This a first time for me on my blog – a guest blog. My Mum’s husband, Ian, also has Type 1 diabetes. I have known him for many years but I still found some of his story about his care surprising. In many ways he is quite inspirational – you will see why as his story unfolds:
A SWEET TALE
By Ian Bowman
I am writing this narrative about my 42 years as a person who happens to have diabetes. I was prompted to do this by Anne, who felt that other people might benefit by the experiences I have had over the years; the things I seemed to get right and the mistakes I have made.
From the age of 13 when my father bought me a bike I have been an active cyclist, I joined a club and toured all around the local countryside. At 16 I started to race and by the time I was diagnosed as having diabetes I had become a 1st Category rider, so I was very fit – this has a bearing on my later life with Type 1 diabetes. Just so you know a category 1 rider has to score a number of points in competitions for riding during a year and there is only one classification – elite – that is higher. I understood this, unlike the term ‘Type 1’ – in those days you either had diabetes or not!
I am in the lead here! Look at the cars to see the age of the photo!
At the time I was diagnosed I had no idea what diabetes was. I was working as a joiner and I had started to feel lethargic and terribly thirsty. Unaware of what was wrong I started drinking loads of lemonade little knowing that I was making it worse. Eventually I went to the local GP who suspected I may have diabetes. I, and the people around me, had a very limited knowledge of what this meant. I knew not to eat cakes and biscuits but that was it; pastry, pies and savouries we thought were ok. This was all about to change and my life with it, when I was sent to hospital for tests.
I was sent to Middlesbrough General Hospital to the medical ward. In those days you were kept in while they carried out the tests. I was in hospital for a week; it was a strange week with me been totally ignorant of what was the matter with me. Syringes, needles, diet, insulin, and all the things that would become part of my life I knew nothing at all about. After a week and all the tests, I was diagnosed as having diabetes and was told by the consultant in her office. It didn’t sink in to start with, everyone is afraid of the unknown. I was fit young with things to do! I was confused. I walked out of her office and walked out of the hospital my mind racing with what I had being told. I walked into the town my mind still trying to come to terms with this new twist in my life. I remember it was a lovely day and I just walked. Eventually, and this may give some idea of the person I am, I accepted the fact and decide to be positive. I walked back to the hospital into the consultant’s office and told her that this condition was not going to stop me from doing anything I wanted – and by and large it never has.
The journey started from there, they would not let you leave hospital until they had worked out the right dose of insulin and I could inject yourself. They gave you an orange to practice on. No way did I want to stay! I wanted to go home, so I started to inject myself and have done so ever since. I was given a glass re-useable syringe and a small box containing about 12½ inch steel needles, you had to boil the syringe and needle every time you used them and you used the needles until they were blunt. I was also given a booklet with different values for carbohydrates, a word that I had to look up to see what it meant, and a testing system where you could test your urine for sugar levels. With support at home I started to come to terms with my new way of life. In those days I was on insulin which was a mixture of quick acting and long acting and it was bovine based.
At the time this was all alien to me but because of necessity we adapt. To carry on cycling I needed to learn more about me and the affect of having diabetes, hypos, glucose, measuring, testing, now a way of life.
Around the time I was diagnosed my GP was killed in a plane crash as a result no follow up with the hospital was ever arranged so I was never seen by a specialist. This left me very much to my own devices. I went with no specialist support for 10 to 12 years with no one monitoring my condition. I feel sure that I am living with the consequences now, much later in my life. I have problems with my feet (neuropathy) and eyes (retinopathy). What has changed is the support we now receive; the back-up we get now has improved vastly.
Over the years I have never given up my cycling and I have managed to remain exceptionally fit and this coupled with what I had learned about myself helped me with my control. In those days with the cycling club I was in it was common practice to ride 150 miles on a Sunday, from Skelton to Scarborough, Hexham, Pateley Bridge, York – all over the north east of England. I still ride my bike today, still with the same club where I have been the Secretary and Treasurer for the past 30 years. We still ride up to 100 miles some Sundays during the summer. Back in 1975, I and two other members of the club rode the clubs 260 in 24 hours, which meant me riding nearly 300 miles that day.
Riding in the alps
I did not return to the fold, i.e. under the care of a specialist, until it was decided to standardize insulin units when it was decimalized into units of a 100. This changed my prescription and as a result I was required to attend the health centre where it was identified I had no specialist backup. Now I have regular check-ups. With support things have improved over the years needles and testing are better, meaning that my control now is quite good; my GP says I am his favourite patient. I carry out multiple daily blood tests which helps me to achieve good control.
Another very important factor is the fact that I attended a DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) course; I cannot recommend this highly enough. DAFNE is a training programme designed to make it possible for people with diabetes to have a greater choice of food – as it says for normal eating. DAFNE provides you with the skills necessary to estimate the amount of carbohydrate in your food and to inject the right dose of insulin. This helps you to lead as normal a life as possible, with good control.
A specialist once described having diabetes as like a three legged stool, the legs representing diet, medication and exercise; if you remove one leg the stool falls over. You really could apply this to everyone, even if they haven’t got diabetes! One positive aspect of having diabetes is that you health is constantly being monitored, problems identified even problems not necessarily diabetes related. The other really important thing is be positive as having diabetes is also about getting to know yourself because everyone is different and you have to work out what works for you.
I am now 66 years old and not only do I still cycle I have done many long distance walks including the coast to coast walk. I used to run half marathons, but since I retired I have concentrated on my first love – cycling. I also have two dogs to walk and an allotment which both myself and the wife do.
Throughout my life I have believed that I can have a full and healthy life despite having diabetes and I still try to live my life in this way. You cannot defeat diabetes but you do not let diabetes beat you.
On the coast to coast walk
Inspirational blog. Totally agree that positive mental attitude isn’t a ‘cure’ but it sure is an excellent coping strategy! And long may it last!
Thank you Ian for sharing your experience. You provide great insight, especially to the changes you have had to go through. You have a fantastic approach – but then you know that already!