Barry Howard -- My Seventy Years With Diabetes

Barry Howard   --  My Seventy Years With Diabetes

This is a photo of Barry receiving his medal from Diabetes UK for achieving 70 years of living with Diabetes. The medal was presented by Paul Westcar, chair of the DSF group.

It was in September 1948, three years after the end of the 2nd WW, we were just returning to school after the Summer holidays, that I became unwell. My parents became concerned as I did not improve and took me to our GP who also became concerned when after two prescriptions for medicines there was no change.

My mother went to see the doctor alone one evening and told him that she was sure I was dying as I was losing weight and had no energy and the doctor  asked her to obtain a sample of my urine which she did the following day. That evening the doctor arrived at our home and said that I had sugar diabetes and was being admitted to hospital that evening. The ambulance duly arrived and my father was called home from work and  accompanied me to the All Saints Hospital in Chatham, twelve miles from my home in Sittingbourne, in Kent.

I went to a ward with approximately twenty other men and after my father left I was given an injection of insulin and the following morning was told that I was on a strict diet and would have an injection every morning, this involved a large glass syringe and a needle approximateIy 1” [25mm] long. I was also shown how to test my urine to establish sugar levels which in those days was totally different than today. It involved placing five drops of urine into a test tube and adding ten drops of Benedict Solution then holding the test tube in a peg over a heated gas ring until it boiled when it would change colour from the original blue, if the level was good through green, yellow, to a bright orange if you were high. 

As you can imagine to me a thirteen year old boy who’s life until then was school, playing football and  climbing trees this came as a complete shock, but I had to get accustomed to it very quickly . I was allowed out of bed after about a week and as life was so boring I started to help the staff serve meals from the trolley every day, I quite enjoyed this as it gave me a chance to meet the other patients in the ward. Eventually I was allowed my ordinary clothes and started to walk out of the hospital into Chatham where I found a model shop and bought model aircraft kits to keep me amused.

The visiting hours were very different from today, they were two hours on a Thursday afternoon and the same for Saturday and Sunday, so I had a regular band of visitors including my four brothers. As a result I received a lot of fruit which did not help my blood sugar levels, which of course  delayed my being discharged. However, I was eventually released after four weeks and I was happy to get home.

I did not find keeping to a strict diet easy because I was so active and always hungry and would very often slip into the pantry to find something to eat. This meant that my test results tended to be haywire and after a year I was back in hospital again to be stabilised, this time it took five weeks.

During my 70 years I have of course experienced many hypos, mainly during the night and Davina, my wife has had to call the doctor or ring 111 as it is now. On one occasion after using Glucagon, I still would not respond, I was taken to the Royal Berks Hospital where I remained for three days because all I could say when I recovered was “Congratulations”. All the staff thought this was highly amusing but gradually I recovered my vocabulary.

On another occasion we were holidaying in California to celebrate our 40th. wedding anniversary and had driven north from San Francisco through Yosemite National Park, across Death Valley towards Las Vegas. At one overnight stop in a small village we were unable to get a very good evening meal and as a result I had a hypo at about 4.am, Davina really had to struggle to get me to recover but with Lucosade and the Glucagon, which we always carry I eventually came round and we reached Las Vegas and after our scheduled week we drove to Los Angeles and flew home.

One of the best aids to help us diabetics these days is the introduction of nutritional tables on food products, these allow us to count the carbohydrates in the product in order that we can calculate the carbs in each meal. I always check these before purchasing anything new and have found it a tremendous help in keeping my blood glucose levels under control. Carb counting has been a definite advantage and I would recommend it. 

Another aid to blood glucose control has been the device known as the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System. This device involves two pieces of equipment a sensor and a reader The sensor is a flat circular metal disc with a small needle in the centre, the needle is inserted in the arm by a powerful spring when two pieces of the Libre system are screwed together and after 60 minutes it is ready for use. When you wish to do a blood test you simple turn the reader on and place it just above sensor and within a few seconds you have a result. The sensor has to be changed every 14 days but can be worn in the shower, bath or when swimming.  I believe this to be one of the greatest improvements for diabetics since the discovery of insulin. It totally avoids the need for inserting sticks into a machine and pricking your finger to obtain a blood sample which I used to do 8 to 10 times a day and it also shows how quickly your blood levels can change. I have fortunately been selected for a group trial in the area and to me it has revolutionised my life.      

During the 1980’s Dr.Hugh Simpson joined the diabetic team in Reading and very soon became Head of the Department. I was fortunate to have been a patient of Dr. Simpson’s as I found him very easy to talk to, understanding, and extremely helpful. I was so sorry when he retired.

When I was a lot younger I was involved in many sports including football, cricket, hockey, table tennis, tennis, badminton and squash and I was selected to play football for the school when I was fifteen (much to the consternation of my father) and also represented Bedfordshire at hockey when we were living in Dunstable. These days my hobbies are much more sedentary in that for the last thirty years I have been a member of the Thames Valley Chorus and I have had the pleasure of singing with them around the UK as well as the USA and many countries in Europe.

Finally I have to pay a special tribute to my wife Davina. We have been married for sixty one years and the number of occasions that she has helped me when my blood levels are low or I have had a hypo at night are too numerous to mention and it is no exaggeration to say that I would not be alive today if it weren’t for Davina.