Ah, the good ol’ days of diabetes – glass syringes, peeing on sticks and rigid eating times.
We veterans remember them fondly and with the odd head shake in disbelief. Did it really used to be like that? by ‘eck, we have come far… Recently, I wrote a book, Artists Town, which features. a type 1 protagonist. My book is set in the early 1990s and life for we pancreatically-challenged has changed substantially since then.
My own diagnosis came in the 80s. Here’s what used to happen then. See if you remember any of this stuff, and newbies read it and gasp.
- Glass syringes. Yup! The environmentally-friendly option too, given the waste your average type 1 inadvertently produces these days.
- Urine, not blood testing. It was a lot less painful; a lot less accurate too.
- Dextrosol. Standard treatment for hypos were these chalky, horribly-flavoured, expensive sweets. After a while they turned rock hard too. When Lucozade tablets appeared on the market, I was in HEAVEN.
- Exchanges. Long ago, doctors and nurses taught us carbohydrate counting. One exchange was roughly 10g of carbohydrates and you were given an amount for every meal and snack. To make it simple, one tbsp. of cooked rice or potatoes equalled an exchange, as did a slice of bread or an apple.
- NO SUGAR. It astounds me that at some point post my diagnosis, advice for diabetics included ‘eat anything you want and cover it with insulin’. As a wee girl, doctors said no cakes, no biscuits, no sweet, ice-cream and watch out for sugar in ketchup. Nine-year-old me burst into tears.
- Tab – the only no-sugar fizzy drink on the market. It tasted of grapefruit. The no-sugar market exploded in the mid to late 80s.
- The all-knowing doctors. In the 80s, doctors were still viewed as all-knowing, authoritative figures and you didn’t question them when they told you why you were having so many highs/lows. They were the experts. Your day to day experience of living with diabetes counted for naught.
- Fruit salad. Young me got offered a lot of fruit salad for dessert – the world’s worst pudding when it comes to taste, and not that great for your blood sugar levels anyway. I haven’t eaten the stuff in decades.
- Terrible chocolate and carob bars. Boots had a line of chocolate they advertised as suitable for diabetics. It was a) not very nice and b) little better than the real stuff for blood sugar control. And as for carob bars… carob is one of those acquired tastes, and I never got it.
- Two (count ’em) injections a day. This is the one that will astound the newbies, what with today’s regimes of multi-daily injections or pump therapy. I took one long-acting and one-medium acting insulin, mixed together twice a day. This meant meal times had to be the same and stuck to every single day. While flexibility is nice, sometimes I think there are advantages to rigidity. “Sorry, I need to go. If I don’t eat now, I’ll collapse” – a great excuse to get out of anything.
- Thrift. My mum and I used to cut up my blood testing sticks to make them last longer, possible then because you measured your blood sugar level by comparing the colour the pad on the stick turned to a chart on the tube. We cut them lengthways, a fiddly but effective job.