For World Diabetes Day this year I thought I’d approach the blog slightly differently. I have always been unendingly grateful that the pace of technological progress since Pumplette’s diagnosis has, when looked at in the context of a timeline since the discovery of insulin in the 1920s, been at a hugely accelerated rate. Dreaming of having a window about Pumplette’s person when she was 9 months old which would display her blood glucose levels became a reality within 9 years for her. The insulin pump she uses contains cutting edge precision and technology that allow her to accurately and reliably deliver identical amounts of insulin or vary them depending upon her needs. All this sophisticated tech is a world away from the regime my grandmother, Pumplette’s great grandmother, was given when she was diagnosed shortly after the birth of her only child, my father. To celebrate the world we live in today, and for me to pause and be grateful for the technology we rely upon to manage Pumplette’s T1, I asked my father whether he would mind writing about what he remembers of his mother’s regime and the 21 years she lived after her diagnosis. Below are his memories.
Diabetes in the olden days!
“I was born in 1943 and was apparently a very fretful and irritable baby, refusing to breast feed and driving my parents to distraction. No doubt there were baby milk products on the market then, but not to the varied extent available today. It was discovered, presumably by our excellent village doctor, that my mother had become diabetic and that excess sugar in her milk was the cause of my refusal to feed.
The level of sophistication in today’s treatments is a world away from that which obtained in the late 1940s and the public awareness of the condition was very limited. Children always accept as normal the world into which they are born and on occasion my mother would be unwell and I would be asked to give her sugar water and fetch the doctor, who fortunately lived just up the road from our house. On one occasion I returned from primary school to find her crawling in the garden covered in blood, having fallen into the blackberry bushes in the garden after an attack. Such episodes were usually followed by a spell in hospital to balance her blood sugars. She would return laden with vials of different strength insulins and a fresh set of instructions and a new syringe. Daily treatment was self-administered by injection into the thigh area. Syringes were not of the disposable type nor, I think, were the needles single use ones. Amid an all-pervading smell of surgical spirit, Mother would assemble her injection equipment, which consisted of a plunger, barrel body and needle of alarming proportions and then carefully draw off the prescribed insulin amounts from small vials with a pierceable rubber top until the required amount was loaded. More surgical spirit was then applied to the thigh area and the seemingly vast amount of fluid injected into her leg. Occasionally both thighs would be so covered in bruises that it was almost impossible to find and injectable site and my father or I would attempt to administer to her arms, usually with limited success. I believe Mother had been shown how to inject by practising on oranges whilst in hospital.
In spite of occasional comatose episodes, she managed her condition with commendable lack of drama and it is a tribute to both my parents that I was never plagued by fears that she might be at imminent risk of death. Looking back, we were also very fortunate to be living in a small village with an excellent old-fashioned doctor who was quite prepared to shuffle down the road at 2am with an overcoat covering his pyjamas to treat a diabetic coma. We had no telephone in those days : just as well as dialling 111 and the attendant rigmarole of questions nowadays would have done little to avert the occasional crises.”
I remain grateful for the vast leaps of knowledge which have occurred since insulin was first discovered. Whilst not yet that ever elusive cure, which is clearly only 10 years away, the treatments Pumplette uses now are nothing short of science fiction when I read about my grandmother’s regime & all she had to manage. We, as a family, are also incredibly lucky to live in a country where the access to this cutting edge treatment is free. So today, as always, I shall pause to be grateful, and continue to support Spare A Rose campaign, which provides insulin for those who would otherwise go without.
Because, a little over seventy years ago, people no longer died at or around diagnosis. I strongly feel that should be the case wherever you are on the planet today too! #insulin4all
Happy World Diabetes Day!!