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'How diabetes affects my daily life'

Article provided by NHS Choices

Brian Hunte was born in Trinidad and now lives in London. He was diagnosed with diabetes around 34 years ago, when he was 43. He talks about living with the condition.

"When I was diagnosed with diabetes, it was a surprise. I didn't feel unwell, but I had been losing weight and felt thirsty all the time.

"I was drinking lots of water and going to the loo more often. I had to get up twice in the night to urinate, which wasn't normal for me."

Seeing the doctor

"When I described my symptoms to the GP, he said it sounded like diabetes symptoms. Blood tests confirmed I had type 1, which usually develops earlier than 43, but can develop in older people.

"I was worried because I didn't know anything about diabetes. I didn't like the idea of giving myself injections.

"At first, I was given tablets to stimulate the pancreas to produce insulin. I also had to change my diet.

"I needed to avoid sugar, so I gave up cakes, chocolates, sweets, and sugar in my tea and coffee. It wasn't as difficult as I'd expected, but I confess I still eat cakes every now and then."

Fried and sugary food

"The doctors also recommended a healthy diet with no fatty foods, so no chips or anything else fried. I loved sausages, eggs, bacon and black pudding, but it wasn't too hard to give them up.

"I ate more fibre and fruit (but fruit is sugary, so I don't have more than three portions a day), steamed or boiled vegetables and grilled meat. It was a normal diet, really. I could go to a restaurant with friends and order from the menu easily.

"I never ate too much Trinidadian food because my wife is Irish. Growing up with three sisters in Trinidad meant I was never allowed in the kitchen. It was only when I emigrated to Dublin in 1959 that I learned to cook for myself.

"I taught my wife some Trinidadian dishes, including pot-roasted beef. You put oil and sugar in a pot, caramelise the sugar, then add the meat so it gets a nice distinctive flavour and colour. I should stop eating it, but still have it once in a while.

"I'm a bit freer with my diet now, having attended an excellent dose adjustment for normal eating (DAFNE) course at hospital. This taught me how to work out exactly how much insulin to take depending on what I eat."

Insulin injections

"After a year of managing my diabetes with tablets and a healthy diet, I had to start insulin injections. My glucose levels were rising, and I felt lethargic.

"When your blood sugar levels get too high, you feel tired and can't deal with problems so well. You feel groggy.

"When the doctor told me I had to start injections, he stuck a syringe into his own stomach to show me it wasn't that bad.

"The needles are so good that you don't feel anything. I inject into my stomach before every meal, then in the morning I inject a long-lasting insulin that releases slowly over the next 14 hours."

Blood sugar levels

"I also have to test my blood sugar levels before every meal with a finger-prick kit so I know how much insulin I need.

"These days, I don't always test before each meal because I can guess my blood sugar by how I feel. But I do at least two tests a day.

"When you've taken your insulin, you need to eat soon afterwards. I forgot once, when some guests arrived unexpectedly.

"I put some chairs out in the garden, forgetting I'd just taken my insulin. Next thing, I collapsed on to the kitchen floor, so my wife called an ambulance.

"I was taken to hospital and stayed there until night time. My blood sugar levels had fallen too low. I was OK in the end.

"If your blood sugar levels become dangerously low, you can have a hypoglycaemic attack and there's a risk that you may fall into a coma. This can be fatal.

"I've lived on my own since my wife died with frontal lobe dementia in 2009. I phone a safety confirmation company twice a day to let them know I'm still in the land of the living.

"If they don't hear from me, they check with a friend and a neighbour, and can then take further steps if necessary."

Eye problems

"As well as a healthy diet, doctors recommend exercise and watching my weight. They say 30 minutes of exercise a day, such as walking, is good. I don't take exercise, but I should. I've put on a little weight recently, and I see a dietitian.

"Because of the diabetes, I've had problems with my eyes. I've had laser surgery on the retina in both of them because of diabetic retinopathy [damage to tiny blood vessels in the eye].

"I go for regular eye checks - I see my optician once a year, and attend an eye clinic at hospital once a year.

"I visit the hospital every six months for routine diabetes check-ups, including blood tests and to check my feet for neuropathy." Neuropathy is damage to the nerves, which can happen when you have diabetes.

Diabetes, driving and holidays

"The DVLA require me to renew my driving license every three years, but I believe I would have to do that anyway now I'm in my 77th year.

"The other way diabetes has affected my life is that I have to be careful when I'm on holiday. I have to carry all my medication as hand luggage, so I bring a letter from my doctor explaining that I'm diabetic and need to carry insulin syringes.

"I can visit my GP if I want to ask questions about my health, but I don't go often. I can manage the diabetes very easily."

Article provided by NHS Choices

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