Some Introductory details:
- I was diagnosed with T1 diabetes in 1977, at the age of 11 years.
- I was admitted to the Royal Children’s hospital (Melbourne) almost in a coma. I stayed in the hospital and was ‘trained’ to look after my condition over 2 weeks.
- I was embarrassed and ashamed at that time and didn’t want anyone to know. My older brother (by 9 years) had been diagnosed at age 9 but he never talked about it.
- My mother took the brunt of my care. She boiled my glass syringes and reusable needles every night, to soak in Methylated spirits until required. I had to test my urine, using a dropper, test tubes and a magic tablet that was dropped in the tube, changed the colour and then was then measured up against a chart.
- At the age of 13, more complications for my life after a serious car accident (Anglesea, during a Diabetes camp run by the RCH).
- Needless to say, my teenage years were a mess, but I survived!
Skipping a few decades, I am now 51, working as a volunteer in Savannakhet, Laos – a little known landlocked country between Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar. I have two amazing children, a boy aged 21 and a girl aged 7, who still live in Melbourne where I grew up. I did a lot of study over the years, culminating in a PhD (Education) in 2011. I volunteered in the Solomon Islands in 1994 after spending two crazy years in Kalgoorlie (Western Australia). I never believed that having diabetes should stop me – and it hasn’t.
Not to say I’ve always been in the best of health, or particularly well-controlled. My teenage years were a disaster – but having diabetes in a way stopped me from going as far awry as some of my friends did. I have spent some time in hospital on occasions from DK (Diabetic ketoacidosis) and learnt a lot about my body and control in the process. I felt close to death on occasions, and this is frightening, but gave me more determination to survive.
My son was born in 1995 (I was 29) – I spent 5 weeks in the RWH (Royal Women’s hospital) before his birth because of my badly controlled diabetes and risk of preeclampsia. He was induced early, weighed 5lbs at birth and is now a healthy 21 years old.
My daughter was born in 2009 (I was 43) – and that was when I was able to go on pump therapy which has changed my diabetes control incredibly. Another gorgeous healthy baby, induced but much easier than the first time around. She is now an incredibly delightful child of 7, so much like me that I’m afraid she will be the next diabetic to join our extended family (currently – 2 siblings, 1 cousin and his child, 1 uncle – and who knows who else draws the next short straw?).
So, at the age of 51, with 40 years of diabetes under my belt, I am proud to say that it has actually incentivised me to conquer the odds, and do the best I can for humanity. Here in Savannakhet, I am working at a Teacher Training College, with teachers who train young people from rural areas, so that they are able to return to their villages and share their knowledge as a teacher. I feel appreciated for what I do, and I am so glad to be of help however I can. Life here is not necessarily easy – complete lack of availability of the medications I need (I had to bring as much with me as I possibly could, and have cut back on blood tests and some medications so they don’t run out), the heat is constant – I’m always sweating, the food is so different to home, there is no suitable medical care locally and I must travel to Thailand or Vientiane for appropriate treatment for any problems that occur.
On the upside, I’m happier and more content than I’ve ever been before in my life. I have everything I need. My insulin requirements are much less than when in Australia (yes, even with the dreaded rice as a staple of my diet) and I have had incredible experiences and adventures. And I appreciate life and every moment so much more. I really thought, as a young badly controlled diabetic, threatened with blindness, amputations, and kidney disease for all my sins, that I would never get past 34 years. Well I have, and I’m loving it!