Belfry Bulletin

Search Our Site

Article Index


On A Trip On A Trip ?

by Jeremy Henley

“Who is this bastard stuck in Cuthbert’s Entrance Rift anyway?”  I hear someone say amongst the splash of falling water of which I am vaguely aware down the neck of the immaculate wetsuit borrowed from a yachtsman, who loaned it unaware of the tatters likely to appear in the neoprene in under an hour's caving.  To be fair, I was equally unaware until this moment, when I realised that a rent was appearing, that water was going in one end and out the other, cooling effectively parts that are not supposed to get too hot but certainly not that cold, and to cap it all I was stuck - not stuck jammed but stuck because I had not got the energy to move.  My first Friday night trip, halfway up the rift and it dawned amongst the muddle that I was the bastard stuck.

Now this is the sort of chaos that an uncontrolled diabetic can cause in a cave.  Some great strong bloke free-climbed below me and I gratefully used his head and shoulders as a moving platform to eject myself - just. The idiot feeling that I had was nothing to the fear and trepidation of Villis and Prewer, who decided that a diabetic caver was something of a liability, and it took some time to prove otherwise.  They eventually relaxed when, some trips later, they realised that, like a magician, I could produce an endless tube of glucose sweets from inside my helmet to feed not only me but also other, healthier persons a hundred feet or so below Mendip.

So a diabetic on insulin, short of sugar, is uncoordinated, weak, vague and remarkably unintelligent which, mirroring my normal self I find most useful in warding off stinging Belfry remarks from the regular gang with their in-jokes and private language, I can always plead sugar shortage when I fail to grasp the gist.  However it is not a good thing to have in a Cave so you will see me, gnome like, on a suitable pedestal rock away from falling water, with my helmet in my lap, groping about in the shadows, looking for and then eating with greet speed one, two or even three tubes of glucose sweets (fourteen to a tube) before continuing my journey.  The healthy caver takes, when offered, one or two daintily between his bleeding, muddy fingers and then feels sick at the cloying sweetness; consider eating 28 at once!

Cave pollution has gone up on Mendip: about 5% of all glucose tablets miss the mouth and there is now a sure way of telling where Henley’s been, and if you know the colours he was eating on particular day you can date the journey for the hitch-hiker’s guide to the grottoes.

Then there is this bracelet that identifies the diabetic - Medic Alert No. 12345, telephone 01-000-000 - very convenient at Swildons 4 – I always wear it - equally as good for cavers with one kidney, epilepsy, and foot and mouth.

So why this rubbish about diabetics - well I actually got to sump 2 and back one night without recourse to glucose as I had eaten half a stone of spuds before setting off.  This joyous feat I was expounding to Martin Grass who, bored to tears, said it would be useful for others to know about the problems, that I was not the only diabetic in the caving world, and why not write an article for the B.B.  The next paragraph explains it all and should make all you healthy people feel secure.

Quote: “ Normal people burn glucose in their muscles to provide energy. The glucose, which is obtained from digested foodstuffs, is absorbed from your intestines and enters the bloodstream.  Insulin acts by pushing the glucose from the blood to the muscles where it is burned.” This goes wrong in diabetics and younger onset diabetics need injected insulin and a diet to balance it exactly. In healthy people the balance is automatic.  If too little carbohydrate is eaten for the insulin injected, or more than usual exercise taken, then blood sugar level falls to a point where the diabetic becomes exhausted and disorientated.  Therefore a diabetic caver must always stoke up before going caving, must carry instantly available fuel sources such as glucose or Mars Bars and should always tell others that he is a diabetic.  No leader should go on a trip with a diabetic who has not obeyed these simple rules. If obeyed, no-one need worry!