Sunday, 28 February 2016

We'll Always be together

Now this is getting silly. I can't stop giving my posts song titles. I hope that it gives a bit of light relief for anyone wading through my musings to click on the links and hear some music.

But how could I not use this joyful song from the end of Grease as a way to sum up the wonderful #pwdc16 Conference in Nottingham this weekend.

"We go together" says it all about the diverse, supportive and above all friendly bunch of people who assembled this past weekend for the second of their conferences for People with Diabetes organised by @theGBDOC

This second conference had a rather shaky start at the organisation stage, as a number of people were put off by the cost compared to the first event in 2015. But the cavalry came over the hill in the form of a commercial sponsor. For that, we must all offer our thanks to Abbott. As a keen user of their FreestyleLibre, I have no problem at all with their sponsorship, which did not involve any in-yer-face marketing, but just the discrete presence of their products at a side table manned by two pleasant and informative representatives of the company.

With that sponsorship secured, there was a last-minute rush of people signing up to attend, and we ended up meeting not only those we had so enjoyed getting to know last year, but a whole lot of new faces as well.

The venue - well not quite, actually
Our venue this time was the grandly-named Lakeside Pavilion, a marquee in the grounds of the Colwick Hall Hotel on the South-East side of Nottingham, next to the racecourse. On arrival, I was amused to see signs at the grand entrance of this prestigious venue directing those attending the Diabetes Conference round to the side, past the bins and the kitchens and into the marquee. This is not a complaint - it somehow seemed to suit the nature of the unpretentious, classless and indefinable #GBDOC not to be in the poshest part of the hotel. We left that to a wedding party, dressed in all their finery, whom we glimpsed at one point through our marquee window during the afternoon, all looking far smarter than us lot.

Once inside the marquee, my (non-diabetic) wife and I were quickly among friends and the #GBDOC magic started to work. After being greeted by organisers Paul,  Rhodri and Alex we stood by the door like guests who had arrived at a wedding reception too early and waited for familiar faces to appear.

Some were familiar because I already knew them from the 2015 event, while others, notably Ellie and Lydia were people I was meeting in the flesh for the first time, yet whom I felt as if I had known years, despite their being young women a third of my age, from other parts of the country and having nothing else in common with me. Except in the case of Ellie, a love of cats. And in the case of Lydia, a love of hashtags. 

Me with Lydia and Ellie, a long overdue selfie
The awkwardness of meeting someone you had never met, yet knew well from Twitter, lasted about 0.5 seconds, then we just fell into the same easy chit-chat that we enjoy on Twitter. It's really no mystery, because we have something in common that over-rides all else that divides us - diabetes. But the magic of the #GBDOC goes well beyond that, as I have said in a previous post. It is indefinable, but infuses everyone and everything with a sense of effortless togetherness that has to be experienced to be understood. Even those like my wife and Ellie's mum, who were just there to share and support, are drawn in and get along like old friends.

Über-geek and all-round genius Tim Omer with GBDOC Founder  Paul
The day went far too quickly, and was an intoxicating mixture of seriously informative exchange of information and ideas on the one hand and sheer fun and friendship on the other. From among the former, I would have to single out the wonderfully enthusiastic and talented Tim Omerwhose subversive mastery of diabetes technology enables him to be authoritative and entertaining at the same time in teaching us about the function of and access to various techie devices and gadgets that we all need in order to keep ourselves alive and well. 


Lyndsay being naughty..
From the latter, it was so funny to get caught up in banter about surreptitious use of mobiles by Lyndsay and to be accused by Alex of looking like a scary and disapproving teacher when two people walked in late. There was also more than a bit of talk about cats, which form a sub-plot to my interactions with my particular friends in the #gbdoc

The assembled #GBDOC company consisted of, as I would expect, people from a range of ages, classes, backgrounds, races and religions, as well as both genders (probably more men than last year, but still more women than men, reflecting, we assume, mens' famed lack of willingness to talk about their own health and well-being). There was still an overwhelming dominance of Type One rather than Type Two diabetics, which I for one regard as inevitable, because Type Ones (far fewer in number overall) share that sense of isolation from other sufferers in day-to-day life, and so for them the development of an online community connecting them with each other has been nothing short of life-changing. 

Lis Warren & Pat Mooney - 101 yrs of #T1D
The lengths of time since diagnosis ranged from over 50 years to a remarkable three days - we were introduced to a young lady who had been diagnosed only three days before the Conference, and had been told to come along and be among friends. She soon was.

And all too soon, the day came to an end, especially for those like me and my wife who had decided we couldn't spare the two days. Farewells at the end were warm and heartfelt, and the sense of regret I felt on Sunday as I watched Day Two unfold online was palpable.

I can't wait for #pwdc17, and on behalf of all who attended, give my heartfelt thanks to Paul and his team for making it happen. But above all, I give my thanks to all the lovely people who make up the ever-growing #GBDOC for their friendship and support. I hope that we can all stay connected online and in real life for many years to come - or until we are cured. Oh, but that's "at least ten years away" so I think we'll be friends for some time to come. In fact, "We'll always be together"