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by David Sparks

I had just started university following a passion of art in design very excited and ready to start the next chapter of my life. Little did I know that a few months later the chapter would take a cruel twist.

That September, I had been to my doctors just for a routine check up all was good and I remember that I was weighed and was just over 11 stone. Whilst this may not seem relevant I will go on to explain why it is. I lived at home with my parents and worked part time at a local convenience store. I was fairly healthy and always ate well (my mum was a great cook). I was really enjoying my time at university and met some great people. 

Christmas soon came and, as most people do, it was a time of over indulgence with food and drink! Whilst most people put on weight and spend most of January trying to lose it, my body was doing something else.

Little did I know that my pancreas had begun to stop producing insulin. Over the last week of January and the first week of February the effects of hyperglycemia were getting worse and worse.

My body could not convert carbohydrates and sugars into energy and as a reaction my body began to burn fat cells for energy. Despite all this my body became increasingly tired. The burning of my fat cells caused a byproduct called ketones to enter my bloodstream, this byproduct can only be rid of through urine so I was constantly going to the toilet and drinking more and more water. It was a vicious circle.

I could barely get out of bed as my tiredness increased and it became very apparent that something serious was happening.

During the time of my illness a storyline in Coronation Street alerted my mother to the symptoms of diabetes. Never have I been more thankful for my mother watching soap operas. One Saturday morning I asked my mother to call work. There was no way I could go, my body ached and all I wanted to do was sleep. My mother said I think you are diabetic, we need to get you to hospital right away.

I was immediately taken to Leicester general hospital where all the regular checks were made. I was weighed, and it was scary. I had lost 2 stone. As I stood looking at myself in the mirror in my boxer shorts I looked like a bag of bones. A shadow of myself 5 months previous. My blood sugar levels were checked and when the results came back the nurses were surprised that I hadn’t fallen into a coma. I was soon put on a drip with insulin and my sugars were monitored every 2 hours, still no proper sleep!

I was very well cared for in hospital and my parents were able to bring some university work from home so I wouldn’t fall behind in my studies. I spent a week in hospital before the nurses came to see me on their rounds with my first insulin pen. “Do you want us to do it for you?” I was asked. I gulped as I relpied “No. I’ve got to learn some day”. I went to somewhere a little more private and administered my insulin for the first time. I winced a little as the needle went in, it was only small but the thought of injecting myself was very scary. Sure enough though, it wasn’t that bad. It was now part of a daily routine that I would have to live with for the rest of my life. It was just another part of my new life which had many more surprises for me.

I completed my course at Derby University and decided to further my studies at UCE now Birmingham city university. I moved away from home to Coventry and secured a part time job at a local off licence. These days were LONG DAYS. I arrived at university at 8 in the morning finished at 3 and went straight to work at 5 until 11 at night. Not a good plan for a diabetic as I soon found out.

I was very tired as expected from these “shifts” but managed my diabetes quite well. Constantly testing my sugars 5 times a day and having two injections a day. However, with my regime, something wasn’t working well, I had to change my medication to a different system.

I started with a mixed insulin combining both a long term and short term insuling taken with each main meal, breakfast and dinner. I found that this caused some high readings and some low although neither were extreme and was able to handle the lows with something sugary. Then one weekend I was alone in the store and I had a severe crash of blood sugar.

I remember the situation very well as it was the first time I had been rushed to hospital as I completely blacked out. I felt fine when a customer came in to ask for some cigarettes and when I turned around to the shelf my head started to spin. The sweat poured out of me and my hands began to shake followed by my eyes twitching. I turned to the customer and reached over the counter to grab some chocolate franticly jabbering as I was unable to tell the customer of my condition and ask for an ambulance. The severe symptoms of hypoglycemia are looking very drunk and being unable to function properly. It eventually causes unconsciousness as your body shut down inessential things to keep you alive. This is what eventually happened.

I was lucky that my manager happened to pass by the store to find a customer in tears, not sure what was happening. My manager called an ambulance and I was in hospital once again.

Once stabalised I was sent home and I was advised to thing about my insulin regime because of my life being so busy. 

I visited my doctors and changed my insulin so I could have separate injections for my short and long term insulin. You have no idea how lucky non diabetics are! Your pancreas makes insulin constantly and increases production when you eat. No. I have to do that myself with my injections now!

The new regime was hard, 5 injections a day. Checking how many carbs I eat adjusting for any slightly sugary items and even more blood checking. I’ve now, in recent years, started to lose feeling in the tips of my fingers from blood sugar tests and formed scar tissue under my skin from injections in my stomach and legs. That leads me to another thing! My parents took me out for dinner when they came to visit me at my new home and I had now grown the confidence to inject myself in public (into my stomach just left or right of my belly button). After a delightful meal I took out my pens and began to inject whilst at the table I was sat. I noticed some middle aged people looking at me, call a waiter over and then the waiter came to our table. “I do not think you should be doing that here” he said “It is not the place to do that”. “What!?” I exclaimed. “It’s just insulin”. “Maybe you could go to the toilet” he replied. “Why? It’s no different to taking indigestion tablets, I’m not going to do something that is sterile in a dirty place!”. Yes, I was getting pissed off and had grown in confidence about my condition. “If that table has a problem then then can speak to me themselves”. They didn’t.

I’ve had other bad scares with low blood sugar but I will keep these short. One time whilst working at IKEA I was on a store tour and desperately grabbed some biscuits from our café promising to pay later when I had cash only to be pulled in 30 minutes after the incident to be accused of theft. Thankfully I was able to explain the situation pay for the food and from then all staff knew about my condition.

There was the time in the summer when I was mowing the lawn at a shared house. I was sweating a lot and the crash hit me. I stumbled like a piss head inside, screaming for help as I fell to the floor knocking a sugar jar down and shoveling it into my mouth to bring my sugars up before I could have died right there.

I met my wife in between those times and she has been my guardian angel. She understands my condition and has learnt how to deal with the high and low blood sugar including how to administer my medication.

When we moved to Denmark she came to my aid in the best way possible and dealt with one of the most extreme cases of low blood sugar I have ever had. After moving home from one apartment in Denmark to another, we had, of course, to build furniture. Sweaty work, remember that summer I spoke about? Well I went to bed feeling fine. Then around 2 AM I started to have a fit. My body was shaking uncontrollably and I could barely speak. It woke my wife who understood the situation but unfortunately my glucose tablets could not be found. She promptly called the emergency services who came out, gave me the pick-up I needed and between them they saved my life. I’ve had, in total, 7 or 8 times away from the reaper and my running shoes are more experienced now and I am always getting wiser, he won’t get me yet! 

Diabetes is not just something you read about in the news and for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics it can cause serious complications, blindness, loss of teeth, loss of limbs and even death. I thank people like Nathan Cheney who support research into an illness. That whilst talked about is not given the funding it needs to find a cure. It’s a life less sweet but I don’t need sugar I’m sweet enough with sweet caring friends and family.

Thank you Nathan.

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