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Sarah's Story

Living with diabetes real life experiences

Don't let diabetes hold you back. Share stories to inspire others.

Diabetic since the 50′s – how things have changed!

Hi I’m Gill and I’m diabetic. Now usually I don’t tell anyone that till I know them really well but I guess it’s relevant.

I was born in the mid-50s when diabetes was virtually unheard of and certainly not understood. I was a difficult baby and it wasn’t until I was two and my mother knew there was something wrong that anything happened. The GP had already branded her ‘neurotic’ on her frequent visits to him. So she consulted encyclopaedias (no internet then to make things easy!) and found that diabetes fitted the symptoms. The GP still refused to believe her so she walked with me in the pram for five miles to the nearest hospital. There I was subsequently diagnosed. The GP did have the courtesy to apologise. I started out on just a diet but at around five that changed to insulin injections twice a day. The syringes were glass and had to be sterilised in solution after every use. The needles were stainless steel and so thick they left a hole in the leg. The insulin was different strengths, not as it is today all 100%. Some of mine were 60% and others 80% so it was a minefield working out the exact dosage!

My childhood continued to be very structured, meals at precise times, all food weighed out. And I was a difficult eater, a nightmare for my mother! When I was 13 we went to Switzerland on holiday and I was very ill there. My parents blamed the altitude but whatever it was, it resulted in me being in hospital for a week on a drip. Of course the situation was made worse by the different variations in the insulin, the Swiss already being on the 100% strength and they were completely confused by our system.

Then followed the rebellious teenage years when I would pig out on chocolate on the way home from school. No blood tests then, just urine testing, which was pretty useless – it only told you what you were a couple of hours before, not at that instant! And I wasn’t very good at doing those anyway.

Now skip forward a few years till I met my husband and we got married. He quickly got used to my diabetes (no longer running in quite such a regimented fashion as in my childhood!) and could easily spot my blood sugar lows, sometimes before I could.

On a routine visit to the diabetic consultant, I was asked about starting a family. I was then advised that diabetic women took years to conceive, if they ever could, infertility was a huge problem. So I immediately came off the pill (didn’t much like taking chemicals anyway) and … you’ve guessed it …. The next month I was pregnant. Several years earlier than planned but there we were.

Pregnancy was interesting. The first three months spent with blood sugar levels dropping like a stone so that sometimes I had almost no notice of a hypo at all. We were loaned a blood testing machine. These had only just come out and were ferociously expensive. It was enormous – about the size of a mouse-mat – and took about five minutes to deliver the result. But it made a huge difference and we were determined to buy one once the loan had to be returned. I then had high blood pressure and was taken into hospital for the last six weeks. Thankfully I went into labour naturally, three weeks early. It ended up in a Caesarean birth after 16 hours of labour as the cord was too short and the baby was getting distressed. But the baby was healthy and beautiful, showing very few signs of prematurity. I can remember coming round after the anaesthetic to a group of doctors standing at the foot of the bed discussing my diabetic management. All gynae doctors who didn’t have the faintest idea about diabetes so I felt impelled to tell them what I thought we should do. It worked (of course!).

Three years later we decided to try for another baby. I conceived but suffered an early miscarriage. Stupidly I didn’t go to the doctor and my body was confused. All periods stopped, things were all over the place. Then before I knew it, I was pregnant again but had no idea of dates. We only had scans to go on. The pregnancy was similar to the first and I went into labour about three weeks early again. This time was very quick and resulted in a natural birth. Another beautiful little girl, she was in the SCBU for a day only.

Life carried on until I found one day that I was pregnant again. Not quite the plan, especially as daughter number two was not the easiest of toddlers! So another pregnancy followed. My husband would come home from work in the early stages to find me on the floor in the kitchen, covered by my seven year old in a blanket and she amusing the younger one in the other room. Fortunately that didn’t last too long. I went into labour earlier this time, five weeks before the due date. Had to be induced (which is no pain at all followed seconds later by excruciating bursts of agony) but again a natural birth resulting in my little boy being born. He was smaller than the two girls and in the SCBU for over a week, while I went home.

Skip forward a few years to my mid-40s. The day started normally, husband chasing me upstairs for a kiss good-bye to the amusement and horror of the children, he then took son sailing, I took daughter number two to the stables and daughter number one to university in Cardiff. We were almost there when the phone went. My husband had collapsed and was in hospital, would I come. Needless to say, I did. Drove like a maniac down the M4 and arrived at the hospital to find that he had died of a massive heart attack almost immediately. Only 46. Then followed a period of coping with myself, my condition and the grief of the children, then 14, 17 and 21. Most of it is now a blur. My diabetes suffered as a result, I was eating less and less (was on the verge of anorexia I now think) and taking virtually no insulin at all. I cooked for the children of course but ate hardly anything myself. It was a bad place.

Then three years later, another tragedy hit. My sister, who had become diabetic in her early 20s but never very well controlled, had been on her own – husband away working, children with grandparents. She had been working through the day, which had been hot, been to the gym, walked the dog, gone to bed. Obviously hadn’t eaten enough and had slipped into a diabetic coma in the night, resulting in her death. Only 45. There follows another blurry period, trying to help my brother in law and the children (11 and 7 at the time). All the time, everyone around me panicking about ME and my diabetes – would I go the same way? Can’t blame them of course but it was so frustrating!

Forward another five years. I have met someone else (internet dating is a wonderful thing, especially for us ‘older ladies’ who don’t do singles bars!) and we are getting married in 2010. I have put weight on and am much better adjusted. I control my diabetes, it does not control me.

Somewhere in space and I’m not now sure when, we changed from porcine to man-made insulin. Took a bit of getting used to – much shorter notice of hypos as a result. Blood testing machines became smaller and faster. The biggest change of all has been the syringe. Went from the huge glass one to small, disposable syringes and now to the pen and injecting before each meal. Makes things so much easier. And less painful! Things have come so far in such a short time. Life today is so much easier for diabetics and nobody needs to know, we can fit into ‘normal’ society! And aren’t we all ‘normal’ people?

You never know what’s round the corner – live life to the full, don’t waste a second. And stay in control!

Gill – Ascot, Berks