Diabetes denial and all that jazz.

OK here it is – years and years ago when on the old insulin – the once a day stuff, I got very upset with my diabetes. The GPs never had a lot to do with it. They weren’t a closed door at all – but of course I never asked that or even tried with them. They said go to the hospital, they deal with it – so I felt that was absolutely that. You have bowed out completely, I ONLY have the hospital. Every 6 months.

The hospital was Victorian and frankly, depressing. There was only one very large waiting room, with the chairs arranged in serried ranks. You checked in, and were told which colour chairs to sit on depending on which room(s) your clinic was in that day. The diabetes clinic chairs were always full of elderly people in wheelchairs, or with white sticks – and me. So were all the others, it seemed to me.

The nurse who worked on our clinic was approx 109 years of age, and her uniform was a sort of nylon overall. Looked like a domestic, frankly. She did wear some sort of a nurses cap, skewiff despite many black hairgrips atop her thin and straggly short beige hair, and she had slightly bulging, watery eyes. In hindsight she’d probably got thyroid troubles! but I already knew she appeared to be in absolute awe of anything qualified to hang a stethoscope roiund its neck. Especially before he retired, THE PROFESSOR. (Not shouted, in fact hushed tones, but that was his importance in her view) I knew this because about 3 days after I’d been diagnosed – as a hospital in-patient, that was always that for the first 10-ish days then, adult ot child. It was 1972, I was an adult of 22. I had a responsible job, I had married the previous year and I certainly didn’t want a baby yet – if ever.

So this vision of loveliness shuffled down the ward – me and Brenda in the next bed were chatting as per usual (she was 58 and recovering from a heart attack, she was a right case and we kept each other sane cos we were both sarky as hell and there wasn’t much wrong with us, really. Hence I had the end bed and she had the next. She told me when she was in Intensive Care, they do everything for you, they really are lovely she said. So every night they’d come to settle her down for sleep and even take her false teeth out for her, she didn’t have to do a thing. The only snag was – she had all her own teeth …. I cried with laughter when she told me that!)and we did say ‘Haven’t seen her before, have you. Wonder what she’s come to clean?’

Anyway she is actually carrying a pile of pamphlets, and she’d seen me and headed for the chair at the side of my bed – Brenda’s side and she pulled the curtain across to shut B out. Brenda said ‘And good morning to you, too!’ as she disappeared and the look on her face said it all, but was intended for me to see anyway and of course completely destroed any aplomb I might have ever had. Anyway the old darlin’ had brought me a BIG pile of leaflets from the British Diabetic Association, that I might care to peruse and which I should find would help me. And she said, she understood that I was taking the birth control pill? Yes, I was, here they are! Well – she said – that will have to stop! Straight away! But why? asked I, incredulously. Quickly mentally riffling through my 5 years ago Biology O level syllabus, where we learned about diabetes and starch and glucose and poured iodine onto bread to test for said starch, and then watched it go bright purple proving it was absolutely crammed full of it; quel surprise ….. and thought, I can’t see a connection here????? So I asked. ‘I don’t understand, will it make my diabetes worse if I continue?’ She didn’t know but didn’t think so. The record continued without pause and still po-faced, she advised me that some people thought that the contraceptive pill caused diabetes, so there was an end to that. My face then broke out into a (forced) joyous grin – ‘So let’s get this right – are you telling me if I stop taking it I shall be cured?’ (I knew I wouldn’t by the way, I was just being provocative LOL) ‘Cos if you’re saying that, I’ll certainly stop taking it – whyever wasn’t I told this last Wednesday, everyone could have saved themselves a lot of time and trouble, couldn’t they?’ I took a deep breath and said ‘Sorry (I wasn’t) – I’ll have to disagree with you there – so far you haven’t told me anything that would encourage me to stop taking it!’ Sharp intake of breath, incredulous tone -‘Are you actually refusing to stop taking it then?’ I replied, ‘Too right I am!’ Brenda had a coughing fit behind the curtain; she did that when she was trying to stifle a giggling fit and I was trying to suppress mine too, I couldn’t.

Nursie Nightshade stood up and went to the bottom of my bed. She told me, with her chin stuck out defiantly, ‘Very well – but I shall have to tell THE PROFESSOR this!’ i recally responding with something about ‘You can tell who you like luv’ but I don’t recall excatly what. She proceeded back down the Ward and left. As she disappeared Brenda pulled the curtain back and we both guffawed. As soon as she could draw breath Breda splurted out the very thing I hadn’t added, though I’d had to bite my tongue and she knew it – ‘So put that in your pipe and smoke it!’

The weekend passed, and on Monday morning there was a ward round, I’d been asked to ‘stay by my bed’ and not go into the Day Room, so I did. This was par for the course when these events occurred, if you weren’t actually bedridden they’d ask you to do the opposite when it was the Heart chap, or whoever. So there I was on the end without my mate. Bored as hell. Couldn’t read or knit or do a crossword, cos very soon after I’d had my first insulin jab, my eyesight had gone out of focus for close work, watching TV etc, although was OK-ish for distance vision. They said it would pass but it took a couple of months to get back to normal …. Anyway so this quite elderly chap, who’d been shuffling through his notes, with an entourage of students, his Houseman Dr Summers who was nice and hitherto the only doctor I’d seen in hospital since admittance and the Ward Sister in tow, stopped at the bottom of an empty bed halfway along, lowered the notes, grinned and roared, ‘Where’s this young woman with a mind of her own, then?’ I replied, ‘I expect that must be me’. He introduced himself and then excused himself and discussed ‘my case’ with the young hopefuls. I was asked if I would mind one of them prodding this or that etc and that done and lots of technical stuff discussed, shame I couldn’t understand most of it then LOL the Prof (who I never referred or spoke to in hushed tones, how was I supposed to know the bloke was eminent, anyway? I imagined that every hospital had one such as he, for their diabetics. How wrong can you be? etc.) then discussed The Pill. Apparently the discussion was sposed to go more like, ‘Now – it is thought in some Research circles these days that taking it may perchance increase the likelihood of certain ladies to get Type 1 diabetes. Because we know this despite the fact doing so won’t stop your diabetes now you have it, and from what we know it most likely won’t make it any worse, and it will also continue to do it’s intended job – we feel we have to tell you this – and what you decide to do about that is entirely your decision and makes absolutely no difference whatsoever to me!’ I said well – if it did do it, as I saw it, it was now too late – like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and as we didn’t want kids yet and didn’t really particularly like other forms of contraception we’d tried, I was more than happy to carry on. I added that to me in the current position we were in – newly wed, husband just gone self-employed – a baby would be far more of a disaster than me getting diabetes ever could be.

‘That’s fine by me’ he said and they all retreated. And it was.

But that was a slight (LOL) digression. Going to the hospital depressed me. Somehow, I slipped off the radar. I was still on GP radar. ‘What did the hospital say?’ they asked. I replied, ‘Not a lot!’ and they seemed to accept it. Then one day my GP told me they had a new chap joined them – I knew that, cos I’d seen him around in passing. He looked a bit like weird Al Yankovic only with ginger hair. Pale-ish eyes and skin. Pointy nose. He wore cords and Clarks NatureTrek shoes. A youngish bloke who looked exceedingly comfortable in his own skin! Apparently he had recently been a Houseman in diabetes at a large hospital. Therefore he was now going to see all the diabetics registered at the practice, cos his knowledge was much more up to date than anyone elses. Seemed fine to me. I wasn’t all that keen on the one I’d got. I liked the one I was originally registered with, and he was the one who actually diagnosed my diabetes in the first place, but exactly the same scenario had happened before, when I’d been passed over to this one, who I always thought of as a cold fish. Although I never had a prob with his doctorly skills I have to say, he just wasn’t a bloke to be sociable with or have a joke. Not really a ‘Me’ sort of person really.

So NewDoc takes over my care and I got The Letter. The one that said we can’t trace you’ve been at the hospital recently and we’d like to have a chat. I knew I hadn’t been doing meself any favours really. I’d stopped testing my wee and hadn’t got a clue. Just taking the nightly jab and guzzking whatever I wanted. I’d kinda got to the stage here I was thinking I’d have to do summat about it, but wasn’t really quite sure what. Did I just try and ring the hospital and make an appointment, did i visit the GP and leave it up to him, or what? I decided I better do both. I rang the GP and made an appointment there, and rang the hospital, said I’d slipped off the radar and hadn’t been for ages and needed a clinic appoitment, which I got. In those days it was a wait of a few weeks – not a few years like it always seems round here now.

I went to the docs and Came Clean. No criticism; that was a pleasant surprise. He was a nice bloke, we had a bit of a joke and a chat, I said it was a PITA having to go down the Path Lab whenever they opened for my -fasting A1c – because it was so hard to get from there to the station for my train after and he said why go there then? – come here at 7am if you like, you then have time to get home and have your breafast (I only lived round the corner) and you can leave for work at 7.45 like you normally do! I had no idea I could do that in the first place cos no-one ever told me before. And of course, I’d never asked. Imagine my surprise when nurse subsequently having drawn my blood and written all the labels etc – they weren’t pre-printed then! – asks whether I’d like tea or coffee? I assured her I was going home for brekkie, approx 4 minutes walk away and I was sure I’d be fine. Honest! LOL She always asked everybody, when it was a Fasting …..

So then I went to the hospital. Things had changed. They’d decorated for starters. And the waiting room which was a sort of atrium in the middle, so no windows, but a glass roof miles above – was much brighter. I think really, they’d probably only cleaned the glass! Lots of pale primrose paint. And gleamed as much like a new pin as they could manage. Astonishing transformation.

And a woman – slim. Young middle-aged – in the familiar cornflour blue proper nurses uniform they wore on the wards, a proper starched cap – a Sister’s cap, with all the teensy little pleats etc – and a starched white apron. All cinched in with the wide, black elastic belt with a jolly nice silver buckle, not your NHS issue, I could tell that. Not an all enveloping apron, a pretty uselessly small one really – if she’d been on a ward! She wasn’t on a ward, it was there for decoration because she wasn’t going to be exposed to blood and gore. She had nicely arranged hair, subtle make up, nicely manicured hands – no polish of course! LOL She had energy and soon bounced out of her room – door was open wide always as long as no patient – and threw herself into the seat next to me. ‘Hi Jennifer – I’m Heather! How are you?’

And when I got in to see him, the Endo who was doing the clinic now as The Prof had by now retired (shame – I should have liked to have seen him again) was again young middle-aged and very very easy to talk to. I didn’t know anything much about him at the time till I later ran into him and his wife at a friend’s party – not a bosom buddy, just someone in the extended circle, my husband and hers were in the same shooting and tennis clubs; in fact the doc also played tennis and so my husband knew him slightly too – but only by his first name! But the doc and our friend’s children all went to the same school ….. such a small world in semi-rural Worcestershire. Not that I ever wanted one, but not a place where you could keep an extra-marital relationship secret for very long LOL

So that’s it really. My period of diabetes denial – which didn’t coincide with it’s diagnosis at all, it was years later – was over and I’ve never dropped back into it. So far.

But it has taught me some things. One of those is that sometimes you act in ways you can’t explain till much later, so you can never really say ‘If that happened to me, I’d definitely do this’ because you’d probably do the opposite and surprise yourself – so never take anything for granted and another is, the vast importance with this disease of having a GP you can genuinely get on with and talk to.

They are not all the same.

1 comment to Diabetes denial and all that jazz.

  • Pattidevans

    No they are not all the same. I have been having a pretty deep conversation tonight with a friend about a period of my life that I hated – edit, hubby and I both equally hated that period of our lives – but compared to that, diabetes is a walk in the park. Soooo I haven’t ever hated it as others have. I am so proud of you Sedge, you rose above it and now you are so ace!

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