This week my guest on Life Outside of Poker is the Grosvenor United Kingdom Poker Tour Reading Champion, Paul Vas Nunes, and our topic of discussion is Type 1 Diabetes.
Paul Vas Nunes has the ability to become one of the best young poker players in Europe. He is a former Unibet Open champion, a Grosvenor United Kingdom Poker Tour (GUKPT) champion, and he recently finished second to Charlie Carrel in the GUKPT Grand Final in London.Now that’s impressive.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that Paul manages all of this whilst suffering from Type 1 Diabetes, an illness that can become very complicated to manage when constantly on the road.
When were you diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes?
“I was diagnosed when I was 14-years old. My sister has diabetes as well so we knew the symptoms. It wasn’t too tough on me at the time; more confusing really. I had seen my sister go through it, so at the time I thought I just had to get on with it.”
What symptoms were you suffering from?
“Typically, people lose a lot of weight and get very thirsty; go to the toilet all of the time. Your blood sugar goes really high. I was going to the toilet three times a night, but nothing bad or dangerous happened. This went on for a couple of weeks. I told my family, and it was similar to how my sister was. I went to the GP, he pricked my finger, checked it, and my blood sugar was too high. I was later diagnosed with diabetes.”
Is 14-years old a tough time to get it?
“You want to be interacting and socializing with your peer group. It sets you apart. I didn’t tell a lot of my friends until at least a year after I was diagnosed. I didn’t want to point out that I was different. I didn’t want to be taking out needles and injecting myself with insulin in front of people. A few years ago I was eating at a Nandos. I finished eating and needed to take insulin. A women with her child looked at me and audibly tutted. She said something to her child referring that I was a drug addict.
“Not everyone understands diabetes. It changes your life. I don’t have sugary drinks. I don’t eat sweets unless I am low on sugar. It is manageable and you can eat sweets if you look after yourself but it’s difficult. At that age everyone else was drinking fizzy drinks, and eating what they wanted to, and I couldn’t do that.”
What are the differences between Type 1 & Type 2 Diabetes?
“Type 1 Diabetes is when your body stops producing insulin. Your pancreas stops functioning and your body will attack the insulin producing cells. When I was diagnosed I was still producing some insulin, but not the correct amount. Typically, after about five years you will stop producing insulin entirely.
“Type 2 Diabetics are producing the insulin but their body becomes less reactive to the insulin that the body produces. This means they have to control their diet and take pills. With Type 1 Diabetes, people are not sure why they get it, and Type 2 Diabetes is connected with diet and lifestyle.”
Is it hereditary?
“I looked it up because my fiancé’s parents were a bit hesitant about her getting married to someone who had Type 1 Diabetes. The likelihood that your children will get Type 1 Diabetes does go up if one, or both of your parents have Type 1, but it’s not by much.”
Describe the difficulties you encounter when playing online poker?
“I play tournaments so I do get a break every hour. It’s normally a 2-3 minute break. I test my blood sugar before I start playing, and I try to get my blood sugar within a certain range before I start. I do notice if I get low on sugar whilst I am playing. It’s hard to get up and get a sugary drink to raise my blood sugar if I have 12-tables playing. On one hand I don’t want to miss any action, but on the other I need to get my blood sugar up. My concentration is worse when I have high blood sugar levels, and my game is also affected if the levels are too low. It definitely affects concentration. If my blood sugar is at the right level I will be playing better. If anyone is reading this and they have experience of me spewing off to them, it wasn’t me, it was my blood sugar level.”
What about playing live poker?
“That’s probably more difficult because I take insulin before or after every single meal that I have. If I am eating at home I roughly know the amount of carbs in my food – which determines how much insulin I have to inject – and if I am in a restaurant it’s more difficult to guess the carb level. It doesn’t affect me that much most of the time. On the whole I live a generally normal lifestyle.”
Do you have to be more prepared with your food at live events?
“It would be a good idea for me to take a packed lunch to an event but I don’t. I do have to make sure I always have my insulin on me and my blood testing kit. If you see me I will always have my little man bag with me. I always have some sweets with me in case I get low on sugar, and a few essentials.”
How could the poker industry make things easier for players suffering from Type 1 Diabetes?
“I’ve never thought of it like that. I can’t imagine it would be a high priority, or that necessary really. The NHS in England is good. I can see a doctor whenever I want. All my medication is free. There is lots of advice available for me to treat my own diabetes and live a life that is 95% normal. You learn to live with it.”
Have you ever had any scares?
“Two years ago I had a very bad incident. It’s fairly uncommon for me to have an incident. If I get low on a sugar I notice quickly. This time I went out drinking with a friend. We got very drunk and the next day we went to play squash. So I have lots of alcohol in my body, and I sweat off a lot of energy. I check my blood sugar and it’s fine. I want to crash for a few hours and whilst I am asleep my blood sugar plummets. I wouldn’t wake up, I was having a seizure. My fiancée called the ambulance and it took three people to stop me from spasming and get me in the ambulance. That was very scary, and I made sure that I wouldn’t drink so much in the future.”
It never crossed your mind to quit alcohol?
“Nobody has ever asked me that before. I am probably being a bit stubborn. Social life revolves around drinking, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be teetotal and enjoy yourself. I guess I am doubly-stubborn because I want to prove I can live a normal life.”