Tuesday, 21 April 2009

April 21

I have diabetes.

Four days ago, I had no idea and was headed to my local GP for an appointment which I thought would be routine. Having tested my blood sugar levels - which showed up as being 23 (ideally it should be between four and seven) - the doctor looked worried and asked if I could provide a urine sample. The toilet was at the other end of the corridor, and if anyone had been walking the other way as I made my return journey, there would have been no place to hide. As it was, the sample served only as further proof that diabetes was the most likely cause of my recent weight loss and extreme thirst, and it was next stop St Richard's Hospital.

As we walked through the corridors of the hospital I spotted two huge stone figures - some sort of artistic sculpture. They looked miserable. No-one smiles in hospitals anyway, so they could have made a bit more of an effort to cheer the patients up a bit. We reached the Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) and I was sat on a bed for blood tests, an ECG and that awful needle in the arm thing, later to be linked to a drip. With my only previous stay in hospital - to have my wisdom teeth removed - occurring eight years ago and lasting just a few hours, I felt I was making up for lost time. A nurse came round to offer hot drinks - I asked for a coffee with one sugar. A bad start. I was wheeled down the corridor for a chest x-ray, and when I returned it was steak pie for dinner. This time I had a sweetener in my coffee.

After spending almost all day in the MAU, I was transferred to Petworth Ward. Again I was in a wheelchair, having to push my drip trolley alongside me. One of its five wheels got stuck every few metres so I felt more like a contestant on Beat The Star than a hospital patient. Several minutes and more than one narrow door later, we reached the ward. There were seven others on the ward, including a bodybuilder with swollen legs. He snored loudly all night which made sleeping - already hindered by having to test my blood sugar every two hours - pretty much impossible. The next morning, the bloke next to him asked him how he was doing. "Hardly slept a wink all night," said the bodybuilder. Brilliant.

I stayed in Petworth for two nights before suddenly being told my bed was needed. I was wheeled off once more, this time to Chilgrove ward, in a much newer, much quieter corner of the hospital. This time there were just six of us on the ward, with all the others awaiting operations and taking all sorts of painkillers and other medication. As I sat in bed No 6, feeling in the best health of my life with only a blood sugar meter telling me otherwise, I felt rather the odd one out, and distinctly resentful of the drip trolley which I had to drag everywhere with me - to the toilet, to the TV room, to the other side of the bed. However, the longer I chatted to the others on the ward - about their kidney disease, their heart attacks, their cancer - the more I realised I was being utterly selfish and that my deal was really not quite so bad after all. I have umpteen routines that I perform unthinkingly every day already - why should a couple of insulin injections inconvenience me any more?

There was a fat man in bed No 3 who did nothing but sleep. He snored loudly most of the day and even more loudly at night - yes, worse than the bodybuilder. As I struggled to get off to sleep, I exchanged exasperated glances with the bloke opposite me in bed No 1. He was in for an operation on his shoulder following a mountain biking injury, and apart from the incessant snoring in bed No 3, he couldn't sleep because of the searing pain running down his arm. I too was wide awake, having drunk yet another cup of coffee not so long ago.

A nurse came round in the morning to take our breakfast orders. I asked for two pieces of brown toast with Marmite. She brought one brown piece and one white, with jam and marmalade.

The fat man finally sat up in bed, having slept for approximately 16 hours. He was reading something so I glanced over to see what it was. It was the lunch menu.

I left hospital on Monday evening. In some senses I felt a totally different person to the one that arrived at the doctors surgery on Friday morning. I will now test my blood sugar and inject insulin every day for the rest of my life. I will read the labels on the back of tins, packets and bottles so I know exactly what I'm putting into my body. I can never drive a minibus. On the other hand, though, diabetes is not a restrictive condition - there are no foods I cannot eat (leaving my nut allergy to one side for the sake of this point), no activities I cannot do, no places I cannot go. I had diabetes before Friday - I just didn't know it. I am now wiser and therefore safer. Bring on the rest of my life.

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