I was told that I had diabetes on the day before my 30th birthday. I wasn’t obese, and there wasn’t much that I could have done to avoid it. In fact given my family history, I pretty much expected to get Diabetes one day. I just thought it would be at least another ten years further down the line.
The doctor that diagnosed me also reassured me that with modern treatments I could still expect a reasonable life span, and I would not have to go on a diet of pure lettuce in order to survive. The other medical staff that treated me said much the same. Unfortunately no one told the diabetes that. This disease is not sticking to the plan.
My cholesterol was already below average, at 4. (The target for a healthy person is below 5.) The first change I made was to my diet. My new diet did reduce my average blood glucose (HbA1c) down to about 10. The target for this is 7, though, and so I started taking Metformin. Metformin is like the wonder drug of diabetes. Someone taking Metformin can expect to extend their expected lifetime by as much as fifteen years, and as such it is now given to nearly everyone with diabetes.
At first a 500mg dose of Metformin got my blood glucose back in the desired range of 4 – 7 mmol/l and my HbA1c back to 7.1. After a few months it had all crept back up, and my dose was increased to 1g per day. That kept is down for a little while longer, and then my blood glucose went back up again and my dose was increased to the maximum of 2 grams per day. My next checkup found my HbA1c to be around 8 and so I was given Gliclazide in addition to the Metformin. 40mg per day seemed to be very effective – too effective, in fact, and I had several hypos. (Hypoglaecemia, where the blood glucose drops below 4mmol/l and results in shaking, dizziness, even fainting and coma.) Despite the hypos, my HbA1c was STILL not below 8 so I ended up increasing that to 80mg per day.
I have been ill in bed through most of December and all of the time from January onwards with fatigue and pain from what is probably an M.E. relapse. In that time whenever I have checked my blood glucose I have found it to be up near 10 – 15 mmol/l which is very bad. My GP put it down to me being immobile and prescribed an increase in my Gliclazide dose to 120mg per day. In the few weeks that I have been taking that dose, I have rarely measured less than 10 mmol/l.
During that time in bed I have been in intense pain on a whole new level from my previous aching caused by the M.E. The pain seems to be neuropathic in nature, with lots of burning sensations and stabbing pain in addition to the aching that I have had for years. There are several potential causes of this, with one suspect being fybromyalgia, which often accompanies M.E. Another possiblity is diabetic neuropathy which is caused by deterioration of the nerves as a result of high blood sugar but my doctor did not think this likely as I have only had diabetes for 30 months. I am undergoing lots of blood tests to try and get a diagnosis.
Then today I got a letter that I really didn’t want to get. At my recent diabetic retinopathy screening, background retinopathy was found in my right eye. Retinopathy is basically damage to the blood vessels in the back of the eye caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels. It eventually causes blindness. Nobody would expect to get diabetic retinopathy until they have had diabetes – and uncontrolled hyperglycaemia – for many years. It seems that I am already starting to be effected. The level I have at the moment does not receive any extra treatment but it must be monitored closely in case it deteriorates further.
So there we have it. I have had diabetes for a mere two and a half years, at least ten years earlier than anyone expected, and I have already exhausted the possibilities of two medicines used to treat it, am already getting eye problems, and I have a crippling pain that is potentially caused by the diabetes too. This is progressing at a staggeringly fast rate. If it carries on then I will soon be injecting insulin, may well go blind within a few years, and could well have neuropathic pain for the rest of my life.
I am crying as I write this. I’m scared. Very scared. I want to live to see forty.