6 things engineering taught me about diabetes
After completing 7 semesters studying Electronics & Telecommunication Engineering from a competitive engineering college (almost there!), I believe there's a few things I learned about diabetes management from, as uncanny as it may seem, my coursework & this process.
Allow me to list you a few so you don't have to enroll in engineering to learn this firsthand!
1.Engineering is all about solving problems
Engineering is about looking at problems from different aspects and figuring out the best approach to be able to solve them. This really helped me approach diabetes as a management problem in the semesters when I was juggling 8 subjects, 2 fests and looking for an internship. I had to make diabetes take a backseat while never dropping the ball where it was concerned! I decided to enlist a friend to conduct exercise sessions within my hostel as part of an official club activity & had a bunch of friends who would join me. I exercised 4 days a week and didn't have to stress over it for the whole semester!
2.What can't be measured, can't be managed
Engineering statistics also taught me how ineffective it is to infer anything from few data points. Regression and mapping trends become a waste of time because the points could be outliers just as easily. I was really lax about checking blood sugars, even when I know it helps because after so many years of management I have a 6th sense about the extreme blood sugar ranges (<70 & >250 mg/dl). I would check sugars when I was feeling uneasy (outlier points, most often) or when I remembered it's been a few days of checking (yeah, don't do that). When I came to understand by solving unrelated problems that what cannot be measured cannot be managed, it reinforced to me that I HAD to check it for my own good. If you thought checking was the devil, wonder what logging is, then? Using the Blue Circle Diabetes app makes it easier to see all your BG, insulin, exercise and food records and data at one place! Engineers, go figure!
3.It's not personal, it's just math
Control systems engineering made me realize how I could stop taking my daily sugars and metrics personally if I just treated my body as a system with some controlled inputs (insulin, food, sleep, exercise, testing) and some other uncontrolled parameters (stress, hormonal imbalances, sweet cravings) when the only measurable output was blood sugars, it made me see a positive spin on it. I made it less "my fault" & the issues with "my body" but a failure in some system parameter I had not accounted for before. Using the feedback (blood sugar values) received, I can improve on my own management. Continuously even. It makes me think I can automate & improve the system over time with minimal deviation in the target output.
4.The Law of Averages
HbA1c is a roughly 3 month average of your BG which is very easy to manipulate. If only the body was perfect, strong and indestructible, you could go about everyday with a very high sugar and as long as you went through enough hours in a day hypoglycaemic, the average number at the end would be pretty alright. There's a huge cost to it, however. The strain and stress a mechanical system goes through by being treated like that is severe, often leading to critical system failure and an incredibly low Mean Time Between Failures. Both of these are unusable machines. So is treating your HbA1c as a superficial target and not achieving a decent average ALL day EVERY day. This is a question of longevity in your lifespan and treating your body like a machine you want working FOR you until the very end is the whole point. Time in range is very, very important.
5.Plan and prepare
Engineering taught me so much about myself and how to study if you're a diabetic. You can't pull all-nighters and study like a typical engineering student when you're a diabetic. It isn't sustainable. It lowers your attention span, you're constantly tired and prone to cravings, the stress will make your insulin resistance sky high, the lack of sleep will make you lose focus on whether you took your medication, all of which can ruin your exam performance in a hundred significant ways. Having been through it & having a low blood sugar episode in multiple exams and having to walk out/ losing mental capacity over an hour through the exam, don't put yourself through it. Eating healthy is not always a valid choice in exam season (hello, college mess!), but you should definitely sleep and be on your toes about your health. It's okay losing a few hypothetical marks by not studying like your peers. What you might also consider, at the risk of sounding like your parents, is studying a little bit in advance.
6.Teamwork is key
You need to know when you can't do it alone. A system is never maintained by one person. You need a team to fix things, including your unstable sugars or your lifestyle if its needed. You need to know exactly what your capacity as an engineer is so that you can call for help before things get out of hand. There's also no shame in getting any kind of help when you're unsure. It's your body and your life at stake.
My team has been my roommates, my parents, my college counselor and my doctor. Who's yours?