2 weeks in hospital 1980

The children’s ward was a bright and colourful place, and the whole two week experience was actually ok, apart from my first hypo. My memories after 39 years are a little vague, but here is what I do remember…

One morning, just after I finished breakfast, in bounced Julie. Julie was young and full of a tingly kind of energy, probably in her early 20s. She oozed warmth and fun and she introduced herself as my ‘diabetic sister’. I thought all my Christmases had come at once. Diabetes seemed like one big adventure with Julie.

There were rules and they seemed easy enough to follow (in hospital at least!). We had ‘portions’ of carbohydrate and a book to show us what things equalled a portion. One slice of bread, one banana, one potato. I had a food plan. Three portions for breakfast, three portions for lunch and three portions for dinner. One portion for morning tea, afternoon tea and supper. 3-1-3-1-3-1 made me think of a piano scale.

The book with the ‘portions’ in it I just called ‘the red book.’ It explained everything I wanted to know about diabetes. It was easy to read and practical.

The best thing about ‘the red book’ was the page with the circuit diagram of the technology that scientists were busy working on. The Artificial Pancreas. The Closed Loop. I loved that diagram, and once diabetes got hard after I left hospital, I turned to that page a lot. Around ten years later, when I was diagnosed with proliferative retinopathy, and told I had a 50% chance of going blind without laser therapy, I remember trying to find the book again, but it had been thrown out.

The other good thing about the book was a list I called the ‘forbidden food list’. (I can’t actually remember what it was called, but at one stage I actually did have a list with the title, ‘forbidden food’.) It had things I could buy at my school tuckshop in it with the equivalent portions listed. One Dracula ice cream equalled 1.5 portions.

I had one injection a day in the morning. It was pork insulin. Hypo signs were intense and easy to recognise, which was lucky, because we had no BG meter, just urine testing tablets.

My mum came to see me when she could. She learned to inject an orange first, then me. Like others, I found the injection by my poor mother was the only one that really ever hurt.

One day a very good looking boy about my age was wheeled into the ward and placed in the room I had been in for the first two days while I was on the drip. We were the two oldest kids in the ward. He called out at night, moaning as though he was in pain, and sometimes he called out during the day too. There was always someone sitting with him, next to his bed. Almost always his parents. I used to skulk past trying to get a look at him, and once I caught his eye. I felt so sorry for him, alone in there with all those adults, but what could I do? One day when my ‘diabetic sister’ came to visit I asked her about him and she whispered that he had a brain tumour.

Every day a lovely paediatrician came to see me. He was a round man with a kind, smiling face. His mother had had type 1 diabetes and he used to give her her injections apparently.

Another memory from those two weeks was that I was super anxious at missing two weeks of school. I knew there was a Maths test planned for the day I got back. I panicked and figured I would fail the test as I’d miss so much work. I had to rely on the textbook. It was hard going, working through the worked examples and extremely detailed explanations for everything, and I had to go over pages a few times to make sense out of them. I showed up that first day back at school, carefully measured milk in my drink bottle (one portion), urine test tablets and test tube in my bag, sat the Maths test and was completely gobsmacked to get a score of 100%.

It was the only time in my life I got 100% in a test and I wish I’d realised the significance, the ‘take home message’. Read the documentation. Find the answers yourself and check them. There was no internet then. The only information we had was from doctors and the quarterly magazine from the diabetes association, which was peppered with dire warnings, people who were older than me, and anxiety-inducing outcome data that I didn’t realise applied to the previous generation. I read every word.

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