Opinion: Living with diabetes for 18 years aided by great medical care

Close up of woman hands using lancet on finger to check blood sugar level by Glucose meter using as

Medical advances mean living with diabetes is no longer a condition that regularly leads to organ failure, says Paul Barnes - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It looks as though I’d spoken a wee bit too soon about getting a good night’s sleep.

The signs had been promising.

On two successive nights I’d managed to tuck away seven unbroken hours of dreamless slumber, something I hadn’t managed for at least 30 years, springing from bed straight into a modest exercise binge including biceps curls and sumo squats, all accompanied by Radio Three.

Ah, bliss. But that was then, a couple of days ago. Last night was totally different, bringing back the old routine of seven hours of miserable, fruitless searching for some shuteye, craving and turning in the dark hoping for some refreshing rest.

What led me to believe I might be in for some super-sleeping was the latest news from Clair, my diabetic specialist nurse who proposed changing my medication.

“I’m afraid your pancreas is on the way out,” she said, but I mustn’t grumble because I’d managed for the past 18 years on a daily dose of an age-old remedy taken as a tablet. But now I had to start injecting myself with insulin.

Injecting! I had to say that I didn’t relish the thought of that needle going into my midriff. But it turned out to be a doddle, nothing to it with no hypodermic involved, only a clever kind of fountain pen that I couldn’t even feel, and there was the bonus of that prospect of sweeter slumber. I suppose it will come eventually when the needle and I become better friends.

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Sleepless, but dreamful was how last night turned out, and unusually the dreams didn’t fade but stayed remarkably clear. And now you’re groaning at the thought that this could turn into a recitation of nocturnal fantasies, a sort of sub-standard Ancient Mariner who “stoppeth one of three” and goes on about the folly of shooting an albatross. Promise: no albatrosses were killed or injured in the course of writing this column.

It’s 18 years since I found out that I was diabetic; I don’t know how many years I’d been walking around with the condition not knowing it was there. I discovered it by accident.

I’d been troubled for months with terrible aches and pains, mainly in my shoulders and thighs.

Had I overdone it during weight-training? I reckoned I might see them off with paracetamol but they wouldn’t go away. Then I came across a magazine article about a thing called polymyalgia rheumatica, PMR. It was my lucky day. I showed it to my GP. “I think I might have this,” I said. “I think you might,” he said, and took some blood samples to check. We were right.

When I told people I’d got PMR they were a bit puzzled at first confusing it with PMT, pre-menstrual tension; they started warning each other that it might be wise not to annoy me as I might fly off the handle

The pills he prescribed made the aches and pains vanish like the morning dew. But one of the blood samples was overloaded with glucose; it confirmed that I was diabetic. It was another lucky day.

There are thousands of diabetics who have the condition but don’t know it; now that I knew I did actually have it I went into a brilliant system of treatment and frequent testing to check my condition and adjust the treatment accordingly.

I remember sitting in the sun with Kip and Alison Bertram while he showed me how to take my own blood glucose readings. Kip’s had diabetes since he was little; his mum Elsie established the diabetic treatment centre at the Norfolk & Norwich. “Just remember,” said Kip, “you’re not ill; you have a condition.”

The system for dealing with this condition is brilliant. 

In the old days diabetics could lose their eyesight or limbs; kidneys could fail. Now the system of regular checks can see trouble coming a mile off and nip it in the bud. And that’s where I am; Clair shaded her eyes and saw my tottering 81-year-old pancreas coming over the hill, handed me my clever pen and showed Helen and me how to use it. 

And now I’m flying solo, feeling better. 

As I wrote earlier, with a bit of practise it’s become a doddle.

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