Diabetes. Strapped by tubes in my hospital bed, doing laps around my ward to try to salvage some of my health and self esteem. Wondering how I managed to completely loose my marbles in a coma caused by prolonged low blood sugar - this time. Whoa, I’ve had a lot of time to think these last few weeks.
For some reason climbing, not triathlon, has featured. Not sure why but as I have let those memories back in it has soothed the reality of my present position.
Rock climbing was the core of my being for 25 years. With it I built a life, gained employment as a guide, a climbing gym manager, climb leader for BridgeClimb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and I have had wild adventures on rock faces the world over.
Most importantly, climbing gave a pubescent diabetic lad some pride. Here was something I could do that could give me some respect and teach me to have the courage to navigate my life, my condition and the world that I lived within.
I remember as a young climber I would pack four days of rations - complete sets of meals for each of those days and snacks to spare. My climbing mates loved having me around as there was always plenty of food!
I felt totally free in the Blue Mountains of NSW, or in putting up new routes in Sydney or travelling abroad to climb.
Climbing causes adrenaline, adrenaline sends sugars up. I was high in more ways than vertically on a cliff face. Often I was outta control and feeling dangerous as well, like a rush.
Climbing was my escape and the freedom of the hills was addictive. Up there I felt free from my Diabetes and the Diabetes Police (T1’s will know what I’m talking about!)
Up there I was king. I was known to push the boundaries often climbing rope-less. Once at Shipley Upper in the Bluey’s I was soloing a grade 20 called Country Special. The crux was 18 metres up, just before the final moves and, well, I somehow misplaced my confidence. It was a crazy minute. I was shaking, I was palpating, I was doubting my ability. My good mates were witnessing all this below and were packing our stuff and preparing to run for an ambulance (ancient times before mobile phones).
This was one of those life defining moments. It was a crowded minute that felt like a ticking time bomb. I needed to find some pause whilst my arms were filling with lactic acid and my fingers fought for grip.
Breath. I breathed deep, I centred my consciousness and directed all my strength to the one move o needed to secure some bigger holds and safety. If I missed it, I would have had nothing else in my tank. I committed....
Pulling through the final moves I rolled over the edge and to safety at the summit. I then broke down away from that edge. I grew up a little more that day. It remains for me a defining moment of my life. Lesson learnt - never give up.
Not too long after that I had another interesting day at crag called Zig Zag. We had a points day. This is when climbers do as many routes as they can in a day and you count up the grades of each climb to determine which climber got the most points and that climber, won. Winning was being shouted beers at Mount Vic pub by all the other participating climbers.
I won that challenge and after a huge day climbing approximately 17 climbs averaging 20 metre in length. On return to town I ate a pie at the corner store then we crossed the road and my friends payed their dividends to me in beers. Not so grown up or a wise diabetic moment.
That night staying in another climbers home (he was in the Himalayas) I lapsed onto a massive hypo, almost knocked my ambulance crew out as they tried to get an IV into me before they ferried me to Katoomba and then Penrith Hospital for scans and treatment.
A few days later I came outta that and a few days after that I discharged myself from hospital making my own way home, still unwell and unstable to Sydney by train and by foot. How many brain cells went west on that debacle God only knows but my family recons it took some time to get back into normal.
I kept returning to cliffs to test myself and also to find peace. Why? Up there I was invincible, My Type 1 was for once not taking up all of my focus and I was defined by others not as, “That diabetic guy” but as, “That’s Dave Barnes, the climber.”
But here I am again. In another hospital ward in another town thinking of the would’ve, could’ve but didn’t. Climbing didn’t cause this coma, triathlon did, but the same guy is the brains behind each fall from diabetes grace and in each fall that brain has been diminished.
I don’t know about others but my T1 has been both a pebble in my shoe and a red badge of blood test courage. I have taken my condition to the edge. I like the view there, the excitement of pushing further, higher, faster.
The experiences of a being T1 and balancing all the balls we must juggle provides me enlightenment but it can also become an addiction. Pushing to the edge my body is now unable to recognise hypo’s. I have also lost my ability to see reason whilst seeking the glory of a summit or the satisfaction of an Ironman red carpet. This is not healthy and I need to work on this.
What that Blue Mountains experience and now my present circumstance has reminded me of is, as Jimmy Barnes said, “There ain’t no second Prize.”
I’ve lived a charmed life full of high adventure as a climber, a Triathlete and as a diabetic chasing the prize of a life fully lived.
Now as the blood sugars have settled and I can see reason, It’s time for me to spend some time determining - just what that prize is really worth.