Chris is a lovely patient of mine. She has had type 1 diabetes for a grand total of 70 years! One of the most impressive things about Chris is that despite her having lived with diabetes for so many years, she remains open to managing her diabetes in new ways and, indeed, three years ago switched to insulin pump therapy. (I can't imagine there are too many people - ah, including me - so open-minded about changing, well, pretty well anything, about therir lives after so many years.)
Recently when Chris was in to see me I asked her what it was like to live with diabetes back when she was diagnosed in the early 1940s. In response she sent me a wonderful letter which she has given me permission to share here. Here's what Chris had to say:
Dear Dr Blumer,
At our last meeting you asked me "what was it like to be on insulin in 1943?"
I was very lucky as I was diagnosed rapidly after becoming ill. Our family doctor had known Dr. McLeod at university. He sent me to the care of Dr. R. D. Lawrence at Kings College Hospital in SE London, England who himself had type 1 diabetes and whose life was saved by the discovery of insulin. He devoted the rest of his life to the treatment and improvement of the life of people with diabetes.
I was 5 years old when I was admitted to D wing at Kings. My first memory is being sat on a bright orange chair at a round table (also orange) and being very startled to get a needle in my right arm! I was even more startled to be left there, and there I stayed for 9 weeks.
Even at 5 years old I was taught to draw up and inject my own insulin doses - not without some battles. Needless to say they won! But I do remember sitting on a toilet with a syringe in my hand for about 2 hours.The injections themselves - well - it was war time, needles were reused and reused over and over again - always sterilized, but oh did they get blunt and occasionally the point would make a hook shape and that hurt on the way out! At home we would re-sharpen our own needles. Syringes were stored in a case full of alcohol and that could also really sting. Insulin was made from beef or pork pancreases and came in different strengths of 20, 40, and 60 units/cc so very small people (me) used the 20 unit variety. The next step was learning to weigh and measure every scrap of carbohydrate that went in your mouth, but the onus tor that fell mainly on my mother. Unfortunately nobody told me when I went home that I still had to have insulin and I refused to do my own injections (when you leave hospital you're better - right?) and in fact my dear mother did them for me for years.War time was quite difficult for people with diabetes with food rations, difficulty in obtaining needles, insulin, etc and air raid warnings when you might have to take shelter and not have your food or insulin supplies with you.
Anyway - I had excellent basic training and ongoing care and I'm still here in good health 69 years later.
In one way war time made life easier for a new diabetic. There were no candies or ice cream or tropical fruit. Diabetics did not get a sugar or jam ration, but we did have triple meat and cheese rations. There were no fruit juices and no pop to drink (a lot of temptations removed).
Over the years I have gone from beef/pork insulin and glass and steel syringes to all glass to plastic syringes to one-time use needles and then to insulin pens and now, after 67 years of needles (and over 50,000 injections), an insulin pump. Whoopee! What next?