In my youth, I was quite oblivious to the medical condition “Diabetes” and associated it with a disease of the elderly that happened because of overindulgence in sugar and an unhealthy life style. I had commonly heard whilst growing up that diabetes happens to those that don’t take care of themselves and are overweight. I had also noticed that when a diabetic person was seen consuming sugar, people would inevitably comment on how they are heavily diabetic and should not be eating a grain of sugar. I did not pay much notice to the illness as it did not affect members of our family much other than my grandfather.
Gradually, my medical knowledge broadened and realised there are different types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes affects young children (usually under the age of 15) and is controlled by insulin).
- Type 2 diabetes commonly affects those above the age of 50 and are usually overweight and this condition is usually controlled by medication and diet.
Shortly after my 21st birthday, and whilst I was at university, I stared loosing a lot of weight, feeling tired, drinking a lot more fluids and visiting the loo more often especially at night. At the back of my mind I knew something was wrong but I ignored the symptoms and was just enjoyed being in the prime years of my life.
Finally I visited the doctor knowing that I will be checked for both diabetes and hyperthyroidism. A quick sugar level check on the glucometer and a urine sample revealed a high sugar and ketones present in the body (ketones are produced when the sugar levels are excessively high). I was urgently referred to the hospital and did not have enough time to even embrace the diagnosis fully.
At the hospital, I was seen by the consultant endocrinologist and the diabetic nurses who were extremely empathetic with what I was facing. They thoroughly explained the condition to me and always emphasised that my life does not have to change because of the diagnosis and I should be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and still do everything that I enjoy doing.
Through the next several weeks, I had regular appointments with the diabetic nurse and nutritionists who helped me establish the levels of insulin to take and how to monitor my sugar levels 3 or 4 times a day with a glucometer. They told me watch out for the symptoms of hypoglycemia (where the sugar levels go below normal) as it is a medical emergency leading to lack of consciousness as well as hyperglycemia (sugar levels excessively high producing ketones and can lead to a diabetic coma and death due to ketoacidosis).
I learnt that Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to produce the hormone insulin (produced by the pancreas) hence the need for the daily insulin injections. Insulin is required to help the cells of our body to take in glucose to be used as energy. The excess glucose remains in the bloodstream and the body utilises other sources of energy and in doing so, produces the ketones. I was lucky enough to go on a DAPHNE course (which is only funded in particular hospital trusts) to learn how to count the about of carbohydrates in the food I eat. I keep glucose tablets with me wherever I go because a sugar low makes me feel quite agitated and almost dizzy.
I regularly see the endocrinologist to discuss my HbA1c results (this is a measure of how the sugar control has been over a period of 3 months). My liver and kidney function tests, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also checked along with the blood blow through the arteries in my feet. I go for a yearly eye check to make sure there are no leaking blood vessels (retinopathy scan). Diabetes is commonly known to have macro and microvasculature complications which can affect the heart, kidneys, feet and eyes. It is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep the sugars under control to avoid these from developing. There is a lot of help and resources available from organisations such as DiabetesUK and local support groups that patients can join if they need help and advice.
Initially, I always asked the question, why me? I thought of various reasons including sitting with the laptop on my stomach, university stress and so on. However, eventually I realised that I have nothing to complain about in a world where there are so many more life threatening acute illnesses, natural disasters, poverty and starvation. Living with diabetes with proper understanding of the condition and support of family and friends seemed nothing compared to what others were facing.
I feel blessed to have the support of my closest family and friends. I have chosen not to disclose my medical condition to the general society as I do not wish to have stereotypes associated with diabetes within society deter my progress and well being. I do not want people to have pre-conceived ideas or judgements about me based on the fact that I have diabetes without having the chance to understand the person that I am. I fully enjoy life, have a successful career, furthered my education and am able to pursue my interests and eat foods that I like (including desserts). I hope that someday society will be better educated against the stigmas associated with diabetes and instead, provide a supportive and nurturing environment to thrive in for those affected by this illness. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder (like rheumatoid arthritis) and nobody chooses to be born with it.
Lastly, I am thankful for the NHS healthcare system within this country. People are often very quick to criticise the care they receive from local hospital trusts. However before we point fingers, we should realise the constraints and restrictions that medical personnel face with limited resources and lack of funding. In the case of diabetes, all the medications (including non diabetes related) are at no cost to the patient due to medical exceptions. This brings me to think that we are lucky to be living in a country where this is possible.
Editorial Note: The Author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.