The slow onset of diabetes…

Finding out that Nicholas James was diabetic was a huge shock! It took us totally by surprise.We’d never dreamt it happened to people ‘our age’ and had always assumed it was a ‘lifestyle’ thing.

In short, we knew nothing about it! Summer 2013 saw the start of a long and unwelcome learning curve.

But enough from me… NJ was the one experienced it; far better to let him tell it in his own words!

I’m 31 now, and I have been diabetic for only one year, which surprises many people, not least the nurses in the endocrinology department. It’s uncommon but certainly not unheard of for a person to become a Type 1 diabetic after childhood, despite the condition also being known as ‘Juvenile Onset Diabetes’, as the average age for acquisition is 14. It remains a mystery to this day why I got it, or took so long to get it – it certainly doesn’t run in my family. After much thought and pointless deliberation I can only assume that, and I think Adam would vouch for this, I just took a very long time to grow up.

My story begins in August 2013, a couple of weeks into my school summer holiday. As a teacher who had just finished a very busy Summer Term, I wasn’t surprised to be feeling rather tired and lethargic, it’s often the case that the ‘full burn’ of a hectic job only catches up with you when you finally stop for a break. However in addition to this, I had a creeping thirst that slowly, over the course of a couple of weeks, became unquenchable despite drinking pints of water at a time. Again, it was the summer, and a particularly hot one at that, so I just put it down to the heat and the extra exercise I was attempting to fit into my day.

I say ‘attempting’, because I couldn’t believe how hard it had become to do just a basic run. My usual routine of running down to the end of the drive and round the village (a route of about 2 miles) had become a laborious and exhausting trial. I remember one day, just half way to the village, I had to stop and sit amongst the cow parsley on the verge. I was sweating profusely, dizzy, shaking and my heart beat was racing. It felt like I had quite simply run out of all energy. Fortunately a neighbour happened to be driving past and upon seeing me, stopped and said through her open window, “Christ Nick, you look like death.”

Again, I ignored the signs, and put it down to tiredness and heat. She offered to drive me home, but I insisted I would walk back, even though my calf and thigh muscles were now beginning to ache and cramp.

Another reason I was tired was because I was getting up at least twice a night to go for a wee, which interrupted my good night’s sleep. I had no explanation for this, maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the amount I was drinking because of the heat, maybe it was because I was soon to turn 30 and midnight visits to the bathroom were, in my mind, something that just happens when you get over that hill!!!

The final straw happened when I went to visit my sister down in Buckinghamshire a week later. She hadn’t seen me for a couple of months and during our initial hug she put her arms around me and jokingly said “God Nick, where have you gone?”  Weighing myself in her bathroom, I had indeed shrunk down to just under 11 stone from my regular 12.5. I had been aware of some weight loss, but my excuse this time? I put it down to the extra healthy summer diet I was on working particularly well.

My sister wasn’t convinced. Especially when I told her about the other strange things I’d been experiencing. Upon her insistence, I booked an appointment with my GP the following week, who took a urine and blood test. The results confused me a little. A little stick she dipped in my urine turned dark purple and my blood came back with a score of 31…both of which meant nothing to me. She explained, “The purple colour shows that there are a lot of ketones in your urine, a sign that you are burning your own fat for fuel because your body can’t make energy from the food you’re eating, as a result your blood is full of glucose, unable to go anywhere. A normal level is should be about 6. You are diabetic.”

I was stunned. “So, I’ve got Type 2, I need to eat different food to make me better?”

“No. I’m afraid it’s not that simple. You have Type 1, which means…” She paused, “Brace yourself. The next few months are going to be a bit of a rollercoaster, your life is going to be very different.”

I sat in shock thinking about all the things she was hinting at. Daily injections, sugar crashes, blood testing. No more cake and biscuits.

What followed was a bizarre week in hospital being treated for ketoacidosis. It turns out that it wasn’t just my fat that had been depleted, but in an urgent attempt to survive, my body had started breaking down my major organs. I was more or less eating myself, and within another week or two, I’d have been in a coma and possibly dead.

I have gone on to learn a lot about diabetes over the last year, but no lesson has been as important as the first: don’t ignore the symptoms. The strange thing is, I remember feeling perfectly well at the time of that first visit to my GP, and I was worried I’d be wasting her time. When she said I’d have to go to hospital, I said I could drive myself, but she shook her head. “Not in your condition.”

That’s when the gravity struck me.

It was a difficult adjustment but he’s come on in leaps and bounds! We’re all incredibly proud of him and keen to see what a ketogenic diet can offer for the future!

More from Nick when he’s finished the washing-up…!

Thanks for reading,

Adam.

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