid hypos. For this reason, I always have a variety of snacks and drinks with me, and I also have a rule that I always stick to. I never go, or indeed remain, anywhere without my bag close by, even if I move just a short distance away, since you can easily be required to quickly go and deal with something elsewhere on the site. I have learned this from experience.

Using type 1 technology

In recent years I have found it much easier to manage my diabetes at work, both in the office and particularly at events. When I first started using a blood glucose sensor, it was honestly life-changing. Rather than having to find somewhere to do a finger prick blood test, I could simply scan the sensor with my phone anywhere I went, at any time I wanted to. And without having to worry about privacy. Not only could I test myself much more frequently, but I could also instantly see what my blood sugar had been doing since I last took a reading. This data was invaluable and removed a lot of the guesswork involved in deciding when to eat when I was busy with my work.

A couple of years later I was approved for an insulin pump which now enabled me to give myself insulin doses without injecting. I could also do this on the move using an electronic device, similar to a phone. It is difficult to overstate how much easier it has been for me.

One thing I learned very quickly with the sensor and pump, both of which I wear on my arm, (although the pump is sometimes on my leg), was the need to protect my tech. When lifting and working with equipment, which is often very cumbersome, on a couple of occasions I managed to knock my sensor off my arm. Once that happens it must be replaced. I realised I had to keep at least one spare with me for the duration of an event, but ideally avoid this happening in the first place.  I now wear a running band, usually used to insert your phone, which I instead use to cover up the sensor and pump. This has worked perfectly.

Like all aspects of living with diabetes, it is a learning curve, and there are always ways to improve my management. I have learned to understand the effect that work can have on my diabetes control. Just like living with it, I am always aware of how significant working with diabetes can be.

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