My name is Kat, I’m 40 and I’ve been T1D for almost 37 years. This is my story about becoming one of the first type one diabetic divers in Europe.
Where to begin?
I’ve never really known anything else other than my diabetes! I’ve certainly never let it get in my way, that’s for sure.
When I was 14 my Dad joined the local Sub Aqua club in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. It was a new club and it sounded exciting! I used to tag along for a free splash about in the pool while they were all training. I was then asked if I wanted to learn to snorkel, which I took to like a duck to water. I loved it. I even managed to go away on a weekend trip to the Sound of Mull where I snorkelled some shallow wrecks in between the other folks’ dives.
It was fantastic, clear water and lots to see. I was too young at the time to learn to dive but I enjoyed just being out and snorkelling away and just being on the water. Fast forward a couple of years to just after my 16th birthday and a well-timed “Try-a-Dive” session came up at our pool. I was champing at the bit to try on the equipment and just be able to breathe underwater without the snorkel getting in my way!
Then it got complicated
An instructor asked me if I had any medical conditions that they needed to be made aware of. I replied “yes, I’m a type one diabetic”, full of excitement at the prospect I was minutes away from going under the water!
‘Unfortunately, you can’t dive being a diabetic’ - came the answer from the instructor. I was gutted.
I just got up and walked away and sat at the side of the pool trying to not let it get to me. I said to my dad how I could do it, my bloods were good, I tested them before coming into the pool! Another instructor and the branch Diving Officer watched all this going on, knowing full well I had proved I’m not going to have a hypo at a wee bit of swimming. After a wee bit discussion, I was asked near the end of the session if I wanted to give it a go. I was jumping up and down with excitement.
So I tested my bloods again, they were ok for swimming. Scuba diving is just underwater swimming after all! It was great, I loved it, on that first try I took my mask off and put it back on again under the water and cleared it all with no problems. I was in my element. I was told I was like a natural and I was to hang on for a bit til some of the instructors made a few enquiries with a group called the DDRC in Plymouth (specialists in diving and hyperbaric medicine) to see what the likely outcome was going to be.
In the meantime, I went along to the pool sessions, completed all my training in the pool, and even taught someone to swim while I was waiting on the go ahead to go out into the open water at St Abbs, near Eyemouth.
After much anticipation I was given the green light!
I had to go through quite lengthy medical forms and doctors appointments to prove I was fit and healthy and able to go diving. I had a lot of rules to follow based on guidance from the doctors at DDRC who were waiting to see how I got on too. I had to check my bloods an hour before, just before and right after each dive. Then an hour after again. My fingers were like leather at the end of it! People were whispering about this wee lassie who is a diabetic and goes diving and is (unsurprisingly) fine after each dive!
I qualified and was immediately asked if I would become an instructor- a chance I jumped at!
So just before I was 17, I qualified as a Branch Instructor. I was then made aware that I was Britain and Europe’s only insulin dependent diabetic diving instructor at the age of 17. That was 1996 I’m unsure if that record still stands! I had a lot of rules to follow but I constantly pushed the limits – just to prove that a diabetic is just the same as anyone else really when it comes to scuba diving. I was depth limited to 30m, but with a little persuasion and a good few dives to 40m and a couple to 50m to prove the point even more, the limit was extended to 40m. I got a technical qualification to dive on mixed gas so we could dive deeper for a little bit longer. Again, nothing got in my way!
My favourite dives were on the wrecks in the Sound of Mull and in Scapa Flow in Orkney. I dived abroad, and when the instructors there saw the number of dives, the places we dived to, and the qualifications I held, they would browse my logbooks, smile and silently close the book and hand it back to me saying – you can take us diving!!! It was a fantastic time.
I dived for about 15 years. I was using insulin pens and a lot of finger pricking. If I had a hypo, I wasn’t allowed to dive that day, so I intentionally ran my bloods a little high on dive days. I think in those 15 years I had maybe 2 hypos! Sometimes I wish I was still diving. I moved to the western isles and I just never really had the time to go back under the water. I ended up working a Croft with my partner and we welcomed my daughter into the world 4 years ago. We have a lot of sheep and that keeps me busy!
I am now using an insulin pump and Dexcom G6 as I have far better control now than I ever did. I was never one for letting diabetes stop me, I remember on an outward bound course in high school being told I probably wasn’t able to abseil, I glared at the anxious parent who had said it to me, grabbed the helmet and the instructor smirked knowingly and we had a blast abseiling that day! It turned out the instructor was a T1D too!
My message to you
Don’t ever let Diabetes get in the way, there is almost always a way to do the things we want to do without going full blown Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias! We know our own bodies and warning signs and no one can take that away from you. Don’t push it too much though, know where the limit is and you can do it!
This blog was sent into us by Kat, an inspirational type one diabetic who pushed european diving and medical standards. Kat is an inspiration to diabetics and, as she says, we can do it. Just believe in yourself!